Belgian Beer Road Trip
June 14, 2008 7:17 AM   Subscribe

I am planning a Belgian beer road trip for the fall. Any tips?

The only items that I know I must do is to visit Bruge and get a case of Westvleteren (I am very familiar with the other Trappiste delights so there is less need to hunt them down). Any other must see and do things? Is it worth making the trip to other breweries?

I'll be driving from the UK and might be considering some camping as well. If others have done this kind of thing I would love to here about the routes taken.
posted by srboisvert to Travel & Transportation around Belgium (21 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Brouwerij Verhaeghe in West Flanders. They make an amazing Flanders Red, called "Duchesse de Bourgogne". If you do not go there and drink this beer, you will regret it forever.
posted by King Bee at 7:27 AM on June 14, 2008

Response by poster: Heh. I just had the Grand Cru Rodenbach two weeks ago. It was part of a batch of beers from the local Belgium supplying off license and caught me completely off guard. I had no idea it was a sour ale before the first totally shocking swig.

Is the brewery itself worth visiting? Or can I just get this from one of Belgium's multibeer stocking bars?
posted by srboisvert at 7:52 AM on June 14, 2008

This is my friend Joe's blog on Belgian beer. He's an American living in Brussels and writing a travel guide on the breweries of Belgium. I'd take a look at the recommendations he's posted and if you have any specific questions, try getting a hold of him in the comments section. He's a darn nice guy and really knows a thing or two about beer.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 7:54 AM on June 14, 2008

I've never been to the brewery myself, but I would not pass up the chance to visit the brewery which makes the world's most refreshing ale.

You can probably just get the beer in the UK, actually.
posted by King Bee at 7:55 AM on June 14, 2008

Here are a few Belgians that you must sample from the source: I'm quite obviously a huge fan of Belgian trappist ales, but I've never tried one that I didn't like.
posted by charmston at 8:05 AM on June 14, 2008

It's no trappist, but you should definitely visit the Cantillon Brewery, which [I've heard] is the only remaining brewery that makes spontaneously-fermented lambics. And they're delicious.
posted by zachxman at 8:22 AM on June 14, 2008

The sixth trappist beer, Westvleteren, can only be bought at the abbey. I've been meaning to get hold of some for years, but they make it hard... You need to phone in advance to book some. Well worth the effort, though, by all accounts.
posted by YouRebelScum at 8:30 AM on June 14, 2008

Apologies. Didn't read your post properly.
posted by YouRebelScum at 8:41 AM on June 14, 2008

According to this site, the St. Bernardus brewery has a bed and breakfast on site. I couldn't find much on the actual St. Bernardus site, but it is something to investigate.
posted by rabbitsnake at 9:47 AM on June 14, 2008

De Dolle in Esen has an English-language tour on Sundays.
posted by holgate at 10:47 AM on June 14, 2008

If you need a break from beer for a day, try the National Genever Museum in Hasselt. Exhaustive detailed history of genever, and a bar and tastes IIRC. Genever is the juniper-based predecessor of Gin.
posted by poppo at 12:24 PM on June 14, 2008

I'm pretty sure Cantillon is not the only brewery still making spontaneously fermented lambic. I remember talking to the brewer at 3 Fonteinen at 24 hours of beer in Antwerp a few years ago and they were doing spontaneously fermented beers then. I doubt they'd have stopped between now and then. I believe Boon is also spontaneously fermented.

I'd hit the De Dolle tour - I really like their beers.
posted by pombe at 3:34 PM on June 14, 2008

Assuming you'd like to visit some biercafés and not just breweries, I left a reply to a recent AskMe about good places to visit in Brussels that might be helpful. When in Bruges, you would do well to visit the most excellent and unmissable 't Brugs Beertje and Café Vlissinghe, the oldest café in Bruges (dating from 1515).

As far as Westvleteren goes, a beer scholar in Brussels recently mentioned to me that, due to reselling, the abbey only sells three bottles at a time for each vehicle. I have not personally confirmed this, but I thought I would mention it in the event that you've got your heart set on a whole case :-)
posted by dhammond at 5:16 PM on June 14, 2008

You definitely should visit the Kulminator in Antwerp. I went recently, and was overwhelmed by a menu with over 900 beers in it (no, really). It's claimed that Westvleteren is sold in there. It isn't (there's even a note on each table saying so). But if you fancy something really unusual, it's a must. Way better than anything I've found in Brussels.

And stay at Britselei 37, a wonderful and splendid apartment hotel, and treat yourself. It's close to the Kulminator, and not that expensive.
posted by jamescridland at 5:36 PM on June 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I feel the need to vote up a visit to Het Anker. They are my favorite Belgian brewery (though I have not yet had Westvleteren).
posted by pmbuko at 10:45 PM on June 14, 2008

Best answer: How much time are you spending there? I would break it up by geography.

Spend a day in the Brussels area and visit the lambic breweries, they're all very close to each other. Cantillon has a great tour, Drie Fonteinen has the most amazing beer and food, and depending on how thorough you want to be there's also Girardin, De Cam, Boon, Hanssens and a couple others that could be interesting too. Of course you could finish in one of the fantastic bars of Brussels such as the Bier Circus.

I would also spend a day in the west of Belgium (Poperinge/Roeselare/Diksmuide), since you're going there for Westvleteren anyway. Be sure to call Westvleteren and get a date for your pickup. In the area you'll find St. Bernardus, which as rabbitsnake pointed out has a b&b. There's also the AMAZING Struise brewers. I recommend you contact one of the brewers (Carlo & Urbain) and I guarantee you'll spend an amazing time. You'll also find De Dolle in the same area which is a must see. Rodenbach is also in the area, there are a couple bars around it that are the only places to try their Foederbier (only on tap).

If you're in Belgium it's worth going to Antwerp just to visit the Kulminator. In fact, you could go to that single place and be satisfied by the trip. It's very simply the best beer bar in the world. You'll find everything there, and tons of different vintages too. Antwerp has a few other places worth checking out. If you want try another fantastic bar that's closer to the Brussels/Gent area, you have to stop at De Heeren, they have an amazing vintage list and the best beer cuisine I have ever tasted (try the Roquefort & Rochefort steak).

If you're feeling even more adventurous you could go also go to the southeast where you'll find Fantôme who give great tours, and Achouffe which has great beer too. You'll also be near the trappists of Rochefort, but they are not open to the public. Still, it's good place to get a cheap case of it.

Finally, here's a good map that can help you further plot your journey. And this is a list of beers you might want to try.
posted by kepano at 3:34 AM on June 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: And this is a list of beers you might want to try.

That ratebeer page seems to be behind a paywall.
posted by srboisvert at 7:31 AM on June 16, 2008

When in Bruges, you would do well to visit the most excellent and unmissable 't Brugs Beertje

Definitely a great beer bar for the connoisseur. Lots of aged stuff. Only Belgians beer. A random piece of advice on this place: it looks packed all the time, but it's not really... there are other rooms in back and the front-ones just fill up first. Also, the street it's on is fairly impossible to find even when you know where it is, but I don't have any advice for that.
posted by smackfu at 9:32 AM on June 16, 2008

Another must visit bar in Bruges is De Garre - there is a very detailed review of bar and the beer (with photos) here. The house beer is 11% and you can only have three glasses of it. I've had two and it had a slightly stoned, slightly hallucinogenic effect - very odd! You can visit the Halve Maan (formerly Straffe Hendrick) brewery in Bruges, but De Garre is better...
posted by janecr at 3:43 PM on June 16, 2008

@srboisvert Oops! It looks like that's a paid feature indeed, maybe this list (or this one will work for you?
posted by kepano at 3:55 PM on June 16, 2008

Best answer: I've been to all the Trappist monasteries in Belgium except Achel. Hands down, the most beautiful is Orval. The ruins are outstanding and the beer is fresher than and quite different from the variety we get in the U.S. If you go, make sure you stop by Bouillon, home of a spectacular fortified 900-year-old castle built into hillside (it was sold to finance the Crusades, later served as a fallback position during the Battle of the Bulge), a nice hotel and a couple good beer cafes.

In Brussels, have dinner at In't Spinnekopke, with very good gueuze cuisine and an excellent beer list. Also, in Brussels, the Skieven Architect near the Justice Palace - they almost always have all three varieties of Westvleteren.
posted by sixpack at 2:49 PM on June 17, 2008

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