Belgian Beer Festivals
There's no doubt that beer festivals and beer related events are mushrooming across Belgium. Just like music festivals, they seem to be sprouting up here, there and everywhere over recent years. Check any page of the calendar, and you can almost guarantee there'll be some kind of beer festival being held somewhere in the nation.
They're popular too, attracting a wide audience, both from Belgium and abroad. And the diversity of festivals is almost a match for the diversity of beers on offer. Some are held in the open air, others take place in marquees, still others in exhibition centres on the outskirts of Belgian cities. The focus of each one also tends to be somewhat different.
For example, the smaller festivals often want to provide a podium for the smaller players in the market, to show off their wares. They provide an opportunity to meet inspired micro-brewers – and to be inspired by their creations.
Then there are the established beer festivals, where medium-sized and large brewers showcase their latest and greatest products. Even at the larger festivals, though, you'll have the chance to taste something exclusive. Brewers often take the opportunity to present a new brew, being ever keen to have it taste-tested at the same time.
There are also several well-loved city-based beer festivals, in Brussels, Leuven, Bruges, Antwerp and Tongeren for example. These give you a chance to enjoy the party, and discover these cities and their history, all at the same time.
Finally, you may stumble across niche festivals, such as the Kerstbierfestival in Essen, which are a great opportunity to delve into the lesser-known pleasures of speciality beers. The Kerstbierfestival, for example, is reputed to have the widest range available of Christmas and winter beers.
However you decide to tackle Belgium's feast of beer festivals and events is entirely up to you, of course. But a modest entrance fee is all it takes to arm yourself with a handful of ‘jetons’ (tokens) – and a tasting glass – so that you can regale your taste buds with the latest creations on offer by Belgian breweries, big and small (or in between).
We're happy to give you a few pointers, of course. But it would be a step too far to list all local beer festivals, so we have limited ourselves here to the tried-and-tested.
North Sea Beer Festival
More than 150 Belgian beers from over 20 breweries, from the classics to limited editions... Save the date in your diary with a big star: the North Sea Beer Festival is held in Ostend over the last weekend in August.
Beer lovers, seaside trippers and sunbathers from all over the world gather in the splendid Leopoldpark, close to the Kursaal and the beach; the ideal location to enjoy a good glass and a wonderful atmosphere.
Have a bite on the side if you like. The best restaurants in Ostend will be serving snacks made with fish and seafood. You will not find them fresher anywhere else.
In the meantime you can enjoy live performances, watch the DJ at work or bop along to the Dixieland band. The central square near the entrance plays host to most of the booths where breweries, caterers and restaurants display their wares.
Relax at one of the many tables; join the beer lovers lounging by the lake and under the trees or else grab one of the many park benches.
A small bridge over the water takes you to the park kiosk.
Instead of music played by a fanfare orchestra, you can hear plenty of ‘cheers’ to the sound of glasses being poured by several breweries who have set up their booths here.
You’ll notice which booths are the most crowded and use these observations to draw up your own beer programme. You can be as near, or far, from the crowd as you want to be in this wonderful location.
You will be made to feel very welcome at the North Sea Beer Festival, the most convivial beer festival on the Belgian coast.
North Sea Beer Festival 2017 dates: 25th, 26th and 27th August 2017
North Sea Beer Festival
Belgian Beer Weekend
The Belgian Beer Weekend (Belgisch Bierweekend) is held every year during the first weekend of September, in the prestigious setting of the Grand Marché in Brussels. It is staged by the National Federation of Belgian Brewers, an organisation counting over 70 members – including most of the country's large and medium-sized breweries.
As well as plenty of beer, the Belgian Beer Weekend also plays host to a number of award ceremonies. It usually sees several notable Belgian beer ambassadors ‘knighted’, a means of recognising that they've earned their spurs in promoting Belgian beer.
Recipients of the Knighthood can include beer exporters, cooks, sommeliers and journalists. But there's no risk of a misplaced sword during the 'be-knighting'. The ceremony is conducted by the Knighthood of the Brewers’ Mash Staff.
The official opening of the weekend is marked in Brussels’ Town Hall with a number of speeches. A parade of historic beer carts also forms part of the proceedings. The local fanfare company, kitted out in historic costumes, help to give the proceedings a lively musical touch. It is but a small step from the Belgian Beer Weekend to the world of the brewers’ guild.
The guild is the organisation that laid the basis of today's Belgian Brewers’ Federation, and still has its Head Office in the Brouwershuis at Brussel's Grote Markt.
Once the ceremonial part of the proceedings is over and done with, the brewers and their guests are invited to be first to visit the festival's stands. Here you'll discover a wide range of offerings from small, medium and large Belgian breweries. You'll find the brewers themselves are naturally thick on the ground, taking advantage of the networking opportunities to be had with colleagues and business partners.
The gates open around 6pm, and the general public usually invades the square. The Belgian Beer Weekend continues until Sunday night.
Belgian Beer Weekend 2017 dates: 1st September, 2nd September and 3rd September 2017.
Grand Place 10
Zythos Bier Festival
The Zythos Beer Festival (ZBF) is staged every year in the Brabanthal exhibition hall, in the city of Leuven. The festival takes place each year at the end of April April. The ZBF is an increasingly important date in the diary of beer-lovers, both those from Belgium, as well as those from abroad.
There are around one hundred stands here – staffed by brewers and beer firms – waiting for you to embark on your journey of discovery, token and tasting glass firmly in hand. Some beers are brewed especially to mark the ZBF, so Zythos offers you a first opportunity to sample them.
The City of Leuven tends to join in the fun of the beer festival. Many local restaurants will offer either dishes including beer, or dishes paired with beer. You can join a beer walk or a beer workshop, enjoy the local Leuven beer stories, and taste the fruits of the labour of the city's home brewery of Domus.
AB Inbev, the largest brewing group in the world, also opens its doors during ZBF. And to mark the occasion, Leuven hotels offer special beer-related packages. Check out the Toerisme Leuven site to discover the full programme offered during the whole of Leuven's 'beer weekend'. As they'll no doubt tell you if you ask, Leuven is definitely ‘the place to beer’ for that weekend in April.
Zythos Bier Festival 2017 dates: 22 April and 23 April 2017
Weg naar As 9, Bus 10
BAB Bruges Beer Festival
The Brugse Autonome Bierproevers (BAB, or Bruges Autonomous Beer-tasters) is the local branch of the beer consumer association Zythos. Every year, in early February, it is responsible for the organisation of the successful BAB Brugs Bierfestival in the Beurshalle exhibition centre.
Around 80 breweries took part in the latest edition of this festival and more are expected in the years to come. There are 350 beers available for tasting, including many that only see the light during the previous year. There are a significant number that are launched at the festival itself, so you are sure to find some new beers.
Due to its growing popularity the festival changed venue from the ancient and iconic town hall, at the Belfort in the centre of Bruges, to the Beurshalle centre on ‘t Zand. But for 2017 and its 10 year anniversary the Bruges Beer Festival returns to the historic city centre.
The festival had outgrown its previous location thanks to its burgeoning success, both at home and abroad.
A highlight came courtesy of BAB, the organiser, who commissioned the Strubbe brewery to produce the Mystère festival beer. Another first appearance was a culinary showcase performance, where Bruges chefs showed off their skills at using beer in the kitchen. The programme also includes beer lectures and debates, hosted and attended by brewers and beer professionals.
Quite a few of Bruges' restaurants jump on the beer bandwagon when the festival is on, too. So you'll find plenty of beery dishes flagged up on the city's menus.
Fringe entertainment is also a big part of the BAB Bruges Beer Festival. The most recent edition saw graffiti artists wielding their spray cans to illustrate the theme of beer, in all its variety, across the historic city.
BAB Bruges Beer Festival 2017 dates: Saturday 4th Feb and Sunday 5th Feb 2017
Brugse Autonome Bierproevers
Telephone: +32 (0) 050 / 363 203
Fax: +32 (0) 050 / 373 215
Christmas Beer Festival Essen
The village of Essen – to the north of Antwerp and close to the Dutch border – has put its name on the beer-festival map with its annual Christmas outing. It is traditionally held halfway December. This is the place to go to sample the widest range of Belgian Christmas and winter beers, all served in 15cl tasting glasses.
The Kerstbierfestival is hosted by the Objectieve Bierproevers Essense Regio (OBER), which interestingly stands for both 'Objective Beer Tasters from the Essen Region' and 'waiter'. It is itself a local branch of beer consumer association, Zythos.
OBER’s ambition is to showcase all the Christmas and winter beers brewed in Belgium – including the most exclusive of brews, from the tiniest of breweries.
The festival also provides the chance to sample a variety of special, wood-matured beers, as well as the ultimate winter warmer, the exceptional ‘glühkriek’ (mulled kriek). At this festival, visitors are able to sample close to 200 beers, including around 20 freshly-drawn varieties.
Its reputation as one of winter's true 'warmer-uppers' – helping light up some of the darkest days of the year – really brings in the crowds.
An increasing number of those beer lovers are from abroad, finding their way to Essen's Heuvelhal exhibition centre from across the globe.
So this beer festival has grown, through the years, from a local affair into a top international event, with attendees arriving from far and wide.
Christmas Beer Festival Essen 2016 dates: December 17th and December 18th 2016
Objectieve Bierproevers Essense Regio (O.B.E.R.)
Modeste Bierfestival Antwerpen
The De Koninck brewery hosts the annual Modeste Bierfestival, on-site in Antwerp in early October. The festival is held yearly in the beginning of October. This beer festival is actually a collaboration between the De Koninck Brewery and the Antwerps Bier College (ABC) – a local offshoot of national beer consumer association Zythos.
The brewery is now in hands of Duvel-Moortgat but the festival’s name, ‘Modeste’, is a reference to the former owner of the De Koninck brewery, Modeste Van den Bogaert, who was in charge of the brewery for over fifty years. The festival is similarly set up along ‘modest’ lines, where all stallholders, large or small, are allocated the same amount of space.
Thus, the Modeste Bierfestival is able to offer a great opportunity to the smaller Belgian brewers, in particular, to showcase their beers. Over thirty breweries take part. The festival also stages regular lectures on the topic of beer, in all its dizzying diversity.
This festival, a relatively recent addition to the beer-lovers’ calendar, is now increasingly popular with zythophiles from abroad. That popularity has its drawbacks. Because the Modeste Bierfestival is hosted in a fairly small building, right on the De Koninck brewery site, the festival may get a little cramped, from time to time.
Modeste Bierfestival Antwerpen 2016 dates: tbc
Brassigaume was set up under the initiative of Brasserie de Rulles, local traders and entrepreneurs from the Ardennes and the Gaume region in Southern Belgium. This beer festival takes place in the first half of October, in the village of Marbehan, 20km away from Aarlen (Arlon).
This unique festival organised by the Brassigaume association aims to introduce the multitudinous offerings from small Belgian and international breweries to the greater beer-drinking public.
It's very much a festival that seeks to challenge beer drinkers’ habits, by inviting them to discover new aromas and tastes.
Over two days, a large marquee will see around 25 master brewers showcasing their very best creations. And none of the usual suspects either. At Brassigaume you will only encounter representatives from microbreweries.
None of the participating microbreweries have an output of more than 4,000hl per year. Beer firms without their own brewing facilities are not invited to take part, either. This is an excellent opportunity to discover the crème de la crème of Southern Belgian beer culture, as it has a strong focus on brewing in the Gaume and the Ardennes.
The programme also includes lectures, beer-themed Q&A sessions and tastings. And don’t forget to pay a visit to the festival's renowned Beer Shop.
Brassigaume 2017 dates: 21st October and 22nd October 2017
Rue des Prés 11
Telephone: +32 (0) 63 41 18 38
Fax : +32 (0) 63 41 18 55
The Bierpassie Weekend traditionally takes place in a tent camp, set up at the Groenplaats, in the heart of Antwerp. The festival is held at the end of June. It is the number one rendezvous for the more established, medium-sized and large Belgian breweries.
This ‘open’ festival has around thirty breweries each year. Organiser, beer sommelier and editor Ben Vinken, strives to promote Belgian beer as a complex drink, as well as the fruit of age-old expertise.
The Bierpassie Weekend attracts a wide audience that includes quite a few day-tourists – and some from further afield. Brass bands and jazz combos bring fizz to the proceedings. You may even find a Scottish beer fan parading in his kilt.
All Belgian beer styles find their properly-earned place at the Bierpassie Weekend: from witbier to Spéciale Belge (like De Koninck); abbey and Trappist; gueuze lambiek and kriek; heavy blondes to bold bruins and rustic reds; not forgetting the saisons, bière brut....the list goes on.
The brewers are more than happy to take this golden opportunity to present their new beers. The Beerpassieweekend is awash with awards, too. One of particular interest is the Michael Jackson Award. It goes to the person who has done the most to promote Belgian beers. Wouldn't you like to know who the award goes to this year? We certainly would; turn up in Antwerp in June and we might just see you there.
Bierpassie Weekend 2017 dates: 23rd June, 24th June and 25th June 2017
Telephone: +32 (0) 03 / 645 72 47
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