Specialties such as lambics, saisons, and Trappist ales may have Belgium on the world-beer map, but unassuming pils remains the preferred everyday corner-bar drink of many Belgians.
When Jean Van Roy’s great-grandparents founded Cantillon in 1900, there were dozens of other breweries and lambic blenderies in the city. The 20th century was hard on them. War, consolidation, and changing tastes all played a role in their shutting down or moving elsewhere.
The city’s largest brewery was once Wielemans-Ceuppens, makers of a beloved pils. The Artois brewery—now part of AB InBev—took it over 1978 and within a decade had shut it down.
By the end of the century all those Brussels breweries had closed except one: Cantillon, whose nonprofit museum status kept it going through the years when lambic was on the verge of extinction. They were more or less alone there until the Brasserie de la Senne, makers of Taras Boulba, opened in 2010.
Wielemans-Ceuppens Wiel’s Pils
“Wielemans Brewery was one of the biggest Belgian breweries at the beginning of the 20th century. The brewery was located not far from Cantillon, just on the other side of Midi Station. My paternal grandfather, Pierre Van Roy, was a big fan of Wieleman’s Pils, and it’s with him that I tasted my first pils, which I found very bitter at first, but then very much appreciated later.”
Brasserie de la Senne Taras Boulba
“A freshly brewed Taras Boulba is one the most wonderful beers that one can possibly drink. A simple beer, and very well made—brewing a beer of high quality, but of such simplicity, is one of the most difficult feats one can accomplish as a brewer.”
Brouwerij-Brasserie De Ranke XX Bitter
(Dottignies, Hainaut, Belgium)
“Like many others, I rediscovered the joy of bitterness through De Ranke. After all these years, XX Bitter remains a reference in this category.”
Brasserie d’Orval Orval
(Florenville, Luxembourg, Belgium)
“I still think back on the first Orval that I tasted in the 80s—and though the beer has evolved over the years, it remains one of my favorites to this day.”
Brasserie Dupont Saison Dupont
(Tourpes, Hainaut, Belgium)
“An ancestral recipe, a historic brewery, and a beer that’s never changed throughout the years. It’s always a pleasure to drink a Saison Dupont.”
Birrificio Italiano Tipopils
(Limido Comasco, Como, Italy)
“Since Wieleman’s ceased production, I hadn’t come across another beer that brought back the same nostalgia of sharing my first pils with my grandfather until I came across Tipo Pils. Beautiful, simple, and delicious.”
Illustration: Jamie Bogner