Belgian smoking laws gone mad?

After the mammoth trip sourcing beer, we had a bit of time spare so we headed to a small cafe (that shall remain nameless) for a bite to eat.

Now, whereas I prefer to visit bars that are non smoking, some of them are not and that’s a fact of life. Some pubs in the UK get around their smoking ban by erecting shelters that often do little to keep cigarette smoke out of the bar area.

As I understand it, the law in Belgium now states that if you are a bar under a certain size then you can allow smoking. If you are over a certain size then you must have a separate area, but judging by some of these, the separate area just needs to be a different bit of the bar – there needs to be no partition or anything!

Anyway, when we arrived at the bar-that-is-unnamed, the menu on the wall had gone. I asked the lady if they did food, and she more or less said that they did it ‘on the side’ and we would have to eat it in a separate room otherwise if she was caught by the authorities, she would have to “pay an amount”!

We had our meal in the separate room, and it was still just as smoky as the main room…

Driving round Belgium looking for beer

Between October and April, P&O Ferries have a special price starting at £74 for a car + 2 people for the overnight sailing between Hull and Zeebrugge and return. As this gives a full day in Belgium, many beer places can be visited…

Drankencentraal Rotsaert, Zedelgem

Remi Claeysstraat 28, Zedelgem
Mon-Fri 9-12, 13-18; Sat 9-12, 13-17; Sun Closed
050 20 94 98

A well established beer warehouse in the area that I’d not visited before. With perhaps around 500 beers on offer (although there didn’t seem anywhere near that number in the warehouse), 50 or so of them were new for me. My excitement for being able to get a couple of crates of ‘winners’ soon waned when I saw that most of them were only available in 4 packs that they’d assembled themselves. Sorry Mr Rotsaert – that meant I bought less, not more.

Half an hour or so along the motorway is the tiny brewery of

Alvinne, Heule


Brewery and shop have relocated to Moen

Mellestraat 138, Heule
Open alternate Saturdays 10:30-16, or by appointment
0486 555314

Firstly, the opening hours may seem at first a bit sparse, but in reality, I’ve never found them closed! All it takes is a quick email to the address on their website or a message on Facebook and there’s someone there.

The brewery and beer shop are very easy to miss. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve screeched to a halt after I’ve gone past, only to reverse back to it!

Climbing into the upstairs part of the brewery reveals what is perhaps one of the regions best beer shops. They leave all the others in the area to stock the common (and not so common) beers – Alvinne stock the excellent and rare to find beers, not just from Belgium, but Denmark, Norway, Germany, France, USA and a few others as well as their own range of beers.

To be honest, their own range of beers are out of this world and range from the inky black (but not ‘burnt’) Balthazar to the hop fests of Gaspar and the Hoptrilogy range.

Give them a call and pop in – you won’t be disappointed.

Next on the list to visit were

Brasserie Vanuxeem

Rue d’Armentières 150, Ploegsteert
Mon-Sat 08-18:50; Sun closed
056 58 89 23

Firstly, Brasserie Vanuxeem is not a brewery – it’s a warehouse! It’s situated in an enclave of the Hainaut province. Even though it’s surrounded by Flemish speaking Belgium and the nearest part of Hainaut is miles away, this collection of 4 or 5 small towns speak French. The town name – Ploegsteert is a Flemish name, but don’t let that fool you. Speak Flemish and you’ll be treated like a weirdo.

Anyhow, Brasserie Vanuxeem have a house brand beer- ‘Queue de Charrue’. Until recently, they had 3 beers – Blonde (9%), Brune and Ambree. These were brewed by three different breweries (Van Steenberge, Verhaeghe-Vichte and Du Bocq respectively). Then, the Blonde was renamed ‘Triple’. More recently, in 2008, a new Blonde was launched at 6.6% and brewed by Du Bocq also. The three original beers came in 250ml bottles, but this new Blonde arrives in a 330ml bottle. Finally, the Ambree now is in a 330ml bottle with the new style label – I’m not sure if this is just part of their rebranding or if it’s brewed elsewhere. Phew!

To summarise –
Blonde 9% – brewed by Van Steenberge and now known as Triple in 250ml bottles
Brune – brewed by Verhaeghe-Vichte in 250ml bottles
Ambee – brewed by Du Bocq originally in 250ml bottles, but now in 330ml and probably still brewed by Du Bocq
Triple 6.6% – brewed by Du Bocq in 330ml bottles.

As well as this quartet, they have around 500 other beers to choose from, as well as spirits, wine, soft drinks and anything else you might want need to run a cafe in Belgium, ranging from cup a soups to little biscuity snacks. I’ve always enjoyed visiting but sadly now, most of their beers I’ve tried before. I’ll still keep going as prices are very competitive and the wife likes the Queue de Charrue Blonde. Or is it Triple?

Following a trip to the supermarket, we headed north along the motorway back in the direction of Zeebrugge and called in at …

Bierboom, Brugge

Langestraat 73, Brugge
Mon-Tue 10-19, Wed closed, Thu-Sat 10-19, Sun closed (although website says it’s open)
050 34 99 36

I’d heard a lot about this cafe / shop and to be honest, it’s interesting. There’s a good selection of beers – not the biggest but reasonable, and always a tick or two for me! You can take the bottles away or enjoy them with one or two Jupiler drinking locals at the rear of the shop for no extra charge! Probably the cheapest place in Brugge to drink beer.