What do you do in a city full of history and packed with activities and you only have 24h and it is pouring rain? This was us during our visit to Brussels. Since I wanted to eat every single chocolate, waffle, fries and beer available, we decided that doing a chocolate & beer tour will be our best option to taste what this great city has to offer. We booked a tour with The Brussels Journey - one of the best rated tours in the city - besides helping you gain some weight, the walking tour gives you a fantastic sightseeing of Brussels.
The meeting point was at Chocopolis, very close to the Grand-Place. While we were waiting outside for a few minutes, Daniel, our tour guide for the day, arrived. He was a fun and charismatic Spaniard who lives in Brussels. The tour would not have been as much fun as if he would not have been our guide. It looks like he really loves his job, and to be honest, who can blame him? After the 15 persons attending the tour arrived, Daniel gave us a brief explanation of what to expect. The tour is divided into two parts: we start by touring chocolatiers and chocolate artisans and then we would go bar hopping, all of this while stopping at important historical landmarks of the city. The visit lasts between 4 and 5 hours and time goes by super-fast! The tour takes you through an ascending journey of flavours and different styles of craft making until arriving at the finest beers and chocolate the Capital of Europe has to offer.
The chocolate part
Once inside Chocopolis, we learnt why Belgium is famously known for chocolates even though they do not grow any cacao trees. It turns out that a pharmacist named Neuhaus was trying to find a way to make pills tastier, apparently at the time, they had a horrific taste. By making his pills more appealing, he was hoping he could increase his sales. The recipe he developed gave birth to what became the delicious Belgian Praline.
What is special about our first stop is that they make the chocolates in their workshop, located inside their store. They believe that chocolate should be eaten fresh, and should not be stored for months or years. If you are lactose intolerant, like myself, or vegan, then this will be THE shop for you as they only use coconut milk when making their products.
My favourite praline was dark chocolate with mango and passion fruit. The fruit flavours were harmoniously blended with the bitterness of the chocolate.
Our second stop was Frederic Blondeel, a chocolatier specializing in flavour infusions. These were delicious; it was the stop that I liked the most. The infusions are not your typical flavours as they offer pesto, bay leaves, rose water, among other flavours.
I was feeling adventurous and took the bay leaf. At first, I thought that the flavour of the leaf will remind me of cooking salty plates but it graciously gave hints similar to cinnamon that paired perfectly with the bitterness of cacao and sweetness of sugar.
The next stop was Pierre Marcolini, an “Haute chocolaterie” as they market themselves, making illusions to the Haute couture fashion. To ensure the quality of his beans, Marcolini purchases lots in cacao nations and run them himself- this is how serious this guy is about chocolate.
Here, we tasted an Earl Grey praline, which was my favourite in this store. The different floral hints of the tea where like musical notes in the mouth.
The last stop was Meert, although it is a French chocolatier, it was on the tour because it is one of the best. Here, I indulged with a dark Venezuelan single origin praline. I did not only choose it because I’m from Venezuela but because, Venezuelan cacao is classified as one of the best of the world! Meert is also known for its thin waffles, I highly recomend trying them!
PSSST: If you are 2, you get to taste the other chocolates that the other person chose so more chocolate for you!
The beer tour
After all this chocolate, we headed to the beer part of the tour. I was pleasantly surprised by the quantity of beers that they gave us, when the tour finishes you will be a little tipsy (and we consider ourselves good drinkers).
This next section almost counts as a introductory guide to Belgian beers.
To get to the first stop, the tour takes you through small alleys near the city walls. After this small labyrinth, we get to Au Bon Vieux Temps. Here, like he did on the first stop for chocolate, Daniel explained Belgium beer. The foundation of Belgian beer is the Trappist, a beer made by monks in their monasteries. Not to be confused with abbey beers, these were originally made by monks but their recipes were sold to big brewers. In the world there are only 11 Trappist breweries in operation and Belgium has six of them. The history says that for the monks to be able to drink beer and to carry their other duties, they developed a “weak beer”, around 3-4% ABV. When you see Dubbel, Tripel or Quadrupel, it means that the percentage of alcohol was doubled, tripled or quadrupled compared to the original 3% ABV beer.
The bar was an old-timey in Brussels; the owner was an antique collector so you have random objects harmoniously put together making it unique. A clear characteristic of this bar is the yellow walls; I will let you go to the tour and learn why these are yellow.
Our next stop was Toone Royal Theatre, it has been in the same family for generations and is known for their puppet shows. Inside the bar, you can see the stage and some puppets hanging around. Here, to ease out all the alcohol, the tour gave us local charcuterie and cheeses.
In this theater, we sampled Lambic beers. Sour beers are the new IPA in the world of beer, and these fall into this category. However, Lambic by definition have to come from Belgium. These sour beers use spontaneous fermentation, meaning that they’re fermented in open air vats by the bacteria on the air. The result of this unusual fermentation is a sour and earthy beer with complex notes. The most famous Lambic are with Kriek or raspberries, the fruit will give the pink/violet colour and acidity and sweetness to the beer.
The last stop was at Benelux, a modern bar with laid-back vibes with weird bathrooms (as a lady, while washing your hands you can see the faces of the guys peeing on the other side of the wall). Here, we diverged from the traditional beers and went to the new beer wave, microbreweries and craft beer. A new wave more in line with the boom of beers in the U.S. These, I have to say, were my favourites, especially the dark IPA, the Dark Sister from The Brussels Project Brewery.
PSST: If you don't like beer as much, the tour will exchange your beer for another drink, alcoholic or not.
The Brussels tour
There are a lot of stories and legends surround the different symbols of the city.
When we passed by the Grand-Place, Daniel explained us that the city hall building is full of mistakes, nobody knows exactly why. The story says that when the building was finished, the architect sawing the mistakes committed suicide, sad that his masterpiece was not done correctly.
The Manneken Pis, this odd little statue has a lot of hypothesis as of why it exists and why the toddler is pissing. The mythology says that there was a big fire threatening to devastate the city and a toddler came and peed on the fire extinguishing it, saving the city. Another legend says that a toddler peed on the enemy army giving a new momentum to the Belgian army. However, all these stories are very weird, why is a toddler on the first lines of a war? How big was this fire that a toddler could but out by peeing on it? All these questions remain unsolved. Daniel explained us, that this little statue is a good symbol of the city since they do not take themselves too seriously and that they make fun of it, showing the good spirits the Belgian people have.
During the tour, Daniel points out where to have the best waffles and the best Belgium fries. You will see that the city centers smells like fresh waffles & fries, so it will open your appetite!
If you are in Brussels for a very short time, like we were, doing this tour will be the best option to get to know the city and its delicious threats!
Overall, I found that the tour was extremely well organised, Daniel had an assistant, Jonathan. He stays with you if you decide to buy chocolates to bring back home, so there is no shame on strolling behind while you give all your money away.
They also give you a bottle of water. A plus, that gets you through all your indulgences.
- How to book? Visit The Brussel’s Journey. The tour is every Wednesday and Saturday at 3pm
- Tour Price: €75
- What’s Included: Chocolate around 10 pieces, around 6 glasses of beer. Plus you get 10% off selected chocolate shops.
Disclaimer: We enjoyed the Brussels beer and chocolate tour as guests of The Brussels Journey. A big thank you!