Went to the annual Hapje Tapje beer festival in Leuven recently and was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

I’ve been to much bigger/grander beer festivals in Belgium, but somehow I found this little one in Leuven more charming and enjoyable. It lasts just one day, Sunday, versus, say, the Brussels Beer Weekend, which goes all weekend including Friday night. In fact, Hapje Tapje technically lasts just 12 hours, from noon to midnight.*

The beer stands are all in the Oude Markt in Leuven, which is a larger space than for the Brussels beer fest. It makes it easier to move around, beer lines are shorter or nonexistent, and it has less of that feel of madness like you find at the big beer fests like in Brussels or Ghent.

Hapje Tapje is the type of beer fest you could safely bring your children or parents too, and feel confident they wouldn’t step on broken beer glass or face drunken rowdies. The ratio of outlandish drunken behavior was far less at Hapje Tapje, which sees none of the “beer tourists” you’ll find from the UK, Netherlands or France at the Brussels beer fest. Hell, Hapje Tapje hardly sees tourists from the rest of Flanders, save Europe.

And that is what I think is part of its charm. It still has energy, crowds and a buzz to it. And the beer is excellent if a tad pedestrian, including Alpaïde (known as the black Hooegarden), Waterloo (like the beer but still not sold on that earthenware goblet), Saison Dupont and my favorite on the day, Val Dieu. It’s also neat to enjoy draft versions of beers you commonly only see in bottle.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the Brussels beer weekend. From the pomp and ceremony of the opening Blessing of the Kegs to the setting on Grand Place, it’s a spectacle. But it’s a pain in the ass there to have to wait in line to buy your tokens (recycled bottle caps) for beer, then wait your turn to enter the roped off central area past the gruff guards and then make your way through the throngs to your desired beer tent, then wait again to get your beer, then try to find an open upright table that isn’t full of empty beer glasses or drunken tourists so you can drink your hard-earned beer. And if the beer you want is on the other side of the whole affair, it’s a good half-hour commitment to fight your way over to it. The whole thing is quite an ordeal.

And you don’t get that at Hapje Tapje. Yes, there are plenty of students overimbibing, but they are more of an enjoyable component of the afternoon. I plan to go again next year.

*It never ceases to amaze me how dedicated vendors in Belgium are to festivals like these. The setup of the festival started Thursday afternoon for a festival that would go for just 12 hours. You’d think it would make sense to realize economies of scale — hell, the setup will take a couple days so we should at least make the festival go for two days. But they don’t look at it like that here. The festival lasts only as long as it needs to last, no matter the time/hassle of setting it up. I’d argue it should be two days, as the crowds on Sunday would justify that, but whatever…it was still a fun event.

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