Belgium is one of the premiere destinations in the world for beer. It is the home to a number of indigenous and unique styles, many of which you’ve likely heard of: Trappist ales, strong ales, wits, lambics, faros, oud bruins, Flemish reds, Saisons, and on an on. Many of these styles have a bit of history behind them, and some of the brewing methods are quite unique, especially those for the ‘sour’ beers that I’m particularly fond of. If you dive into their history, sour beers essentially began as open fermented farmhouse beers… Meaning the wort (the liquid made from boiled and mashed wheat and barley) was left open to exposure to all manner of wild bacteria and yeasts that inhabited the farmhouse (more than 80 different micro-organisms inhabit a typical Lambic) in order to spontaneously ferment.Brussels, cosmopolitan EU and Belgian capital that it is, is a great place to sample the best that Belgium’s brewing industry has to offer. Below I’ve compiled a list of the top places in that lovely city where you can find, sample, and buy some truly exquisite beer. Enjoy!
1. The Delirium Cafe
It’s no secret that I love this place. Love it enough to have bought their beer menu
. It is a three-level homage to beers of all styles and types, and home to the most extensive beer list in the world. Yes, it’s popularity leads to it being crowded, and not just with beer-seekers. When you go here, recognize that you’ll be going to a place that is popular with backpackers, locals, and beer-lovers alike. If you’re serious about a quiet beer-drinking experience, come early (and come often if you love beer), so that you can make sure you have plenty of space to really enjoy what you’re drinking.
The taplist here is much more exclusive than at the Delirium Cafe. So, while you won’t find as many options, you also won’t have to worry about separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Any visit to Brussels should include a visit here. You’ll find a well-curated selection, with options that definitely veer more towards the rare and exclusive, which is a beautiful sight in a country like Belgium.
3. Brouwerij drei Fontainen
Located in Beersel, a small neighborhood just south/southwest of Brussels, 3 Fonteinen has it’s roots going back to 1887, when it began as a cafe and a blending-house for geuze. It expanded into a restaurant in the 1950’s, and then took up it’s own brewing operations in the late 1990’s. 3 Fonteinen is one of the few remaining blenders of geuze and their product is fantastic example of the artistry required in blending different aged lambics into geuze.
Also based in Beersel, the Brouwerij die oud Beersel is an artisanal lambic brewery. Originally founded in 1882, it stayed within the same family until 2002, when brewing activities ceased due to financial dificulties. The shutdown was short, however, and lasted only until 2005, when it was revived by two other men (not within the original founding family. Sour beers like lambics and geuzes are a fading style as beer globalizes, and I recommend anyone who gets the chance to visit and support these insitutions do so.
A personal favorite of mine, I had the pleasure of getting to know the owner on a trip to Brussels several years ago, and his life story is pretty interesting. An Iranian in exile, whose love of beer and brewing (along with other admitted political differences) was enough to spur him to leave his country after the Revolution, definitely has my respect. His store is a great source for many hard-to-find beers, and you can, on occasion, find Westvleteren available here. Anyone looking to pick up that hard-to-find beer to take back home with them should definitely make a trip to Beer Mania a priority.
The lone remaining brewery within Brussels proper, Cantillon is noted for its lambics, faros, krieks, and geuzes, all of which are brewed in the traditional style and, since 1999, with organic ingredients. Tracing it’s origins to 1900, it’s beers are world class and a must for anyone looking for exposure to the sour beer styles.
A bottle and tasting shop, Delices et Caprices is a shop dedicated to exposing individuals to the best of the best of Belgian beer. They are a smaller location, but their shelves are stocked with incredibly high quality beer and their staff is very knowledgeable and helpful. In addition, they offer tasting sessions for larger groups.
Though a bit touristy-looking and near the Grand Place, de Bier Tempel should not be overlooked. Their beer selection is fantastic and, while you will have some gawking tourists to possibly work around, it’s still worth it. You can find Westvleteren here on occasion, though with the volume of people coming through the shop, you should definitely buy it when you see it, as it goes fast. Although why anyone would even think of hesitating to buy Westvleteren is beyond me.
A bit different than the other places on this list, La Porte Noire is more of a dark basement bar where you can go to get away from the tourists, drink some fantastic beer, and listen to some live music. The crowd and the music here skews younger, and their taplist and bottle selection is not as extensive as other places on this list, but it is well worth the visit. Come in, enjoy the atmosphere and the selection of lesser-known Belgian beers, and drink the night away.
Located in more of a business district and with an atmosphere that’s a bit different than your typical Belgian beer bar, Le Bier Circus is more of a light, open establishment. Regardless, their beer selection is top notch and you’re able to find quite a few rare or vintage brews available. Their food selection is small, but decent, and their service is friendly. Though their selection isn’t as large as other places on the list, and their atmosphere different than the other bars listed here, they’re still worth a stop.
I turn this article now to you, readers. Are there any other beer joints in Brussels you’d recommend? Any hidden dives, shops, or sources you have for that rare vintage or that hard-to-find brew? Feel free to share your tips in the comments!