Drinking lambic beer in Brussels
The renewed interest in traditional lambic beer is gradually translating itself into an increase of locations in Brussels where artisanal geuze and kriek can be found, ranging from the addition of the obligatory bottle of Cantillon geuze to an existing beer list to new pubs that celebrate independent brewing and spontaneous fermentation. What follows is a characterization of five establishments in Brussels where lambic is more than an afterthought. In Brussels, two quick and dirty indicators of the degree to which lambic is taken seriously are whether the establishment serves straight (fruit) lambic and whether geuze is served in the traditional manner.
1. La Fleur en Papier Doré (55 Rue des Alexiens). Once the meeting place of the surrealist scene in Brussels, this historical and intimate café is among my favorite places in Brussels. During my last visit their menu included Girardin kriekenlambic and Oud Beersel lambic among a small selection of traditional bottled geuzes and fruit lambics. The atmosphere is restrained and the waiters are attentive. A good organic restaurant within walking distance is Soul.
2. Poechenellekelder (5 Rue Du Chêne). The Poechenellekelder is a strange place for more than one reason. Its most striking achievement is that it is within a few footsteps of Brussels’ most famous tourist destination, Manneken Pis, without having succumbed to the temptation to transform the place to a cheap and rowdy affair. There is plenty of seating outside, but to get a real feel of the place make sure to find a table inside when it is quiet and observe the eerie puppets on the walls. The Poechenellekelder serves an impressive number of geuzes and fruit lambics, served in the traditional wicker basket, and the occasional vintages and limited editions such as Cantillon Zwanze 2009 and Cantillon Zwanze 2010.
3. Chez Moeder Lambic (68 Rue Savoie, St-Gilles). Chez Moeder Lambic is at the forefront of the independent and spontaneous beer revolution in Brussels. To my knowledge, the two Chez Moeder Lambic pubs are the only locations that consistently serve draught Cantillon young lambic and faro. Of the two Chez Moeder Lambic locations in Brussels this is the original and the most traditional. The owners of Chez Moeder Lambic know their lambics. As a consequence, they have an extensive list of vintages and rarities, but expect to pay for them!
4. Chez Moeder Lambic Fontainas (8 Place Fontainas). This is the newer and hipper incarnation of Chez Moeder Lambic at Place Fontainas. Like the original location, there is a terrace and the views are definitely…urban. Inside, one can take a seat in one of the booths or at the bar. The design and music are deliberately cool (think minimalism and electronic sounds) and there is no place for macro swill on its 40 taps. The food options are basic but well made. Chez Moeder Lambic Fontainas is a relatively short walk from the Brussels South train station (with luggage lockers) and the Cantillon brewery, which allows for some creative planning.
5. Le Bier Circus (57 Rue de l’Enseignement). Le Bier Circus does not distinguish itself by contemporary design, traditionalism, or surrealism but it makes up for it with various Girardin lambics on draft and an extensive, and reasonably priced, bottle list with lambic vintages. This is the place the go if you are interested in comparing traditional lambic brewers or doing a vertical tasting of various geuze vintages.
For more options in Brussels, consult Tim Webb’s excellent guide LambicLand. No lambic connoisseur’s visit is complete without going to the Cantillon brewery (with some luck, they may sell something special in their shop as well) and the historical A La Mort Subite café. A La Mort Subite can hardly be classified as a go-to destination for good beer, but one can enjoy an Orval and look at the walls and decorations at this legendary fin-de-siecle lambic temple. If you find yourself craving American craft beer, walk over to Delirium, avoid the ugly Americans downstairs, and climb the stairs to the “Hoppy Loft” to find Russian River, Founders, Green Flash, Great Divide, and more. For creative beer-based cooking and the most impressive vintage lambic beer list on the planet, leave Brussels and find the De Heeren van Liedekercke in Denderleeuw for a memorable experience.