Roughing it in Belgium

issue3-coverIn Belgium you can never be quite sure if a cafe is going to be open
or not. Some cafes seem perpetually closed; others open when the owner
feels like it. And some shut down without warning for weeks on end while
the owner takes a holiday.

Likewise, brewers make few concessions to visitors and beer tourists.
Usually if you want to make a tour of a brewery, you have to round up 14
friends to go along with you. There are people who do this, but it’s a level
of commitment that’s beyond most beer fanatics.

Belgian brewers want to focus on making beer, which is sensible: a
working brewery with its slippery floors and low ceilings is not the best
place to bring hordes of curious and litigious beer adventurers.

However, there’s a growing chorus saying that the brewers are missing
a trick. In US breweries, the tour may be the biggest revenue stream; at the
very least it’s a healthy supplement. And it’s free marketing. Bring one beer
hunter into your bosom and you’ll have an advocate for life. It’s certainly a
nicer way of promoting yourself than T-shirts and umbrellas.

The Belgian tide may be turning, with new brewery visitor centres
scheduled to open in the coming years. These are to be welcomed, as they’ll
make Belgian beer more accessible and get more people hooked on it.

But they won’t help the thousands of fanatics who have been coming
to Belgium year on year, without being invited or encouraged. For them,
not knowing whether the cafe is going to be open is part of the adventure.
After all, there might be an older and more interesting one hidden around
the corner.

I know people who are willing to drive out to breweries knowing full
well there might be no one there, because there’s always the chance that the
brewer will be there, and that he’ll have time to give a personalised tour.

At Belgian Beer & Food we’re doing our best to make things a bit easier;
on page 12 you’ll find The Saison Road, which is a tour, complete with
map, of the best Saison breweries in Belgium. We can’t guarantee that the
brewers will be waiting for you when you arrive. But set aside a few days to
explore these places, and we promise you’ll have a memorable trip.

Paul Walsh
Publisher and Editor in Chief