It’s no secret that we love a good food tour when exploring a new place. Food tours are the best way to explore a city on foot while learning about its culture and history, in between stuffing yourself with as much excellent local food as you can stand. In fact, we actually did two totally different food tours in Brussels! We couldn’t leave Brussels without doing a Belgian food tour that focused on our two favorite Belgian icons: beer and chocolate (sorry, Jean Claude Van Damme). Luckily, The Brussels Journey created a tour that combines the best of 2 worlds: the Brussels Beer and Chocolate Tour! Get you a tour that can do both. In addition to enjoying copious delicious beer and chocolate, we got a fantastic walking tour of Brussels and learned all about its history and culture!
FINDING THE BRUSSELS BEER AND CHOCOLATE TOUR
We woke up bright and early (before noon) on New Years Eve, beyond pumped for our beer and chocolate tour with The Brussels Journey. After grabbing coffee and some food at the Christmas market, we walked the adorable cobblestone streets through Brussels to the beer and chocolate tour meeting point: Chocopolis.
We were the first to arrive, but we saw a few other tourists doing the awkward side-eye “Are they on the food tour too” move. Eventually we noticed an energetic, charismatic, and friendly person talking to the tourists. Sure enough, this was Daniel, our guide for the day. After the 15 tour members were rounded up and made their introductions, Daniel gave us a brief history of the tour and what to expect on our 5-hour long beer and chocolate tour (hint: Belgian beer and chocolate).
THE HISTORY OF BELGIAN CHOCOLATE
Before entering Chocopolis, Daniel filled us in on the history of Belgian chocolate. The gift of edible chocolate comes from the Mayans, who made a bitter chocolate drink that we actually tried in Peru (it’s disappointingly not very good at all). We can thank the Conquistadors for taking time out of their busy schedule of brutally ransacking South America to come up with the idea of adding sugar to drinking chocolate and then sending it back to Europe. Then, a pharmacist named Neuhaus came up with a way to make sweet, delicious chocolate solidify. He then used his new invention in the most unappealing way possible: as an aid to take pills, which were apparently mostly made from sock lint and mold and tasted horrific.
After his disappointingly boring initial contribution to the evolution of chocolate (and, probably, causing the first incidents of pill addiction) Neuhaus eventually threw his Pharmacist lab coat away, probably shouting something like EUREKA! In one of Brussel’s many national languages, and got back to furiously inventing things with chocolate. Finally, he gave birth to what evolved into the Belgian praline, which is a filled chocolate. I don’t know where everyone else went wrong with the word Praline, but in Belgium it just refers to a filled chocolate, not a crunchy filling. Anyway, Neuhaus invented them (and in an adorable act of spousal support, his wife invented the box of chocolates to go with his pralines, aww!) and Neuhaus shops can still be found all over Belgium.
THE CHOCOLATE PART OF THE BRUSSELS BEER AND CHOCOLATE TOUR
Chocopolis looks similar to a lot of chocolate shops, with one glaring difference: there’s a giant kitchen to the left with an enourmous all-chocolate model of the Brussels town hall. In addition to impressive chocolate models, the great thing about Chocopolis is how fresh their pralines are. They’re made in house and then transferred the great distance (roughly 5 feet) to the counter. They also don’t like their stock to sit out long, so they put them on sale at the end of each day. What that means is that if your budget doesn’t allow for top of the line chocolate you’re in luck! At Chocopolis you can score heavily discounted Belgian pralines that are still fresher and better quality than the Godiva down the street. (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you go all the way to Belgium and then buy your chocolate at Godiva, there was no point in going anywhere at all!)
Our first chocolate of the day was a chili pepper ganache chocolate praline: reminiscent of the drink that the Mayans used to make with chocolate, chili, and water. It took us back to Peru! (Although honestly, the praline version is much better.)
With chili still on our tongues, we set off for our next destination. As we walked along, Daniel provided us with gems of local Brussels information. He told us everything from what museums to check out to where to get the best REAL Belgian Fries, fried in actual beef fat (Fritland, it turns out). A few pleasantly European winding narrow streets later, we arrived at our second shop, a smaller chocolatier that specializes in unique flavor infusions.
Daniel and the shop owner bustled about for bit assembling silver trays of beautiful chocolates, because in Belgium, chocolates are served on silver trays like you’re goddamn royalty. First, Daniel presented us with a single origin 70% dark Madagascar praline filled with rich, luscious ganache. If you’re a dark chocolate fan, like we are, this is the good stuff.
Next, the shop owner produced from some hidden corner a silver tray of bright yellow domed pralines. They’d already sold out for the day, but she’d saved them just for us (aww)! These were Passionfruit Caramel, and the rich sweetness of caramel blended perfectly with the sourness of the passionfruit. The only downside: we ate the very last ones in the shop. I would’ve taken some home!
Daniel told us we had a choice for the next round: herbal and floral infusions. Lia opted for a basil chocolate praline. I’m not doing it justice by saying that it tasted like fresh pesto, because fresh pesto isn’t something that you usually associate with chocolate, but it was fresh and nutty and bright and unexpectedly delicious. I was in the mood for more spice, so I asked for a cayenne and lemongrass chocolate praline. The sweet, spicy, and herbal flavors reminded me of Thai food. So between the two of us, we managed to experience the bold flavors of both Italian and Thai food all by eating 2 little chocolates. Impressive.
We weren’t done yet. Daniel confessed to us that he wasn’t a big fan of liqueur chocolates (which is cray, because they’re the best!), but then he added that this particular shop was an exception to the rule. With that, he passed around their rum raisin chocolate praline. It didn’t have that sharp alcohol bite you associate with liqueur chocolates: the rum was infused as a perfectly complimentary flavor – topped by a raisin, of course.
Lastly, Daniel thought it would be fun to pass around 100% dark chocolate along with some cacao beans in case anyone was feeling adventurous. What he didn’t realize was that after 4 months in South America, Lia and I eat toasted cacao beans like they’re almonds, and developed a taste for 100% dark chocolate after raiding the mercados in Peru (that cheap 100% cacao though, I miss it). We grabbed a handful of cacao beans each and munched away while everyone else nibbled nervously or spat out the bitter chocolate. I guess we like our chocolate the way we like our coffee: black, unsweetened, and single origin.
THIS POST HAS GONE ON ENTIRELY TOO LONG WITHOUT AN ATTEMPT AT CHOCOLATE RELATED SEXUAL HUMOR
At this point, we figured there couldn’t possibly be more chocolate coming. We were wrong. We made the short journey to our last chocolate shop – this one looked more like a cosmetic store than a chocolatier. We were escorted upstairs to a private tasting room (we felt super fancy!) and awaited Daniel’s short return. He came back bearing a little silver tray on which was arranged 3 types of praline: a 70% Dark Venezuelan (kind of sounds like a sex move, right?), an Earl Grey, and one that was simply called the “Melting Hug” (so, make that 2 sex moves and a tea. That sounds like a good afternoon, honestly.)
I should confess…I hate Earl Grey flavored anything. I even hate actual Earl Grey. It tastes like soap and stuffy old British men. But… this was amazing. It was actually one of my favorites of the day! I didn’t think the next one would top it. How wrong I was. “Melting Hug” was like an explosion of toffee, chocolate, and salted caramel that wraps you up in it’s velvety arms and whispers in your ear “Yes…this IS heaven.” Swoon!
Melting Hug was the final chocolate of the first portion of the tour. We’d had the perfect amount of chocolate: not enough to feel sick, but enough to feel very, very satisfied.
MANNEKIN PIS: THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE LEGEND
Happily filled with chocolate, we wound our way through more pleasantly European streets towards Grand Place, to make the obligatory stop at Mannekin Pis. I admit that before coming to Brussels, I thought it was odd that the symbol of the city was a little boy peeing. And by odd, I mean gross. What’s the deal? Why is the Mannekin Pis so famous? Why does it exist in the first place??
There are no answers to these deep and mysterious questions, but – in Belgian fashion – there are legends and myths. Daniel told us some of the more ridiculous legends surrounding the boy. For instance:
- The Belgian army was on the frontlines for a battle they would surely lose. With low spirits, they looked miserably upon the men who were about to kill them. Suddenly, a boy ran out to the enemy and pulled his pants down, Braveheart style. The troops were inspired by the act of revenge-peeing and spurred to victory. But like, who brought their toddler to a battle? Was this also the historical invention of babysitters?
- There was a fire threatening to destroy Brussels. In heroic fashion, a small boy peed on the flames and put them out, saving the city! Question: was it a very small fire, or just a massive amount of … well, you know?
- There was a stick of dynamite threatening to destroy Brussels. A toddler, probably wearing some ultra-cool 19th century James Bond spy outfit, peed on the fuse to put it out. City saved again.
- A witch, sick of being constantly bothered by a little boy constantly peeing at/on/around/near her (or possibly having her Brussels-destroying plots constantly thwarted by a tiny James Bond style hero) turned the boy to stone. In his final act of peeing toddler revenge, the stone statue peed too. And everything was pee, forever.
It turns out that we aren’t the only ones who think the Mannekin Pis is odd: all the residents of Brussels do, too. It’s a weird, quirky little statue that nobody quite understands the origin of. Who made it? Why? When? There are no answers, only questions. And so Brussels did what any good-humored European city would do when given the gift of a mysterious peeing statue: they embraced it as their own, celebrated it, and dressed it up in cute little pee-friendly outfits. The Mannekin Pis, Daniel informed us, is actually a fantastic example of the relaxed Belgian sense of humor. What started out as a confusing, gross statue was revealed to us to be a funny inside joke that we just hadn’t been in on. Suddenly, we felt a lot more affectionate towards the little guy.
THE BEER PART OF THE BRUSSELS BEER AND CHOCOLATE TOUR
We arrived at one of the oldest bars in the city, which oh yeah, doubles as a puppet theater. (Just Brussels things.) Our first beer of the day was a Belgian classic: the Lambic. This particular one was an Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Lambic, which was just as fancy and delicious as it sounds. Lambics are made using “spontaneous fermentation,” meaning no sugar or yeast is added to start the fermentation process. Microbes in the air, both outside and in the brewery, get the process going. So basically lambic brewers just throw open the windows and let nature make some really delicious beer. It sounds easy in theory, but we tried something similar once with an old loaf of bread and nothing happened.
A true kriek is a lambic with made locally grown Belgian sour cherries added to the beer to help flavor it (you know, like how you used to think they made wine with “notes of cherry.” That wasn’t just us, right?) Because of that, it has a strong cherry taste, but it isn’t necessarily sweet at all – there often isn’t additional sugar added, like in the case of Oud Beersel. So for those of you who want a natural fruit beer with no syrupy artificial taste, give it a try! We drank our generous pour and checked out the funny puppets around the building, then we were off to the next bar.
Wait…this is a store, not a bar.
Daniel took us upstairs and explained about these kinds of beer stores in Brussels, where you can find pretty much any Belgian beer you can dream of. These beer stores are set up like very fancy old libraries, complete with moving ladders to gently pluck a dusty old beer down from the top shelf. It is the kind of place that any beer lover, beer snob, or anyone who’s watched Beauty and the Beast and lusted over that library would find enchanting. (Jeremy wants to make a joke here about “Beauty and the Yeast.” Lia said something about refusing to insult our readers intelligence but you know what this is Jeremy’s post so too bad. Sorry, readers.) It was in this lovely beer library where we were to have our next tasting, starting with a glass of Monk’s Stout and one more chocolate from the last shop to pair with it.
THE HISTORY OF BELGIAN BEER
As we savored our dark Stout and chocolate, Daniel told us all about Belgian beer (read our guide to Belgian Beer here). The cornerstone of Belgian beer is the Trappist, a beer made in the tradition developed by Monks, and still brewed to this day by Monks in monasteries. Monks are the OG Belgian beer brewers. Long ago when it was rare to be literate, Monks were able to read and write, allowing them to share and pass down important knowledge, such as how to make beer (critical, really). Belgium has long been a safe haven for those fleeing persecution in their home countries, and Monks too settled in Belgium in search of greater freedom, bringing their beer recipes with them.
In these days, water had yet to be made safe for drinking, but alcoholic beer was perfectly safe to consume and could be made cheaply. There were even special lower-alcohol versions made for children to drink (which is what you can tell the next person you see drinking a Bud Light). What with Monks making beer and beer being safer to drink than water, it’s no wonder that some long-ago Belgians assumed that beer must be holy. (I mean, can we blame them?)
Today’s Trappist beers must be brewed inside a monastery and all profits must return directly to the monastery or be donated to charity, which means you’re contributing to the greater good by drinking a Trappist beer. Beer and social sustainability: the best combination.
At this point we were thrilled to be given a mountain of bread and some delicious cheese (the better to taste beer with) and a Carolus Triple, an Abbey beer which tasted like apricot and banana with some herby notes. That was followed shortly by some yummy charcuterie (and a surprisingly delicious vegetarian alternative) and even more Belgian beer. The next glasses were a Van Dieu Tripel and a dubbel (which is apparently how you actually spell “double” in reference to beer) from Holland whose name I couldn’t tell you (though not for lack of effort. We took a lot of notes, it’s just that we were slightly tipsy and they’re not terribly legible).
Finally we walked (ahem, stumbled) to the last bar: the oldest bar in the city! As we all crowded into a little alcove within the dark wood and stained glass bar, Daniel served up our final beer: a Westmalle Dubbel, the very first dubbel beer ever made. It smelled like wine and tasted like raisins and oak. It was a fitting final beer for a fantastic tour. As we savored our beer and chatted with all of our newfound friends (the magic of a great food tour is that after 5 hours and a few drinks, everyone’s become friends), Daniel thanked us all and bid us farewell. It was New Years Eve and we all had plans (I mean, our plans were to put on PJs and watch Netflix in bed, but whatever). Slowly, our group dwindled, all of us with smiles on our faces.
Practical Information about the Brussels Beer and Chocolate Tour
The Brussels Journey’s Beer and Chocolate Tour has all of the things that make a food tour great. Daniel, as well as his assistant, was energetic, charismatic, and knowledgeable, and that radiated onto the group. We were able to step out of our respective bubbles – whether it be couples or friend groups – and enjoy the tour as a group. We learned a ton about Belgian chocolate making and enough about Belgian beer to sufficiently pass as beer snobs back home (which is what really matters, right?). We explored parts of Brussels by foot that we’d never seen and dived into its culture and history. The Brussels Journey’s Beer and Chocolate Tour is a wonderful Brussels food tour, and we highly recommend it to anyone who’s ever wondered “but why do I have to choose between chocolate and beer?”
- Book a Tour: Visit The Brussel’s Journey to book the beer and chocolate tour
- Tour Price: €75 (You can save €10 with the Brussels Card)
- Tour Length: 4-6 hours depending on group size, how busy the shops/bars are, etc.
- What’s Included: Chocolate tastings (10 minimum), beer tastings (6 minimum), walking tour and history of Brussels, 10% off selected chocolate and beer shops (and yes, you’ll want to return and use those discounts. We did!)
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Disclaimer: We enjoyed the Brussels beer and chocolate tour as guests of The Brussels Journey & were gifted Brussels Cards by Visit Brussels. All opinions, inaccurate tasting notes, bad jokes, and anecdotes are our own.