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Belgium Belgian beer tours, are they worth it?

Discussion in 'Europe' started by Seacoastbrewer, Jul 31, 2012.

  1. Hello BAs abroad and in the states!

    I'm starting to plan a trip to Brussels and surrounding areas for spring 2013. I'm wondering if anyone has had experiences or feedback (good or bad) on these guided beer trips. I see a number of different companies offering their own trips. It seems that the company could really make the experience here as I suspect these touring companies maintain their own relationships with breweries/bars/restaurants.

    Also, if you live in the area, would you recommend staying away from these types of tours? I'm fairly independent and the idea of spending a week on my own doesn't bother me much. How friendly is the area to single travelers (maybe a couple if I can convince some non-beer friends)?

    I'd love to visit Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen as I'm a huge lambic and gueuze fan. I can provide more info if needed as well.

    Thanks for any advice!
  2. I have never done a beer tour while over in Belgium. I am not sure if you really need one to be honest. One my last 3 trips I have planned everything (hotels, restaurants bars ect.). I like to travel with a general framework with flexability to do what I want when I want. I would think that a tour would take some of that flexability away.

    Belgium is very Anglo friendly especially in the dutch speaking north. Most people speak at least a bit of English in the larger cities and many people actually speak excellent english. Honestly I can understand the English of many Dutch/French speaking Belgians better than some people in London:)

    Personally I would plan a trip without a tour. It's a bit of work but I have found that to be part of the fun. Most people overt here in the beer industry are super nice and love American visitors. Sending e-mails to bars, breweries and restaurants in advance is the way to go. Generally if you express interest in them and let them know you are coming from my experience they are very helpful to you when you visit.

    Tim Webb's book Good Beer Guide to Belgium has been an invaluable resource when I have traveled over there.
    Pick it up when you are planning the trip. Tons of great suggestions.

    I would also pick maybe 2-3 cities over the 1 week you will be over there. It's not a huge country but less time traveling and more time hanging in the cities is ideal for me.

    Also the beer is great but don't sleep on the food and restaurants over there. Some of the best food/restaurants I have ever been to have been traveling in Belgium. The real trick is finding ones that do both beer and food at exceptional levels. De Bistronoom and De Heren come to mind immediately for me.
  3. Never done one and I've often had a look at itineraries and prices to see how much money the organisers are making (out of interest and of course thats fair as its that's their job)

    Tours suit some folks who don't like planning and booking their own things, but lets face it in 2012 it isn't difficult to book your own hotels, organise your own travel etc

    Belgium is a tiny country relatively speaking

    You can drive from one end to the other in 3 hours or so

    If you are prepared to drive then I'd say do your own thing, certainly when it comes to visiting abbeys and breweries

    If you wish to drink everywhere you go then you may wish to do some form of tour for abbeys/breweries as they tend to be off the beaten track away from public transport

    If you are just looking to hit on the famous beer bars in Brugge/Ghent/Antwerp and the bars and breweries in Brussels the train is perfectly good for this
    doopiedoopiedoo and tendermorsel like this.
  4. Bierman9

    Bierman9 Poobah (1,070) New Hampshire Dec 20, 2001 Verified

    I have never taken a bier tour, but... I usually travel solo, and I like my bier.... And lots of good breweries in Belgium tend to be off the beaten path.... Makes it hard to use public transport... If you are intent on visiting out of the way breweries, perhaps one of these tours may do the trick... Transport and knowledge/education without worry of getting lost/wrapped around a tree... Prosit!
  5. yinzer

    yinzer Savant (395) Pennsylvania Nov 24, 2006

    On one hand I imagine that a tour is good because it will take you places that you can't get to easily buy public transportation, but then again about 90% of the itinerary I'm not all that interested in.

    There are plenty of places that you can get too by train, if you don't mind walking a few kilometers, or two, or three. But I'd suggest doing a good bit of homework and take some type of GPS device. I use a Garmin Etrax and have it loaded with over 100 bars. But I imagine that it's pretty old school and there are newer methods.

    Actually I like the quest. I always to to find a few obscure places for each trip where you have to take a country bus. No bellla-bus, or whatever they are called yet.

    http://belgianbeerboard.com/ I use that site a lot to find unknown beers and interesting sites.

    Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen are easy to get too. Chez Moeder Lambic will then be a must too.

    Sorry, but I can't help much with restaurants. I go to the grocery store and cram my day bag with meats, cheese and some red sugar drink. Oh, chocolate croissants too. I've found that most of the bars only have some basic snacks.
    doopiedoopiedoo likes this.
  6. I would do it on your own. I've done it 12 times. Its more fun with other people.( talk some friends into going too) I would base myself in Brugge......If you beermail me I can set you up with more than enough to do and a cheap rental . I've never rented a car, the trains take you just about everywhere.

    My avatar is this place in brugge


    It's why I like to base my self there, great place to visit every day


    ps Try to keep in mind that one trip isn't enough for this place. Don't try to do it all in a week. Keep coming back
    azorie likes this.
  7. You speak the truth man... Belgium is like crack for the beer geek... Once you go you keep coming back for more:) In September this this will be my 4th trip in 4 years. Tender is hooked on it!
  8. UncleJimbo

    UncleJimbo Site Editor (1,000) Massachusetts Sep 11, 2002 Staff Member Verified

    I have always planned my own trips and traveled solo to Belgium. But it depends on your comfort level and what you want to do. I have heard good things about some tours.

    If you do not feel comfortable doing things on your own, or if you think this might be your only trip to Belgium and want to cram as much as possible into it, then a tour might be for you.

    Getting around Belgium on your own is pretty easy, but getting to some of the out-of-the-way places is more difficult. For example, I did not visit Westvleteren until I had been to Belgium many times, and I have still never visited De Dolle Brouwers (mostly because of the limited days to visit).

    Brussels is relatively easy. You can get to Cantillon very easily, and to Drie Fonteinen fairly easily if you do the planning ahead.

    Brabander likes this.
  9. Dreupelkot

    Dreupelkot Initiate (0) Belgium Jan 29, 2011

  10. Thanks all for the tips and feedback. It seems that traveling sans group would be fine. From what I understand, it might be harder to get into larger venues that require larger groups. I'm more than happy to find places on my own. I'll make sure I post again closer to springtime to see if any of you might like to grab a drink.
  11. If you need any assistance or help in organising your trip, I can easily help you out (as I was born and raised in Belgium and I'm very proud of our beer heritage :)

    As already mentioned, you can organise this trip pretty much by yourself but if it is the first time you will probably miss out on the 'hidden gems' and face a few 'disappointments'.

    Not all brewing facilities are open to public, some are only open on certain days, some you can only visit in group, etc.

    Cantillon is quite easy to find, it's in the city centre of Brussels, and is open all days except Sunday and public holidays, Drie Fonteinen is only open on Friday & Saturday and will require a little bit more planning as it's located in the outskirts of Brussels.

    If you don't have a fixed date, you could consider coming around 27 & 28th of April. On these two days it's the annual Zythos Bier Festival in Belgium. The place where you will probably have the largest collection of Belgian beer on tap under one roof :).

    Hope this information is usefull to you and I hope you'll have a great trip ! Don't hesitate to contact me if you require further information !
  12. azorie

    azorie Champion (760) Florida Mar 18, 2006 Verified

    well put and sounds like my old advice...:D in the old forums, I kill for a sticky.
  13. azorie

    azorie Champion (760) Florida Mar 18, 2006 Verified

    I know of two good ones, but you have to want to go on their schedule. Would be great for a newbie to Europe. Many like the guided tour thing on their first trip over. me I like screwing up and learning its part of traveling, versus just going on holiday. also I know many do not have the time but its a waste of cash to go for less than 2 to 4 weeks...just MHO.
  14. belgiumking

    belgiumking Aficionado (185) Florida Aug 10, 2004 Verified

    As stated throughout this message; if you are comfortable traveling alone, I would recommend planning your own trip. That being said - you do need to know that the blood alcohol limit is .05 and the police do not offer 'second chances.' One good Belgium beer will put you at that limit. I've traveled extensively throughout Belgium and had friends bug me for years to do a tour so they could have me as a guide and drink all they want. I did that this spring and everyone had an excellent time. If you do want to hit it alone, check my web site for an overview and my opinion of some of the best places to check out after 15 trips there. www.belgiumking.com
    You'll have fun either way you decide to go. I like Belgium more than just a little...
    LakesideBrewing likes this.
  15. adamant1912

    adamant1912 Savant (425) Michigan Jan 10, 2010

    Very informative website, making my first trip to Belgium next month and your page is very helpful, thanks.
  16. One thing to keep in mind is that the majority of the breweries only do tours for large groups (10-15 is a typical minimum), so for a small group your options are limited. You do sometimes have the option of paying for 15 people, and showing up with less, but that is your decision. Most you need to book ahead of time as well. That said, there are still plenty of good options for small groups. Here are a few ideas in Flanders that don't require reservations:

    De Dolle (Sat/Sun only)
    De Struise (Sat only)
    Westvleteren In De Vrede (closed Thu/Fri)
    De Snoek Malthuis (tasting room only)
    Hop Museum in Poperinge
    De Halve Maan
    Gruut Stadsbrouwerij
    Het Anker (tasting room only)


  17. lwhcchh

    lwhcchh Aficionado (130) Oklahoma Aug 31, 2010

    I have taken a tour and found it fun and convenient. It was pretty similar to what I would do on my own but without any planning and hassles. We used the same or similar hotels I would have chosen for myself and tips on good local beer restaurants were always handy. I had a short window of opportunity with just a couple of weeks notice. Just paid and showed up in Brussels.

    I agree with most of the above comments that Belgium is a very easy country to navigate on your own... trains and English spoken in most places. However, there are some definite advantages and benefits to a tour. First, trains do not go to many of the out-of-the-way breweries. You DO NOT want to drink and drive. A small coach with professional local driver is real convenient. A GPS device is also sometimes of no use. When construction such as a road closing or bridge out is encountered, a knowledgable driver can find an alternative route....detour signs were not existent. An organized tour guide who frequently visits the country can often gain access to some breweries and facilities that an individual would never get... INVALUABLE! In reality, to see and do what we did in ten days, would have taken twice as long with trains, rental cars, etc. (remember, after drinking several strong beers, you DO NOT want to drive...consequently there would be a lot of down time resting etc. With a driver, just nap on the way to the next hotel, brewery, or whatever. A tour guide and driver can also save your bacon and time when problems arise... and they do. There was also a lot of free time and you were not under any obligation to do anything with the group other than show up at certain time for transportation and hotel checkin. Personally, I made friends with whom I still stay in touch.

    In summary, I would do it again just because the particular tour I enjoyed was almost exactly what I would have done on my own. Some of the other tours offer exactly what I want in my next trip. In fact, I plan to take another one when the mood strikes me and probably with little advance notice and no planning or hassles.

    Either way, you can't go wrong! After all, you are in Belgium. JUST GO!!!
  18. My wife and I found one on TripAdvisor and the tour guides name was Cesar. He was excellent for those not as geeked out by the hobby and still extremely entertaining and fun to drink with even if you do fancy yourself beyond the novice level craft beer drinker. Not only was it nice to get together with some other like-minded, beer-loving tourists and scour through the best bars in Brussels, but we even went out to dinner afterward with some people who were part of our tour. Led to some comfortable companions for one of the days of our honeymoon.
  19. I've done it both ways multiple times. The advantage of doing it on your own is that you set the itinerary. The disadvantage is then you are on the breweries schedule and many of them are only open to the public on weekends only or certain hours and you have to arrange transportation. With a guided tour they can get you in breweries that may not be open to the public and you don't have to drive. No matter which way you go get Tim Webb's book, The good beer guide to Belgium. It tells you which breweries are open to the public and when, lists the bars and bottle shops. Plan on a maximum of 3 places a day.

    I posted this on another thread the other day but I would contact Regnier De Muynck at [email protected] or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/beertourism?fref=ts His prices are reasonable, if he already has a tour group scheduled you can normally join in if space is available and he can arrange private tours. he can get you into some of the trappist places which you cannot do on your own and he can take you to a number of lambic places that you'll want to go to and a few off the beaten path places.

    If it is your first time there I'd do a tour and the next time you go do the solo route with a better understanding of how they do things and how long it takes to go places.
    UncleJimbo likes this.
  20. Can anyone recommend any tours in particular? I'm likely to have 2-3 days in Brussels soon and would ideally like a day touring a few places in town (I've found these tours easily enough) as well as a day or two going to some further-flung breweries. Does anyone offer coaches to any of the trappist breweries? I've tried Googling without success.
  21. (Apologies for the thread resurection but I figured it easier than starting a new thread).
  22. andrejes

    andrejes Savant (250) Netherlands Jun 10, 2011 Verified

    just send Beersbart a message!!! I do also tours!!
    azorie and RoxyMama like this.
  23. RoxyMama

    RoxyMama Disciple (60) Aug 10, 2014

    This is a great thread!! Thank you for all the information. Has anyone cycled around in Belgium? What was it like? I am also curious about getting a guided tour.
  24. andrejes

    andrejes Savant (250) Netherlands Jun 10, 2011 Verified

    Sorry but my friend beersbart do beertours!!! Not me!!!!
  25. Stevenwings

    Stevenwings Savant (265) Belgium Jan 15, 2014 Verified

    We also do beertours so just pm me ;)
  26. jdhende

    jdhende Savant (400) Illinois Sep 27, 2010 Verified

    Just don't double book Andre for weekend of October 18th. That tour is reserved for me :)
    andrejes likes this.
  27. Stevenwings

    Stevenwings Savant (265) Belgium Jan 15, 2014 Verified

    Make sure that the company has the right license for renting a car with driver
    azorie likes this.
  28. azorie

    azorie Champion (760) Florida Mar 18, 2006 Verified

    there was an old post i think in 2009 or 2010 about a guy who posted pcitures and a whole thing on his trip on a cycle.
    I just try not to run them over myself...you know gps watching, for some of the tiny turn offs is a blast. sadly searching is not fun I will try to find the link.

    sadly nothing older than 2012 on here. man we had years of great posts oh well...
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2014
    a16ert likes this.
  29. azorie

    azorie Champion (760) Florida Mar 18, 2006 Verified

    Any way I think one can google the old net and find it , it was a blog about traveling through Belgium on a bike. personally I think ones has to be in great shape myself, and and slightly nuts, but hey that is just me. YMMV.

    I mean I love my time and taking time while on holiday but to me taking 2 days to travel 100 miles is a waste of my time.
    I could be drinking...but you do see more. but after awhile 1 field is the same as the next. lol:D:D

    most Americans sadly never get more than a week anymore. It takes me a week to just get settled in 1 place and a month to get to "know". I been lucky to always have at least 2 weeks while in military to explore. now we never go over less than 2-3 months.