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Ten Years Of Christmas Beers
By Chuck Cook

What is most likely the top Christmas beer festival in the world was held in Essen, Belgium (north of Antwerp, near the Dutch border), December 11–12. This was the 10th edition of the fest, organized by the Objective Beer Tasters of the Essen Region (O.B.E.R.), and it was very special. There were 108 bottled brews on offer, some of them quite rare. Bush Prestige, Malheur Brut Noir, and De Dolle Oerbier Special Reserva 2002 were among them. Of the 16 beers on tap (a very high number for a Belgian beer fest) there were 10 beers with over 10% abv!

Small paper tickets, each costing 1.25 euros, were used for purchasing beers. Most of the beers cost one token, but some of the rarer ones were two, three or four tokens. Special festival glasses (15-cl pours) cost 3 euros and made great souvenirs.

Virtually every Christmas beer produced in Belgium was available, as were a few from the Netherlands. Old standouts like De Dolle Stille Nacht and Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux were there, along with newcomers like Regenboog ’t Smisje Kerst and De Glazen Toren Slagers Kerstbier from Flanders, as well as Mortal’s Christmas and Gigi La 1900 Speciale Bonnes Fetes from Wallonia.

New for this year, the main festival hall was nonsmoking — a rarity in Belgium! While the venue was a little too crowded on Saturday for a few hours, the gathering was more comfortable towards evening and on Sunday. Food was available in the form of soup, stoofvlees (Flemish beef tips in a gravy sauce), grilled sandwiches, bread and cheese. There was also a frituur close by.

The next edition will most likely be held December 17–18, 2005. The venue may move from the Essen Parochiecentrum to a larger place next time.

This is truly one of the world’s great beer fests. Don’t miss it!

Chuck Cook is a freelance writer living in Richmond, VA. His passions are beer and travel, and he has written for various beer publications. He traveled to Belgium in December as a guest of the Belgian Tourist Office. He can also be reached via e-mail.


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