at Monk Bar
Luc de Raedemaeker
Years ago, Brussels was just a nice place to stop and buy a waffle on the way to France. Today, it’s a city of 1.2 million, the capital of Belgium, the headquarters of NATO, and the political center of the European Union. Yet, despite all the different languages spoken on the corners of every intersection and the city’s undeniably European demeanour, Brussels still seems at times like a large village, inspired by a sense of community and an absurdly Belgian sense of humour.
A sign of that humour is the cheeky, chubby-cheeked Manneken-Pis, the statue of a young boy that is a major character in the folklore of the city. He’s probably Brussels’ most photographed attraction, yet is only 60cm high. He was designed by Jerome Duquesnoy and is a fountain in which the water emerges from a tiny metal penis that the boy points merrily at the viewer.
Of course, Brussels is also well known for its Grand-Place, one of the world’s most unforgettable urban squares, and don’t forget the Atomium, the waffles and the chocolates! But above all, Brussels is the world’s beer capital.
In the Belgian capital, you will find the Brasserie de la Senne. This is a 100% Brussels brewery owned and operated by Brusseleirs Bernard Leboucq and Yvan De Baets, who began brewing beer together seventeen years ago in the town of Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, then contracting their beers as they built in Brussels, and finally in the capital since 2010. The range that Brasserie de la Senne offers is uniformly impressive: Zinnebir; a Belgian stout called Stouterik; the aromatic and sessionable blonde ale, Taras Boulba; a ‘Belgian Revolution Triple,’ Jambe de Bois, and many others.
However, it is the first beer that has become a Brussels icon. Zinnebir, the beer of the Senne, the river of Brussels that dribbles its way through the Pajottenland before flowing through the city, largely underground. The name also refers to the Brussels word ‘zinneke,’ slang for the mongrel dogs that used to live in the poor areas of the city along the Senne.
A moderately bitter, complex golden ale, the subtitle on the Zinnebir label is ‘Brussels' People Ale,' and the brewery is committed to selling first in Brussels, then the surrounding area, and only then further afield. Yes, we are spoiled.
This beer illustrates nicely the philosophy of brewer Yvan De Baets: to offer a “fair combination” of malt, hops and yeast. And indeed he means it the way it sounds, to draw from a minimum of ingredients the maximum mount of flavour. Moreover, it is also his intention to keep the beer at a low alcohol level, relative to, you know, most other Belgian beers. As the man himself says: “The lighter the beer, the longer the fun!”
The place to enjoy a Zinnebir is the Monk, or if you prefer, Bar Monk or Monk Café. The name is in honour of the great jazz musician, Thelonious Monk, but is also a reference to the famously brewing Belgian Trappist monks. Located in the trendy neighborhood of the Vismarkt and the Rue Dansaert, it’s a real hotspot where tradition and new trends go hand in hand.
The interior is all original – the Art Deco back room is even protected – and this with the cosmopolitan ambiance creates a unique atmosphere. Zinnebir, or any of a wide variety of other Belgian beers, may be paired with locally sourced cheeses, meats or sandwiches made from the two, or a heaving bowl of the bar’s almost legendary Spaghetti Bolognaise. For beer, for food, for ambiance, it’s a ‘must visit’ for travellers and locals alike.
Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.