A weekend celebrating Belgian beer in Brussels

TEXT: STUART FORSTER | PHOTOS © VISIT BRUSSELS, JEAN-PAUL REMY

Brussels will host the 2018 Belgian Beer Weekend from 7 to 9 September. Around 60,000 beer lovers are expected at the Grote Markt (Grand-Place), the Belgian capital’s central square, to participate in the annual celebration of brewing.

Tents serving beers brewed by members of the association of Belgian Brewers will be erected on the cobbled square, which was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. The Belgian Brewers association is significantly older, tracing its origins to a guild founded during the 14th century. The organisation’s headquarters overlooks the square, bearing the gilded inscription ‘Maison des Brasseurs’. The building, which was designed by the architect Willem De Bruyn, is topped by a gleaming equine statue depicting Charles of Lorraine, who was once a benefactor of the guild.

The Belgian Beer Weekend begins with an afternoon service at Brussels’ St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral, including a celebration of St Arnold, the patron saint of brewers, and a blessing of beer that will be drunk over the weekend. At the town hall, select invitees can then attend a ceremony featuring the Ridderschap van de Roerstok der Brouwers — Knights of the Order of the Mash Staff — whose members wear red robes plus flat-topped black and red hats. Individuals who have played an outstanding role in brewing or promoting Belgian beer, are honoured by the order, by being knighted with one of the wooden paddles that are more commonly used to stir ingredients in the mash tub. The order’s grand master will be among dignitaries, including Brussels’ mayor, who will oversee the formal inauguration of the beer stalls on the Grote Markt.

On the Friday evening, between 6pm and 9.45pm, the stalls will be serving beer to members of the public (if you plan on attending and want a drink, ensure you arrive at the cash desk before it closes, one hour and 45 minutes earlier). On the Saturday and Sunday, beer will flow from 11am until 8.45pm and 7.45pm respectively. Beers from Belgium’s six Trappist breweries will be among those available. Another 41 of the country’s breweries will also be serving their products over the weekend.

Traditionally, beer was transported along urban streets in carts pulled by teams of dray horses. Wagons will gather at the Place du Nouveau Marché aux Grains, formerly one of Brussels’ grain markets. Neatly groomed horses wearing brasses and halters can then be seen pulling the wagons through the city’s streets in a procession that begins at 1.30pm on Saturday. Vintage carriages also participate in the parade, making it a popular event among photographers.

On the Sunday, at noon, confraternities of brewers march through the city streets accompanied by bands. Unlike the horses, they tend to reward themselves with a glass of beer upon arrival at the Grote Markt.

If you can not make it to the Belgian Beer Weekend this year, then do keep it in mind for the future. The event traditionally takes place on the first weekend in September.

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