Enter the Confederation of Belgian Breweries (CBB) Museum and take a step back in time. The location on the south side of Brussels' Grand Place was first constructed in the 14th Century around the same time that Belgian breweries got together and formed the brewers guild. The guild bought the premises, then known as the "Gulden Boom" or "Golden Tree" in the late 16th Century. The French army's artillery destroyed the building in 1695 but the determined brewers rebuilt it. Centuries later, in 1951, the present day Belgian Brewer's Association turned the building into the museum it is today where ancient and modern brewing practices can be examined side by side.
Walking down the narrow steps to the basement, an elevator is available, you step into the middle of a brewhouse of centuries past. A tarnished copper-looking boil kettle stands encased in stone and mortar, wooden shoes ring its base and various antique wooden and iron brewing tools hang on the surrounding red brick walls. Nearby, open-topped wooden vessels resembling giant barrels with their tops chopped off use enormous iron bands that wrap around their 15 foot diameters and hold the staves together with watertight snugness.
Wandering through the brick arches and a 20th century door you find yourself facing the conical bottom of a contemporary 3,250 hectoliter Houlvriek N.V. stainless steel fermenter. Two like sized "maturing" tanks shine nearby as the overhead lights illuminate the exhibits around the medium-sized room. Where American brewing systems usually have a whirlpool feature incorporated into the boil kettle Belgian systems commonly have a separate "centrifuge" to separate solids from the wort prior to cooling. At the far end of the room, past the ingredients display and the stainless steel brew vessels stand four desktop computers with touch screens. After making your language selection from the choices of English, Nederlands and Français you are immersed in a multimedia presentation covering the process and products required to make beer. Above the PCs a largescreen video presentation cycles through English, Dutch and French, explaining how various beer styles can be used in food recipes. Along the right wall stand two multimedia kiosks that offer an interactive presentation on various aspects of the brewing process, with detailed quiz questions after each section. Even with the accompanying videos and graphics your language skills will need to be sharp to answer everything correctly, the program is in Dutch.
After the museum walk-through you're invited to stop by the "café" room for a sample. Rows of highly decorated porcelain and brass tap handles line the walls above the interior windows while shelves of antique ceramic beer mugs stand illuminated by light passing through the stained-glass exterior windows. Sitting at the rugged wooden tables sampling the two beers on tap it's easy to envision yourself back in time, drinking the local brew of a town in 17th Century Belgium. The "Light" is a clear gold color with a crisp and clean light hoppy flavor while the "Dark" is a clear dark brown with a malty aroma and dry, almost smoky, malty flavor and a slightly tart finish.
Unlike the "working museums" of Cantillon and Straffe Hendrik, the CBB museum offers a contrasting look at Belgian brewing's past and present. When in Brussels it's worth an hour and the 100 BEF, approximately $3 USD, to stop by and check it out. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.
CBB Museum - Brewer's house (Maison des Brasseurs)
Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - April, 1998
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