Being a first timer to Europe I was hoping for big things, and while the sights definitely lived up to their reviews I was somewhat surprised at the lack of availability of some of the world famous beers that I know exist over that way.
In France particularly, while you could find Hoegaarden and Leffe at most pubs and restaurants, you really had to work hard to get anything a little different. I did come across a couple of nice little venues in Paris; Académie de la Bière, a pub with a big focus on Belgium beers (along with awesome Mussels) and Brewberry, a bottleshop/bar with some very interesting European beers (mostly brewed outside of France).
Moving further around France there was little different that I saw apart from a brewery in the centre of Lyon which I missed out on due to time restraints and in Arles, a new beer bar that opened the day I arrived – coincidence? I think not!
Arriving in Brussels, Belgium from Paris you could immediately see things were different. Belgium is a traditional home of beer producing 1,000’s of incredible beers, including a number made by the monks in various monasteries (Chimay, Westmalle etc). At almost every pub and restaurant you could find exceptional Belgium beers to try – all of a sudden I was spoilt for choice! A couple of stand out’s are the Cantillon brewery – home of ‘traditionally brewed’ sour beers, the Delirium Beer Cafe, with over 1000 beers to choose (and a feverish after-dark crowd), as well as drinking a Kwak in its traditional mini yard-glass at the Grand Place (central square, with its amazing buildings).
Further on into the trip we visited Italy. Italy is the originator of the slow food movement (using the freshest ingredients from the closest locations) and thankfully this also lent itself to the beer movement. Again in most bars and restaurants you could find an interesting, locally produced beer that was worth trying – a very welcome change after the travels through France. If you ever get to Rome – make sure you check out Open Baladin – a cool bar, with a funky feel and awesome beer list.