From fruit-tinged sours to behemoth quadruples, the beers hailing from Belgium’s artisanal producers offer vibrant flavor and a taste of a storied brewing heritage. It’s no wonder that American beer devotees are opting for Brussels or Bruges over London and Berlin when vacation time rolls around. Here are some must-see spots for first-time brewery-touring voyagers.
With its crisp, hoppy snap and aromatic pillow of snow-white fluff, few Belgian brews appeal to the American drinker’s palate more than this Flemish brewery’s namesake Old World pale ale. And with added flavors provided by the brewery’s Maredsous abbey ales and Liefmans lambics, it’s the great place to get a thirsty travelers’ feet wet.
With the diversity of their three notable creations—the floral Tripel Karmeliet, Kwak strong pale ale and sparkling wine-style DeuS Bière Brut—tasting sessions here illuminate the range of Belgium’s everyday styles as well as the ways specially designed glassware can amplify the aromatics in each. Breathe deep, sip slowly and learn while tasting at this hotspot.
This old-school artisanal brewery’s tart, wildly acidic beers are considered the holy grail of Belgian beers by many beerophiles. Be sure to try their most praised options, Rosé de Gambrinus, a raspberry lambic named after an ancient brewer, and the ultra-rare Zwanze, which varies from year to year.
Don’t make the mistake of ignoring the pink elephant in east Flanders simply because you can see it on tap handles and grocery shelves throughout the United States. Solid brewing by the band of beer masters here, with whom you might actually stand a decent chance of downing a chalice, is one of the reasons you must visit here. Try the popular Delirium beers, Tremens, Nocturnum and their Noël winter seasonal.
Best known for their prototypical saison—a crisp, spicy, low-alcohol farmhouse style ale originating in the French-speaking regions of Belgium—this brewery also produces numerous other fine bottle-conditioned ales that are harder to come by in the U.S, such as Cervesia, Bière de Beloeil and an organic variety of beers including their Bière de Miel, made with organic honey.
A number of experts have heralded this operation’s Trappist Westvleteren 12 (known in beer circles as “Westy 12”) as one of the finest beer, and to get it, you have to go directly to the source. This deep oaken wonder can be enjoyed along with its brethren, Westvleteren Blonde and 8, at reasonable prices from the taps at the St. Sixtus Trappist Monastery Brewery, where it’s made, or various nearby cafes.
How to get there
Check out BeerTrips.com or AleStreet News, which uses their industry friendships to lead groups of 25 on sweeping annual treks across Belgium. Southern California-based Ciao! Travel offers Great Belgian Beer Tours, including a December leg devoted exclusively to Christmas beers.