24 Oct 2016

Travel | Visiting Belgium with Heverlee Beer

Belgium has always been one of those places that I've fancied visiting, but other things just got in the way. In fact, the country has all the hallmarks for a classic Buckets & Spades stop-over; a strong beer scene, endless design + lifestyle stores, A* chocolates game, epic architecture, friendly looking people and a cycling culture to rival any other.

And, it's only about an hour's flight from Manchester...So what on earth have I been playing at all of these years? All of these thoughts were going through my head when I woke up to a crisp Autumn morning in Heverlee (10 minutes from Leuven city centre) earlier this month.

When the invite from Heverlee Brewery came through with promise of "beer, culture, food and art", I really didn't need a second thought. I was there, even if I didn't have much time to unpack from the previous trip!

 A trip to The Abby, Heverlee, to see where it all started

The name "Heverlee" wasn't a familiar one to me, or anyone else I'd asked. My knowledge of Belgium was pretty decent, but only really extended to Tintin, '90's fashion designers and beer.

As it turns out, Heverlee is the name of a small village within the city of Leuven, which lends its name to one of Belgium's most authentic small breweries. Our first call for the trip was to check out at Park Abbey of the Order of Premontre the original home of this unique lager. We met up with Master Brewer Joris Brams; a charismatic chap whose enthusiasm for beer and his country's culture jumped with out as soon as we shook hands.

Ok, so maybe I should back up a little. Heverlee beer was originally produced by the monks of Park Abbey, establishing the first recipe in 1129. The brewery was forced to close and was later demolished when commercial brewing became popular, as it was just too expensive to produce. As we skipped to modern times we found out that our man Joris worked closely alongside Park Abbey's current residence to unearth as much as the original recipe as possible, with the aim recreate the distinct flavour of their Belgian Pils Lager.

After a full tour of the grounds including a trip to see their resident bee-keeper, a colourful bearded fella who really was winning at life it was time to sample the beer in question.

But, this didn't turn out to be the same old "our beer is the best beer because..." type session. Anything but...

Belgian brewers have perfected the art of creating strong beer without that nasty kick-back

Park Abbey's motto is Life in Balance. At the heart of Belgium's beer culture is sharing; as we sat down to sample the beer I was pleasantly surprised to see that it wasn't all about their own brew, it was simply about sharing the unique beers, which varied on taste, style + strength.

For me it's not just about the taste of the beer, but the ideas that go into branding + design, and the stories each brewery evokes. It isn't about sinking as many beers as you can, it's about properly enjoying the one you have. Life in Balance.

"We don't see other breweries as competition at all. We prefer
 to call them classmates"
Joris Brams, Master Brewer, Heverlee

We tried Heverlee's Belgian Pils, which was refreshing, crisp and distinct in its hops - with the unique sweet but bitter aroma being put down to their use of Saaz, one of the world's most expensive hops! At 4.8% it's an easy drinker, and a nice way to start things off. We followed this up with a selection of Joris' favourites; from local micro-breweries to experimental 9%ers which merged tradition values with modern craft beer culture.

The street art scene is thriving in Antwerp. Big cat on the left by Belgian artist Dzia
 Everyday beauty in Antwerp

Day two started off with early pours of black coffee, watching the 7am cyclist fly by my bedroom window and talk of visiting the neighbouring city of Antwerp for a Street Art Tour. By noon we'd hooked up with the father & son team behind Street Art Antwerp, for a whistle-stop tour of some of the cities most loved pieces of graffiti and wall artwork. From the traditional name tagging and hyper-realistic portraits to large scale building-side murals and work you could only fully appreciate with actual 3D glasses I kid you not. We finished off the day at Leuven's Oude Markt Square, where we shared a few more strong ales.

Belgium is a country I've wanted to visit for a long time, and my short stay here really didn't satisfy my need to explore. With a few of the trips I've been on over the past couple of years I've arbitrarily "ticked" them off my list, as a been-there-got-the-t-shirt scenario, but I can say for certain that my time in Belgium really isn't over.

If two days of amazing beer, incredible architecture, meticulous design and honest, down-to-earth people is anything to go by then I think I'll fit in just fine. Thank you to Heverlee for inviting me over!

Have you ever been to Belgium? I'd love to hear about your experience.


  1. Belgium has never really been on my radar but it sounds like you had such a good time there! Would definitely love to visit myself.

    Jane / deluminators

  2. Oh hey! Glad to see you've been to my city and enjoyed your stay :)
    Leuven is a bit of a hidden gem, most travellers would dismiss it as another small university town, but it truly is a wonderful little city. Heverlee Park Abbey is a really beautiful location too.

  3. Graffiti central, that place!

  4. My best friends would have loved all that beer ahah me on the other hand, the incredible architecture!

  5. Looks like you had a great trip! I've always wanted to plan a trip to Belgium--for the beer! But there is so much more to do and see for sure! And we share a love for Tintin, so I have to go!

  6. I can't wait to get back there, even if it's just for the beer...

  7. Indeed, beer and architecture are a bril mix!

  8. I can really see you enjoying Belgium, Vanessa. Strong beer, modern and old school architecture and a decent biker culture!

  9. Tim Streetartwerpenaar06:49

    why do i only read this now. Since our last tour, actually my very first, i've been doing tours on a regular base. There's even an app now called Street Art Cities, a universal app including 17 cities, amongstbthem LA, Montreal, Melbourne, Berlin and Antwerp off course


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