I have yet to visit a country with as fabulous of a beer selection as Belgium. Germany paled in comparison! What I loved most was the variety and different styles people swear by, such as Gueuze, Kriek, and Trappist. We were able to visit two different breweries during our time there, and each had a very different idea of how things should run. Even if you’re not a big beer-drinker–you may be made fun of–but a visit to a brewery provides not only the history of a beer, but the town itself.
1. Cantillon Brewery, Brussels
Before the four of us left the city of Brussels, we wanted to hit up a brewery because we knew Brussels is famous for its Lambic beer. What the heck is Lambic? As hard as I’m trying to sound well-versed in beer-making terminology, I knew little to nothing before my first brewery tour. I knew distilleries, wineries, sure–but not a thing about a traditional brewery.
We chose The Cantillon Brewery because it was conveniently located on the way to Brussels Midi. Rather than having a guide lead us through, we were handed our pamphlets and went off on our own to read about each room of the brewery and the beer-making process. Lambic beer is produced by using natural fermentation, a technique that has been used for thousands of years. To be honest, the whole process is still kind of a blur. What you need to know is that in modern-day breweries the fermentation is controlled. In Cantillon, it’s spontaneous and also goes through a long process of natural cooling. The end result is “the sourdough bread of beer“, appropriate because beer, like bread is made with grains. The end result tastes a bit sour, but that’s appreciated in Belgium.
Like wine, Lambics are aged in a wooden barrel. However, the barrels aren’t topped off to fight evaporation. 20% of the liquid is lost to evaporation by the time a Lambic has been properly aged. To make Kriek, sour cherries, raspberries, or grapes are soaked in the beer for at least 3 months. Both Gueuze and Kriek taste very different than what I would “expect” to taste in a beer.
2. De Halve Maan Brewery (the Half Moon), Brugge
I enjoyed this tour a lot more because we had a fun, spunky tour guide. It was difficult to follow, though, because she alternated from talking in English and German. I wish I had that ability! This brewery was much, much larger and we saw a multitude of rooms. It’s the only family-run brewery that is still active in the city. We were told the story of the family and how the rights to the brewery passed down along the family line. There are currently three relatives living, a grandfather, his daughter, and her son (I feel like posting names would be weird…) but anyway, when we sat down to enjoy our tasting in the main bar, the three of them were sitting right behind us having lunch! It was like seeing mini celebrities.
The two beers they produce are Straffe Hendrik and Brugse Zot. Both are wonderful, and Brugse Zot is Jay’s new favorite. It’s golden, fruity, and aromatic. The Hendrik is stronger and bitter, but we liked the taste of it, too. If you find yourself in Belgium, you should definitely try my new favorite beer–Delirium. Look for the pink elephant!
Stay tuned for posts about the Kolsh culture of Cologne, Germany and highlights from Ghent!