Beer Travellers’ Guide: Liege

Where to find the best beers, bars and food in Belgium’s Wallonian city

Daniel Neilson

That could have been a turnip. They were certainly a dozen French fries. Avocado. Cauliflower. That bloke’s in Lederhosen, and they are definitely bottles of beer. Just how someone dressed as a strawberry was going to complete 26 miles of the Beer Lover’s Marathon in Liège, I wasn’t quite sure. Perhaps the incentive of a beer break every couple of miles was enough, perhaps it was the fact that the vast majority of the 3,000 runners were also in fancy dress (the theme, in case you hadn’t picked up, was fruit and veg, and beer, of course, is a perennial favourite). We skip around to a couple of the beer checkpoints as the leaders are ploughing through. No fancy dress up here at the front, no beer at the Achouffe stop either. This is met with boos by the spectators, willing the runners to stop for a beer provided by men and women dressed as the Achouffe dwarves. Gradually the runner’s costumes become more elaborate, these are the ones who stop for a beer or at least slow down. Any drinking by runners is met with cheers. It’s the same at 16 beer points along the marathon route across the city. Marathons, I believe, always bring out the best in people; the best in the runners and the best of the people in the city. Liège, on this sunny spring day, was in a supportive and merry mood, but one gets the impression Liège is always like this. Liège is a fun city. Perhaps it’s the large number of students here, perhaps it’s the underdog attitude, either way, this is a city that parties, that celebrates everything from its food, to its history, from its artisanal heritage and, now, to its beer. And that’s why I’m here.

Liège, the main city of the municipality of the same name, is Belgium’s third most populous city and lies an hour east of Brussels. Hopping on the train from Midi, after the short trip under the English Channel, and the Kent-flat landscape of wheat and barley gradually begins to undulate as we enter the Ardennes. Woodland appears on increasingly steepening aspects. The train ambles into Wallonia and the home to the pleasingly named demonym Walloons. Wallonia, from the beginning of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th century, was the wealthiest region of Belgium, closely following Britain into the Industrial Revolution. Walking around the plazas of the Cathedral District in central Liège, the grandeur of the buildings attests to this. The cathedral itself, the university, the opera house, even the post office, all make statements.

We stop for a drink in the BeerLovers’ Café & Shop (beer-lovers.be), a world-class beer bar with 750 beers available, and a dozen on tap, more than half devoted to local breweries. From there we head to Brasserie C (brasseriec.com), a brew pub set in a former nunnery. We sit on the beautiful terrace and sup from its range of single hopped beers, each named for the IBU unit: 30, 60, 90, and its multiple-fermented flagship beer Curtius.

The rest of the day is spent enjoying this busy, walkable city. We eat waffles – Liège waffles of which locals are rightly proud – from Une Gaufrette Saperlipopette and eat boulet at the characterful Lequet. Boulet is a Liège classic or large meatballs in rich sauce, with chips, apple sauce and some token salad. It is beer food at its best. We also learn about a particular Liège word: oufti. It’s more of an exclamation actually. It can be used in a surprised way, tilting up at the end: ouFTI! Or perhaps a bit sad in a deeper voice: ouf-ti. Apparently, it can also be angry, or excited, happy and disappointed. Oufti is a useful word.

Talk to a brewer in the US, it’s hops that often dominates the conversation, in the UK it can be malts, in Belgium it’s yeast. We sit and eat at the pleasant Refectory here, discussing the tasty beers and discussing the culture, in the glass and in the city.

The next day is an opportunity to explore the best breweries of Liège province. We start our tour at Brasse & Vous Brewery (brasse-et-vous.wixsite.com) in Beyne-Heusay, six km from the Liège train station (pictured bottom left). Our guide, the impressively sideburned brewmaster Bruno Bonacchelli, shows us the brewery that sits alongside the restaurant. Talk to a brewer in the US, it’s hops that often dominates the conversation, in the UK it can be malts, in Belgium it’s yeast. We sit and eat at the pleasant Refectory here, discussing the tasty beers and discussing the culture, in the glass and in the city.

Sixty kilometres deeper into the Ardennes is Brasserie de la Lienne (brasseriedelalienne.be) founded in 2013 by Mélissa and Nicolas Résimont (pictured middle left). Throughout the tour of this brewery set in the barn, we hear stories of fairies and knights and something about a golden goat. The Ardennes is wealthy in fairy tales it seems. The beers are excellent quality, a dry and bitter Noire stout being my pick.

We grab lunch at nearby Stavelot Abbey, one of the oldest monastic foundations in Belgium and dating back well over 1,000 years. It’s now partly a car and historical museum. Unfortunately we miss the town’s impressive, and slightly bizarre, carnival. On the fourth Sunday of Lent, men dressed in white and wearing a mask with a long red nose, walk through the town playfully hitting watchers with dried pig bladders. By all accounts it’s a racous affair, with hundreds more joining in, and thousands descending on the town.

Our final brewery stop is a highlight, the beers are superb, but its location among leafy farmland, is exceptional. As we sat on the sunny terrace of Brasserie de Bellevaux (brasseriedebellevaux.be), near Malmedy, 60 kilometres from Liège, eating flavourful local cheeses and cold meats, our ragtag group of beer lovers are happy (pictured top right). I’m reminded again of the power of beer.

As I sit and write this a couple of months later, I do remember many of the beers we tried, the superlative meal at L’Air de Rien, the discussions about the finer points of yeast cultivation. But overriding all is the snapshot of the Bellevaux terrace, loud with banter and replete with smiles, all over great beer. Well, that and the sight of a dozen mates dressed as frites stopping for a beer halfway through the marathon.

/ liege.be
/ beerlovermarathon.be
/ ouftitourisme.be
/ wallonia.be