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Jump across the Brussels border for the best ‘brown bars’ in the land
It’s likely you’ve heard of In De Verzekering Tegen De Grote Dorst, even if you don’t know what it means. The bar is famed as much for its name as for its beer. As for its opening hours … only on Sundays.
Located just a few kilometres outside of Brussels in Lennik, the bar that ‘ensures you will not go thirsty’ serves mostly lambic, kriek and geuze, with one of the longest menu in the country of these speciality beers. It is regularly named the best bar in the world by the illustrious website RateBeer.com.
In De Verzekering is known as a bruin café, or bruine kroeg, and it is one of many fabulously characteristic bars of its kind in the green belt around Brussels. Everyone can conjure up an image of a ‘brown bar’ – few windows, dimly lit, with a wooden or tiled floor and dark brown chairs and tables. It is a traditional style bar of Belgium, where beer holds court.
If you’ve never been to In De Verzekering, you owe it to yourself to go. But there are many other character-laden brown bars just outside of Brussels. Here are a few of our favourites.
Beire Fluit While some brown bars, particularly in cities, have become tourist or hipster meccas, many have remained volkscafes – typical working-class bars where everybody knows your name. This is Café Beire Fluit all over. Don’t hesitate to step up to the bar, however; they are used to strangers passing through. The 100-year-old establishment is just outside the Torfbroek nature reserve in Kampenhout, so it’s on walking, cycling and even equestrian routes. Groups of walkers have been known to end their route halfway through, entranced by the 60-something Odette and her solid list of abbey beers.
De Cam With its black-and-white tiled floors, hammer logo and liberal use of local dialect, De Cam in Gooik is a dyed-in-the-wool volkscafe. It’s also a restaurant, serving regional dishes – and of course regional beers. Its long beer list has a whole section devoted to ‘bié van ba ons’ (local brews). Gooik is in the Pajottenland, the only place in the world where lambic beer is made. De Cam (also pictured top) itself is a blender, buying up lambic from area brewers and blending and ageing them to produce geuze. The café offers a sample platter of geuze and kriek beers, and on Sundays visitors can make an appointment to visit the blending facility and learn how they are made. De Cam also has antique wooden games once popular in loads of taverns.
Den Haas Also in Gooik, Den Haas offers an absolutely marvellous atmosphere, with hops dangling from the beams, along with the now antique lamps. Established in 1871, it is believed to be the oldest café in the region under continuous operation. All brick walls and stone floors, Den Haas (The Hare) offers the perfect ambiance to sample lambic, kriek and geuze, as well as many other Belgian beers. Outside you’ll find a ‘bollebaan’, a traditional dirt track bowling lane still used today.
When in Gooik, don’t hesitate to stop by Paddenbroek, an educational centre focused on sustainable agriculture and local production. Besides a fruit orchard, ecological garden and a restored stone oven, there is a walking and cycling café where visitors can sample local brews. It is the ideal place to start a walking or cycling route.
De Kring Hitch a train or pedal your bike to Halle and head to the Lembeek district to find De Kring. Located in a lovely whitewashed building in the shadow of the Saint Veronus church, it is a cycle-friendly café, offering ample bike parking and even repair kits. Boon offers tastings here after tours of its brewery, so you know this is a place with a good reputation – and a good beer menu. The church next door is also worth a look, constructed with different coloured paving stone, giving it a unique patchwork design. And be sure to ask the good people at De Kring how to find the nearby Pacapime wall. In collaboration with the city of Halle, the company has handed its wall along the canal to two Russian artists who have painted the largest mural in Europe all along it.
Photo top ©Lander Loeckx