Once off the ferry and into Belgium, the first stop was a little bar about 10 minutes (2.5 miles) off the E40, just before the Ostend motorway. Come off the E40 turn left down the N33, turn right and follow the canal for about a mile. This little bar called the Bierkaai (20 Kanaalstraat, Snaaskerke) has four taps and a nice little range, well worth finding.
The next couple of bars were either closed or we couldn't find them, so we arrived at our first destination of Aalst for the Friday evening. The first bar was the Old Fox (60 Parklaan), with a range of 60+ beers. It has a fake old interior, but the food looks good and it has a pleasant atmosphere.
Next stop was Bergenhof (4 Stationsplein), a good first stop if you arrive by train, with 70ish beers, notably 6, 8 and 12 Westvleteren : a nicely refurbished, modern-feeling bar.
But when we arrived at the Babbelaer (3 Klapstraat) it was a completely different story: though busy, this fantastic little bar was quiet and comfortable, and had a good range, although somewhat pricey in some things (e.g. 75cl Frank Boon Framboise at 11.50 euros - ouch!).
The Soleil (Korte Zoutstraat 43) is good for a late beer, if you like loud music, and then we found the Capucientje (99 Capucienenlaan), which had about 120 beers and seems to be favoured by middle-aged people. We had one here before pushing on to our final stop of the evening, t' Kastanjehof (Keizersplien 12). The range of 70ish beers was interesting, but not exciting, although the café itself was a lovely old wood-brown building with some interesting decorations.
And so back to the hotel for a well-deserved night's rest - apart from nipping over the road to check one last one out, called Hoed (6 Korte Nieuwstrat): very small range but acceptable for a last beer.
Later that morning, after a decent breakfast and a quick walk around Aalst, we headed off to check some out-of-the-way bars east of Brussels. First stop was a place called Landen, which had two bars to check. The first, Stillen Genieter, is on the main street 200m from the station and is a typical modern bar with 60+ beers. Rufferdinge was a little harder to find, and looked very closed, although it may just open in the summer as it is part of a museum; it has a very good-looking children's play area.
Next stop was Zesbunder in Gingelom : unfortunately it doesn't open until 2 p.m. on a Saturday. However, it looked good with Westvelteren and Ter Dolen spotted, as well as a local branded beer (more on this later).
St Martinus in Dormaal was unfortunately not due to reopen until 1 March. It looked a pretty little bar, though, and should have a reasonable beer list.
Next, Leeuwener in Zoutleeuw. When we arrived the village was getting ready for a local celebration of Saint Amor, the bar itself is a friendly little bar, that is children-friendly. In the bar we found a De Chokier bier, labelled as Baron Surtet de Chokier, the brewery postcode in Steenbrugge.
Next, Eglantier 21 Stationstraat in Saint Truiden, which had a plaque outside saying that it was the local OBP branch HQ [Belgium's equivalent of CAMRA; Web site]. A cracking little bar with good food and a range of 90+ beers. They nearly lost their Cantillon cask ends on the wall!
After another disappointment, we stopped at the Kerkom Broweij (Bink), 469 Naamsesteenweg, Kerkom Sint Truiden (main road to Sint Truiden). After a tour around the brewery which is tiny, we enjoyed some beers in their fantastic little brewery tap, which is like being in the front room of a Belgian house from 40 years ago. Don't miss it.
Next was the Oude Rycklen, 33 Dionysius Van Leeuwenstraat, Rijkel. This cracking locals bar does snacks and has a good range of 60+ beers. Snooker room on one side, this is a bar you can get settled in, unfortunately we had to push on.
By this time people were hungry, so we had mussels in the Klee (10 Kleestraat, Kuttekoven). This is another locals bar, with an acceptable but not awe-inspiring range. Lovely old building though.
The last stop before trekking down to Liège was the Madrigal (8 St Maternuswal, Tongeren). This is a modern, locals' café with snacks and a range of 90 beers.
And so, onto Liège for the Saturday night crawl - through a snowstorm of all things! (Liège is a very industrial French-speaking town that is suffering from high unemployment at the moment.) After parking the car and dumping bags, our first stop was Le Vaudree II (149 Rue St Gilles), a long, popular bar with good food and stone cooking available, so we ate here. It claims to have 900+ beers, I would have said more like 400-500.
Next was Saint Paul (8 Rue Saint Paul), a lovely little brown café with a range of 40+ beers, including a couple of unusual ones: Silly Cervoise De l'Avouerie d'Anthisnes, which was slightly sour and very nice, and La Merveilleuse de Chevremont, brewed under licence by Val-Dieu.
The Pilori (7 Place Du Marche) was a another lovely little brown wooden café with a range of 30+, if not very inspired; though it was good for the Walloons, as was the As Quinquet (about 20 beers, very "locals" bar). The name of the next bar is under an embargo until Tim's new Guide comes out, so you'll just have to buy a copy when it comes out!
Next was the Original Vaudree (109 Rue du Val Benoit, Angleur) for a range of (again, claimed) 900 beers. Very civilised and modern, with good-looking food. This bar also sells some old beers, and we spent a very interesting late evening in here.
After breakfast on the Sunday we set off down the Meuse river valley. Although highly industrial at first, it does become more picturesque further down. Our first stop was Cave a Bieres in Seraing, a little village on the outskirts of Liège. Unfortunately the bar range has gone downhill, although the village is of interest to me because it's where the family name comes from.
After some exploration, we carried on to Huy and the Big Ben (8 Grand Place), which looked rather nice but was not open. After this, it was all disappointment as the next four bars were either closed or we couldn't find them. Our lunch stop was the Heeren Van Liederkerke (Kasteelstraat, Denderleeuw), which is run by two brothers: one looks after the beer, the other the cooking. The food is fantastic and is all cooked in beer, and the menu even suggested a beer to go with each dish. The beer range is also fabulous, and joins the Not to Miss Cafés of Belgium. They also have some old beers, and the Lambic Monster was allowed to drink one of their last remaining Wets Kriek. The brothers know that it was appreciated! In fact we stayed nearly too long and it was a mad dash back to the port for the ferry, and we didn't even get in a supermarket stop - whoops!
As you can imagine, Tim has to do quite a few trips like this to research the Guide. I think the disappointment of finding good bars closed must be the most difficult thing to take, but there is compensation in finding excellent new ones from tip-offs and the like. We even found a couple of new ones just by wandering around. Tim's Guide is extremely well researched, and I am proud to have been able to join in with this edition. Look out for it soon.