Belgian Beer Museums
When it comes to getting a Belgian beer education, it's not just about packing in the brewery tours – there are many beer-orientated museums begging to be visited across Belgium. Each one showcases a different aspect of Belgian beer culture and each one takes its own unique approach.
While some focus on hops, and others on transport or history, what all of them have in common is that they are run by true beer-lovers – committed in their passion for Belgian beer.
Generally they weren't opened up to make profit, and in fact most of them started off as a hobby or dream of a couple of individuals. What may come as a surprise is that, at the moment, the country doesn't boast one centralised museum, to celebrate Belgian beer-culture as a whole.
However, recently it was announced that the old stock exchange of Brussels will re-open in 2018, as a full spectrum 'beer-experience' museum, complete with a 'Grand Café'.
Timmermans Brewery Museum, Brussels
Some museums seem as if they've scoured the country, in order to put together their collection of brewing artefacts. Timmermans didn't have even open the front door. As the oldest brewer of lambiek beers in Belgium (and so naturally in the world), Timmermans brewery really is a museum, in and of itself.
Most of the equipment here is vintage post-war. Some even dates back a century, while the brewery itself has been spontaneously fermenting on-site since 1702.
Originally the place was a farm-brewery, and for much of its life was known as 'De Mol', or the mole. It only became Timmermans in the early 20th-century, when owner Paul Van Cutsem renamed it honour of his predecessor (and father-in-law) Frans Timmermans.
The mole hasn't entirely gone away, as you'll find it stamped on the brewer's barrels, and much of its merchandise. You'll spot him (and much more) on your brewery museum visit, which involves an eye-opening tour of the original brewhouse. Venerable, but still-working equipment – such as the crushing mill, an antique malt hopper, or the mashing vessel – provide a real insight into traditional artisan brewing of the past.
But here the tradition is very much alive-and-brewing. You may see the boiling kettle and filter tank and taps in action, if you're fortunate. And if you come here during the autumn and winter months, you may even get to see wild fermentation working its wonders in the 'koelschip' (cool-ship).
This is where the wort is left exposed, to be infected with natural yeasts from the Zenne Valley's air. That's only the start of the lambiek brewing journey, of course. It's in the brewery's cellars where the lambiek beers are left for months 'on wood', maturing in oak barrels, and awaiting their moment to be blended into the geuze proper.
During your tour, you'll get a full overview of the unique steps in its crafting: from fermenting and maturing, to filtration and blending, right through to the final bottling.
While the brewery itself is open for guided tours by appointment (and an essential booking for any lambiek fan) the brewery also has its own museum section. This was opened in September 2009, on the centenary of the founding of the Anthony Martin Group. This Anglo-Belgian drinks company took over Timmermans in 1993, and the displays cover the history of this influential beer company, as well as that of Timmermans itself.
In the museum you'll find a magnificent collection of original brewing tools and artefacts, and a fascinating range of Timmermans promotional materials.
These make for a veritable treasure trove, taking you on a journey through the evolving art of selling beer. The visit ends on a high note, concluding with a tasting session across the distinctive range of both Timmermans and Anthony Martin's wider beer selection.
The brewery museum is open every day, including weekends, but only for groups of more than 25 (or a substantial visiting fee). But smaller groups of visitors are welcomed every second Sunday of the month, from 2pm to 5pm hours. The brewery tour starts at 2.30pm, and all visits can be booked through the brewery's website.
Kerkstraat 11 B-1701 Itterbeek
Tel: +32 (0) 2 569 03 57
Belgian Beer Museum, Lustin
“Beer glasses used to be developed with the specific purpose of doing optimum justice to taste and aroma. Nowadays it’s more a question of fashion and marketing.” Christian Lejeune. Curator Lejeune guides you through the dark corridors of his Ali Baba’s cave. It is a fascinating, albeit dusty, ode to Belgium’s rich beer culture.
Each bottle or glass comes with its own story. As many as 20,000 beer bottles, both full and empty, and the same amount of beer glasses await the visitor. All exhibits are catalogued alphabetically and by province.
The ceiling is decked out in beer adverts. In one rather forlorn corner, beer mats cover the floor in a random fashion. Management of the beer museum is in the hands of the local beer tasting society, Guilde des Tâte-Bières. Here you can taste and purchase thousands of Belgian beers. Christian proudly shows me an obscure bottle of Thoricourt, brewed by an American who washed up on the shores of Hainaut, having met a Walloon lady in Alaska.
“Our society was founded 30 years ago,” Christian recalls. “But the building is far older: it used to be a relais for workers towing boats along the river Meuse. This is where they took a break and changed their horses.” Christian regales you with stories about wine and beer and how times change: “Louis XIV ordered the destruction of the vineyards in the Meuse valley in order to protect French wine production.
Hops were then planted, with strawberries at the bottom of the field so the two crops could be harvested at different times of year.
Now the hops have disappeared and there are once again vineyards in the valley of the Meuse.” In the early 1980s, when it was raining fusions, takeovers and closures in the beer world, a handful of volunteers decided to collect bottles, glasses, mugs and advertising. So the museum was born. The tasting guild now numbers 400 members.
Every year between Ascension Day and Pentecoast, as well as on the first Sunday in October, Lustin plays host to flea markets and collectors’ fairs. The museum is open at weekends and public holidays. Tours must be booked in advance. Tastings available. Entry free.
Belgian Beer Museum
Rue de la Gare 19
B-5170 Lustin (Profondeville)
Telephone: +32 (0) 81 41 11 02 - +32 (0) 475 73 79 89
The Museum of the Belgian Brewers, Brussels
Right in the heart of Brussels, on the Grote Markt/Grand'Place, lie the vaulted cellars of the ever-impressive (and equally historic) Brewers' House. The Union of Belgian Brewers, which unites all the breweries in the country, moved back into this prestigious building in the early 1950's. The brewers guild itself goes back to the 14th-century, making it one of the oldest professional organisations in the world.
The museum is dedicated to promoting the rich history, tradition and culture of beer and brewing in Belgium. But don't expect huge spaces, filled to the rim with ancient beer and brewing paraphernalia – or for the most innovating of displays.
That lack of TLC from the Union of Belgian Brewers is down to their attention being elsewhere – the ambitious new Brussels 'beer-temple', which plans to open its doors in 2018 (just around the corner, in the old stock exchange).
Naturally, the updating and modernising of something that will eventually become obsolete is not a priority. Nevertheless, the old Museum's two small cellar rooms – and cosy beer-café – are well worth a visit, when wandering through Brussels. The Museum introduces visitors to the primary ingredients of beer, and educates them about the latest developments in brewing technology – as well as how brewing was done in the past.
It covers everything from advanced filtering methods and cooling processes, to high-tech bottling, packaging lines and cylindro-conical maturing.
While the modern aspects of brewing are explained with equally modern multimedia displays, the historical side is showcased with a display of the antique brewing equipment found in an 18th-century brewery.
Next to authentic brewing and fermentation tubs, and an original boiling kettle, you will also see old tankards and antique porcelain. And naturally, no brewery-related tour is done without finishing with a drink in the beer-café of the Museum.
Museum of the Belgian Brewers
Grand’Place/Grote Markt 10
Telephone: +32 (0) 2 511 49 87
The Lambiek Visitors’ Centre, Alsemberg
In this visitors’ centre, experience and discovery play a central role. The visitor is immersed in the tastes, smells, sounds and texture of Lambiek beer – a really rounded and full-blown experience. This centre makes an ideal starting point to discovering the Lambiek breweries as well as the Pajottenland and Zennevallei regions.
This visitor centre showcases the unique history of Lambiek, a beer which is fermented spontaneously, open to the local airs, and then matured in wooden casks. Lambiek is used as the basis for the production of traditional Gueuze and Kriek beers.
The best conditions to produce this regional and artisan product are said to be found in the Zenne Valley and Pajottenland. The comfortable auditorium offers films on the local culture in Beersel and its surroundings, and on lambiek brewing techniques (which was filmed on-location at several local breweries). The centre also displays a general overview of the history of beer in the area, enriched by fascinating photographs and a plethora of facts and figures.
The visit finishes off with the inevitable beer-tasting session, and it's a real treat. The centre has a huge variety of beers on offer, so you will be able to experience an extremely diverse range of tastes and aroma's – all to be objectively evaluated, of course.
A visit to the area often takes in nearby Beersel Castle, the Herisem paper mill or one of the local breweries. A brewery walk departs from De Lambiek and takes in a number of breweries.
Dotted alongside the route you will find information boards. You’ll also encounter the remains of tools and equipment that were used in the old Lambiek breweries, like the barrel cleaner that now adorns a roundabout in Lot. A brochure describing the walk is available.
Lambiek Visitors’ Centre
B-1652 Alsemberg (Beersel)
Telephone: +32 (0) 2 359 16 36
Hop Museum, Poperinge
In the Middle Ages, Ieper (Ypres) and Poperinge competed for the linen trade. Pressured by the merchants of Ypres, the Count of Flanders banned the linen trade in Poperinge. In later years, thanks largely to the abbey of Saint-Omer in France, the cultivation of hops became a viable alternative industry.
In 1880 there were 4,185 hectares of hops. By 2008 there were only 191. Over that period the number of hop farmers was reduced from 881 to 32. Just for comparison: in 2011, Germany could boast 18,228 hectares of hop fields.
Belgian hops are now more about quality than quantity. Growing special varieties is the way ahead, not industrial cultivation. Target, Magnum, Hallertau and Challenger are the main varieties grown in Poperinge. In total there are 25 varieties of hops that are either aromatic or can be stored for a considerable time.
The Hop Museum is located in the old Stadsschaal or Municipal Scales building. This is where they used to weigh, proof and stack hops. Hops were dried just below the roof of the farm and then sacked and compressed by the sacker. This museum contains a wide range of ancient and authentic hop equipment, complemented by modern-day audio-visual snippets and some quizzes.
This contemporary museum will teach you all you need to know about the history and life cycle of hops. We found out that knowledge about this crucial beer crop is rather lacking these days, so the education here doesn’t go amiss.
“Some visitors thought that the hop strings, or wires, that you come across throughout this area, were First World War defence works,” our guide tells us with a smile. I am learn that the brewers are keen on the unfertilised – female – hop cones. The soil here, primarily composed of loam and sand with an underlying layer of clay that retains water, has proved to be ideally suited to hop cultivation.
Hop Museum Poperinge
Telephone: +32 (0) 57 33 79 22
De Snoek Brewery Museum, Alveringem
Malting and brewing house De Snoek is a unique museum with its architecture based on the top-to-bottom principle. From attic to cellar, visitors learn all the ins and outs of the 19th century malting and brewing process. They will see copper brewing cauldrons, a cast-iron mixing basin, yeast basins and barrels that are centuries old, a beautifully preserved malting installation, an antique gas-propelled engine and much more.
The Museum tour finishes up in the old restored Brouwershof Inn where you can taste the Snoekbier.
By then you will then have heard stories about the thirst of the front lines in the Great War and will have followed in the footsteps of the soldiers at the front. Frank Becuwe, who is the inspiration behind the museum, says: “Soldiers sought solace in alcohol. However, brewing requires yeast, malt and hops and in occupied Belgium these were hard to find. Brewers had to dismantle their copper equipment.
Many breweries went bust but found a new purpose for their premises - hiding fugitives, serving as a hospital or delousing centre, a laundry or even a jail on occasion.
In the meantime, unoccupied Belgium saw breweries increase their capacity, often through mechanisation. Soldiers and refugees contributed to an increased demand for beer.
However, the beer was often unpalatable as it was made using bad quality water from the local, Ijzerstreek, wells. The brewers thought they could do very much better and it turned out to be a boon time for café owners.”
De Snoek Brewery Museum
Telephone: +32 (0) 58 28 96 74
The Bocholt Brewery Museum
The largest brewery museum in Europe is now housed in the historic brewer’s mansion of the Martens family of Bocholt. The oldest brewery in the province of Limburg, this establishment can look back on a 250-year history and is now in the hands of the eighth generation of the family.
The Martens brewery, where the kettles were first fired up in 1758, is predominantly known for its 'Seizoens', a regional beer, gold in colour, with striking hop flavours.
Their Limburgse Witte is an unfiltered, top-fermented white beer, produced in collaboration with the Sint-Jozef Brewery in Bree.
Bocholt-based Martens is the largest independent brewery in Belgium, producing over 3.6 billion litres per year.
Among that production are dozens of different pils beers brewed on behalf of supermarkets and discounters. In 2007 a second pils brewery was inaugurated in the nearby village of Kaulille to support this output.
The Bocholter Brouwerijmuseum is located opposite the old brewery.
The collection held by this museum, founded in 1919, tells the story of the art of brewing from 1758 to the present day. Everything malt-related is on display in the attic. One floor down, in the brewhall, you lose yourself between the filtering basins, boiling kettles and draining basins.
And in the cellar, you will find bottling equipment next to the imposing wooden barrels that were used for cold storage of the beer.
There is also an impressivecollection of taps, beer pumps, pipes and other plumbing paraphernalia.
You can discover the inner workings of steeping basins, malt ploughs, crate-turning kastenwenders, boiling kettles, wort coolers, mashing basins, the barrel-sealing line and many other types of vintage equipment. We can highly recommend the Bocholt Brewery Museum to beer lovers, hobby brewers and those with an interest in traditional brewing techniques.
Your tour ends with a Martens beer tasting surrounded by walls covered in ancient beer adverts – a paradise for lovers of nostalgia.
Our guide asks us, “Did you see that zagemanneke? The ultimate remedy for those who outstay their welcome. As long as it is see-sawing, you have time to empty your last glass.”
He is talking about the model of a little balancing man, set in motion with a push of the finger. It swings back and forth until, finally, it comes to a halt. When he’s in motion, you know that the café owner is planning to close for the night soon so you’d better get your last orders in.
Another meaning of zagen is ‘droning on’, in other words, empty bar chat, something the proprietor can do without at the end of a busy evening.
Bocholt Brewery Museum
tel. +32 (0) 89 48 16 76
Schaerbeek Beer Museum
Beer lovers know that the very best krieken lambics are made with Schaarbeekse krieken. The name denotes a type of krieken cherry – a sour Morello cherry - rather than those that have been harvested in Schaarbeek (nowadays these krieken are grown in the area around Sint-Truiden in Haspengouw).
Schaarbeek is a busy municipality, part of Brussels. Here, the Schaerbeek Beer Museum appears slightly out of place in its location on Louis Bertrandlaan, a place that takes us back in a flash to the Belle Epoque at the start of the 20th century.
The museum is housed in the workshops of a former vocational college.
Your visit starts with a brief introduction to the history of Belgian beer. The brewing process is explained using a variety of brewing equipment, or 'brouwersalaam'.
Traditional Belgian beer styles, especially lambic, faro, geuze and kriek, all of which are characteristic of the Brussels region, are explored in detail.
The museum’s walls are covered in vintage enamel advertising signs. Well over 1,500 bottles and glasses are on display, ranged in alphabetical order by brewery. This extensive collection includes current brands and breweries as well as those that have disappeared into the mists of time.
You will discover that Duvel has not always been served in its current iconic glass. In the past it was poured into a flute-shaped glass.
A small café, perfectly kited out with vintage items, takes you back to the years between 1900 and 1930.
A museum without a café is like a sea without water.
In the estaminet, under the watchful eye of the patron saint of brewers, Saint-Arnold, you are invited to sample the Schaerbeekoise house beer, brewed by Abbaye des Rocs.
Opening times: Wednesday and Saturday between 2pm and 6pm. Group visits on request.
A tip: if you are still thirsty, turn left on leaving the museum and on the next corner you will find a beer shop with its own café, offering an extensive range of more obscure beers.
Schaerbeek Beer Museum,
Louis Bertrandlaan 33 – 35,
Tel. +32 (0) 2 241 56 27 - +32 (0) 2 216 67 43
Website: no website
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