Belgium is famous for many things, especially when it comes to food and beer. When we visited, I was especially interested in sampling frites (the Belgian version of french fries), waffles, chocolate and beer. During my research for things to do in Brussels, I came across this chocolate and beer tour conducted by The Brussels Journey. It sounded perfect. I contacted them, and they invited me to attend as their guest.
It ended up being one of the best tours I’ve taken. It’s no wonder they have such a high ranking on TripAdvisor even though they’ve only been in operation for about a year so far. One couple in our group was in Paris, and they took the train to Brussels specifically to do this tour. Another had come to Brussels for just the day and made sure to book this tour.
Yeah, it’s that good.
What makes this chocolate so special? That’s a tough one to answer simply. It all began in 1857 when Jean Neuhas opened an apothecary in Brussels. He coated his medications in chocolate to make them easier to take. The chocolate was such a hit, they started experimenting and soon the pharmaceuticals were giving way to chocolate products.
Making chocolate is considered a craft and serious art in Belgium and it shows. You can probably find more chocolate shops in an area than any other food product. Stores vary from your basic retail shop decor to feeling like you’ve just stepped into the Cartier of chocolates.
The typical chocolate in Belgium is called a praline. If you’re American, these would be better known as truffles. It’s a chocolate filled with ganache but can also contain liquid, like in a cordial, or a fluffy mixture of ganache, cookies, finely chopped nuts, etc.
I’ve eaten all sorts of chocolates all over the world, and none have been as delicious as the Belgian chocolates.
This is not a chocolate you eat just to feed a craving. Even the smallest chocolate is one you want to slowly savor. The one big bummer is that since the chocolates are made with natural ingredients without added chemicals, preservatives, and so on, it can be hard to get the really good stuff outside of the country because of their short shelf life.
Are you a vegan or have issues with dairy? This chocolate shop is your friend! The owner has issues with lactose, so his chocolates contain no dairy. Because of this, they also have a longer shelf life (up to 30 days or so), which means they can ship internationally.
I liked their chocolate and was surprised at the creaminess despite containing no dairy. However, it wasn’t one of my favorites.
This was my favorite! I’ve had so much chocolate in my life, it’s really hard to impress me to the point where I want to buy the whole store. Frederic Blondeel wins my most favorite chocolate ever award. You can see the passion and artistry just looking at the chocolates, but when you take a bite—Oh. My. Gawd.
I went back the next day and bought a bunch, and when I picked up the final piece from the box it was a sad moment.
Aside from the usual flavors might one expect, there were some surprises—green tea matcha (it sounds wrong, but oh it is so right!), passion fruit, chocolate with jasmine flowers, ginger, and so many more. We also sampled chocolate from Papua New Guinea (75% cacao), which had very earthy tones and an almost smoky flavor, and Madagascar.
This chocolatier considers themselves “luxury chocolate.” You definitely get that impression when you walk into their store, too. I felt underdressed and out of place. The chocolate was pretty good, but it isn’t a place I’d go back to on my own.
This was another chocolate shop where I felt out of place. I don’t think I’ve been to any other chocolatier’s where the staff member running the cashier was wearing a suit and tie. And the velvet ropes outside the door sure set the stage for the experience.
This is also a cafe and tea house, and in addition to chocolates, they sell various other sweets like handcrafted nougats of several different flavors.
This place is a strong #2 for me. They had some incredible flavor combinations that you just never would expect—like yuzu and ginger, which was delightful.
After sampling many chocolates, it was time to experience Belgian beer. We went to a few places and tried several beers, so I’m just going to share the ones that left the biggest impression on me.
This is a very unique type of beer made in a specific region in Brussels. It is a very interesting mix of flavors which evolve on the palate. Usually the first flavor you notice is fruity, then you get more of the malt or hops flavor. It’s really interesting.
This is a brown beer from the Ardennes region of Belgium. It is refermented in both the bottle and in barrels. This brewery (Brasserie d’Achouffe) has several different types of beers, and I’d be very happy to try their other varieties.
Trappístes Rochefort 8
This was probably my favorite beer that we tried. It’s a dark ale that is quite smooth. It is a Trappist beer, and these beers have some special criteria:
- It must be brewed inside the walls of a Trappist abbey/monastery.
- A monk must be involved in the production or supervision of the brewing.
- After supplying the financial needs for the abbey, proceeds must be donated to charity.
It actually has a legal designation, so a Trappist beer will carry a seal vouching for its authenticity.
This is a beer I would search out in other countries. It was that good.
As is typical of these types of walking tours, you also get a nice dose of history and local culture. We had some interesting stops along the way, including the iconic Manneken Pis, and our guide gave us great information.
If you’re looking for one of the best things to do in Brussels, make sure you add this tour to your list. You won’t be disappointed!
Have you had quality Belgian chocolates and/or beer? Which are your favorites?