5 Reasons Why Belgium is the Ultimate Beer Travel Destination

Westvleteren 12 and St Bernardus 12 side by side

By Ruth Berman, CEO and BBB (Brains Beyond the Beer) Bon Beer Voyage 9/15

I find myself back in Belgium this week, courtesy of The Flanders tourism office. Last year they invited me over as part of a group of tour operators and travel agents specializing in travel to Belgium for familiarization visits to various tourist sites, restaurants and hotels.  The travel forum also included meetings with vendors and workshops on areas of interest to tourists. Two of the hottest topics on the agenda were the 100th anniversary of WWI and Beer.

At that time they were working hard on increasing the promotion of beer tourism here. They are still at it and really focusing in on it even more so now. This time, I am returning with a small group composed solely of beer tour operators and agencies specializing in beer tourism from around the world. 

I’m sure some of you remember the ad campaign for the state of Virginia which used to say“Virginia is for Lovers”. I am thinking perhaps Belgium should revamp this slogan and start a “Belgium is for Beer Lovers” campaign. They are certainly working on promoting beer tourism here, although I don’t believe they’ve proposed a beer-themed tag line yet…perhaps I’ll suggest it to them.

Of course, beer tourism is on the rise everywhere, we’ve watched the industry grow over the years, with a number of US cities opening brew bus type tours and even some large international tour companies offering beer tastings and brewery visits as a special interest tour here and there on their annual itineraries.

When folks find out that we are beer tour operators, the first thing they say is “Wow, what an awesome job you have!” (Why thank you, we think so!)  Then they are always quick to give us their opinion on where we should run our tours- and their reasoning is usually-“there are sooo many breweries there!” But while we are always happy to hear your suggestions and a concentration of great breweries in a local area certainly is appealing to beer tourists, we are always looking for something more for our guests to experience beyond the beer, such as the culture surrounding these great beer meccas. And while we run tours in locales other than Belgium- i.e. The Netherlands, France, California, North Carolina, Florida and Washington DC- the question still remains:

What is it about Belgium that makes it so special for beer travelers? 

Why do people who visit Belgium as beer travelers return again and again? Is it simply the delicious Belgian Beers? Is it the history and the legacy of generations of family run breweries? Sure, it is all of these, and more, but you can find history of family run breweries in Bavaria and special local styles there as well… and while Belgian beer rocks, a lot of us who love our Belgian quads also love our hopped up west coast American IPAs… So what makes Belgium stand out in the Beer Universe? One thing you must know about the Belgian people is that despite having a great sense of humor, they take their beer seriously. Here are a few thoughts to consider about what makes Belgium a truly unique beer destination:

Knighting Belgians actually knight people who have gone above and beyond in promoting Belgian Beer around the world. The Knights of the Brewers Mash Staff is the modern day descendant of the centuries old Belgian Brewer’s Guild. Every year, they hold a ceremony to recognize (and knight) these extraordinary advocates of Belgian Beer culture.  So next time you run into Lisa Morrison you may want to call her Dame(the female equivalent of Knight) Morrison or try “Sir” when addressing Jay Brooks or Jason or Todd Alstrom- all are knights of the Brewers Mash Staff 
D4 Hop Museaum15 - Copy Belgium is home to multiple beer and beer-centric museums. From the Hops Museum in Poperinge, to the huge regal looking building in Brussels which used to be the Bourse(stock exchange) and will soon be home to The Brussels Beer Temple. This will house a museum promoting Belgian breweries, Belgian Beers, Belgium beer history and culture in an experiential atmosphere. With a budget of 25 million euros, the project is estimated to be completed in 2018 or 2019.

Here are a few museums for Beer Enthusiasts that you might want to check out on your next visit to Belgium:

Museum of the Belgian Brewers

Hopmuseum Poperinge 

Musée des Bières Belges

Schaerbeek Museum of Beer

Gambrinus Drivers Museum

Belgium Has More Trappist Breweries than any other country in the world. And is home to the Abbey St Sixtus at Westvleteren, where one of the top rated and most sought after beers in the world is brewed.  If Belgium was chosen by those answering to a higher power, who are we to argue? 

Although you cannot visit the brewery here, you can certainly go to the nearby In de Vrede Café and treat yourself to a taste of this delicious brew! 

Westvleteren 12 and St Bernardus 12 side by side Belgians Use Proper Glassware. Almost consistently throughout Belgium you will receive the proper glassware with every beer you order. Every beer…. Every time. They even pour water into the proper matching waterglass! Glassware for beer is designed to enrich the drinking experience by influencing or enhancing factors like head formation and aroma.  Belgians have a true appreciation of the art of enjoying good beer.
Beer and Food a And last on this list, but certainly not least, Belgium has an abundance of restaurants that serve great beer with their food, as well as cuisine à la bière. What a joy to be able to go out for a meal and find a beer list full of delicious pairing possibilities!

This is my top 5-what do you think makes Belgium so special for beer lovers?  Read more about Belgian Beer Culture in this article by Luc De Raedemaeker, Tasting Director at The Brussels Beer Challenge and CEO of Beer Matters  A touch of Belgium