Tastings School - Belgium - Celebrating café culture

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Belgium - Celebrating café culture

Charles D cook explores Belgium's legendary beer culture by revealing some of the best beer cafés.

When beer lovers think of Belgium, one of the first things that comes to mind is its superb speciality beer cafés. Many people first experience Belgian beer in famous pubs such as ‘t Brugs Beertje in Brugge, Bierhuis Kulminator in Antwerp, Chez Moeder Lambic in Brussels, and Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant in Ghent. These cafés, and many more like them, are some of the most civilised spots in the world to savour great Belgian beers. However, there is much more to Belgium and its beer culture than just the big city cafés. In lesser known cities and in the Belgian countryside lie countless gems of the beery variety.

WEST FLANDERS In West Flanders, the province nearest the United Kingdom and the starting point of many a Belgian visit, there are several standout cafés worth a detour off the beaten path.

Cafe ‘t Kroegske in Izegem has been delighting visitors for more than 12 years. With a selection of 450 different beers, it’s not hard to understand why. Almost every beer style in Belgium, except witbiers, are represented here. There is tasty beer cuisine available, pairing brews such as Girardin Kriek and Trappist Westmalle Dubbel with certain dishes. Many of the best gueuze, lambic and kriek brews are on offer. West Flanders sour ales such as Rodenbach Grand Cru from nearby Roeselare, Petrus Aged Pale Ale and Oud Bruin from Brouwerij Bavik, and Ichtegems Oud Bruin from Strubbe are good local choices.

Kroegske is also a great place to taste the excellent beers of Brouwerij Alvinne, located nearby in Heule. Try the hoppy Extra Restyled, Melchior, and Podge Belgian Imperial Stout, among others. Alvinne has a new tasting room, Den Proefzolder, and also a bottle shop where it offers more than a hundred different beers to take away.

This is a good place to find the beers of De Struise, such as Aardmonnik, Black Albert, and Pannepot.

Not too far away in the underappreciated city of Kortrijk lie a number of fine beer cafés. In the city centre, Eirekedeirie is a top choice, with 85 brews on offer. There are usually a couple of special beers offered among the four on draught. Brews from Chimay, Contreras, Dubuisson and Dupont are often seen. Eirekedeirie also offers very good, reasonablypriced meals.

Also in Kortrijk, Cafe Den Boulevard is another worthy spot to imbibe. The beer menu has about 100 choices, mostly from artisanal breweries from across the country. Of note are two seasonals on draught. Try beers from De Dolle and Van Eecke’s Poperings Hommelbier and Het Kapittel. Small snacks are offered too, in case you you get comfy and don’t fancy leaving for a meal.

Just a little ways out of Kortrijk lies one of the great Belgian cafés: ‘t Rusteel in Gullegem. This large former farmhouse dates to the 1500s, and sports a menu with 300 beers. A few of them are crafted just yards away, at the ‘t Brouwkot microbrewery. It brews beers such as Netebuk, an amber-coloured, saison-ish ale that is the house beer of Rusteel.

Of course, there are many other choices available here, including Verhaeghe’s Vichtenaar old brown ale and Echt Kriekenbier, which is brewed with local sour cherries. Try also Brouwerij Bockor Bellegems Bruin and the new Omer Traditional Blonde. The beers from Van Honsebrouck in Ingelmunster, such as the new Brigand IPA, are on the list as well. ‘t Rusteel is also known for its excellent food.

EAST FLANDERS Heading into East Flanders, there are several more classic cafés where you should spend some (or a lot of!) time. In Huise, one of Belgium’s great country cafés, De Gans, pleases beer lovers with a strong list of 300+ beers. De Gans is filled with old breweriana and geese memorabilia. The owners are very friendly and accommodating.

Brews from East Flanders, such as Slaghmuylder Witkap Dubbel and Van den Bossche Buffalo, are available, as are gueuze and lambic beers from Cantillon and other breweries. The Trappist beers are well covered too. A house specialty is Chimay Red, heated with a super-hot poker from the fireplace. De Gans is also known for its gourmet pancakes.

Another superb countryside café is De Pikardijn, in St. Lievens Houtem.

With about 225 beers and excellent food, this is certainly another destination place. The menu is very diverse, with brews from across Belgium. The house beer is Saison Dupont. Brews such as De Ryck Speciale, Contreras Tonneke, and De Ranke XX Bitter are great choices. De Pikardijn is a very atmospheric place; all the walls of its several rooms are filled with breweriana. There is outside seating for summer enjoyment, and the owners and staff are warm and welcoming.

De Heeren van Liedekercke in Denderleeuw is perhaps among the top five cafés in Belgium. The beer list is imaginative and extensive, with more than 300 choices, including about 50 aged brews. Brouwerij Drie Fonteinen even produced two beers for the wedding of hosts Joost and Jessie.

Gueuze and kriek from all the major blenderies houses and breweries are available here, as are most of the Trappist brews. Try De Cam Oude Gueuze and Oude Kriek, and Mort Subite Oude Gueuze and Oude Kriek, as these can be hard to find. Other small microbrewery beers, like Boelens with its Bieken, Kerstbier and Waase Wolf, are worth tasting, as is De Glazen Toren Saison de Erpe-Mere and De Graal’s hoppy SloCK.

From Buggenhout, Bosteels Deus Brut beer and De Landtsheer Malheur Blond Brut and Dark Brut are musttrys.

These beers are 11 to 12% ABV, and are produced in a style similar to Champagne, with packaging and presentation to boot. Bosteels Tripel Karmeliet and the superb Malheur 6, 10, and 12 should also be on anyone’s to-drink list. The food at Heeren van Liedekercke is as good as the beer list: meaning, among the best in the country.

ANTWERP In Antwerp Province, several cafés stand out for selection and ambiance.

Bierkroeg Den Hulst in Blauberg is a roadside cafe with a serious beer focus: 250 brews and a well-produced beer menu. Try the beers from Brouwerij Het Anker in Mechelen, such as the Brown, Tripel and Cuvee van de Keizer. Also try Duvel, Maredsous 8 Dubbel, or the superb Achel Extra, a dark, rich Trappist brew with 9.5% ABV.

Just a short drive away, Café Goede Vrijdag in Herselt has only been around for a couple of years, but it is an impressive place. Beers from six of the seven Trappist breweries are available in this two story locale. The brews from three local microbreweries should not be missed while here. From Brouwerij Achilles in Itegem, Serafijn Blond, Grand Cru, and Tripel are standouts.

Also try Amber, Ginseng and Tripel from Den Hopperd, and any of the range from ‘t Hofbrouwerijke, such as Hofblues, Hofelf, and Bosprotter.

Heading north towards the Dutch border, another of Belgium’s great beer houses can be found in the city of Turnhout. In den Spytighen Duvel is located in a building dating to 1740.

The owner is a real beer lover, and you will find a warm welcome here. All the beer styles in Belgium are well covered, and some small batch specials can even be had. The classic Westmalle Tripel is a fine choice, as is Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek.

FLEMISH BRABANT In Flemish Brabant, near Leuven, another classic roadside café has been pleasing beer lovers since the 1950s. ‘t Jagershof in Waanrode carries about 75 beers, and specialises in Trappist brews.

The café is an Orval Ambassador, meaning that the brewery has verified that Orval is presented correctly, served at the temperature the customer requests (either cold or room temperature) and that at least one event promoting Orval is held at said establishment every year.

Jagershof is a great place to savour an Achel 8 Bruin, Chimay Tripel, Rochefort 6, or an Orval! They even have several Trappist cheeses available.

Service is friendly and enthusiastic.

Heading into the Payottenland (lambic country) an area to the south and west of Brussels, there are many cafés serving traditional lambic beers.

One of the best is De Rare Vos in Schepdaal. This multi-roomed café/restaurant is hallowed ground for lambic and gueuze lovers. Try the Girardin young or old lambic on draught, as well as the black label Gueuze 1882 from the same brewery.

The house beer, Rare Vos, is said to be a blend of Girardin lambic and faro, creating a beer that is similar to an oakaged Oud Bruin. There are many others brews on the menu. De Rare Vos is also well-known for its excellent, traditional Belgian cuisine.

A wonderful place to drink, eat and stay the night is Hotel Centrum in Beersel. With more than 150 beers to choose from, it’s hard to go wrong. The café is filled with of all kinds of breweriana, and is a fine place to savour the beers from the Oud Beersel lambic blendery: Oude Gueuze and Oude Kriek.

The brews from the Hanssens blendery in Dworp, Oude Gueuze and Oude Kriek, are other good choices. Hotel Centrum has delectable food as well.

You certainly should not miss the beers of Drie Fonteinen either, as the brewery, restaurant and new LambikODroom café are just yards away. Try the kriek and lambic on draught, and Oude Gueuze, Oude Gueuze Vintage, Doesjel and Oude Kriek in bottles. The restaurant serves superb meals.

Belgium’s lambic country and its cafés are definitely worth a diversion.

HAINAUT In French-speaking Wallonia, there are not nearly as many cafés with huge beer selections as in Flanders – even though there are a roughly equal number of breweries in the two halves of Belgium. However, there are quite a few superb places worthy of your attention.

In Hainaut Province, La Cervoise, on the Grand Place in Mons, is such as place. With more than 150 beers and very good food, Cervoise is a must visit while touring the region. It is run by local Wallonian beer lovers. Try the local beers from Brasseries Abbaye de Rocs, Authentique, Blaugies, Brunehaut, Cazeau, Dubuisson, Dupont, Ellezelloise, Geants, Silly, Val de Sambre and Vapeur. I know that’s quite a mouthful, but some of these beers can be hard to find elsewhere in Belgium – so it’s best to taste them while you can.

Another special beer café/restaurant is La Fermette de Pins, located right beside a country road in Buvrinnes, a few kilometres outside the carnival city of Binche. This charming two-story building is tastefully decorated with beery items, both old and new, and has friendly, efficient staff.

The beer list has about 75 choices, and excellent meals are served. Taste the brews from nearby Brasserie La Binchoise, such as Belge and Blonde.

Other local beers such as Chimay Grand Reserve, Dupont Moinette, La Chouffe and St. Feuillien Blonde are also good choices.

Hainaut currently has the most breweries of any Belgian province.

Need we say more?

LUXEMBOURG In very rural Luxembourg Province, a real shining light in the beer world is Brasserie Yes. Located in Libramont- Chevigny, Brasserie Yes is a bright, airy, modern café/restaurant with just enough breweriana to make you feel at home. It has a well-chosen list of 230 different beers, including nearly all the Trappist brews. Good choices include Brasserie Caracole Saxo, Floreffe Brune (Dubbel) from Lefebvre, St. Helene Triple, and St. Monon Blonde. Also seek out Sara and Joseph from Silenrieux.

You can have a nightcap of Caracole Nostradamus, McChouffe or Rochefort 10, among others.

LIEGE Near the city of Liege, in the province of the same name, there is one café that nearly defies imagination. Le Vaudree I in Angleur is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It never closes! Le Vaudree also claims to stock 980 beers, with 42 on draught. This makes it the second largest beer selection in Belgium, with only Delirium Café in Brussels having more.

There are six other Le Vaudree locations. Le Vaudree II in the city centre of Liege has 900 beers and 24 on draught, while Le Vaudree III in Juprelle carries a mere 400 brews, with 24 on draught. The other four locations all carry an impressive 400 to 500 different beers.

Try the brews from nearby Brasserie Grain d’ Orge, such as Brice, Joup, and 3 Schteng. Abbaye du Val Dieu Triple and Grand Cru should be on your list, as well as anything from Brasserie La Rulles. There should be about 900 others to choose from.

ANTWERP
Bierkroeg Den Hulst
Hulst 4, Herselt-Blauberg,
Tel: +32 (0)14 544 935
Open from 10.00 onwards. Closed
Mon and Tues
Cafe Goede Vrijdag
St. Servaasweg 1, Herselt
Tel: +32 (0)49 912 5076,
www.goedevrijdag.com
Open 11.00 to 23.00. Closed Tues
and Wed
In den Spytighen Duvel
Otterstraat 99, Turnhout,
Tel: +32 (0)14 423 500
Open 14.00 to 1.00 or 2.00
Closed on Mon
EAST FLANDERS
De Gans
Kloosterstraat 40, Huise,
Tel: +32 (0)9 384 90 25
Open Fri 18.00 to 1.00; Sat 16.00-
2.00; Sun 10.30-13.00, 15.00-23.00
De Heeren Van Liedekercke
Kasteelstraat 33, Denderleeuw,
Tel: +32 (0)53 680 888,
www.heerenvanliedekercke.be
Opening hours vary by day-see
website. Closed Tues and Wed
De Pikardijn
Cotthem 6, St. Lievens Houtem
Tel: +32 (0)9 360 51 28
Open Fri from 18.00; Sat from
16.00; Sun from 12.00
FLEMISH BRABANT
Hotel/Cafe Centrum
Steenweg op Ukkel 11, Beersel
Tel: +32 (0)2 331 0615,
www.centrumhotel.be
Open from 7.00 Sat to Wed and
from 18.00 Fri. Closed on Thurs
Cafe ‘t Jagershof
Grote Vreunte 53, Waanrode
Tel: +32 (0)16 777 229,
www.cafe-jagershof.com
Open Wed-Fri from 14.00 Sat &
Sun from 10.00. Closed Mon-Tues
De Rare Vos
Marktplaats 22, Schepdaal
Tel: +32 (0)2 569 2086. Open Thurs
to Mon 10.30-22.00. Closed Tues
and Wed, and Mon in winter
HAINAUT
La Cervoise
Grand Place 25, Mons,
Tel: +32 (0)65 314 606
Open daily from 8.00
La Fermette de Pins
Rue de Lustre 39, Buvrinnes,
Tel: +32 (0)64 341 718,
www.lafermettedespins.be
Opens at 11.00. Closed Tues and
Wed and Mon in winter.
LIEGE
Le Vaudree I
Rue du Val Benoit 109, Angleur
Tel: +32 (0)4 367 1061,
www.vaudree-concept.be
Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a
year. See website for other info
LUXEMBOURG
Cafe Yes
Grand Rue 70, Libramont,
Tel: +32 (0)61 234 823,
www.brasserieyes.be
Open Tues-Sun 11.30-14.00 and
18.00-22.00. Closed Mon evenings
WEST FLANDERS
Brouwerij/Den Proefzolder
Alvinne
Mellestraat 138, Heule
Tel: +32 (0)496 359 619,
www.alvinne.be
Fri/Sat openings. See website.
Boulevard
15 Groeninglaan, Kortrijk
Closed Wed and Thurs.
Open from 18.00
Eirekedeirie
Sint Jansstraat 31, Kortrijk
Tel: +32 (0)477 737 384
Closed Mon and Thurs.
Open from 17.00
Kroegske
Vijfwegenstraat 35, Izegem
(Emelgem)
Tel: +32 (0)51 307 763
Open Fri and Sat from 19.00-01.00
and Sun 17.00-22.00