What makes a good beer festival?

I was recently asked what makes a good beer festival.  Initially, the answer would have been ‘lots of winner beers’ but then I thought some more (in no particular order)…

New beers – a good selection of new beers from new breweries and those more established.  When I used to help organise a local festival, I used to find that if you catered to the person who liked new beers, those who weren’t bothered so much would be just as happy.

Beer range – dark and light, hoppy and malty, strong and weak.  Often, you can order a certain beer to try and get a balance only to have a brewery deliver what they want you to have

Glasses – you need glasses – and nice ones too.  Even better if you can return them as I like to drink smaller measures and will often go to the bar for 2 or 3 beers at once.  Whereas I might like a souvenir glass (don’t tell the wife), I don’t want 3 or more.

Seating – quality seating, not too far away from the bar.

Flow – with some venues, you may be limited with your space, but really you need to plan your space to ensure good a good flow.

Innovation – new ideas are good – look at different ways of doing things,  How about dispense methods.  Keg is the latest thing, but I’m not averse to cask.  How about some beers in wooden casks?  What about a randal?

Customer service – decent staff.  I’ve moaned enough about staff, but there’s nothing worse to entering a festival and the first  people you see are those snarling and barking at you saying no.  Give the customer what they want – if they ask for two half half-pints, do you say no or yes?

Food – Good food at a good price.  I’m not saying cheap, but it has to be decent value for money.  How about jacket potatoes with a choice of fillings?  Cheap and easy to do.  Why not had a line of food trucks selling the latest hipster fare?

Music – an interesting one.  I don’t mind listening to the likes of Doctor Busker and a decent folk band as long as it’s in the background, but any decent music is good.  A lot will depend on the venue though – a modern ‘industrial’ venue would be much better suited to a DJ playing lounge / chill out music.

Ambience – what makes a good ambience?  The surroundings?  Maybe, but I’ve been to festivals in venues that are little more than warehouses and the ambience has been great.  All the above ingredients do combine to create the ambience.

Above all though, is to keep an open mind.  Go to other festivals of all different kinds.  See what works well and steal their ideas!

Trappistenfest, Niel

Having first heard about the Trappistenfest in Niel on Belgian Beer Board last year, a visit to the festival in the small town just outside Antwerp was definitely one to be done!

Fortunately, on the same weekend of the festival, the first Modeste Bierfestival was due to be held, so this would pack in a bit of ‘added value’ to the trip. More about the Modeste Bierfestival here.

Trains to Niel don’t run on a weekend, so last Sunday, we took the bus from Antwerp for the short walk to the ‘Kapel van de Jongenschiro’. Once again, the weather was unseasonably hot so we took a seat outside.

First beer up was Chimay Doree – part of the Chimay ‘family’ of beers but not available anywhere except Auberge de Poteaupré or inside the Scourmont Abbey if you happen to be a monk there! Definitely the hardest to get hold of beer on the list. There’s none currently on eBay and a website in the USA is asking $69!!! I ought to have got a few to take with me…

Next was the Petit Orval, again only available if you’re a monk or at the cafe next to the abbey. There’s none of this on eBay or any other site I could see.

Shortly following this was the new Mont des Cats beer. Mont des Cats is a Trappist abbey just over the border in France, but their beer is brewed at the Scourmont Abbey, along with Chimay. On one hand I’ve heard that they’ll be getting their Trappist accreditation in the next month or so. Another source says that for it to qualify, they must brew it themselves at their abbey. So, it’s brewed by Trappist monks at a Trappist abbey, the labels say ‘bière trappiste’, but it’s not an ‘Authentic Trappist Product’. Once again, it’s rather a good beer, but you won’t find it in shops near you as it’s only currently available in the Abbey shop and cafe. This may change soon though.

Even though I’d tried it before, it seemed a shame not to sample to Westmalle Extra. Again, only generally available at the abbey, this beer seems to be a bit more easily available than the others (at least one bar in Antwerpen seems to have it much of the time). It’s a light, golden beer, very easy drinking and at 4.8%, just right for a late summers’ (ish!) day.

So – the festival? Well run, in a most pleasant location, good table service and not too busy. The only downside is that it’s well out of the way! Looking forward to another visit in the near future…

Leuven Beer Festival 2011

Jemma and myself were stopping in Brussels as it was ideally placed to get to Lille to see the Paris-Roubaix cycle race and also to be able to pop to Leuven for their beer festival, organised by de Leuvense Biertherapeuten.

It was not the easiest festival to get to – a short train ride from Brussels, an extremely cramped bus ride with a dog licking my foot then a 15 minute walk through the park to the festival venue.

An outside table was soon commandeered overlooking the lake and park, resulting in what must have been one of the best beer festival venues I’ve ever attended.

The range of beers was okish, although a number of them were starting to sell out by mid afternoon. Another problem was that a number of the ones I wanted to try were only available in 750ml bottles!

Antwerp and Sint-Niklaas – day 2

Zythos Beer Festival 2011

Stadsfeestzaal, Sint-Niklaas


Belgium’s biggest beer festival, held for the last time this year at the Stadsfeestzaal is Belgium’s biggest. Featuring more than 60 brewers and 200 beers, there was plenty to go at! I joined a number of UK beer tickers and sampled a range of beers. I won’t go into all the beers I tried, but a couple were worthy of mentioning –

De Dolle Brouwers Verse Vis (Fresh Fish)
A most strange beer indeed! It was brewed with no hops, had a Belgian lactic sour flavour and was made with cider yeast! There’s a quite a bit more about it on the Belgian Beer Board.

Smisje Smiske R-Ale
A dry hopped version of the Smisje Blonde, except that the beer is pumped through a pile of hops, effectively dry hopping the beer on the fly. Again, more details on the Belgian Beer Board.

Roll on next year’s festival in Leuven!

Antwerp and Sint-Niklaas – day 1

It’s my plan to visit a few more Belgian beer festivals this year. First on the list – Zythos Bier Festival in Sint-Niklaas. I stopped overnight in Antwerp and visited a few places there.

Kulminator, Antwerpen

Vleminckveld 32, Antwerpen
Mon 20.15-24, Tue-Fri 12-24, Sat 17-24, Sun closed
03 – 232 4538

Kulminator is one of those must visit places. It’s like the Eiffel Tower or Louvre if you are a ‘normal’ tourist in Paris. Or at least, that’s what I thought…

I’ve visited quite a few times now and generally, it’s been ok. The beer choice is excellent and the range of aged beers (some going back 20 and 30 years) is the best you’ll ever see. We even celebrated Jemma’s 30th birthday there a few years ago with a 30 year old beer.

The thing letting Kulminator down though is the service. If there’s only a few people in, service is not a problem. Lena will amble from bar to table to take your order, pass it to Dirk who will go into the cellar, get the beer and pass it back to Lena. Not on ZBF weekend though! The place was rammed and the only place I could find to sit was out in the smoking area. After 10 minutes of not being served, I went back inside and queued at the bar. After something like another 10 minutes, Lena took my order. The best part of 10 minutes later I left.

Ok, bars can be busy, but you have to be on top of things you’re starting to get too busy! Dirk didn’t serve – he just visited the cellar and grumbled. Anyway – things might have been a bit smarter if it wasn’t for the people looking at, sniffing at and writing an essay about their beer! Yes, you might want to have a close inspect of what you’re going to drink, but don’t write a full page of text about it! Evidently, this is very common amongst Scandinavian beer fans…

On the subject of Dirk, on my last visit back in July 2010, the place wasn’t too busy and he seemed to be stumbling around – something that he’s rather good at. All of a sudden he had a go at a customer. This customer had made the mistake of sitting at the table with the piles of magazines, newspapers and general bits of piffle and Dirk thought this customer had taken something, so we were all treated to a tirade of “you have taken something”, “get out of my bar” for about 10 minutes, all the while the customer was protesting his innocence and offering to show the contents of his bag.

After looking on Google for the bar and chatting to other beery types, it appears that these episodes are not uncommon. It’s just a shame that I’ve had lots of good visits.

After giving up, I moved back towards the main square to a street just off it and visited

‘t Antwaerps Bierhuiske, Antwerp

Hoogstraat 14, 2000 Antwerpen
Mon-Sun 12-02

Antwaerps Bierhuiske is a new place, having been open for less than a year. I first visited just after they first opened last summer. It’s a pretty average sort of bar with around 150 beers, including a good selection of slightly rarer microbrewery beers.

It’s out of the way just enough to avoid being too touristy – well worth a visit!

A few doors up, I spotted a bar I’d not heard of before…

Cafe Den Billekletser

Hoogstraat 22, 2000 Antwerpen
+32 32 31 34 48

Sign outside advertising 280 beers, so entered to find a basic tiled floor with plain tables and chairs and around 60 empty bottles in the windows. The menu only contained around 30 beers so when I asked for the rest, the young lass said they didn’t have a printed list and she would bring me what I wanted. When I said that I wanted something that was a tick, she was confused… Further probing found out that they have around 280 beers, but with 100 available at anyone time.

Prices reasonable but once again, very smoky. Might be worth another look at if they actually tell folk what they sell!

And to finish up that evening…


de Keyserlei 25, 2018 Antwerpen

2 minutes from Centraal Station, providing you use the right door.

Large pub, seeming to cater for all sorts during the day and yoof at night. Loud dj wouldn’t be out of place on a UK high street pub at a weekend, but with several hundred beers. They at 20 draught and more than 300 bottles. Lots of bog standard beers, but lots of rarer ones too in the custom printed catalogue.

Good to see that it’s somewhere away from the normal darkened, smoky front rooms and might have a bit of appeal to the younger drinker.

Euro beer trip day 7 – 4de Brugs Bier Festival and a few bars in Brugge

After lunch at Eetcafe Leopold in ‘t Zand, we headed back to the Festival for our second shift. Both of us were allocated to security duties, so the drinking had to wait! As soon as our stint was over though, we had a good selection of beers to try before the festival closed.

Once again, we both enjoyed working. The guys from BAB (Brugse Autonome Bierproevers) made us more than welcome and hopefully will be back next year (if they’ll have us).

There were three bars I wanted to try before we went back to the hotel – @the Pub, old favourite ‘t Brugse Beertje and the spanking new Comptoir des Arts.

@the Pub

Hallenstraat 4, Brugge
Daily 17-03 (or later!)
0477 26 07 40

It’s quite a nice bar, with a ‘lounge bar’ feel to it with comfy settees and leather sofas etc. The beer list numbers around 100, although everyone seemed to be persuaded to have Malheur! Looking by the amount of Malheur tat around the place (beer mats, beer mat holders, signs…), he must have had rather a large job lot of the stuff!

Last time I visited, I had what could be probably classed more or less as home brew – there wasn’t any other name given for it! The owner brewed the beer at home and brought it to sell at the bar. Sadly, he’s not brewing at the current time.

I’ve heard a few reports about the rudeness of the staff. Indeed, I’ve encountered it, but there were no problems this time.

‘t Brugs Beertje

Kemelstraat 5, Brugge
Mon-Tue 16-01, Wed closed, Thu-Sun 16-02
050 33 96 16

At the top of their website, it says ”t Brugs Beertje, een speciaal bierhuis in het hart van Brugge !’ – which translates as ‘t Brugs Beertje, a special beerhouse in the centre of Brugge !’ – and they’re not wrong.

I’ll go into more detail on their next visit, but the excellent customer service from Daisy and her staff, the superb beer choice and the general ambience make this a ‘must do’ if you’re in Brugge, or even just Belgium – make a special trip!

I find it a little strange though that every time I go into ‘tBB, I’m greeted by name! I think I’ve been there a few too many times!

Comptoir des Arts

Vlamingstraat 53, Brugge
Daily 18-03, closed Tuesday
0494 38 79 61

You won’t find this bar in any of the guidebooks yet as it’s only been open barely a month! Situated just over the road from Poatersgat, this underground bar seems to just have that little ‘something’ that makes it special.

As we entered, I was greeted with a friendly “hello Lee” and a handshake by Bram – formerly of ‘t Brugs Beertje. The bar was busy, but had a sort of a quiet ambiance about it – there was gentle chatter in the air, but not overpowering and not raucous! It was just the right atmosphere to enjoy a 3 year old (although I suspect it was more) St Bernadus 8.

Euro beer trip day 6 – 4de Brugs Bier Festival

Last year, Jerry and myself somehow ended up being volunteers at the rather very good Brugs Bier Festival. Keen to repeat the experience, we ended up there this year.

After ending up helping with the finishing touches to the festival, we both ended up working on a beer stand selling a the rather nice La DJean Triple from the Sainte Hélène brewery. This took us up ’till 2pm and we had the rest of the day to enjoy the festival.

It did get rather hot in the hall, but there was plenty of outside seating – it was just a bit of a trek running up and downstairs for the beer!