I am not a beer drinker but I am married to a passionate home-brewer and collector of commemorative beer cans. So it was inevitable that while we were in Brussels I would find myself sitting in a bar, sipping a brew and learning all about Belgian beer.
The Brussels Beer Experience is one of Sandemans New Europe most popular tours and our host for the evening was Tristan; a Canadian who, like my husband, is a lover of all things beer-related. When his wife was offered a job in Brussels he thought all his Christmases had come at once – he could indulge his passion and get paid to share it with others. Our tour started at Scott’s Bar, opposite Galeries St Hubert, where Tristan delved into the fascinating history of beer. Did you know that the ancient Egyptians were brewing beer at least 7000 years ago?
There are more than 800 types of Belgian beer and we tasted four of the most well-known. Trappist beers are only produced at ten monasteries in the world and six of those are in Belgium. Our first Trappist beer was Chimay Blue and our first lesson of the night was how to pour the beer from the bottle into the glass – to get the best flavour it’s necessary to pour right into the middle of the glass – the bigger the head the better! The Chimay Blue had a light floral flavour and I really liked it…we were off to a great start.
Our second stop was down a long, narrow alley to Au Bon Vieux Temps – The Good Old Days, where we tasted Westvleteren. At 10 euros a bottle we were hoping it would live up to its reputation as the best beer in the world.
It’s been made by the Trappist monks of the St Sixus Abbey at the Trappist Westvleteren Brewery since 1838. Only 60 000 cases of beer are produced each year, it’s only sold from the Abbey and an appointment is needed to buy it. This time we shared a bottle; it tasted just like beer to me, but my expert taster-husband told me it was indeed a very flavoursome brew.
After leaving Au Bon Vieux Temps we strolled along Boulevard J. Anspach, with Tristan all the while regaling us with stories about the bars we passed, until we got to Moeder Lambic, the home of Cantillon Lambic beers.
Lambic beer is created using organic wheat and barley and hops. Spontaneous fermentation happens when the beer, left in the open air, is exposed to native spores, wild yeasts and bacteria. Tristan told us the beer should have a dry, sour taste…and it did! My choice was Kriek Lambic, brewed with cherries, which was not quite so dry nor as sour.
The last bar on our tour was also the most famous. Delirium Café Brussels is known for stocking the biggest variety of beer in the world. We were so engrossed in looking at the all beer related memorabilia and souvenirs covering every available space that we didn’t even have a drink.
With more than 3100 different brews for sale, how could we have picked just one?