A beer that tastes like no other and three more beers brewed in Brussels plus the best cafes to taste them. Brussels once had dozens of breweries, but they closed down, one after the other, until there was just the one struggling brewery left in town. But something has been happening in recent years that has got the beer community excited. Several new craft breweries have sprung up across town, and the old Cantillon brewery is now so successful that it has plans to double its production, taking over an abandoned Lambic brewery in the neighbourhood.
Even without the breweries, Brussels is a city with a thirst for beer. The Brussels bar map Caféplan lists more than one thousand cafés and bars within the city limits – roughly one bar for every one thousand residents. No two are alike, so a café visit is always an experience. You can drink in grand cafés like Cirio or A la Morte Subite, or head for one of the ancient bars hidden down narrow lanes, like La Bécasse and A l’Imaige Nostre-Dame.
Some cafés take pride in offering a long list of beers – Delirium claims to have more than 2,000 different beers in stock. Others put the emphasis on interior design, like Café Belga and Barbeton.
You can sometimes visit the small breweries in Brussels to talk to the people behind the beers. But the best way to get to know the beer culture of this town is during the Belgian Beer Weekend (between 2 to 4 September), when dozens of small breweries set up stalls on Grand’Place. We’ll have more on that event later in the summer, but first here are some of the best craft breweries in the city.
The Brussels brewing revival started back in 2004 when Yvan Debaets and Bernard Leboucq started up a small brewery in a Flemish village outside Brussels. Four years later, they moved their equipment to the commune of Molenbeek, where they now make a range of low-alcohol beers using only natural ingredients, like hops, yeast, malt and water.
This young brewery revitalised the Brussels beer scene by launching distinctive beers with stylish labels. Most of the production is sold in Brussels, with just 40 percent trucked out of the city. Try their Zinnebir, a light Belgian ale with a hint of hops.
Several interesting new Brussels beers have hit the shelves following the 2013 launch of the Brussels Beer Project. Founders Olivier de Brauwere and Sébastien Morvan use crowdfunding to select the beer and get it off the ground. They started out with a beer called Delta, funded by 2,000 local beer lovers. Then came Dark Sister and the German-style Grosse Bertha. Their latest initiative is a brewing lab located in an abandoned brewhouse on Rue Antoine Dansaert.
The Cantillon brewery in Anderlecht, not far from Midi station, is the last surviving traditional Gueuze brewery in the city. The cobwebs you see are essential to the brewing process, as is the big open tank in the attic where fermentation happens. The building is a beautiful 1900 industrial relic, where the owner offers a free glass of Gueuze before you leave. But be warned. The first sip comes as a shock. It takes time to get used to this classic Brussels sour beer.
Named after an old Brussels expression meaning “on the sly,” En Stoemelings craft brewery was launched back in the summer of 2015 by Denis Van Elewyck and Samuel Languy. Located in the Marolles near the cultural centre Recyclart, the micro brewing plant fills the neighbourhood with the smell of fermenting beer. You can observe the brewers working in their tiny brewhouse, where they create small batches of old-style beer using Poperinge hops, blessing their output with quirky names like Curieuse Neus, Chike Madame and Geeele Tram.
The latest micro brewery is based in St Gilles commune, where groups can book their own private brewing session. Participants can create their own unique brews on the spot using exotic ingredients such as Vietnamese pepper and lemon tea. After a few weeks, the beers are ready to be collected.
Are you only here for the beer? Then you might want to hop on board the Brussels Beer Bus launched earlier this year by two local brothers. The ancient 1960s bus takes beer lovers on a tour of the city’s sights, with stops along the way to taste some distinctive Brussels craft ales.