Whether you’re preparing for your first trip or your fifth trip to Belgium, plotting your journey can be daunting. That’s why we reached out to some beer industry veterans who know Belgium best. We hope their advice will guide you on an unforgettable beer adventure.
Headed to Belgium for the first time? Pick up the Good Beer Guide Belgium [the seventh edition by Tim Webb and Joe Stange is out in March]. “The book is really helpful because [Webb] has allies all over the place that know where to get great beer in Belgium,” said Wendy Littlefield, co-founder of Belgian beer importer Vanberg & DeWulf. You should also check out visitbelgium.com for tips on beer and deals, and writer Charles D. Cook offers expert advice at DrinkBelgianBeer.com. Interested in something humorous? Littlefield suggests reading A Tall Man in a Low Land by Harry Pearson, in which the British author chronicles his time living in Belgium.
Know your Lambic cafés
Belgium is home to perhaps one of the most individualistic styles of beer in the world—lambics. For Cook’s guide to 17 must-visit cafés, pick up a copy of the Vol. 35, No. 1 March issue of All About Beer Magazine. Can’t find it on your newsstand? We’ll post it here soon.
Call before you go
“Many Belgian cafés can be notoriously unreliable in keeping set opening hours and days,” said Cook. “If you have your heart set on going to a certain place at a certain time, calling ahead to make sure they will be open is always a good idea.”
Broaden your horizons
Cook suggests seeking out beers that are not regularly imported to the United States. “Hard-to-find beers like any of the Westvleteren brews, as well as any 3 Fonteinen, Cantillon, De Cam, and some small batch brews from Brouwerij Alvinne and De Struise Brouwers come to mind, among many others. If you make it to Orval, be sure and have the new table beer, the Orval Green, on draft at the Abbey cafe. It’s superb, and is only 4.5%. Also, taste six-month old and year-old versions of Orval there.”
While it might be tempting to hit as many breweries and cafés as possible, Littlefield recommends taking your time. “It’s better to pick a few places to go to and really spend time there than to dash around and cover all the major cities,” said Littlefield. “You can physically get there but you can’t understand the nuances of those places if you turn it into a race.”