Boozy Belgium – 100 beer challenge
The trip: At the end of February 2015 I visited Belgium with Laura and two friends (Scotty and Carla). We travelled to Brussels and spent four nights there from Thursday to Monday. To give our trip a sense of purpose we set ourselves a challenge – to drink 100 different Belgian beers.
Getting there: The 2-hour train journey from Preston to London Euston set the tone for the whole trip. We had drunk two bottles of Prosecco by the time we go to Crewe, at which point about 50 excited school kids got on the train! Bearing in mind it was only about 10.30am we weren’t setting a great example. Nevertheless, we continued undeterred and finished the third and final bottle before moving onto the beers. By the time we got to London Euston Laura was pretty drunk. In fact, she stumbled her way through the station as we headed to Euston Taps for a quick pint. She fell down the steps…. twice, but luckily was unscathed. Whilst in Euston Taps we coined the phrase “How drunk are you on a scale of one to Laura at Euston Station?” And have used it ever since.
We got the tube to St. Pancras and Laura struggled with the admin associated with going through passport control. The rest of the journey was fairly uneventful, but it was mine and Laura’s first time on the Eurostar. It was comfortable, quick and great value for money. When we arrived at Brussels Central Station we hopped on the Metro and got to our hotel in no time.
The hotel: We stayed at Pantone Hotel in the heart of the business quarter. It was a bright, colourful place with a cheery welcome at reception. Throughout our stay the rooms were kept clean and the staff were happy to help.
First evening: We were drunk and tired from travelling, but at the same time excited to be on our first holiday as a group. So we decided to head out and find the first place that served food and beer. We got lucky as we stumbled across a place called Arion Café. We sat at the busy terrace outside and ordered our first four Belgian beers. The food was great, the waitress was eager to assist and the beers were all good. We finished the night with 15 beers ticked off and headed to bed.
Friday, discovering Brussels: We got up quite early and walked to Grand-Place, the central square of Brussels. This is a busy tourist area full of history and stunning architecture. Whilst the buildings date back to the 15th Century most are 17th century and there is blend of styles from colourful facades to the gothic City Hall (Hôtel de Ville) and its imposing bell tower. We wondered around the square and surrounds for a while then decided to visit a brewery. Unfortunately, the brewery on the square was closed for the day, so the tourism guide directed us to the Cantillon brewery.
We decided to walk the 5km to the brewery so we could take in the sights. It seemed to take us an eternity to get there and the further we walked the less charming the city seemed to get. We eventually found our destination and so began our tour of the family brewery where Lambic, Gueuze, Faro and Kriek are made.
The brewery is nothing to look at outside, but the tour was great. The tour guide was charismatic, informative and even threw in the occasional joke. The tour itself is like taking a step back in time. Cantillon is still brewing beer using the same process as they used in 1900!
When we got to the end we were offered the ‘opportunity’ to sample Lambic, Gueuze and Kriek. Lambic was first and not one of us liked it. Carla almost spat it straight back out and pulled an amazingly horrified face. You can see it on our little video at the end of the blog.
We were grateful that the samples were only small glasses, but we still struggled. When we did eventually force it down we went and got our second free sample. This time we got a couple of Krieks and a couple of the traditional Gueuze. They were marginally better than the Lambic! The trip was really good. The beer was not to our taste, but I have to say most of the other people there seemed to really enjoy the flavour, so don’t let my review put you off. The brewery is worth a visit.
We headed back to the Grand-Place and looked for some food and more beer to wash away the unsavoury taste! We had lunch at a restaurant called Opera. The food was fantastic, but the staff were a bit odd. Carla ordered a croque monsieur (cheese and ham toasty) but without the ham. He said no. We laughed thinking he was joking. He said no again and that they couldn’t take the ham off. He looked bitterly offended that we would even dare to ask.
We walked to Delerium café and started trying to put a dent into our 100 beer target. You can read my review of Delerium and six other bars we visited on my Belgian pub guide here.
Once we had knocked back another 10 beers we decided a bit of ‘culture’ was in order. So we walked to the Manneken Pis. It is basically a little bronze sculpture taking a tinkle. The locals dress the statue up in different outfits every day and tourists flock to see it. In reality it is quite underwhelming. But whilst there we did discover two great pubs, Poechenellekelder and Taverne Manneken Pis. Again they are described in my guide, but of particular note is Poechenellekelder. I would highly recommend a visit. Full of puppets and character with plenty of beers to choose from.
By the time we were done it was getting dark and we were hungry. So we ventured back to the Grand-Place to see it lit up at night and to find an eatery. The buildings looked beautiful and opulent glowing at night.
To eat we decided to keep it cheap and cheerful so headed for one of the many bargain three course set menu restaurants. It was a bad decision as the food was terrible. Suffice to say we laughed about it and weren’t too bothered as it filled us up and allowed us to continue our quest for more beers.
After eating we discovered a hidden gem of a bar called l’Imaige Nostre-Dame before finishing the night in Delerium Taps. The vibe was great. We chatted with people from all over the world; including a strange Brazilian bloke who I think was hitting on me, or my wife, or maybe both!
Alas the night had to come to an end at some point and we called it a day with 37 different Belgian Beers under our belts.
Saturday, trip to Bruges – the long way round: We got the Metro and arrived at Brussels Central Station about 9.30am. The train was due at 9.51am. We went to pay and saw a screen showing a train to Bruges at 9.39am. We rushed to pay for our tickets, ran to the platform and boarded the train. Phew!!! Just in time. That was lucky. Or was it?
The train we got on was a local train that went the long way round via 10 stops before getting to Bruges after 2 hours 15 minutes. The train meant to get would have only taken 50 minutes. As such we arrived in Bruges over an hour later than planned and in a little bit of a bad mood.
Nevertheless, we had an amazing time in Bruges. It is a beautiful and still unspoilt fairy-tale town. It was a glorious day and we spent it walking around the charming cobbled streets, scoffing tantalising Belgian waffles, eating some hearty grub and of course notching up the beers for our challenge. Highlights included visiting Herberg Vlissinghe, the oldest pub in Brussels and full of charm, and 2be which is a tourist trap and home to the famous Wall of Beer.
We visited Basilique du St.Sang (Basilica of the Holy Blood). The chapel is home to a phial claimed to contain cloth with Christ’s blood. It was a bit of a surreal experience as none of us are particularly religious people and when in the queue we started to get a bit giddy and found it hard to stop ourselves from laughing at the priest/vicar/person in charge for no real reason. I’m sure for a religious person the experience of seeing this precious relic would have been amazing. For us it was worth doing but a little strange. That said the chapel and the area around it is beautiful. Gothic and remarkably decorated with impressive stain glass windows, golden murals and stucco sculptured into the walls.
About 4 o’clock we decided to head back towards Belfort Tower. Climbing the tower was high on my agenda following watching Colin Farrel’s “In Brugge.” However, on our way back we got blocked by a crazy carnival of colourful floats. We got stuck about 60meters from the tower unable to cross the road. So we decided to join in the festivities and dance merrily with the carnival crowd. It was a great atmosphere and the contributors had gone all out with their floats which included music, the occasional special effect, some strange dancing and lots of colour.
Eventually we decided to take our chances and dart between a couple of floats. The tower stopped letting guests in at 5pm and it was 4.45. We headed to the entrance. Unfortunately, the attendants wouldn’t let us up the tower as there was already enough up there and they were closing shortly. Gutted! So we headed back to a final bar before catching the train back to Brussels – this time making damn sure we got on the right one.
After a long day exploring Bruges, we decided to have a fairly quiet evening and finished Saturday with 60 beers down. 40 more to go and only one full day left!
Sunday, culture and alcohol: Sunday was a jam packed day. We started by walking to the European Parliament buildings and wandering around that area. We stumbled across Parc du Cinquantenaire which was a lovely park made all the better by the beautiful blue skies. A quick mess around at the outdoor gym then onto the Royal Museum of Armed Forces and Military History. A huge and impressive collection of military memorabilia including a great section dedicated to planes and helicopters. Free entry and a great way to spend a couple of hours. There was another museum nearby called Autoworld which also looked good, but we had 40 more beers to drink to hit our target it time was ticking so we had to move on.
We got back to the centre of Brussels at 2pm. A quick dinner then on to the task at hand. We flew through the beers and visited lots of great bars including returning to Poechenellekelder and Taverne Manneken Pis. We started chatting to an English bloke and his French girlfriend in a fabulous bar called l’Imaige Nostre-Dame. We had a laugh and decided to meet up again at Delerium later that evening. By the time we got to Delerium it was about 10pm and we were only ten beers off our goal, meaning we had drunk 30 that day and not in a great state. We laughed, danced and swiftly hit the 99 beer mark. Then our new friend offered to buy us the big 100. We shared it, but it was a super strong Delerium beer and one between four was more than enough! Having completed the 100 beer challenge, we felt like great conquerors and decided we had consumed enough beer for one holiday. Or in Carla’s case enough beer for the next 3 months. So we went to the rum bar in Delerium. A rum each was enough to push us over the edge and we headed home. Although not before our new friend started acting very odd. In fact, when the taxi was leaving he stood in the road directly in front of where we were going and stared into the window like a zombie.
Final day, homeward bound: Our final day was uneventful. Basically a hungover breakfast and a much delayed trip home on the Eurostar.
So to conclude I will say that our trip to Belgium was great. We completed the noble 100 beer challenge, saw some fantastic places and had an amazing first holiday together.Tags: Belgian Beer, Belgium, Bruges, Brugge, travel