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Belgian beer looks to the future

Added: Thursday, December 1st 2016

Brussels Beer Project

I don’t need to tell you about the joys of Belgian beer. Whenever I go to Belgium – which is often, thanks to the ability to be whisked from London to Brussels in just two hours by Eurostar – I bump into fellow CAMRA members enjoying the beery pleasures in the capital, Bruges, Ghent, Leuven, Liège, Antwerp and places in between.

The country is famous for its vast range of beers, including Trappist, abbey, saison, spiced wheat, pale ale, sour red, lambic and gueuze, to list just a few. In October, I was a judge in the Brussels Beer Challenge, which despite the title is an international competition with 1,200 beers from 36 countries. It was held in the ornate surroundings of the Bourse, the Stock Exchange, where I was told that by 2018 it will become the Belgian Beer Palace.

It will be an interactive display that will trace the history, traditions and culture of beer. Over many centuries, the Low Countries, as a result of invasion and occupation, have absorbed brewing techniques from the likes of the Germans, the French and even the Spanish. As a result of Britain’s help for Belgium in two world wars, there is great affection for our pale ales that have been taken up there by the likes of De Koninck and Palm.

And no doubt the exhibitions will stress the fascinating story of how Trappist monks, expelled from France by the secular revolution, settled in the north and brewed beers to supplement their diet that over time have achieved world renown.

The palace will be far more than a static museum. There will be tasting rooms, seminars and a brasserie. And, listening to one of the key people behind the project, Krishnan Maudgal, there’s no doubt the palace will also offer pleasure – which is what beer drinking is essentially about.

If you go the website www.belgianbeerpalace.be you can sign up for a regular newsletter, trace the development of the project and see when it will open.

Brussels is not living off its past. Belgian brewers have been criticised by, among others, Tim Webb, for being hidebound by their historic styles and failing to innovate in a world of furious beer change. The challenge has been taken up a small group of beer lovers who opened the Brussels Beer Project in 2013 with the slogan “Leave the abbey, join the playground.”

The project was created by crowdfunding and has resulted in buildings at 188 Rue Antoine Dansaert, Brussels 1000 – a short walk from the Bourse and the Grand Place -- where a narrow, crowded front bar opens into a spacious back room with plenty of seating and views of the impressive modern brewing kit. It’s gleaming stainless steel, a world away from the wood, copper and open vessels of traditional Belgian breweries.

It’s open for tastings Thursday to Saturday, from 2pm to 10pm. It was jam-packed on my visit and is clearly reaching out to younger drinkers who made up the bulk of the crowd. The project brews its own beers, of course, and its Delta IPA is its big seller: the fact that IPA is top of the list is an indication of the way the Belgian beer scene is changing.

But the project specialises in collaborative beers with other craft brewers. I sampled an amazing Stereo Lips, described as a “hot rye IPA”, brewed with La Goutte D’Or brewery in Paris. As well as malt and hops, the ingredients include vanilla pods and Mexican chipotle. The project has also collaborated with Anspach & Hobday in London (pictured. It’s a must visit: www.beerproject.be.

My final beer was in the BrewDog bar opposite Brussels Central station. I know we’ve not always been the best of chums with BrewDog but this is an excellent, spacious venue with a vast range of beers from far and wide, and – as you’re in Brussels – excellent tucker from the kitchen.

The Belgian beer scene is evolving fast. Go and marvel.

*Print version What’s Brewing December 2016