Over the course of the global renaissance in craft brewing, much has been said about the beer in Belgium in general and Brussels in particular, and with good reason. The capital of both Europe and the nation known as “The Beercountry” is blessed with a diversity of ales and lagers that is the envy of even such renowned beer destinations as Munich, Prague and London—and as a bonus, it’s also home to the cooking style known as la cuisine à la bière.
Despite its atmospheric hotspots, very few visitors know where to drink in the bustling city, which is an oversight of the highest order, since in addition to boasting some of the world’s finest brews, Brussels features some of the best places in which to enjoy them. Here are stop-worthy spots for your next visit:
Poechenellekelder, 5 Rue Du Chêne: In most cities, you’d expect the bars near the main tourist attractions to be of the generic chain variety, but not in Brussels, where this eccentric café is mere meters from the famous Manneken Pis. While you might be tempted to opt for front patio seating on a sunny day, allowing yourself to be entertained by the picture-taking hoards, the real attraction is inside and upstairs, where a visual cacophony of puppets (included two life-sized!), vintage musical instruments, crossbows and other assorted bric-a-brac hang from most every surface. The décor is but a sideshow, however, to the sizable and expertly selected beer list, long on rarities and obscure brands, and the convivial atmosphere that invites languorous discourse and bonhomie.
La Villette, 3 Rue du Vieux Marché aux Grains: One step inside the door of this cramped but hospitable beer cuisine restaurant and the adjective “cozy” shall be firmly implanted on your mind. The armona of honest, home-spun dishes will stir your appetite—luckily specific beers are happily recommended by servers to pair with whatever you order. Fillet of pork prepared with both the beer and cheese from the monastery of Orval is particularly recommended.
Moeder Lambic, 8 Place Fontainas: Having opened only in late 2009, the second, central location of the venerable south Brussels beer café has quickly established itself as one of the city’s best. Featuring a long bar with seating—unusual for Belgian bars, where table service is the norm—the emphasis at “Mother Lambic” is on draft beer (a rarity in Belgium) and traditionally dry, spontaneously fermented lambic beers in particular. The amiable and helpful staff and a brief but tasty snack menu complete the picture.
Brasserie Cantillon, 56 Rue Gheude: A century-old brewery in a slightly dilapidated district near the south train station might not be the first place you think to go for a beer, but Cantillon is no ordinary brewery. Also known as the Brussels Gueuze Museum, this is a traditional maker of spontaneously fermented wheat beer, complete with open and exposed fermenters, ancient, groaning equipment and decades-old wooden barrels. The tour, costing six euros, is self-guided and ends with a glass of what will probably be the most unusual beer you will ever taste.
Le Cirio, 18 Rue de la Bourse: No drinking tour of Brussels would be complete without a stop in one of the city’s numerous fin de siècle taverns, and for its unparalleled beauty, proximity to the Grand’Place and fine Bruxellois cuisine, Cirio should be your obvious choice. Settle back with a Trappist ale in hand and enjoy the utter elegance of your surroundings.
La Fleur en Papier Doré, 55 Rue des Alexiens: Similarly stuck in time is the “Flower in Gilded Paper,” once the haunt of René Magritte and many of his rule-bending contemporaries, as evidenced by the drawings and bits of philosophy sketched upon the walls of the three small rooms than make up this government-protected building. An afternoon visit is recommended, since the quieter time will allow for a leisurely perusal of the artefacts, perhaps accompanied by the invigorating tartness of an “oude kriek,” or, literally, old cherry beer.