Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Essential Essen

With an almost complete selection of current Belgian Christmas (or winter) beers, the 2-day Christmas beer festival (or Kerstbierfestival) in Essen certainly moves up as a clear no 2 beer festival in Belgium, second only to the annual 24-Hour Beer Festival, now renamed the Zythos Bier Festival.

As with all Belgian beer festivals I have been to there is a friendly reception, and the organizers seem genuinely happy to see international guests. Being virtually on the border with the Netherlands (my mobile phone even tuned into a Dutch network) there were of course many Dutch beer lovers, but American and British accents were heard as well.

For many people it might just as well be the Kerstbierfestival that puts Essen on the map. There is not much to say about the place except that that is commonly confused with the hamlet of Esen in Westvlaanderen, the home of De Dolle Brouwers.

As at all Belgian beer festivals people are encouraged to sit down and enjoy their beer in a civilised way- this is the Burgundian lifestyle that the Belgians so endorse. You may even feel that you have deserved it making the 20+ minute walk to the venue - De Heuvelhal- from the station, which is on the Antwerpen - Roosendaal line. The local train takes about double that time to bring you from Antwerpen, but then you get to see many small stations on the way.

117 different beers, some draught, but mostly from bottles, all served in the appropriate 15 cl "proefglas", with convenient glass washing facilities next to the bar. The organizers - OBER (Objectieve Bierproevers Essense Regio)- the local branch of Zythos, still keeping the name of the old Belgian beer consumer organisation- have certainly done their bit to ensure objective beer tasting.

Objectively speaking, heading for Essen in December is almost essential for beer tourists in Christmas mood.

Interesting. How do you get there? Which is the nearest airport?
I suppose most overseas guests use Antwerpen as their base with Brussels as the nearest major airport. Brussels itself is about 90 minutes train ride away from Essen.

Londoners, though, can fly directly to Antwerpen (Deurne airport) from the effective London City airport (with VLM). Schiphol being about two hours away from Essen makes Amsterdam another possible base.
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