Brussels’ Beer Scene is Exploding. Here’s Where to Raise a Glass.By Will Hawkes
Despite Brussels’ reputation for beer — it is the capital of Belgium, after all — the city was once a pretty conservative place when it came to bars and breweries. But over the past few years, the Belgian capital’s beer scene has exploded, with new breweries, bars and bottle shops adding variety and richness to the city’s jealously guarded tradition.
From elegant, beer-friendly, city-center restaurants to homebrewer hangouts, Brussels has got the lot. These are the places you need to visit if you want to get a true taste of this city’s ancient and modern beer culture.
For those arriving in Brussels by train, reaching Cantillon couldn’t be easier: It’s a 10-minute stroll from Brussels-Midi. As perhaps the world’s most revered brewery, this should be every beer-lover’s first stop in the city.
Founded in 1900, Cantillon is one of a handful of historic producers of lambic, a tart, complex beer fermented by wild yeast and aged in wooden barrels, and gueuze, a sparkling blend of different-aged lambics.
Beer can be bought to take away, or you can drink it at the brewery in the decidedly rustic bar. But the highlight of any visit is a self-guided tour, which takes you down atmospheric, dimly lit corridors and into rooms full of antique brewing equipment.
Just around the corner from Cantillon, is L’Ermitage, one of Brussel’s newest breweries. Founded in 2017 by three homebrewing friends — François Simon, Nacim Menu, and Henri Bensaria — the inspiration comes not from their neighbors (although they have huge respect for Cantillon) but from the craft-beer producers of the U.S. and the U.K.
You’ll find session-strength pale ales, porters and white IPAs on tap in their pale-wood-bedecked taproom, plus guest beers, too (which also tend to be hoppy).
Like Cantillon, Les Brigittines is a welcome blast from the past, but unlike Cantillion’s rustic space, this city-center restaurant is as elegant as they come.
The art-nouveau interior takes the breath away (this used to be a post office!), but it’s the food that remains in the memory. Head chef Dirk Myny is a native of the Belgian capital, and his cuisine reflects its very best culinary traditions. That includes, of course, beer.
Order the Zenne Pot, made with cabbage, smoked sausage, whelks and blood pudding, which should not be missed — and it’s best washed down with the beer that’s used to cook the cabbage, Cantillon Gueuze.
Moeder Lambic Fontainas
There are two Moeder Lambic locations in Brussels: the original bar in Saint Gilles and one in Fontainas, which is bigger and closer to the center of town. It’s a simple but elegant space, with tables outside and banquette seating from front to back inside.
The beer list is almost a who’s who of modern Belgian brewing (even if Brussels’ big-hitter, Brasserie de la Senne, no longer features here after a falling-out with the owners of Moeder Lambic). There’s Cantillon, Tilquin, De Ranke, Dupont and many more, besides. The food is quite decent, as well — try a glass of gueuze with one of the cheese plates.
On a gently curving road running up to one of Brussels’ most delightful squares, Parvis de Saint-Gilles, you’ll find Malt Attacks, a brightly decorated bottle shop. Run by the genial Antoine Pierson, it’s a treasure-trove of quality beers from Belgium, Britain, America and elsewhere.
It’s also a great place to buy homebrewing materials — hops, malt and the like — and has been a crucial staging post for some of Belgium’s modern brewers, including the founders of L’Ermitage, who bought ingredients and sold beer here before they had their own brewery.
Two beers are served in growlers here, too, still a rarity in Belgium. If you want a modern Belgian beer to take home from your trip, you need to drop in here.