Oh, sweet Belgium: home of the world’s best waffles, chocolate, and, of course, beer. And when we say best beer, we mean booziest beer. And when we say booziest, we mean an average Belgian beer ranges between a whopping 8-10% ABV.
Before we dive in, let’s take a crash course on Belgian beer so that you can chat with your bartenders without sounding like you’ve never had a drink before.
Belgian Beer: What’s the deal?
Trappist beer is brewed exclusively by monks in monasteries. Of the 11 Trappist breweries in the world, six of them are in good old Belgium (including one of our favorites — put the Westmalle Tripel, a strong blonde with 9.5% ABV, on your drinking list).
As Parmigiano Reggiano is to Italy and Champagne is to France, true Lambic beers are native only to Belgium. They go through a unique, open-air fermentation process and they’re typically fruit beers. Some of the most famous Lambic beers are the Mort Subite fruit beers, ranging from 4.5-7% ABV.
Every Belgian beer has its own glass. Every single one. If you go to a bar and they’re out of those glasses, you aren’t getting a glass of that beer. They won’t pour it into a different beer’s glass and they won’t give it to you in an unlabeled glass. You’re out of luck. If you’re looking for the coolest glasses to drink out of, order a Corne. It’s got an easy 5.9% ABV, but makes up for it by being served exclusively in badass horn-shaped glass.
Feeling ready? Here we go. Here’s your guide to some of the country’s best and booziest beers (and where to drink them).
This is a great place to start your beer journey because it’s located right next to Brussels’ inexplicable urinating mascot, Mannekin Pis. Ignore the tourists crowding around the fountain and come here instead. They’ve got a great outside seating area for people watching and a downstairs with so many puppets you’ll have nightmares, but in a cool cultural experience kind of way.
They’ve usually got over 100 beers on offer and the staff are super knowledgeable. Tell them what you like and they’ll reappear with the perfect beer for you faster than you can say Poechenellekelder. It’s like magic.
Next to another one of Brussels’ peeing statues is one of the city’s most famous bars, which boasts a beer menu of over 3,000 beers. Of all the bars in Brussels, Delirium Café is the one bar you can’t miss. If the crowd doesn’t help you find it, look out for the pink elephants!
Delirium also brews their own beers, and where better to try them than in Delirium’s own establishment? Delirium Tremens (8.5% ABV) is their most popular beer, with a strong, sweet taste. Of course, with a menu of over 3,000 beers, there’s practically nothing you can’t get there, so go wild! But, you know, responsibly.
Sound familiar? Mort Subite, or the sudden death, is named after a finishing move in a Belgian bar game called pietjesbak. This classy, old-fashioned bar is the best place to sample some of Belgium’s famous Lambic beers. It’s a hotspot for locals and tourists alike.
If you aren’t feeling the fruit, have a Kwak! It’s 8.4% ABV and comes in a unique glass that looks more like a chemist’s vial than a drinking instrument. Supposedly, the design was to be hung on carriages so drivers could drink without leaving their horses unattended.
If you are still trying to get your hands on an authentic Trappist beer, come here for the ideal medieval vibes and excellent monk-made booze. Established in 1695, Au Bon Vieux Temps is often considered the oldest bar in Brussels. With its stone walls, stained-glass iconography, and wooden benches, it’s the closest you’ll get to drinking in church without taking communion.
If you’re on a hunt for what is largely considered the actual best of Belgian beer, you can usually get it in the Westvleteren XII (10.2% ABV). Almost impossible to find outside of Belgium, your options for getting it, even inside the country, are limited to making an appointment months ahead to visit the monastery that makes it (and buying more than you need) or spending a little more than your average beer costs to sample its delicious flavor.
Famous around Bruges for its beer wall, this excellent little bar is located right on the river in one of Europe’s most charming medieval cities. If you’re curious about those glasses I mentioned earlier, the beer wall has 1,915 different Belgian beers with their associated glasses proudly displayed.
2Be also had the booziest beer I’ve ever seen. With a whopping at-this-point-is-it-even-still-beer alcohol percentage of 13.5% ABV, you can treat yourself to a bottle of Black Damnation. Be prepared to spend about 45 euro for this beer, making it more expensive than Belgian’s best, the Westvleteren XII. I can’t even describe it for you, since part of its allure is that no two batches taste the same.
If you want a break from the hustle and bustle of boozing in Brussels, take a trip to the nearby village of Tervuren. This sweet little town is on the outskirts of Brussels and can be easily reached by tram. While here, visit the favorite local watering hole, the Spanish House, sitting near one of the lakes in Tervuren Park, just on the edge of the woods. This is the only place you can get the village’s local beer, Tervuurse Reus. They’ve got a tasty blonde tripel that’ll do you right with an 8% ABV while you relax in nature.