When you think of Belgium, you may think of Agatha Christie’s famous detective, HerculePoirot or Belgium’s famous chocolates; if you’re a fan of comics, perhaps Tintin springs to mind. Another thing that Belgium is known for throughout the world, however, is the breadth and quality of its beers.
Belgium never wastes an opportunity to show off its special talent for brewing, with a large number of beer festivals taking place throughout the year. Although individually not as heavily patronised as Germany’s Munich Oktoberfest, there is at least one popular beer festival in almost every month, to celebrate the 450 types of beer brewed in the country. If you don’t want to spend the whole year trying them out, there are five, in particular, that beer-lovers should try hard to attend.
You may be surprised to learn that Belgium’s Oktoberfest, held in AsbergKasterlee, takes place during May, although logistical problems led to its cancellation in 2013. There is a decidedly German feel to this festival, even to the extent of having oompah bands as well as staff, visitors and entertainers dressed in dirndl dresses or lederhosen. While all four days are dedicated to celebrating a large selection of Belgian beers, to the credit of the organisers, the first day is equally devoted to providing a really good time to the mentally disabled of the region. An admirable cause to start off the festivities.
Brugs Bier Festival
If you don’t fancy waiting until May, then you could head to Bruges in February, where you can sample the delights of well over 300 Belgian beers. 2014’s festival will take place in the new location of Beurshalle in BeurspleinBrugge and is tipped to feature a number of new beers, including the robust Malheur Brut Extra. As well as all these beers, coming from more than 70 breweries, visitors can try some gourmet foods, prepared by top chefs to complement the alcohol. The 2014 Brugs Bier Festival is due to take place over the first two days of February.
Antwerp’s Bierpassie, or Beer Passion Weekend, takes place in Groenplats Square during June, although this year’s festival dates have yet to be confirmed. In addition to the chance to enjoy some of the 200 or more beers on offer, you can also find a selection of beer-related merchandise, such as books, gadgets or printed clothing or you can hear presentations from beer experts. There are also a number of acts, such as bands, so that you can try old and new beers as you are being entertained.
OBER Kerstbierfestival Christmas Beer Festival
The Objective Beer Tasters of Essen Region (OBER) hold their festival in December to attract a seasonal market, who can taste their selection of Christmas and Winter brews. Taking place in Essen, a small village not far from the Netherlands, this celebration features more than 150 of what the organisers claim to be the finest Belgian beers and is likely to be held at around the middle of the month. With free entry, reasonably priced souvenirs and food cooked using local beers, it could be the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit.
Brussels Beer Weekend
From 5th to 7th September of this year, tourists and locals in Brussels can drop in on the 16th Brussels Beer Weekend to become better acquainted with at least 350 Belgian beers. With a lively atmosphere, helped along by a variety of bands playing jazz, oompah music and Belgian folk as well as a great many activities to keep any children entertained, this is one of Belgium’s most popular events. There is no charge for entry and the beer prices are surprisingly low. Of course, being the Belgian capital, if you come for the festival, there’s plenty more to explore while you’re here.
We’re lucky, in the UK, that we are so close to the European mainland and have access to so many fascinating places, including Belgium. The easiest way to access the continent is probably by car, via the Dover to Calais ferry, leaving you mobile enough to make the most of your time in Belgium. If you time it well enough, you could even do a bit of festival-hopping, so by the time you get back to the UK, you could be quite the expert on some of the most popular beers in the world.