If you ever fly over Belgium one day, you’ll instantly notice how green our little country really is, from north to south. In fact most of the green you’ll be seeing, will most likely be barley and hop – one of the key ingredients of our beers!
“Beer” in mind though that our liquid gold comes in many forms and many different tastes – from light to dark, from sweet to full-bodied flavours – and there is a large sense of pride attached to each beer consumed, as it is rooted with tradition and history. You would be surprised to know also, that beer became particularly popular in times of diseases in the middle ages, as everyone knew it was safer to drink beer than water! Hence why so many farms and monasteries brewed their own beers.
While there are over 1100 different Belgian beer brands (although the exact number is still under discussion) it is hard to choose which one beer to go for, especially if you’re on a short visit. So with so many different brands and labels, we’ve decided to do a bit of research and offer you a guide of some of the best beers in Wallonia – so that upon visiting and while learning about our history you do it with a good Belgian beer in hand! The beers listed below will only cover abbey-beers (meaning they are associated to monasteries and where a portion of the profit goes to the abbey itself, or its designated charities) but more surprising beer routes will follow!
Originally produced in : Abbey d'Aulne, Thuin, circa 657.
Where to drink it: Brasserie Abbey d’Aulne, Hainaut region.
How does it taste like: Spicy, strong and a long finish – Between 6% and 9% alcohol level.
( © Abbaye d'Aulne)
The recipe of the Abbeye d'Aulne beer dates back to the middle ages and it was born in the abbey that bears the same name. The abbey was destroyed completely in 1794 when the French troops entered Belgium- 100 years later and after its restorations it began to brew again. However the abbey fell little by little into the hands of time and nowadays stands in ruins.
The Brasserie Val de la Sambre took over and tried to take the beer production to a larger scale. In 1950 however, the brasserie de l’Abbaye d’Aulne opened up next to the site of the old abbey, and has been since serving locally brewed beers to visitors and travelers with a view of the ruins and the Sambre river. I would personally recommend for the beer to be drank at the brasserie d'Aulne next to the abbey, as not only the service is of high quality, but also because nothing beats having a beer while overlooking the ruins of where it was once produced.
Originally produced in : Abbey de la Bonne Espérance, Estinnes, circa 1130.
Where to drink it: Brasserie la Binchoise, in Binche.
How does it taste like: Three different varieties – aromas of liqueur and caramel – 6% to 8% alcohol level.
(© Isidro López-Arcos)
The abbey of “good hope”, where the statue of the “Our Lady of Good Hope" stands, is located in Estinnes, Hainaut, and it has existed since 1130 and till the end of the 18th century. It was inhabited by monks living in retreat from society, until it got destroyed by the French revolutionaries in the 18th century. It then got converted into a school by the 19th century and finally into a diocesan retreat and a welcome centre for families and pilgrims.
Today, the beer is not produced in the abbey anymore (although they have a brasserie just next to the site where you can try out the beer- if you're more interested in visiting the abbey) and I would actually recommend you to take a 10 minute drive towards the Brasserie la Binchoise, where it is in fact originally produced. 23 different brands are produced here, including the Abbaye de la Bonne Espérance and another personal favourite, La Scott, a beer that has been aged in a whiskey barrel and with 11% alcohol. The brewery not only produces beer, but also serves quality Belgian food, "brasserie style", meaning it serves single dishes that can easily be paired with the type of beer you're drinking.
Originally produced in : Abbey of Forest, Brussels, circa 1105.
Where to drink it : Brasserie Silly (Hainaut Province).
How does it taste like : One variety, light, blond and refreshing – 6.5% of alcohol – 2 time bronze-winner of the Australian International Beer Award
(© Dirk Van Esbroeck)
A Benedictine abbey founded in 1105 by a creek, is actually situated in the district of Forest (literally “forest”) in Brussels; however since it brewed in Walonia, we decided to include it in our list nonetheless. It was actually a monastery built for women which is why you will find a woman prioress on the bottle. Even though the recipe was elaborated here, you will need to visit the Brasserie of Silly to meet its production headquarters. Compared to other breweries, this brewery is quite small and so visits can only be done upon reservation for 5 €, definitely worth-spent since you get to see the whole production of the beer and also taste it. However keep checking their website as they very often launch activities and events in the brewery, that is open to the public.
Originally produced in : Abbey de St. Martin, Tournai, circa 1096.
Where to drink it : Brunehaut Brewery, Tournai.
How does it taste like : 4 different varieties – Highly fermented and made with 3 different kinds of hops – very rich flavour – between 7% to 9% alcohol.
(© Brasserie Brunehaut Brewery)
In 1096 the bishop Radbot allowed the monks of the Abbey of St. Martin to start producing beer in their abbey, which they actually did until its destruction by the French revolutionary troops, in 1793. Luckily, the recipes of the beer were carefully written down and conserved by the monks, allowing the beer to be re-produced in 1890 in the brasserie of Brunehaut, 10km away from Tournai. Nowadays, where once stood the abbaye of St. Martin, is the location of the Hotel de Vill of the city of Tournai.
While there is nothing much left of the actual abbey, the Brunehaut Brewery took care of leaving at least a remainder of the past abbey by representing one of the unique stained glasses, that used to house the abbey, onto the label of this classic Belgian beer. Thanks to the manuscripts that were found and the carefully reproduced drawings, it could easily be reproduced (although the more modern labels now do not include it anymore). The Brunehaut brewery can be visited for a small fee but asks you to reserve in advance through e-mail.
Originally produced in : Abbey Saint-Feuillien du Rœulx, Hainaut, circa 1125.
Where to drink it : Brasserie St. Feuillien in Le Roeulx.
How does it taste like : Spicy crisp and earthy even though is is a blond beer - 7.5% alcohol.
( © puamelia )
Inspired by the monk Feuillien de Fosses (an irish monk who came as a missionary to Belgium in the VII th century), who was later martyrized in 655 in Roeulx, the Abbey of St feuillien was erected in 1125 exactly on that spot. It wasn't until the French Revolution that the abbey suffered its devastating consequences, and nowadays only very little signs of its existence have been left in the park of the Castle of the Princes of Croÿ-Rœulx.
St. Feuillien beer has been officially brewed in the St.Feuillen Brewery since 1873 and has been growing not only in size but also in variety of regional beers. Most of all, the brewery is known for organising "food pairing events" - mixing and teaching visitors how to mix beer and cheese following the right taste and texture. Food pairing nights are organised monthly and include a welcome drink, a guided visit in the brewery and a sampling of four different beers and 5 carefully selected cheeses presented by the master cheese ripener, Jacquy Cange.
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