What does Zythos mean?
Zythos was the name of the Greek god of making barley into alcohol, or probably not. In Belgium it’s the association of associations of Flemish beer lovers: a grouping of groups from across Flanders. Whatever it is they do during the year is nobody’s business. Once a year they organise the ZBF, and that’s good enough reason to exist.
What’s the big deal?
Last year’s festival featured 88 stands with 100 or so brewers, all offering their best beers for the public to taste. Okay, some cafes promise more beers than that, but they may not be entirely fresh. And for sure, the guys who made it are not right there to talk to you and explain what it’s all about. For many people, more important than the presence of the beers, is the presence of the brewers.
What can I expect?
If you’re interested at all in Belgian beer, you need to be here at least once in your life. All of it is here, from wild-yeast lambics (the subject of the latest Belgian Beer & Food magazine) to Flemish Old Ales to Trappist ales to whatever the new guys on the block like Brouwers Verzet and Alvinne are brewing up. All of it is here.
How can I be expected to find my way around?
In the middle aisle (if you’re overwhelmed, look up at the ceiling and figure out where the middle is) there’s a stand for beer advisers. That’s people like beer sommeliers Sofie Van Rafelghem and Luc De Raedemaeker (if you’re lucky) as well as other beer appreciation societies like Malt & Mout. Tell them what you’re looking for, they’ll tell you where to find it. Tell them you’re looking for something new, and they’ll suggest that, too.
The reception desk will also give you a free map of the hall, which might help.
What about … eating? Sorry to bring it up.
Man shall not live by beer alone, said nobody ever. Still, if there’s a gap in your stomachal area not yet filled with beer, there’s a food truck area outside the hall, where you can find material to sop up all that liquid you’re been consuming, or whatever food is.
How much does it cost?
You pay €10 for a starter packet: a special Zythos tasting glass, plus five tokens each good for one 10cl refill of whatever beer you choose. You can (and you will) buy new tokens at various stands around the hall. Bancontact payments accepted from €10.00, and credit cards from €20.00, below which a 50 cent charge applies. No other costs. The cloakroom is free, and the shuttle to and from Leuven station is also free.
How do I get there?
Drive to Brabanthal in Leuven, then like a mug leave your car there all weekend because you came in a car to a beer festival, you idiot. Better than that, take the train or De Lijn bus to Leuven station and switch to the free shuttle bus, which departs from right there at the station every 7.5 minutes on Saturday and every 15 minutes on Sunday. The bus will also bring you back until midnight on Saturday and 2200 on Sunday, but check your train times.
The ZBF website has some information in English: http://zbf.be/index.php?lang=UK&page=1. You can find out much more when you get there.