After spending ten days tasting beer and whiskey in Scotland (and checking out castles and stuff), my fiancée and I headed to Belgium for a week...for more beer tasting, culture, and scenery.
Once again, the bottles of Pliny the Younger I brought with me proved helpful in making friends and obtaining rare bottles to bring home! I ate and drank some truly amazing food and beer in Belgium, it's reputation as a beer lover's paradise is well earned.
Here's my list of must do's (and two warnings) for Belgium:
- Stay at La Vieille Forge in Houffalize. This is also the location of Inter-Pol Brewing, where the owner, Pol, brews up magic on what is essentially a fancy homebrew set up. It's a legit brewing company and Pol serves his beer in the adjoining bar on the property. The inn and brewery/bar are about 100 feet apart. It's a small and chill spot, don't worry about noise keeping you up at night or anything. Stay on a Friday or Saturday so you can have beers at the bar, those are the only nights it's open. You can have Pol's beers at La Vieille Forge anytime though, so if you stay on a weeknight you'll still get to sample the good stuff. The Houffalize area is beautiful, it's worth a trip to this area!
- Visit the La Chouffe brewery and restaurant in Houffalize. It's right down the street from La Vieille Forge and is in fact where Pol earned much of his brewing chops. It's also a great spot to sit outside in the sun and sip amazing beer, plus the food is pretty solid.
- Visit Cantillon Brewery in Brussels. Does this require elaboration? You can almost certainly walk here from wherever you're staying in Brussels (it's nearish to the Grand Place), don't try to drive and park. The self guided tour is very cool, but the best part is that at the end, you can get yourself insanely delicious and rare beers to drink on site (Zwanze, Lou Pepe, and 50 North series beers) and you can purchase 750ml bottles of gueuze and/or their fruited lambics for around $7 each. That's just insane when these beers sell for $25+ in the US, if you can even find them. The same beers at bars a few blocks away can be four times as much. Bring an extra bag to check on the way home and fill it with Cantillon.
- Eat at Nuetnigenough (The Greedy Glutton) in Brussels. They are a cuisine de biere focused restaurant that will blow your mind without blowing out your wallet. They have a killer beer list, many of their dishes are made with beer, and the knowledgeable waiters can make great pairing recommendations. Bring them a Pliny for extra special treatment!
- Go to Moeder Lambic in Brussels. They've got an insane beer selection, tons of sours, and a huge bottle list. You'll find beer geeks galore at these spots (there are two, the one closer to the Grande Place is the only one I visited...two or three times). Also, the quiche is killer, so it's a nice lunch spot.
- Bruges. Just go there and spend a couple days. There are several beer spots here, two good bottle shops plus the famous 't Brugs Beertje, which you should definitely visit (you can skip the Half Maan Brewery). Go to Bruges and forget about keeping a focus on beer for a couple days, just soak the place up, it's stunning. Stay at a B&B that will loan you a bike to ride around on, it's key to have a bike here and you'll end up renting one if your B&B doesn't loan them. FYI me and Carson just used Air B&B the whole time we traveled in Belgium and we found good places, just make the arrangements several days ahead of time (we stayed on a cool house boat in Bruges!).
- Warning #1 - most breweries that don't have a tasting room with regular hours will require you to make reservations in order to visit. Not only that, but if you go to a brewery on any random day (especially Monday) it's highly likely that the place will be closed and no one will be there. This happened to me at probably five different breweries during my visit, it was very frustrating. Call ahead, it sucks but you have to do it.
- Warning #2 - Westvleteren...I know this is heresy, but don't go here unless you're already really close by for some reason. Unfortunately, it has a real tourist trap feel to it. The food is terrible and the place has very little character, plus they don't even sell bottles to go at the cafe. You can find Westy beers at bottle shops and bars in Brussels and Bruges without looking very hard. Do that instead and you'll have the beer in a better environment and save yourself a long trip. Even better is to just get your Westy 8 or 12 at a bottle shop and take it home, they do better with age and your friends will be impressed when you break it out!
Check out some of my pics from Belgium below!