Beginner's Guide to Belgian Beer in Flanders
Belgium is a country small in size, but great in beer. It is without a doubt the beer lovers’ mecca. Here you’ll find over 2,000 unique beers. Yes, you read that correctly, 2,000. We have abbey beer, geuze, lambic, fruit beer, old red & brown ale and Trappist - all of which have worldwide renown for their quality. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. In every Flemish city you’ll find a wide range of unique beer experiences. The proof? Pour yourself a delicious glass of Belgian beer, sit back and read on.
Reading time: 9 minutes, 20 seconds (the time you need to enjoy about a half of a Westvleteren XII).
Antwerp: a Bolleke and the world's greatest pub
The ‘Bolleke’ De Koninck has been the beer ambassador for Antwerp for over a century. This amber-coloured speciality beer is a prize-winning drink from the De Koninck brewery. You’ll find the brew on tap in just about every Antwerp establishment. Fancy getting to know this iconic beer a little better? Head to De Koninck Experience Centre for a tour that explains the almost 200 year history of the brewery.
Drinking hall De Kulminator is another jewel in Antwerp’s beer crown. This legendary beer café, once voted the best bar in the world by the influential RateBeer.com, serves about 600 different beers, including many rare gems. De Kulminator is truly a mecca for every beer lover, connaisseur or even someone simply looking to experience a proper Belgian pub.
If your appetite needs sating as well, De Groote Witte Arend, is just the place for you. Many of the dishes at this excellent pub are flavoured with beer including the Flemish stew with dark beer. You can also enjoy your meal with a special selection of beer chosen from the restaurant’s well-stocked cellar.
The best bar in the worldRatebeer.com
Keen to drink a piece of Antwerp’s history? Try a Seefbier in legendary jazz bar De Muze. As far back as the 17th century this cloudy blond beer was already known as the regional beer of the city of Antwerp, but with the rise of industrial brewing Seefbier was lost. In 2012, Seef was revived by the Antwerpse Brouw Compagnie. In their brand-new brewing room, you can – as people did in the past – enjoy a refreshing glass of this historic beer.
Ghent: a great among beer bars
When you say 'Ghent' and 'beer' in one sentence, most locals will direct you to two of the city’s beerstitutions: De Dulle Griet and the Waterhuis aan de Bierkant. You’ll find these famous pubs in the picturesque heart of the city. De Dulle Griet offers a selection of no less than 500 different beers. Het Waterhuis offers 150 different brews, of which 14 come straight from the barrel. When the sun is out, you can sit out on the lovely terrace on the banks of the Leie – life doesn’t get much better.
Once you’ve soaked up the atmosphere in these classic beer hangouts, you can also visit some trendy newcomers. For example, Gitane – a stone's throw from the aforementioned institutions – has a broad but eclectic selection of contemporary beers. If your stomach is already rumbling, a short walk takes you to De Stokerij. The simple, but delicious cuisine goes perfectly with a glass of Staminee blonde or Staminee brown – a tasty house beer specially brewed for De Stokerij.
Another Ghentian highlight is Gruut. This brewery in the heart of the city brews with the newest of techniques, but following the classic traditions. Gruut replaces the traditional hops with a special, secret mix of herbs. That brings a unique flavor to the glass. If you want to fully immerse yourself in the world of Ghent beers, you can also sign up for one of the guided beer walks through the city with Beerwalk or Focus Flanders.
While the Liefmans Brewery isn’t technically located in Ghent, we wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on tasting their incredible beer. The brewery is located in Oudenaarde, 30 minutes from Ghent by train. The brewery was founded in 1679 and still exists today. The sour, reddish-brown cherry beer Goudenband is a much-praised classic that many connoisseurs love to cellar. Much of the success of the brewery can be attributed to Rosa Merckx. The snappy 94-year-old was the first female brewing master in our country. She remains the Liefmans figurehead. Rosa is proof that quality has no age limit.
You create beer like an artist would create a paintingBelgium’s first female head brewer Rosa Merckx – Liefmans
Mechelen: a city with a Golden mascot
The Gouden Carolus beer is the unofficial mascot of the city of Mechelen. The legendary brewery that produces it, Het Anker, is one of the oldest in the country. Tradition and quality go hand in hand here and in recent years the Gouden Carolus Classic has been showered with prizes, medals and awards from the most important beer competitions in the world. "A full, rich bouquet of caramel and pear liquorice. Powerful, but gentle. A sturdy body with rich fruit flavours and a long, warming after-taste", was the jury verdict at The World Beer Awards.
And we haven’t even mentioned the many brothers and sisters of this classic brew. Het Anker also brews the likes of Gouden Carolus Tripel and Ambrio, Maneblusser and Cuvée van de Keizer. A surprising bonus to visiting this brewery is that you can also taste the Gouden Carolus Single Malt, a whisky made from the malt batter of the Gouden Carolus Tripel. It’s well worth the effort and you don’t even have to travel far to get a bite to eat. Simply book a table at this brewery’s excellent onsite brasserie.
Gouden Carolus - powerful, but gentle. A sturdy body with rich fruit flavours and a long, warming after-tastejury verdict at The World Beer Awards
While Carolus may be its ambassador, it’s not Mechelen’s only asset. The city has much more to offer. Makadam, for example. This pub serves an appetising selection of robust new beers from all over the world. For those who prefer tasting their beer in an historical setting, try d'Hanekeef, the oldest café in Mechelen, which has been in operation since 1886 and serves about 40 different beers.
Leuven: my home is where my Stella is
“My home is where my Stella is." This famous Belgian advertising slogan was once used for the internationally renowned beer brand Stella Artois. Its home? The vibrant university city of Leuven, where the iconic beer is still brewed to this day. The Artois family began brewing in the year 1708. Centuries of experience have led to a beer that is enjoyed across the world. You’re welcome to visit the brewery for a guided tour and a tasting session – it’s guaranteed to be the freshest glass of Stella you’ve ever tasted.
Domus is a great example of one of Flanders’ small-scale home breweries, and can be found in the shadow of Leuven’s historic city hall. Traditional, natural beers have been brewed there, without additives, since 1985. Another gem is De Vlier, a stone’s throw away from Leuven, where you can sip from a handful of (seasonal) beers in the cosy tasting room.
Café Fiere Margriet, in the heart of the centre, combines quality with quantity: a beer menu with more than 280 brews, including local specialities such as Wolf, Broeder Jacob and Hof ten Dormaal. This passion for beer has also found its way into Leuven’s restaurants. Zarza is a good example: a cosy and modern restaurant that is passionate about Belgian beer.
An extra tip for visiting Leuven is to plan to visit the city at the end of April, during the Zythos beer festival, which is the largest in the country. Nowhere else in the world can you sample more Belgian beers: more than 500 different types, by over 100 Belgian brewers. If you visit Leuven during a different period, be sure to visit the Oude Markt, where you’ll find one pub lined up next to the other, an area that is often called the longest bar in Europe.
Brussels: cradle of Lambic and Geuze
Brussels is the cradle of the Lambic, a complex and sour beer that can be drunk as is, but which is also the basis of Gueuze and Kriek beers. Breweries like the legendary Cantillon, Lindemans and Timmermans are three examples of this. The first of these breweries also houses the Brussels Museum of the Geuze. During brewing season (October to April), this brewery can even be visited while in operation. Come see, smell and taste how that liquid heritage is made.
Brussels is among the greats in the classic beer pantheon, while it’s simultaneously also a pioneer in the new wave of micro brewers. The likes of Brasserie de la Senne and the hip Brussels Beer Project are successfully creating innovative new brews. Their beers are already on the menu of every self-respecting café in the capital.
Of course, beer is usually served in a glass, but at Restobières you can also get it on your plate. You’ll find this cosy restaurant in the heart of the Marollen district. Chef Alain Feyt creates his culinary creations with beer: mussels with Hommel beer, veal stew with Watou white beer, or even a Kriek-based zabaglione. Regardless of the dish, beer is the primary ingredient.
The ultimate address for those eager for a taste is Moeder Lambic. This famous pub offers 400 different, mainly artisanal beers. You won’t find industrial brews here and an ingenious system ensures that the temperature of the 30 taps can be adjusted to serve each beer at its perfect temperature.
On the Grand Place, in the heart of Brussels, you will also find the Belgian Brewers Museum, which keeps the centuries-old tradition of Belgian beer alive. Here you’ll become acquainted with all the brewer’s tools, cooking kettles, brewing and fermenting vessels, as well as the materials used by an 18th century brewery.
A short drive to the west of Brussels and you’ll find a must-visit pub: In de Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst, which translates as ‘In the Insurance against Great Thirst’, in the town of Lennik. This unique pub opens once a week: on Sunday mornings, after mass. This authentic folk pub was once even voted the best beer pub in the world by RateBeer.com.
Bruges: fairytale city with a beer pipeline
Bruges is a medieval city, a romantic gem full of art and heritage: the Belfry, the Beguinage and of course the many museums such as the Groeningemuseum that showcase the work of our Flemish Masters. Though for many 't Brugs Beertje is held in just as high regard. This is famous beer café boasts over 300 different beers and plenty of snacks to enjoy as you soak up the cosy atmosphere.
If you’d like to drink local, two great options to start off with are Brugse Zot and Straffe Hendrik, by the Bruges brewery, De Halve Maan. This unique brewery doesn’t only show its creativity in the glass, but also under the ground.
The brewery installed an underground beer pipeline between the brewery hall and the bottling plant outside the city. You can find out more information about this engineering feat – and much more – as part of their fascinating brewery tour.
Equally educational is a visit to the Bruges Beer museum, which explains the history of beer, brewing processes and different beer styles. Naturally, this is combined with an extensive tasting session.
If that’s still not enough for you, you can visit one of the many pubs in the city. 't Brugsch Bieratelier is a good example; it has 12 Belgian beers on tap at any given moment. The characterful Rose Red fully lives up to its name. The ceiling of this cosy café is decorated with hundreds of red roses. Underneath those, you can have a taste of all the Trappist beers in the world.
The Flemish cities are known for their art and heritage. And to be honest, beer fits perfectly in that picture. Since the Middle Ages, we’ve held this craftsmanship in high esteem. Our country is on top, both in terms of quantity and quality – 2000 different types of beers, some of which are among the tastiest brews in the world. Now you are ready to enjoy a Belgian beer, naturally, in Flanders.
Story created on April 9, 2018