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Brussels Beer Bus motors tourists and tipple around the capital

10:50 04/03/2018
That big, yellow bus you see chugging across Brussels isn’t planning to take you to school but rather on a drinking tour you won’t soon forget

Imagine starting a tour company three days before the Brussels terrorist attacks. That’s where Vincent and Benoit Miller found themselves in March of 2016, when their Brussels Beer Bus had just gotten off the ground.

The pair wanted to mix two of their favourite things – beer and Brussels – in one tour but also needed a hook to get tourists and city-trippers to choose them above other beer tours. So they rented a big, yellow 1960s bus.

And their tourists loved it. “We specifically chose something that wouldn’t come off as modern,” says Vincent. “This kind of bus is much more fun. People are surprised and delighted; it’s a bit nostalgic. Those who are in their 40s and 50s said it reminded them of when they were kids.”

The day of the terrorist attack, the pair didn’t know what would happen. The good news for them is that they both had – and still have – day jobs and the bus had been rented. They hoped their first tour wouldn’t be their last, but, if it was, it would not result in a significant financial loss.

Back in business

In any case, they were – like the rest of the tourist industry – pleasantly surprised when tourist numbers bounced back to near-normal levels within a few months. The big, yellow bus was back on the road, motoring tour participants around to scenic spots, stopping to serve them a beer now and again.

“When people arrive, we immediately serve them the first beer, and they can take great pictures of themselves with the beer and the bus. Then we drive to the first point, get out and serve them another beer.”

Participants get four beers in total, all from Brussels. If they don’t finish the beers at their stop, they are perfectly welcome to continue drinking them back on the bus.

These being Belgian beers, participants don’t necessarily drink a whole one every time. Though Vincent admits that some of them end the tour “happy”.

New edition to fleet

Along the way, the pair – born and raised in the capital – share their vast knowledge of its people and its places. “The goal is to talk about Brussels, but we use the beer as a departure point,” explains Vincent. “We explain how beer developed in the city and the story of its breweries. We also talk about how Brussels people feel about things in general, what they like.”

They notice that just as many Belgians as internationals are booking the tour. Even people who live in Brussels are interested – and express amazement about what they didn’t know about the city.

Although the brothers had never worked in tourism, they took to the weekend job enthusiastically. “I’m a sports journalist, but I’ve actually always been interested in tourism and considered it as a career. Now I’m doing both!”

And now Brussels Beer Bus is about to embark on a whole new adventure: tours in a Second World War ambulance. “It was one of the last models to be made during the war; it was actually in the battlefield,” says Vincent.

Walking tours

A friend of theirs knew that the pair was looking for their own vehicle so they weren’t always dependent on renting the bus, especially as it has to be driven by a professional driver. The friend discovered the ambulance sitting unused on a farm in the countryside.

Though there are only 3,000 kilometres on it, the ambulance obviously needs a lot of work to get up and running again. They plan to bring it into operation in April.

As it only holds eight people, they will also continue to rent the bus for tours. In fact, participants can choose whether they want to take a bus tour or an ambulance tour.

They’re going to add tours, as well. Currently only on Saturday, they plan to add evening tours on Thursday and Friday. And they have walking tours, to boot, where they do stop in at local bars and breweries.

Brussels Beer Bus tours, in English or French, are about 90 minutes. Walking tours are twice as long. Cost is €45 per person, though larger groups get a discount. The ambulance tour will be €30 per person

Photos courtesy Brussels Beer Bus

Written by Lisa Bradshaw