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Raise your glass! From mocktails to cocktails, syrups to spirits... perfect Belgian drinks for the festive season
Inspired perhaps by its world-famous brewing tradition, Belgium is fertile territory for all kinds of drinks. For the holiday season, we’ve rounded up some of the finest sparkling wines, spirits and liqueurs from across the country, with a healthy selection of non-alcoholic drinks and cocktails too. These local, artisan tipples also make great Belgium-made gourmet gifts.
It’s always party time when you uncork a home-grown Champagne-style fizz. Belgium boasts a number of award-winning tipples that vie in quality with their French counterparts. Domaine des Agaises in Hainaut, better known under the name Ruffus, is so popular that customers need to place orders in advance for its dry and refreshing bubbly. Sparkling wine is also the speciality of Domaine du Chant d’Eole, which cultivates the chalky soil around Mons. It produces rose and white with mineral notes as well as a Belgian spritz. Monteberg winery in Flanders’ Heuvelland uses chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, while Meerdael in Oud-Heverlee is another fine winemaker, producing a sparkling chardonnay brut, white and rose.
Today, every corner of Belgium has its own hard stuff, drawing on a long tradition of making local jenever, pekèt and other spirits. One of the first new-generation distillers is The Belgian Owl Whisky, an award-winning hand-crafted single malt from the Owl Distillery near Liège. Another is the Biercée Distillery in Hainaut, with a wide range of eau-de vie and liqueurs. Its flagship product, Eau de Villée, is a lemony alcohol that makes an excellent cocktail base.
Gin fans are spoilt for choice. Among the many brands on offer, Gin de Binche from the famous carnival town has garnered gold medals and is regularly served by Michelin-star restaurants. Its floral, herby flavour is accompanied by juniper berry and blood orange.
Zoer Gin is inspired by Belgian’s love of sour, acid sweets and is the result of a lockdown project by a couple of friends in Flanders. Its three flavours will make you grimace in pleasure. Felix Gin is presented in a beautiful square carafe-style bottle. It’s based on grapes and comes from Flemish Brabant, where its producer also makes pineapple-infused rum.
Winter in a glass, that’s the best way to describe De Klok’s Winterkoffie/Café d’hiver, a coffee jenever served warm with an optional layer of advokaat at the bottom of the glass and whipped cream on top. The award-winning small company in Flanders lovingly makes a range of advokaat (its speciality), plus jenever and chocolates. Hasselt Jenever Museum makes exclusive liqueurs that will make any party sparkle: festive edible golden leaves float in its Gold Water, while cinnamon and star anise spice up Elixir, which could also be a perfect Christmas gift.
Jalousy Cocktail Collection is a range of five ready-to-pour cocktails created by Vertigo Brussels’ chief mixologist Alexis Mosselmans. The lockdown project with colleague Tristan Pierson (Tristan and Alexis, pictured above) was inspired by the Sablon bar and Jalousy nightclub’s favourite concoctions. Based on natural ingredients, the collection includes twists on popular recipes such as Negroni and Old Fashioned, plus new creations Basil Smash, Bramble and Mule (see Alexis’ exclusive cocktail recipes below).
Rhubarb, nuts and blackberries are the organic, flavour-packed tastes of Kiss My; the trio of aperitifs are the base for a cocktail menu proposed by brothers Niels and Wouter who took inspiration from their grandparents’ old recipes for their brand.
Mocktails & non-alcoholic spirits
A decent mocktail calls for a good non-alcoholic spirit with a careful balance of flavours that stand up to mixers. For 30 years, Les Grandes Distilleries de Charleroi has been a pioneer, applying traditional methods to create spirits that may be lacking alcohol but don’t hold back on punch and flavour. Funny’s colourful spirits are ideal for mixing your own mocktails. For a ready-made sparkling mocktail, look no further than Vintense’s Americano spritz, Bellini and Ice Hugo.
Its refined de-alcoholisation process of wine preserves the flavour and ensures fine bubbles. With natural ingredients and zero alcohol, NONA spirits don’t compromise on flavour. The blood orange-infused Spritz is a bestseller, while ginger, beetroot and basil feature elsewhere (NONA cocktail, pictured above). Belgian Farm Distillery De Cort in Flemish Brabant is the only authentic distiller in the Pajottenland. Alongside its gins, jenevers, vodka and brandy, it also makes the alcohol-free De Cort Unplugged Bio, a fusion of 13 herbs with no additional flavourings, sugar or preservatives.
Belgian alcohol-free gin Botaniets 0.0% undergoes triple distillation to achieve its complex herbal flavour. Craft blended from an infusion of rosemary, fresh ginger and nine other aromatics, the result is a potent and refreshing cocktail mix. For a spicier variation of the award-winning premium gin, try the Ginger-Yuzu blend (pictured).
Juices & cider
Locally pressed apple juice – increasingly from heritage apple tree varieties – are pressed in the Ardennes, with numerous additional flavours including lemon and ginger. In a similar vein, low-alcohol ciders are refreshing alternatives to wine and beer. Among Walloon producers, check out Cidrerie des Croisiers and Cidrerie du Condroz. Adding a splash of colour and sour note is cranberry juice Pajottenlander Veenbessensap, made in Flemish Brabant with fruit from Canada. Fizzy, fermented kombucha is a fermented drink that originated in the Far East and is full of healthy properties. A local version is produced in the village of Hanret, in Namur province; its artisanal BeKombucha is low in sugar and the flavour options are lemon and ginger, hibiscus and verveine and lemon balm.
Syrups & mixers
Non-alcoholic organic mixer Gimber is a fiery ginger concentrate that’s so versatile, it’ll be an essential item in your pantry as well as drinks cupboard. Gift boxes are available too. Hitting another note is a local variation of that French classic, mint syrup. Doha is manufactured by a small family company in Gesves, near Namur, which hooked up with a local artisan syrup maker. Designed to be served warm, cold, as an infusion, or of course in a cocktail.
Create the Christmas market atmosphere at home by brewing up your own mulled wine. Epices ‘n’ Love is a family spice business in Verviers that produces a flavour-filled mulled wine spice mix.
Vertigo and Jalousy chief mixologist Alexis Mosselmans has created two original recipes for Expat Time readers (Jalousy nightclub bar, pictured above) .
Stylish twist on the Vesper, one of James Bond’s favourites (above)
In a shaker, mix 50ml Panda Gin, 30ml Lillet blanc, 10ml elderflower syrup and 3 drops plum bitters. Serve in a 1920s-style Champagne coupe and garnish with grapefruit zest.
Virgin cocktail with an echo of summer to brighten winter nights (above)
Over crushed ice in a long glass, build 6 basil leaves, 50ml strawberry juice, 15ml agave syrup and 25ml lemon juice. Top up with Perrier and garnish with basil leaves.
This article was first published in the Expat Time magazine (ING Belgium), winter 2021-22