Anyone who knows something about Craft Beer will tell you that Belgian beers rate as some of the best in the world, others might even say that they are THE best beers you can enjoy. Whilst traveling from Spain to The Netherlands we were fortunate enough to have 24 hours in Brussels so we grabbed the opportunity to indulge in some quality beer sampling.
The Magic Rubens
First stop was to have a steak in one of Brussels’ cafes which luckily also did samplers of 5 x 10cl glasses. Unlike in the US, samplers or flights are not as common place within European countries. Our selection included the following:
- Primus pilsner
- Blanche Haacht wit beer
- Charles Quint bruin*
- Tongerlo Blonde*
- Kriek Mystic lambic
* designates our favorites from the sampler.
Au Bon Vieux Temps
After eating we went in search of a bar we have previously visited called Toone which features Marionette Puppets and Karmeleit Tripel in large 50cl glasses for Euro 4 on tap but alas it was closed. Luckily we found another bar about 50m away called Au Bon Vieux Temps which is through an arch and down a dark alley off the street.
There were no beers on tap, only in bottles BUT we spied Westvleteren 12 for Euro 10 (33cl bottle) and could not pass up the opportunity of trying what some class as the best beer in the world. To accompany the Westy we also chose a Gordon’s Finest Scotch which is an ale that is also brewed in Belgium.
Westvleteren 12 is a Trappist beer by de Sint-Sixtusabdij who only brew 3500 barrels per year and with the growth in Craft Beer consumption around the world is constantly in high demand but only a limited supply. The lady behind the bar poured the beers and I noted that she emptied the sediment into the glass – presumably to add to the sweetness. The beers were handed over along with the bottle cap as a memento.
The Gordon’s Finest Scotch was a dark ruby color with 8% alcohol and had a smooth sweet taste together with a long lasting head. The appearance was clear so presumably the beer is filtered and force carbonated by the brewery. The Westvleteren 12 had a dark brown and cloudy appearance but with a smooth and well balanced flavor that did not show the 10.2% alcohol at all. This truly is a great beer and every sip was savored.
In the centre of the tourist area of Brussels, near the Grand Place, is a popular eating area where waiters stand outside showing off their menu options and trying to lure in passers by. This area is also home to the Delirium Village which is a group of bars and cafes with the Delirium name or owned by the same company. Previous we have visited the Delirium Cafe which boasts the largest selection of beers in the world – currently over 2400, and a selection of about 10 taps. Upstairs is the Delirium Taphouse which has 27 beers on tap and are constantly rotated so this time we opted to go upstairs.
Beers are available by the glass, 50cl (pint), 1 litre or even 2 litre as well as the option of drinking out of a German glass boot. We drank the following by the glass given the strength of a number of these beers:
- Saison Dupont Dru Hopping (2013) – 6.5%
- Kasteel Rouge – 7.0%*
- Passchendaele pilsner – 5.2%
- Troubadour Magma Sorachi – 9.0%
- BarBar Blonde – 8.0%*
- Rulles Blonde – 7.0%
- Anker Herfst Bok – 6.5%
* designates our favorites from the sampler.
Interestingly the strongest beer on the menu was Plead The 5th Imperial Stout by Dark Horse Brewing Company (USA) which at 12% did make us wonder who would be drinking this beer by the 2 litre glass…?
Close to Brussels-Midi train station is a small brewery which is the last brewery in Brussels to make Lambic style beers and remains family owned. This brewery’s beers have a growing reputation across the pond in the USA as the interest in sour beers grows.
We paid our Euro 6 per person entrance fee and after an introductory talk embarked upon our self-guided tour through the old brewery negotiating several sets of stairs, taking plenty of photographs but ensuring we followed the instructions of not touching anything.
The main highlights include:
- Brewing Area – Cantillon’s beers are made up of 35% unmalted wheat and 65% of malted barley with a generous use of 3-year aged Hallertau hops. This area consists of a Mashing Tun which has wooden sides and metal hatches on top and inside are a pair of stirring paddles.
- Hop Boilers and Crushing Machine – after converting the starches into sugars in the Mash Tun the wort is transferred to one of two Boil Kettles which are accompanied by a Hot Water Tank and a Grain Mill in the room above. The Mill crushes the grain before it is fed into the Mash Tun below and the Hot Water Tank supplies the water for the conversion of starches into sugars to occur during the mashing process.
- Granary – this contains Raw Wheat which is sourced from within Belgium together with Malted Barley and bails of Aged Hops.
- Cooling Tun Room – in the attic, or loft, of the building is located a large wide but shallow copper Cooling Tun or Cool Ship as it is also known. Once the wort has been boiled in the Kettle together with hops in the room below the wort is pumped up to the Cooling Tun and the louvres are opened so that it is inoculated by air born wild yeasts and bacteria. The following morning the cooled wort is then pumped into a stainless steel tank on the floor below to ferment.
- Barrel Store – once the wort has fermented down to the required plato level it is then pumped through plate filters to remove unwanted particles and then into oak or chestnut casks (or barrels) to complete the fermentation process and then mature. Cantillon produces Gueuze by blending 1, 2 and 3 year old Lambic as well as fruit beers by adding fruits such as cherries, grapes, peaches, strawberries and raspberries to the barrels.
- Barrel Cleaning – on the bottom floor of the brewery is the barrel cleaning area which puts each barrel through 3 stages of cleaning: Manual scraping and brushing with some pressure washing of the inside and outside. Steaming of the inside to kill any micro-organisms. Mechanical cleaning by filling the inside of the barrel with sharp chains and some hot water and placed on a machine to agitate it.
- Bottling – the 75cl bottles are delivered pre-sanitized and wrapped in plastic, these are then loaded onto the bottling line which fills, corks, caps and labels them. The use of corks and caps is unusual but is done to prevent consumers having to deal with stoppers that pop out.
- Cellar – after bottling they are stored horizontally next to various walls 2 layers deep around various locations of the ground floor. At any one time Cantillon have 80,000 bottles being cellared within the brewery.
Once we finished our tour we were then able to sample some of the beers. First we tried the Lambic which is flat when it comes out of the barrel due to CO2 leaking through the wood and has an alcohol content of about 5.0%. We then tried the following which were carbonated after bottle conditioning:
- Kriek – a 2 year old Lambic which is made with Schaerbeek cherries.
- Iris – made with 100% Pale Ale malted barley and hopped with Czech Saaz rather than the usual Hallertau.
Merchandise and 37cl or 75cl bottles of Cantillon beer can be purchased at the brewery with the beer being much cheaper than the beer stores downtown. We can highly recommend a visit to Cantillon who are located at:
Rue Gheude 56 Straat
De Bier Tempel
Our final stop en-route to the hotel and leaving Brussels was to try and track down some Westvleteren to take home with us. We had read online about De Bier Tempel so decided to check them out. They have a huge selection of Belgian beer so we managed to score the following:
- Westvleteren 8 – 8%, Euro 9.00
- Westvleteren 12 – 12%, Euro 12.00
- Hercule Stout – 9%, Euro 3.75