2017 was a bit of a watershed year for beer in Brussels. Breweries like En Stoemelings and Nanobrasserie L’Ermitage both moved into new and/or expanded facilities. Brasserie de la Senne broke ground on their new site along the Brussels canal. The city even saw its first beershop open north of said canal in Fermenthings. And the beer events calendar has become increasingly busy – new upstarts joining established calendar entries. 2018 looks set to be no different. So, to to help guide you through 2018, here’s nine events to look out for.
Cantillon public brewing session, early March
The traditional lambic brewing season stretches from November to March each year, taking advantage of cold temperatures that limit the growth of unwanted bacteria and microflora. In March, to mark the end of the brewing season, Jean Van Roy and Brasserie Cantillon open their doors for a public brewing session. From 7am onwards, visitors are invited to join in with mashing, barrel-cleaning and other steps in the brewing process, along with regular tours. They usually have on a good selection of the brewery’s back catalogue to try. Entrance is free and if you miss it in March, they organise another in November when brewing restarts. Check their Facebook page for the date.
Cantillon Quintessence, May 1
Yes, another Cantillon event. Their Quintessence festival is something special, however. Every two years, they invite select breweries to collaborate with them and join in in celebrating beer and food. Previous editions have featured Russian River and Allagash, and 2018’s guest is Hill Farmstead, the acclaimed American brewery. The beer list is not available yet as, according to Jean Van Roy of Cantillon, “they are still fermenting”.
The only snag? Tickets sold out online in less than an hour, forcing Jean to take to Facebook to apologise to all those who missed out. If you want to try and get a ticket, maybe you can monitor groups like Lambic.info for dropouts, or, failing that, offer something of value in exchange – like, say, a kidney. To get a flavour of the event, read this from Breandan Kearney at Belgian Smaak.
SWAFFF! May 19-20
You heard it here first! SWAFFF! – organised by the owners of Malt Attacks, Dynamo Bar de Soif, and Le Barboteur – returns in 2018 and shifts from Schaarbeek across the canal to a venue in Molenbeek. The festival was organised under the mantra “drink great beers, keep it simple, have fun!” Last year it featured local stalwarts alongside the likes of Brew by Numbers, Lervig, and Mont Saleve, as well as food from Bia Mara and Holy Smoke, among others. Expect much the same this year, although nothing is as yet confirmed except for the date and the location: May 19-20 at the Château du Karreveld - a fantastic location in a small park in upper Molenbeek.
Brewer’s of Europe Forum – Beer and Beyond, June 7-8
Disclaimer: Brussels Beer City is working with the organisers as a media partner for this conference, which is taking place in early June in the Square meeting centre in Brussels. This is a business forum, not a festival. It is organised by Brewers of Europe, the advocacy group representing the brewing industry, and its scientific and technological wing, the European Brewing Convention. A conference programme will focus on technical brewing aspects and quality control, marketing brewing and beer quality, developments in beer and food pairing, and business and market trends.
Speakers confirmed so far for the conference include beer writer Timm Webb, Mikkeller founder Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, and Susanne Hecht of German brewery Schneider Weisse. In addition to the conference there will be a trade show for all the brewing and engineering nerds out there. Taking place over June 7-8, registration is already open, and more details are available at http://brewersforum.eu/.
BXLBeerFest, August 25-26
BXLBeerFest was another 2017 newcomer, and returns to Tour et Taxis again in August. The festival is run by Kevin Desmet (aka the Belgian Beer Geek), Jean Hummler of Moeder Lambic, Olivier Desmet of the fantastic Brussels restaurant Nüetnigenough, and Vincent Callut, a reporter and beer branding consultant. For them, Brussels was missing a serious craft beer festival, and particularly one with an international outlook. Identifying what breweries they wanted to come, they simply made a list of their favourite breweries. Virtually all of them were in attendance at Tour et Taxis in August – including the likes of Bokkereyder, Tommie Sjef Wild Ales, and The Veil Brewing Co.
As well as the stunning location, BXLBeerFest leaned heavily on its food offering – the usual assortment of food trucks, but also the involvement of some of Brussels’ most renowned restaurants, including Bon Bon and Les Brigittines. They also offered attendees at last year’s festival a chance to buy a six-pack of festival-exclusive beers from Cantillon, Thiriez, and Alvinne. It is not confirmed yet whether they will repeat this in 2018. Read my interview with Kevin from Belgian Beer Geek about the festival. UPDATE - The organisers have confirmed they will offer the special edition pack again this year.
Belgian Beer Weekend, September 7-9
Take my advice. Or don’t. Either way, the Belgian Beer Weekend is more or less unavoidable in Brussels in early September, as it takes over Brussels’ Grand Place for a long weekend. Expect the old reliables – Belgium’s stolid brewing class, drunk tourists, long queues, and some medieval pageantry. If that is your thing, go for it.
Zwanze 2018, late September
Yes, Cantillon again. But, if you have missed out on Quintessence, you can console yourself with whatever Cantillon cooks up to celebrate the annual Zwanze day in late September. This is an occasion for Cantillon to brew a special edition that is distributed to a select number of bars around the world of Cantillon’s choosing, to be tapped and served at the same time at each venue. Previous Zwanze editions have featured lambics with Oolong tea, with raspberry, blueberries and vanilla, and even a spontaneously fermented stout.
Brussels is usually represented by both Moeder Lambics – Original and Fontainas. To be able to sample Zwanze 2018, you will need to buy tokens at either bar, but be warned – Fontainas usually sells out quickly. What you get in exchange is large crowds and pageantry; last year Jean from Cantillon arrived on a real horse with a costumed entourage in honour of the Game of Thrones theme. If crowds are not your thing, Moeder Lambic Original is a much more sedate experience.
Vini Birre Ribelli, late November
Vini Birre Ribelli is one of Brussels’ longer-running drinks festivals, focusing on craft, sustainable, organic and “mostly natural” wine and beer. Wine vendors dominate, and the festival leans hard on Italian producers, but the 2017 edition had 24 breweries. The selection skews towards Belgian and new wave Italian breweries, but reputed breweries like Cloudwater and The Kernel are usually in attendance. And the best thing? Given the focus on wine at the festival, there are rarely big queues for beer.
The festival has bounced around different locations, and last year took place in the same space as BXLBeerFest. Previous editions have also featured beer, wine, and food workshops (although none in 2017). Something to bear in mind, though – last year the organisers instituted a new regime for beer, whereby your entry ticket allowed you unlimited wine pours but you were provided with eight tokens for beers, with the possibility to buy more (previously beer and wine were treated equally).
And one more that's not yet confirmed – Brussels Beer Project anniversary festival
At the time of writing, no details yet have been released about Brussels Beer Project’s plans to organise a festival in 2018, but the odds are high that they will again organise some sort of event this year. Previous festivals by the brewery have taken place in September and October over the past two years, usually in a central location. Wanderlust, for example, took place over a weekend in late October 2017. It featured 16 breweries from 9 countries, including the likes of Beavertown, De Molen, and Left Hand. Keep an eye out on their Facebook page for any announcements.