Friday, September 15, 2006


The Excellent Bruxellensis

September starts the season of many great beer festivals, also in Belgium. In fact, the capital of Europe offers two festivals this month. The first weekend of September sees the crowd packing in Grand' Place for the 8th Beer Weekend. For the true beer enthusiast a more memorable event is likely to be the Bruxellensis Karakterbierfestival the following weekend. Both festivals are worth a visit, but they could not be more different.

Few locations can match the gothic splendour of Brussels' Grand' Place. Its central location, the presence of 48 mostly well-known Belgian brewers as well as the added pageantry almost guarantees a huge crowd- getting a taste of the good stuff may be a challenge, though.

In contrast, the Bruxellensis is almost hidden away in an ijskelder (ice cellar) in the Brussels municipality of Sint-Gillis. The garage-like venue is actually quite big with an open yard in the back. Inside 14 artisanal brewers have their stands-appropriately this year the ijskelder also had a stand featuring some of Franconia's best kellerbiers.

Indeed, the great non-Belgian beers on offer this time was one of the most pleasant surprises. The Stadin Panimo (Downtown Brewery) of Finland served up a hard-punching Amarillo India Pale Ale, whereas the Masilla els Agullons brewery proved that there is an oasis even in the craft beer desert of Iberia. The small Belgian brewers were not to be outdone, presenting some amazing rarities. For me the super-dry 1996 Cantillon Oude Gueuze was a perfect aperitif for the beer tastings to follow.

The Karakterbierfestival Bruxellensis is a small beer festival of small brewers, but it has more character than most.

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