The best thing about Belgium is that beer means beer – beer in its purest form, from spontaneously fermented barnyard lambics (a specific type of Belgian beer) to bold brews with spicy aromas.
Being a lover, and now a purveyor, of beer, Belgium is my destination of choice. My love of the stuff extends to my bar in Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan district, Blue Supreme, which serves several Belgian brews. Flanked by France and the Netherlands, the nation packs more than 200 breweries, many of which date back centuries, into a little over 30,500 square kilometres. Here are eight of my favourites.
The original in Saint-Gilles is one of the city’s oldest breweries, with a second branch in Place Fontainas. The latter has more than 40 taps – including several serving cask Cantillon lambic that made me giggle like a little kid. Cheese and meat plates, proper glassware and bantering staff: it’s hard not to leave very happy.
Arguably the favourite among beer geeks, Cantillon is a family-run lambic brewery in Anderlecht. In the tasting room, I encountered Rosé de Gambrinus, made with raspberries. The berries awaken the dormant wild yeast and ferment out the sugar, resulting in a huge raspberry aroma balanced by earthy, piquant greatness.
De Heeren van Liedekercke
Lambic fans have beaten a path to this cellar, boasting a vast array of vintage oude gueuze, beer created by mixing old and young lambics. As oude gueuze ages, it exhibits aromas like musky wet hay. The bistro menu, featuring dishes like parsnip soup with guinea fowl, and cod fried in onions, is designed to contrast with the piquancy and effervescence of the beer.
La Porte Noire
Built in the 1600s, this vaulted, red-bricked cellar was used as the kitchen for a convent. Now it’s home to a Celtic-themed bar that regularly hosts local rock bands and DJs. Just as rock’n’roll is gulping pints of Gueuze Tilquin chased with sips of Oban malt whisky.
Billie’s Bier Kafetaria
Billie is the resident French bulldog of this gastropub with excellent craft beer. Every year it hosts one of Europe’s great beer festivals – catch the next Billie’s Craft Beer Fest at the Waagnatie exhibition centre over 29-30 November.
Spéciale Belge Taproom
The menu showcases both contemporary and traditional Belgian brews: compare a full-bodied tripel (strong pale ale) from Westmalle (notes of candied bananas) with De Ranke’s dry, bitter, apricot-tinged Guldenberg.
In’t Nieuw Museum
In its warmly lit, country home interior, I wolfed down a charred aged steak with a bottle of vintage Chimay Grande Reserve. As it conditions in bottle, it forms aromas of dried raisins and liquorice. The place gets its name from the museum-like collection of brewery plaques, money boxes and other vintage mementos on the walls.
Built with the creative beer drinking classes in mind. It’s home not only to a beer cafe that serves seasonal dishes, but also pop-up spaces for local entrepreneurs and craftsmen to showcase their work.