Belgium is surely the European home of beer and on the face of it, it might not look like a great place for a sober bar crawl.
But I beg to differ.
The UK was actually pretty slow to get on the alcohol-free beer wagon (barrel?) and our neighbouring nations had actually embraced it years before. Perhaps it’s their penchant for afternoon drinking in the sun that made them realise alcohol-free was a sensible option.
But whatever the reason, you never get an odd look when asking for sans alcool out there.
The Sober Belgium Beer Trail
We ended up in a Tex-Mex restaurant. I mean. It happens to us all at some point.
Still, we were all starving and it had a menu with food so it really ticked all the necessary boxes for very hungry travellers.
I looked at the drinks list with a mixture of curiosity and skepticism. Would I really find any alcohol free beer here? But sure enough, there it was.
I ordered a bottle of Juliper 0.0 while the others settled for regular Juliper. Juliper is a staple in Belgium and they definitely didn’t let their reputation slide.
‘I actually prefer your version to the alcoholic one,’ said my friend having a sip.
Yup. Juliper 0.0 is awesome. It’s malty and refreshing.
Delirious in Delirium
We arrived at Delirium – Belgium’s most famous bar – at around 5pm. Early, you might say. Delirium has well over 2000 beers on offer and judging by the state of a lot of the patrons in the late afternoon, some people had embraced that number as a challenge.
‘Do you have anything non-alcoholic?’
‘One!’ grins the barman.
‘I’ll take that then!’
‘Excellent choice!’ he said.
Delirium’s singular non-alcoholic offering was Palm 0.0 – a light and tasty beer served in Palm’s balloon glass. I felt as though Delirium should potentially have a larger offering of AF beer, especially given that many of its beers are upwards of 8%. Still, Palm was good.
Next stop was Port Noir, an amazing little underground bar just up the road from the Mannekin Pis. Port Noir is a cavern of exposed brick and lighting that makes tripping over chairs a genuinely likelihood, sober or not.
The only alcohol free beer they had was Nanny State, which is fine by me. It was a cool bar to hang out in and while I would’ve liked to try other alcohol free beers, at least they had one.
Brewing up a storm in BrewDog
The BrewDog bar next to Brussels Central Station was the first I’d ever been to and it was a great place to hang out with old friends. Bizarrely, their playlist was entirely rock from the early 2000s so made us all feel like we were teenagers again listening to Limp Bizkit but still.
We ordered two plates of chips and all the sauces imaginable and my god, BrewDog makes excellent chips.
You know what they didn’t have though? Alcohol free beer AKA Nanny State. That BrewDog could’ve run out of one of the most famous alcohol free beers in the craft industry seems ridiculous but I wasn’t actually too fussed. The thing is, once you separate beer from alcohol, you’re no longer on the one-track-mindedness of where’s the next drink coming from?
Just having a glass of water was fine. Probably beneficial actually given how much potato and salt I was consuming in frites.
The next day we went beer tasting in Little Delerium Cafe, an off-shoot of Delerium proper. Again, the only alcohol-free beer was Palm 0.0 which I drank while the others had flights of Belgium beers.
I stopped off in a corner shop in a back street and bought a can of Hoegaarden 0.0 – which I had no idea existed. I ended up carrying it back to the UK and tried it the other night.
Now, I like Hoegaarden. I’ve always been a fan. So how far wrong could they go with an alcohol free version?
Um. Pretty far.
The first taste was great, really very good. The first quarter in fact was pretty reasonable. Then each sip became harder and by the time I got halfway I suddenly started really thinking about it and really tasting it.
It tasted, frankly, weirdly sweet. I read the ingredients. 21g of sugar.
Twenty one grams of sugar.
In comparison, there’s 35g of sugar in regular 330ml Coke and 0.6g in 275ml Beck’s Blue and 0.1g in 275ml of Nirvana’s alcohol free Sutra IPA. There just isn’t really any sugar in alcohol free beer. So what the hell is Hoegaarden 0.0?! A fizzy drink?
Not the best variety
So the bars I visited in Brussels weren’t exactly rolling around in alcohol free beers but, they always had them (if you forget BrewDog’s absent stock). And they never looked surprised or thoughtful when I asked like bartenders often do in the UK.
I didn’t get a chance to make an extensive exploration of bottle shops while I was there but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a lot of alcohol free beers and the bars just stock a few favourites like here.
So all in all, Brussels is not the anti-thesis of a good time for a sober drinker. Go forth a enjoy Belgian beers!