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Drink beer like a local: Brussels beers you have to try
Thanks to the craft beer revolution, Brussels now boasts several small new breweries, as well as exciting projects from hyperlocal brews to beer-themed tours. With the planned opening in 2020 of a 12,000m² Belgian Beer World in the city’s former stock exchange, these are exciting times for Brussels beer - so here are some of our favourites.
The most famous Brussels brewery of them all - and the capital's oldest - is the family-run Cantillon, best known for its gueuze and lambic beers since 1900. The Brasserie de la Senne – which brews the Zinneke Parade-inspired Zinnebir – was the first in the new generation of craft brewers, moving from Flemish Brabant to Molenbeek in 2010.
Next, the crowdfunded Brussels Beer Project was born. It took up quarters in the Dansaert district in 2013 and has big plans to build a state-of-the-art €1.5 million brewery at Anderlecht’s Biestebroeck dock with an annual capacity of 10 million bottles, operational from 2020. “People should expect a vibrant brewery where they want to hang out on a Saturday afternoon around a good beer or two,” says Beer Project co-founder Sébastien Morvan.
Among the smaller players, En Stoemelings microbrewery began in a bathtub before founders Denys and Samuel set up shop in Laeken, not far from fellow craft brewer No Science. The latest addition is the Ermitage nano-brewery in an old factory in Anderlecht, just behind Midi station.
Brussels is a patchwork of distinct neighbourhoods. What if each area could have its own unique beer? Bières de Quartiers creates a recipe for a hyperlocal beer inspired by residents and cafe owners, which is then produced by a partner brewer and sold exclusively in local outlets. Trois Tilleuls and Wiener in Watermael-Boitsfort were the first two, followed by Chasseurs Ardennais, named after the popular Friday afternoon market in Schaerbeek near the EU district.
A fourth beer is about to roll off the production line, honouring Place Dumon in the Stockel neighbourhood. “A couple of local associations have already contacted us to have their own beer,” says Vivi Pham, one of the project’s three co-founders. “By early spring we should see a few more beers in different areas of Brussels. We are still welcoming new neighbourhoods who want to take part in the project.”
Hyperlocal brewing has also returned to the central Brussels neighbourhood of Saint-Géry, which boasted 10 breweries in the 17th century. Now, six cafes on the square have been busy brewing new beers in the central Halles under the supervision of a local master brewer. Seven varieties were put to a public taste test, and the winner, the Saint-Géry Triple Blonde, is now served in every cafe that lines the square.
Brussels' Sainte-Catherine Church also has its own local beer, St'Kat, with some of the profits going towards maintenance work on the 150-year-old building. Father Jérémie and three other priests worked with the Brussels Beer Project on the "church beer" that follows in the steps of Belgium's famous abbey brewing tradition.
Hops bring hope
Enjoy a beer and help Brussels’ undocumented migrants at the same time. Non-profit association 100PAP (a play on the French term ‘sans-papiers’) was formed in 2015 by former volunteers at the Maximilian park migrant camp. They brew a small-batch amber beer whose profits help provide medium- and long-term housing for migrants sleeping on Brussels’ streets. You can buy a case at Communa (171 Rue Gray, Ixelles) every Wednesday between 16.00 and 19.00.
Do it yourself
Can’t find the Belgian beer that’s right for you from the 1,000-plus on offer? Perhaps it’s time you made your own. “This is the story of a beer that doesn’t exist yet” is the slogan of Beerstorming, in Saint-Gilles, which leads small groups of friends and colleagues through the brewing process. With some explanation from a master brewer, you choose the ingredients, the bitterness and the colour of your DIY brew. “We’re not here to create the best beer in the world,” says manager Arthur Ries “It’s about experimenting – trying something new.” More than 250 small batches have been made so far, and some of the most popular have been mass-produced and sold in supermarkets, including the memorably named BS#0028 GMGK, the first beer in Belgium to receive an official CO2-neutral label.
While we wait for Brussels Beer World in the Bourse to see the light of day, here’s a fun beer experience that involves jumping on a big yellow 1960s bus. The Brussels Beer Bus takes passengers on a scenic tour of the city, stopping for a beer (actually, four) en route. “The goal is to talk about Brussels, but we use the beer as a departure point,” says co-founder Vincent Miller. “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 and what they like.”