There are many excellent beer cafes in Brussels and some of my favourites within walking distance of the Grand Place, in the heart of Brussels.
Start at Blanche ou Tonneau au Brasseur at rue de Brasseurs et rue des Chapeliers, one block off of the Grand Place. It is a great location whose outdoor tables spill around two sides of this corner location. They open a bit earlier than most of their neighbours, so you can settle into a freshly tapped Lindeman Kriek for breakfast, or a frothy Leffe Bruin, if that’s more your style and watch the street sweepers, the early tourists and the local shopkeepers beginning their daily routines. This is a place to converse with the locals, talk about beer and learn about Brussels itself.
Chez Moeder Lambic. Listed on their outdoor chalk board are always some very interesting brews from around Europe and some unique offerings from local Lambic makers as well, all brought in by the pioneer proprietor Jean. It’s even better at festival time. He went over his list with us and recommended other special beers as well from his selection of over 40 taps. Sitting in the outdoor terrace on the Place Fontainas, we contemplated the rest of our day with two beautiful beers. Being a fan of the sour beers of Flanders, I opt for an oud bruin from Brouwers Verzet, while my partner enjoys a Witkap Stimulo. The oud bruin is a blend of an old, oak-aged and a younger brown beer, it is a hazy, auburn brown with a fruity, earthy nose, a green apple sour bite, but is well balanced, complex and refreshing, checking in at 6%. Also at 6% the Stimulo is a blonde ale with panache. Pale yellow, tight frothy head, warm herbal nose, fruity palate, complex flavours floating underneath each other creating a beautifully balanced and drinkable brew. http://www.moederlambic.com
A La Becasse, is a great little place for lunch, a wonderfully woody hole in the wall featuring the beers of Timmermans. I jump into a sour, bottle conditioned Gueuze Lambicus, dry and inviting, but the Kriek Lambicus on tap is excellent too. We order a cheese and sausage plate, which comes with pickled onions and sweet pickles, and enjoy the relaxed ambiance of this curious little cafe.The Kriek is deep red with a pink head, a bit sour, but balances towards to the sweet tartness of the cherries, while my Gueuze is definitely a classic blend of young and old lambics, displaying an oak aged smoothness amid a complex balance of sour and sweet.http://www.alabecasse.com
A La Mort Subite is a must visit for any beer lover. Classic art nouveau room, tall, narrow but deep, they have a wonderful beer menu. I choose their Mort Subite Faro (candi sugar sweetness challenges the lambic sourness, complexity rules) on tap and a goblet of Special Palm (smooth, golden amber, malt balanced). Run by the Vossen family for four generations, this is the proverbial classic Belgium cafe, with small street-side tables and a nice selection of beer, their own and others. http://alamortsubite.com/
The infamous Delerium Café is probably the best beer bar/street in Brussels. It is an entire alley, as a matter of fact, called Delerium Village. The Monastarium serves 100 Trappist & Abbey beers, plus 400 vodkas, Next door it’s 500 tequila’s & mezcals. Across the alley is the absynthe bar. But we came for the three story main event: Hop Attic above, Delerium Tap House on the mid floor and the whirling dervish of a room, the Delerium Tremens downstairs, featuring a dizzying beer menu of over 2000.
Of course we start with Delerium Tremens (8.5% big golden ale, huge malt character, scary smooth), then La Rulles Estivalle (5.2%, hazy, sparkling golden ale, hints of honey & flowers), followed by Buffalo Stout (6.5%, deep roasted/coffee character, brown sugar/malty notes), a La Rulles Brune (6.5%) http://deliriumcafe.be
Another great spot for lunch, with wonderful beers and fabulous people watching is Le Café Poechenellekelder on Rue de Chene 5, right across from the Manneken Pis. They serve up a great lunch, hot or cold and have a huge selection of beers are available. I enjoyed an Oerbier from De Dolle Brouwers, a dark malty brew, but balanced with Poperinge Goldings, it hides its 9% ABV very well. Donna opted for the St. Feuillien Tripel (8.5%), golden, spicy nose, hints of citrus, malty palate, mildly sweet finish. www.poechenellekelder.be
Bier Circus is a little further away, an uphill walk beyond the park next to the Royal Palace, in a typical downtown residential zone. I had first discovered this excellent out-of-the-way beer café when it opened and was happy to see the owner celebrating his 20th year. He offered a Vivien Imperial IPA (8%) for my hop muse, a big, bountiful aroma, hoppy and fruity, cloudy amber, slowly dissipating head, huge palate of malt underpinned by bitterness, well balanced, dry finish. Wow! Bier Circus offers a limited menu, but some delicious stuff, including some traditional fare (Fish Waterzooi in Lambic) and unique offerings (Home-Made Spaghetti Bolognaise à la Trappiste de Chimay!) We went for the traditional plate of Belgian Cheese and Butchery, some of the items sourced at Trappist monastries. A crisp, clear and clean Strubbe Pils (5%) washed it all down, and Oude Gueuze Tilquin (6.4%) brought up the finish (corked, cloudy amber, joyous balance of sour). Tilquin is a fairly new Wallonian blender using both Flemish and Brussels-area lambics. http://www.bier-circus.be
“Back to Moeder Lambic!” I kept hearing myself say throughout our stay in Brussels. I enjoy the ambiance of their terrace on the Place Fontinas so much, and with so many special items brought in at festival time, well, it was just hard to stay away. They had beers from Tocccalmatto and Montegioco in Italy, Brew Dog from Scotland, even beers from Norway, France and Switzerland too. Abbaye St. Bon Chien was one of the latter, from BFM (Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes). OMG! A rather neutral nose leads to a surprise lambic-like sourness throughout the palate, more understated with each sip, cidery and vinous, but with a golden malt quality that brings it all together, small puckering finish. Another unique selection is the house 4% cask ale, made in collaboration with Brasserie de la Senne. Some sweet herb and malt in the nose, fine tall head that eventually falls to good lacing, hazy gold/amber colour, carbonated low like an English bitter, with enough hops to get over the malt nose with flare. This is a Belgian style British cask ale, and they call it Band of Brothers S01E01. Bink Bloesem from Kerkom (7.2%) fwas the finisher – flowery nose, fruity palate with hints of caramel, no hop presence, nice balance of sweetness and a long goodbye.
We visit A La Mort Subite again. The atmosphere is relaxed, I order a bottle of Rodenbach (5.2%, classic blended Flanders red ale, tart, fruity, ruby red) while she opts for a Grimbergen Blonde (6.7%, smooth and balanced, fruity nose, yeasty) from the tap. Next up, Chimay Blonde (8%, white label, hoppy nose, fruity palate, classic Trappist)) and Mort Subite Lambic Blanche (4.5%), a new beer from a venerable old brewery. This latter brew is an actual wit beer featuring some caramel maltiness, an understated lambic sourness, frothy head, small acidic nose, pale blond colour, slightly cloudy, hints of candi sugar in the long finish.
Next we check out a curious little local ‘estaminet’ down a dark alley entrance, A L’Imaige de Nostre Dame, an absolutely local hangout. Walking down the dark alley you would not think there was a bar there, never mind a genuine 16th century cafe, low ceilings, wooden beams, two tiny rooms. They appear to have no draft this day, so we coax a bottle of Beersel Oude Gueuze (6%, tart, refreshingly sour) from out of our distracted barmaid, take in the ancient atmosphere and move on.
After dinner, it’s back to Delirium Village for one last tour. We start in the Delirium Taphouse, enjoy a Vivien IPA (a hoppy favourite) and an Ename Abbaye Double from the Roman brewery (6.5%, roasted malt, hints of dried fruit, caramel, dry finish) then descend the back stairs to the main room of the Delirium Cafe. The place is packed as always, but we manage to
share a table with a couple from Cleveland, chatting about beer and international travel. I go to the bar and order a big bottle of Augrenoise (6.5%, bottled conditioned, cloudy, straw coloured, citric nose, quickly dissipating head, wheaty and winey with a slight sourness). We finish with a 750 ml. bottle of Saison St. Feuillien (6.5%, traditional golden farmhouse, warm and rich) and decide it’s time to stumble home. Instead, we stumble into the Monastarium for one last look around.
Unbelievably, the bartender there remembers us and has a parting gift for us, two corked bottles of oak-aged La Trappe Quadrupel (10%) to take with us. Wow! I sure do love this place!