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The heart of Europe

Charles D Cook discovers the beers and bars of the Belgian capital

Brussels: the capital of Belgium and also of the European Union, the city is home to many a fine restaurant, museum, and historic site. More importantly, however, from the standpoint of beer lovers like you and I, are the excellent beer cafés, breweries and beery restaurants which inhabit the city.

Brussels is well served by rail, bus, metro and tram; you can get to most of the beery spots with no more than a 10 or 15- minute walk from the nearest public transport locale, often much less. See www.b-rail.be for Belgian train info, and www.stib.irisnet.be for bus, metro, and tram info and pricing. Both sites have Englishlanguage versions.

The website of the Belgian Tourist Office, www.visitbelgium.com, has heaps of essential information about the city as well. One important note is that Brussels is a bilingual city, and most of the street signs are in both French and Dutch. Generally, most of the residents of the city speak French as a first language, and therefore knowing French street addresses is more helpful when trying to locate a place.

If arriving at the Eurostar terminal (also known as Brussels South/Midi/Zuid in English/French/Dutch) then you are already within walking distance of one of the world’s great breweries, Brasserie Cantillon. Here, brewer Jean Van Roy crafts some of the most highly respected and sought after lambic brews, with the help of much of his extended family.

Jean recently took over after the retirement of his father, Jean-Pierre.

The lambic, gueuze, faro, kriek and framboise produced here are among the most traditional of these rare beer styles, and are a labour of love for the Cantillon/Van Roy family.

Brasserie Cantillon, also known as the ‘Brussels Museum of Gueuze’, is open to the public from Monday to Saturday. Visits cost €4 and include a drink. The brewery also holds an open brew day twice a year, in March and November.

From the Eurostar station, it is just a 15 minute walk to a couple of other fine beer destinations. In the Marolles area, owner Alain Fayt crafts ‘Cuisine a la Biere’ in what might be described as traditional Belgian style at Restobieres. You will know when you have arrived here, as the glass window facing the street is filled with old beer bottles.

Several course menus are offered and are a good value at €18 to €35. Try the venison steak with Rochefort 8, or rack of lamb with Ellezelloise Hercule Stout. The duck liver paté with Drie Fonteinen Framboos is superb as well. There are many a la carte meals also.

Restobieres offers more than 100 different well-chosen brews from all over Belgium, with two on tap. Alain does a fine job of promoting his country’s artisanal breweries. The servers are also friendly here, and helpful with making choices. This place is a must visit.

Just across the street and up the hill a few feet is another worthwhile stop: Het Warm Water, which is a real locals’ bar.

This pub has several brews from Girardin, a highly-regarded Lambic brewery located to the west of Brussels, on draught, plus several others in bottles. This alone would be worth a visit, and the breakfast and reasonably-priced Bruxellois food make it even more so. Just a few minutes walk towards the city centre, one can find La Porte Noir (‘The Black Door’) a 16th century cellar bar which carries a diverse range of more than 60 beers.

When you are ready to see Central Brussels and the sites of the famous Grand Place, exit the Central Station and head west. There are numerous well-known boozers in the centre, such as A La Becasse, serving brews from Timmermans’s in ceramic jugs; A La Mort Subite, an atmospheric turn of the 20thcentury establishment; and Les Brasseurs, a brewpub located in a 1695 building on the Grand Place. Les Brasseurs produces several different styles of beers in a lavishly renovated space. Also on the Grand Place is the Museum of the Belgian brewers, which is well worth a visit for a look at the history of brewing in Belgium, and for a draught beer from one of the member breweries. While a different beer is offered every month, the staff never divulge the brewery from which it hails.

Near the famous Mannekin Pis (a statue of a little boy relieving himself into a fountain) resides a fine café: Poechenellekelder, which is located in another building dating to 1695. With more than 100 well-chosen brews, there is plenty on offer here. You can revel in the eccentricity of the puppet collection in this multi-level bar, while you savour a beer from Brasserie de la Senne, De Dolle, or a plethora of others. Trappist and gueuze brews are well represented as well.

One of the beeriest establishments in Belgium – and the world – resides on a small street off what might be described as ‘restaurant alley.’ Delirium Café shares Impasse de La Fidelite with Jeanneke Pis, the female version of Mannekin Pis.

Apparently these statues must be good karma for the specialty beer cafés nearby.

Delirium Café, which opened in 2004, boasts a selection of more than 2,000 different beers – a figure verified by the Guinness Book of World Records.

The boss and part owner of Delirium Café, Joel Pecheur, is the moving force behind this excellent venue. There are hundreds of Belgian brews available here from every corner of the country and every known Belgian style of beer. Small Wallonian microbreweries, with beers not often seen outside their local region, are well-represented. There are also more than a thousand brews from all over the world; the menu is the size of a thick phone book. Delirium Café is a place one can do some serious Beer Research. In addition, there are 500 different genevers in stock – also the biggest variety in the country.

If you fancy staying in a hotel near the Grand Place, there are a couple of good choices in the mid-range price category.

Hotel de la Madeleine is a scant 200 metres away, putting you right of the middle of the action. Hotel Welcome is a short five-minute walk, and each of its 15 rooms is decorated in the theme of a different country. Depending on the room you stay in, you may feel as if you are spending the night in Japan or Tibet, and not Belgium.

Another fine beercentric destination in Brussels is Le Bier Circus. Owner Patrick d’Hane moved his landmark beer bar to another building on the same street in 2005. The new venue is larger, more airy and more modern, though tastefully decorated with many old brewery plaques. It is now focused as a restaurant in the front area, where you can enjoy fine meals, paired with brews from a beer list of 200+ choices, including five on draught.

There are quite a few hard-to-find beers, especially from small Wallonian brewers.

There is a bar in the back of Le Bier Circus where you can savour a brew or three and peruse the many bottled choices residing in the cooler. Located a 15-minute walk northeast of Central station, Le Bier Circus is also close to the Parc metro stop.

This area is also a good one to stay the night, as there are a couple of good value hotels nearby: Hotel du Congres and Hotel du Madou, to name but two.

For a drink in an elegant atmosphere, a visit to Brasserie Belga Queen should not be missed. Located near the De Brouckere tram/metro stop, this fine dining restaurant has a couple of beers, Boon Lambic and unfiltered Palm, offered via handpump, which is a method of dispense rarely seen in Belgium. There are also about 20 bottled brews, with several Trappist beers and gueuzes among them.

There is a bar in the front, so you can drink here without eating. Belga Queen does have high quality food, with prices ranging from about €12 to €25 for main courses. The very impressive building housing the Brasserie used to be a post office many years ago. Don’t forget to use the loo while here: it is an experience in itself.

There are numerous other cafés near the centre, and several are worth a visit for their decent beer lists and local culture. You will find Estaminet Theatre Royale de Toone, with 40 brews, at 6 Impasse Schuddeveldgang; Imaige de Nostre Dame, near 8 Rue March aux Herbes; and Bon Vieux Temps, near #12 on the same street. You will find these bars located in small alleys off the main streets.

If you fancy taking some bottled brews home, the beeriest shop in the centre is De Bier Tempel, located right off the Grand Place. More than 100 different beers are stocked here, as well as beer gift packs, beer glasses, T-shirts and other items.

One of the best bottle shops in the city is Beermania, located in Ixelles, which can be reached by bus or metro from the centre. Beermania stocks about 400 different brews, as well as glasses, T-shirts and other alephenalia. There is also a bar in the shop, so you can have a beer or two while perusing the selection.

Brussels is a city full of beery diversions, making it a worthy destination for exploring and enjoying.

Info

Hotel du Congres
Rue du Congres, 42
Tel: +32 (0)2 217 18 90
www.hotel-ducongres.com

Hotel Madou
Rue du Congres, 45
Tel: +32 (0)2 217 32 74
hotel.congres@busmail.net

Hotel de la Madeleine
Rue de la Montagne, 22
Tel: +32 (0)2 513 29 73
www.hoteldelamadeleine.com

Hotel Welcome
Quai au Bois à Brûler, 23
Tel: +32 (0)2 219 95 46
www.hotelwelcome.com

Beer cafes, beer shops and restaurants
Beermania
Chaussée de Wavre, 174-176
Tel: +32 (0)2 512 17 88
www.beermania.be

Brasserie Belga Queen
Rue Fossé aux Loups, 32
Tel: +32 (0)2 217 21 87
www.belgaqueen.be

Brasserie Cantillon
Rue Gheude, 56
Tel: +32 (0)2 521 49 28
www.cantillon.be

Delirium Cafe
Impasse de la Fidélité, 4A
Tel: +32 (0)2 514 44 34
www.deliriumcafe.be

De Bier Tempel
Rue Marché Aux Herbes, 56
Tel: +32 (0)2 502 19 06

Het Warm Water
Rue de Renards, 19
Tel: +32 (0)2 513 91 59
www.hetwarmwater.be

La Porte Noir
Rue des Alexiens, 67
Tel: +32 (0)2 511 78 37
www.laportenoire.be

Le Bier Circus
Rue de l’Enseignement, 57
Tel: +32 (0)2 218 00 34

Les Brasseurs
Rue de la Colline, 24
Tel: +32 (0)2 513 98 43

The Museum of the Belgian
brewers
Grand Place, 10
Tel: +32 (0)2 511 49 87
www.beerparadise.be

Poechenellekelder
Rue Du Chêne, 5
Tel: +32 (0)2 511 92 62

Restobières
Rue de Renards, 32
Tel: +32 (0)2 502 72 51
www.restobieres.be