It’s the first weekend of September. In Brussels, that means: BBW or Belgian Beer Weekend, that time of year when the Grand Place turns into one giant open bar serving hundreds of Belgian beer brands.
This year marks the 21st celebration of BBW organised by the Federation of Belgian Brewers and the Knighthood of the Brewers’ Paddle. The grand beer party opened yesterday afternoon and will hop on until late Sunday evening.
Of course the Belgian Beer Weekend isn’t complete without its traditional lineup of activities. This is beer country and nowhere else will you witness such peculiar yet delightful rituals in honor of the brewing trade.
1. Celebrating the patron saint of beer
Belgian Beer Weekend begins with a tribute to the patron saint of beer, who just happens to be… surprise, surprise… a Belgian.
St. Arnold a.k.a. Arnold of Soissons was born in Brabant in the 11th century. He was a monk who later became the bishop of Flanders. Story has it that he was a devoted brewer who urged local peasants to drink beer instead of water for its health benefits.
The annual celebration of the patron saint of beer is held at the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula in Brussels City.
2. Consecration of beer
As part of the tribute to St. Arnold, the guild of Belgian brewers, known as the Knighthood of the Brewer’s Paddle, marches to the cathedral carrying a barrel of beer, which is then blessed by a priest.
The Knighthood of the Brewer’s Paddle, founded in the 14th century, is one of the oldest associations in the world. The guild represents the sacred traditions of the Belgian brewing trade, which has been going on for more than a thousand years.
3. Knighting of exemplary brewers
Belgian Beer Weekend isn’t just an occasion for loading up on Belgian beer. Believe it or not, people actually get knighted in these events.
Every year, brewers who have made a notable contribution to the promotion of Belgian beer are admitted to the Knighthood of the Brewers’ Paddle in a ceremony held at the Brussels city hall.
4. Procession of old-world brewery carts and beer wagons
The second day of Belgian Beer Weekend is a walk down history lane as medieval brewery carts and beer wagons roll through the streets of the city center. People come dressed in period outfits, and horses are meticulously brushed and braided for the procession.
Parade participants assemble at the Place du Nouveau Marché aux Grains at around 10 in the morning. The procession begins at 1:30 in the afternoon and culminates at the Grand Place. On Sunday, another parade takes place, this time led by brewers’ confraternities accompanied by several marching bands.
The most important ritual around Belgian Beer Weekend is of course the beer drinking, which goes on and on, BBW or not, in this famous beer country.
Let’s head on to the Grand Place and see what else is going on at Belgian Beer Weekend.