Sunday, April 7, 2013

Zythos Bier Festival

If Belgian beer tickles your fancy, you may want to check out the annual Zythos Bier Festival which will be held in the city of Leuven, Belgium, later this month. This festival is exclusively about Belgian beer and thus a great way to explore the many small, family breweries as well as the larger, regional ones. Read on to learn more about Zythos and its beer festival.

Kris Herteleer of De Dolle Brouwers at ZBF 2011.

The background
Belgium has always been a beer country with strong consumer interests, but back in 2002 things were looking bleak for the beer consumer organization Objektive BierProevers (OBP). Like its more famous English counterpart, CAMRA, OPB was founded, in 1984, to promote Belgian beer traditions in the face of aggressive marketing by large, multi-national brewery corporations. They did so through arranging beer events, such as tastings and festivals, such as the popular Antwerp 24 Hour Festival.

The 1990s witnessed a decline in the number of small breweries in Belgium and at the beginning of the new millennium, the majority of the younger people in Belgium had turned to lager beer or even wine. In January 2003, OBP closed down - an event that seemed to spell doom for Belgian beer traditions.

However, only a month later, in February 2003, a new consumer interest group was established: Zythos - a "Confederation of Belgian Objective Beer Tasters". This new organization took over where OBP had left and in March 2004 launched their own beer festival, the Zythos Bier Festival (ZBF), to replace the older Antwerp 24 Hour Festival.

ZBF has been arranged every year since 2004 and for most of that time in the Stadsfeestzaal in Sint-Niklaas, a town about 20 km west of Antwerp in Belgium. As mentioned above, only Belgian breweries can attend the festival but people from all over the world show up as visitors.

Over the years the festival has grown fairly large and for my 2011 visit some 60 breweries attended, including famous brands such as De Dolle, Van Eecke, Oud Beersel, Boon, Val-Dieu, Malheur, Het Anker, Duvel and Huyghe. Together they offered more than 200 different beers, and most of that on draft!

However, the Sint-Niklaas location did feel a bit small and crowded when I was there and 2011 turned out to be the last year ZBF was held in Sint-Niklaas. In 2012 ZBF was relocated to the much larger and very modern Brabanthal conference center, a few minutes south of central Leuven.

The stand of brewery Van Eecke at ZBF 2011

ZBF 2013
This year, 2013, will be the 10th time that ZBF is arranged and the second time at Brabanthal in Leuven. The official website states that about 100 breweries will attend with more than 300 types of beer, which is a record number for ZBF and surely enough to keep visitors busy for the two days the festival lasts!

The festival opens at 12:00 on Saturday, April 27, and at 11:00 the day after. The easiest way to get there is by bus from Leuven railway station, which takes about 10 minutes.

Entrance to the festival is free, but in order to taste beer you need to rent (or buy, if you keep it) a 15 cl tasting glass for €3 and a set of tokens (or jettons) as you enter, then simply walk around from stand to stand and sample great beer to your heart's content. The tokens cost €1.40 a piece and can be purchased all through the day, whenever you run out.

My 15 cl tasting glass at ZBF 2011

More photos from the 2011 Zythos Bier festival can be found at Flickr.

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