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Brussels, the center of it all

 

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Friends cheer in the shadow of centuries old buildings on the Grand’Place

By: Stephen Beaumont

 

The Belgian capital is often maligned for a lack of charm and beauty outside of the grandiose Grand’Place, surely one of Europe’s most magnificent squares, For the savvy traveller who knows where to look, however, the city holds any number of wonderful, sometimes graceful and always thirst-quenching destinations.

 

If you are to visit only one brewery in your life, it should be Brasserie Cantillon, located on a side street near the Gare de Midi, or south train station. The self-guided tour is well worth the 6 euro price as it will take you through a brewery virtually unchanged for over a century, past the ancient mash tun and brew kettle, not to mention row upon row of wooden barrels where lambics patiently age for years. At the end, taste what some have described as the archetypal gueuze, a beer made through the blending and bottle-fermentation of one to three year old lambics. 

 
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With puppets and old instruments and assorted folk art hanging almost everywhere, the Poechenellekelder is a riotous feast for the eyes

After Cantillon, surely the go-to beer place in Brussels today is the recently arrived Moeder Lambic Fontainas, a fine, modern-style beer bar located not far from the Grand’Place. Open from 11:00 a.m. daily, it boasts what is perhaps the best-curated selection of beers in Belgium, with emphasis on both small production Belgian and cutting edge international brews. The menu is snack food only, though, so when hunger eventually hits, turn tail and head to In’t Spinnekopke, a beer cuisine restaurant par excellence, serving some of the best mussels in Brussels and classic Flemish beer-based dishes like waterzooi and rabbit cooked in gueuze.

 

 

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It’s not just in the multitude of Brussels museums that history is on display, but also in cafes like the Fleur en Papier Doré.

When you inevitably wander down the road to see the famed Manneken Pis, the little statue that serves as the city icon, you may note to one side of it a cafe with the tongue-twister of a name, Poechenellekelder. Consistently one of the best beer destinations in Brussels, this decidedly quirky, two-storey delight offers a lengthy but select list of Belgian beers, a sparse menu of light meals and enough eclectic bric-a-brac hanging from the walls and ceiling to keep your eyes busy for hours. Or for a taste of old Brussels, wander a bit further south to the recently reopened Fleur en Papier Doré, a cafe once frequented by such artistic giants as René Magritte and bursting with history as well as good beer. 

 

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