A shout of Sante accompanies the clink of glasses as we toast yet another round of drinks. I’m surrounded by my Brussels beer tour buddies, and although we only met a few hours ago, countless beers since (obviously in the name of research) means we are now confessing undying friendship.
We are in Delirium, a cavernous bar famous for its selection of over two thousand beers, and I’m pretty sure we are on a mission to sample them all. It’s the icing on the cake of a brilliant evening of entertainment which started with a New Europe beer tour.
Brussels beer tour
Earlier that evening, a group of around 30 beer lovers met in Scott’s Bar on Rue des Herbes des Montagnes. Ushered up a dingy stairway into a mezzanine level lounge, I thought I’d mistakenly wandered into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
Chairs were arranged in a semi-circle and guests were encouraged to take a seat. A mixture of groups, couples and singles nervously shuffled into the room, wondering what they had let themselves in for.
Introducing our New Europe guide
Magali, or Mags is an exuberant Bruxellois. She has a repertoire of well rehearsed jokes and stories and regales us with them throughout the evening. She starts with a brief introduction to the ingredients of beer – yeast, hops, water and barley in case you didn’t know (I didn’t!) and explains why beer became so popular in medieval times.
The rise of beer popularity
Disease was rife and water was rarely treated or filtered. The more people drank water, the more they seemed to get ill. Beer, on the other hand, did not make people ill, unless you drank too much of course! (As I write this, I’m suffering from a rather potent hangover, thanks to too much beer on said beer tour.)
The water that was added to barley, hops and yeast was boiled to remove the bacteria, hence why people assumed it was healthier for them. In Belgium, I think they are exaggerating the risk, as Mags assures us that during the eighties children drank beer in school. I’m not entirely sure whether I believe her, but can you imagine that in high school today?! Let’s just say truancy rates might decrease!
Mags encourages audience participation by frequently asking questions, and rewarding diligent students with points for their countries.
I get England off to a flying start with a question about the French Revolution, and soon the Brits are storming away, with forty points on the board in quickfire time.
We hear about the monks and their role in beer production, and a litany of other enthralling facts.
Making new friends on our Brussels beer tour
I am utterly fascinated, but our brief history lesson comes to an end in no time. Mags scurries off to collect our first beer of the evening, but not before giving us our orders. We must get up, wander around the room and introduce ourselves to people. Beer drinking is a sociable activity and she is keen to ensure we all have a great night.
Frankly, I almost do a runner. Brits are renowned for their stiff upper lip and this type of request horrifies us. Reticently, we turn to those closest to us and make awkward introductions. The ice is soon broken however, and before long a sea of people mingle in the room and the chatter reaches mega decibels. I chat to Andrew, a music producer from Nashville, Eliane, a student From New York who is currently at university in Paris, Becky a graphic designer, Matt a welder and Paul from London.
All too soon, Mags returns with our beers and continues her tales of war and woes (what was the story with the French Revolution). She explains that beers essentially have three tastes and we will experience them all this evening. That is sweet, bitter or sour.
Our first beer
There’s a choice of a sweet Chimay Blue or Bitter Westmalle? For our first beer. I’m expecting miniatures so when I see a full size bottle, I start to worry for my sobriety. We pour the dark liquid into its bespoke glass in the way that Mags demonstrates and before we take our first sip, listen to the heritage of clinking.
One of the downsides of medieval times was the constant feuding between families and wars between countries. The response was to propose marriages between family members of feuding families to put an end to animosity. However, imagine at the wedding breakfast, you find yourself seated next to someone who killed your brother, your sister or your father? Perhaps not the friendliest of wedding receptions. Indeed not, as a common occurrence at such occasions was for guests to routinely drop dead. Some vengeful guest would exact their revenge on an unsuspecting guest by surreptitiously poisoning them.
Clinking was the protection against this potential hazard. By bashing goblets of beer together boisterously, drinks would mingle. Thus to poison your neighbour was to poison yourself.
We listen to more tales whilst sipping our beers. A chimay is not a light beer. At 9% it needs to be savoured, but nevertheless as the tour progresses we feel our defences drop and the conversation flows.
Before long, its time to move on to another venue in the city. This time we head through the Grand Place into the old town, and enter an unassuming establishment called Toone (on Rue Du Marche Aux Herbes street if you are interested). This pub cum restaurant, was originally a puppet theatre, and in a room with large trestle tables we gather with our new found friends to try smaller samples of sweet, sour and bitter beers.
I quickly establish, that contrary to my original expectations, my favourites are the dark and sweet beers. I grimace at the sour beer and am pretty unimpressed with the bitter, however Mags and her knowledge is impressive, information and entertaining.
The tour comes to an end in no time but we are having so much fun, we are not keen to call it a day.
A mini pub crawl
I suggest visiting the coffin pub (Le Cerceuil). I first came across this pub as an eighteen year old living in the city, whilst working as an au-pair. It’s a morbid place, with skeletons in glowing coffins and skulls for beer goblets. More novel than exciting, I’m pretty stoked that it still exists, but we soon move on the star attraction that is Deliruim.
This place lives up to its name. With so many beers to its name, and with die hard enthusiasts trying to try as many as possible, this place could drive you mad.
I figure it must have temporarily driven me insane, as before I know it, it is 1.30am and I’m walking through the streets (not entirely in a straight line I must admit). We’ve swapped contact details, got the obligatory drunken photos and created some new travel memories to dine out on.
Your map of our beer tour
If you wish to join this tour, contact Get Your Guide. The tour costs €22 which includes a full size Chimay or Westmalle and three sampler sizes at Toone. The map below shows you the location of the pubs we visited, which are all within close proximity.
If you book with Get Your Guide, the app allows you to download a mobile ticket without worrying about printing. This is particularly useful if you are travelling, and do not have easy access to a printer.
I can honestly say this is one of the most entertaining, if not the funniest tours I have ever done. Laughter and chatter were in plentiful supply throughout the 2.5 hour tour, and with skillful management of the guests Mags managed to encourage great interaction between guests which ultimately made my evening.