Ever since Mr Fueled by Beer tasted his first craft brewed Belgian-style ale back in Seattle he has wanted to visit Belgium to taste this small country’s amazing Abbey ales at their source. Such an opportunity recently presented itself and we were not disappointed…
The city of Ghent is located just 70 minutes drive from the Dunkirk ferry terminal along the E40 motorway and right next to the freeway at Flanders Expo is a very nice Holiday Inn. The hotel is conveniently located a short walk from the Flanders Expo Park & Ride where the Line #1 Tram provides a 25 minute ride to Korenmarkt in the heart of Ghent’s historic centre.
Note: the ticket vending machine at Flanders Expo allows the various Lijn ticket options to be purchased but be aware that it does not accept debit or credit cards – cash is needed in Euro bills and coins – and change is given. A one-way ticket into town currently costs €1.30 while a day pass costs €5.00.
The historic centre of Ghent is one of the most beautiful places we have ever seen. It’s pedestrianized area, consisting of medieval buildings, cobbled streets, canals, and bridges provides, for the purposes of this visit, a myriad bars, cafes and restaurants offering a dizzying selection of Belgian ales and lagers. Ghent is Bruges without touristy tackiness; Amsterdam without the unsavoury stuff.
With the benefit of hindsight the best place to start a pub crawl in Ghent is at the Vrijdagmarkt. This large square north of Korenmarkt is lined on all four sides with all manner of bars, cafes, etc. To get there from the tram stop walk straight along Korenmarkt, Kortemunt and Langemunt, keeping the River Leie on your left; this leads to the southwest corner of the square.
Once at Vrijdagmarkt seek out Dulle Griet. This bar boasts a menu of 250 beers, including several trappist ales on draft. Mr Fueled by Beer and The Navy Son enjoyed goblets of Westmalle and St Bernardus, both abbey dubbels, while Mrs Fueled by Beer tasted the 8% house beer “Max” which is available in both blonde and dark versions.
Dulle Griet’s main claim to fame is its 1.2 litre “Max” offering – this is essentially a yard of ale served in a wooden stand for which you must provide a shoe as a deposit. The shoe is placed in a basket and hoisted on a pulley up to the ceiling. To get your shoe back you must consume the entire 1.2 litres of “Max”.
Belgium has around 180 breweries, called Brouwerij in Dutch-speaking Flanders or Brasserie in French-speaking Wallonia. The greatest concentration are in Flanders in the triangle between Antwerp, Ghent and Brussels, so Ghent is a great place to sample most of the beer styles Belgium has to offer.
Although justly famous for its top-fermented abbey-style ales, Belgium also produces some excellent pilsner style lagers. Unfortunately, due to AB-InBev’s awful global brand Stella Artois, a lager orignally produced in Leuven, Belgium’s reputation as a lager brewer has been unjustly smeared.
Like in 1980s England, when the Big-Six brewers were flooding the market with cheap keg bitter and lager, independent regional breweries were keeping real ale alive. In Belgium several family-owned breweries have done the same thing, producing pilsner lager today that is very good and not at all like Stella.
So, while in Ghent, look for examples like Primus from Brouwerij Haacht, which ironically is located not far from Leuven. Haacht also produces Tongerlo, a blonde abbey ale, and Mystic, a sour kriek. Another Ghent area brewer worth mentioning is Brouwerij Roman who produces Romy Pils and Ename Abbey Ale among others. We enjoyed all of these beers during our stay.
After exhausting the possibilities around Vrijdagmarkt head across the River Leie to the Patershol neighborhood. This tangle of narrow streets and alleys on the left bank of the river is roughly located between the Gravensteen, Langesteenstraat and Sluizeken tram stops, and forms Ghent’s primary restaurant quarter. We found our favorite breakfast place here: Simon Says, at Sluizeken 8.
From Patershol head to Gravensteen, where you can explore the imposing castle if you feel so inclined. From there cross the canal bridge on Rekelingestraat then turn left on Jan Breydelstraat which will bring you to Ghent’s most touristy area: Korenlei and Graslei.
These old quaysides, which line the left and right banks of the River Leie, are the remains of Ghent’s medieval port. This is where the photos for Ghent’s tourist postcards are taken, and where the city’s most expensive restaurant’s, cafes and bars are located.
For a more down to earth dining experience head back to Korenmarkt, to Toetswiet, where we enjoyed their reasonably priced prix-fixe menu two nights running. From here the walking loop of Ghent is completed back at the Korenmarkt tram stop where Line #1 returns to the Flanders Expo Park & Ride.
Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer, The Navy Son and The Daughter had a wonderful time exploring Ghent and drinking some amazing beer. We could easily have spent several days there and would still have barely scratched the surface. We’ll be back. 🙂