If you thought that bicycle touring was our only passion, you’d be wrong. We have many loves, and near the top of the list is a good beer.
Lucky for us, we live just a hop, skip and a jump from Belgium – probably the best beer-making country in the world. So, in August 2011, we set off to explore the beers of Belgium by bicycle. We gathered up 4 other friends (all newbie bike tourists but definite beer lovers) and started mapping out a weekend jaunt.
Planning the route was challenging. Many breweries aren’t open to the public, and Belgium doesn’t have good online bicycle route information. Thankfully our friend Alicia (an experienced beer cyclist) came to the rescue with a 90km route from the Belgian city of Antwerp to the Dutch city of Tilburg, passing the Westmalle and La Trappe trappist breweries along the way.
A map of our route. You can download the GPS track.
Waiting for the train at Holland Spoor. Photo by Jane Starz.
No matter. We made it to Antwerp, and started with beers of course in the main square. De Koninck was the beer of choice. It’s made in Antwerp, so it’s the obvious local choice.
Li drinking a De Koninck beer.
Aside from the chocolates, Andrew put an empty beer crate on the back of his bike, just in case we found anything tasty along the way.
It wasn’t long, of course, before we found a pub and stopped for beer. This time, it was the delectable Corsendonk that made the grade. Their dark beer was later voted best of the trip. Everyone gave it a raving review but who needs words? The smiles say it all really.
The strawberry waffles weren’t half bad either.
From there, we pedalled along quite Belgian lanes and bicycle paths to the Westmalle Trappist brewery. There are nearly 200 Trappist monasteries around the world but only 7 produce beer, and this is one of them. They aren’t open for visitors, but we had our picture taken at the entrance anyway, and then we hit the nearby Cafe Trappisten for a sample of the local brew, fresh from the tap.
When we got hungry, we stopped for strawberries – from a vending machine, of course! Put in a couple coins and out comes a box of refrigerated, luscious berries. The Belgiums seem to like their vending machines. We also saw bread and meat products (outside a butcher’s shop) being dispensed from similar machines.
Now we were near the border, and it was time for a stop at what turned out to be the highlight of the trip: a beer shop literally on the Dutch-Belgian border. The border line ran right through the shop, and they had the most amazing selection of beers you’ve ever seen. Andrew’s beer crate was suddenly full.
With the right crate, you can easily carry 24 bottles of beer on your bicycle. Photo by Li.
We also wanted to stop at the Dochter van de Korenaar brewery but it was closed for vacation. Next time. Instead, the weekend ended with a quick stop at La Trappe and then beers on the train home. Yes, you can crack open a couple beers on the train. It’s no problem in the Netherlands (although it seemed odd at first to our no-drinking-in-public Canadian mentality).
Beer Cycling Tips:
- Go slowly. About 30-40km a day is ideal for tasting lots of beer, while still doing a bit of cycling at the same time.
- Consider leaving your camping gear behind, so that you’ll have more room for beer (and don’t forget the crate on the back of the bicycle!)
- Research, research, research. Make sure you know the opening times of the breweries, and see if you need to call ahead to visit. Book your accommodation too because at least in this part of Belgium there are a lot of private B&Bs that you won’t find by chance as you’re passing through.
- Stop to enjoy some Belgian food too. Waffles, chocolates and french fries are ideal for soaking up all that beer!