We only had a weekend in Brussels; a quick stop on our way to the Tour de France with one goal and one goal only: drink as much beer as we could. Nowhere in the world has better beer than Belgium, and Brussels is the place to go for the lion’s share of it. And the people of Brussels are clearly proud of it, because it’s everywhere. I hold Philadelphia up on a pretty high pedestal as far as beer selection and availability goes, but when we stopped into a small organic café for breakfast and they had a beer list that could rival any bar in Philly, I knew this was a special place for the beer drinker.
As you can imagine, it’s not hard to find beer in Brussels. It’s not hard to find exceptional beer. But you can’t go everywhere (our livers wouldn’t allow it), so here is a whittling down of our six favorite places to grab a beer in Brussels.
Having outdoor seating on the pedestrian-only Boulevard Anspech makes for a wonderful night, especially when it’s low-70s and breezy. We stopped here for our first beer(s) and couldn’t have been happier. Our server was very knowledgeable about the local beers and pointed us to a few local breweries we hadn’t heard of (which were unfortunately closed that weekend). Beer highlight: their beer of the month was also Lindeman’s Faro, a beer we’d never tried but become a running theme throughout our vacation: a tart lambic brewed with brown sugar. Refreshingly sweet and tart. Boulevard Anspach 81
Part of the Delirium Village cul de sac of eight bars, when I asked my friend if Delirium Café was super touristy or a place we should definitely check out, he just said, “Yes.” I would recommend going on an off-hour; our first attempt on a weekend night found the place overflowing with people. But for good reason: the downstairs café has over 2,000 beers on offer (most by the bottle) with a massive magazine “menu” to browse. The café itself is decorated with branded beer trays from all kinds of breweries, and the stairs leading down are lined with old Delirium bottles. Definitely a cool place to spend a few hours. Beer highlight: Delirium Red. While Delirum Tremens has become somewhat old hat, I could have had multiple glasses of this kriek (cherry) version. Impasse de la Fidélité 4
Au Bon Vieux Temps
Down a small alley off one of the main touristy pedestrian areas is this little bar, tucked in a back corner. The inside is everything you’d want an old-world bar to be: stained glass windows, carved wood paneling, and plenty of mugs and trinkets that look like they’ve been there since the bar opened. We grabbed a spot at the bar and ordered the highlight of the menu: Westvleteren 12, consistently rated one of the best beers in the world. Our bartender apologized for only having two Westvleteren glasses for the four we’d ordered, so she gave them to the ladies. Well worth the stop, even though we were drinking a 10% beer first thing in the morning. Impasse Saint-Nicolas 8/4
There are two Moeder Lambic outposts in Brussels, but the newer on is closer to the downtown/Grand Place area and a little more accessible if you’re walking. Like everywhere, it had a great beer list (and was where we had our first Cantillons of the trip—more on that later), along with some good-looking food. We opted for meat and cheese boards, because we’re fancy, and drank our fill. Beer highlight: Tilquin Mure, a tart but refreshingly fruity gueuze brewed with blackberries. Place Fontainas 8
While the name Poechenellekelder may be hard to say, the bar is not hard to find. Right across the street from Manneken Pis, you can grab a drink and do some sight-seeing at the same time. There is plenty of seating at this quirky bar, whether outside in their courtyard, inside, or upstairs. The entire bar is filled with weird little dolls, trinkets, and photos to peruse while you drink some of the freshest Taras Boulba you’ll ever have. Beer highlight: a bottle of Cantillon Nath, a rhubard beer that none of us had ever heard of but all thoroughly enjoyed. Rue du Chêne 5
Finally: the cornerstone of our trip to Brussels. Opened in 1900, Cantillon is one of the most sought-after breweries in the world and, for my money, the best. No one makes a better lambic, and we put them to the test by spending hours in their surprisingly modern tasting room. We ended up splitting four bottles and some additional glasses before we went down to raid the small gift shop, and it was the highlight of our time in the city. It’s a bit of a walk from the city center (about 2km) but well worth the trip. Beer highlights: all of them. Fou Foune (an apricot lambic), 2016 Lou Pepe Kriek, Vigneronne (brewed with muscat grapes and aged in oak barrels), 2015 Lou Pepe Framboise (raspberry), and Rosé de Gambrinus (another raspberry lambic). Rue Gheude 56
If you’re a fan of beer, it’s no secret that Brussels should be your Mecca. And while a focused strategy will definitely improve the amount and quality of beer you will be able to sample, you could really walk into almost anywhere to find a top-shelf beer list. But whether you go to these places or not, drink as much as you can (safely), and drink as local as you can. And don’t miss Cantillon.