Living in the south of the Netherlands, one of our favorite places to go to on a weekend away is Antwerp. A nice city to visit, and like Eindhoven, there is a good range of beer related places, 1 of which is Billies Bier Kafetaria. If you ask around a bit within the beer community, the place to go to in Antwerp if you’re looking for a good craft beer. Named after the bulldog of the owner of the pub, called Billie. Billie was a huge part of the pub, loved by the customers, and always accompanied his owner whenever visiting national & international breweries. This made him well known in the beer world.
Next to running a pub, Billie also organizes a yearly beer festival mid November. And like the pub, a place to visit (if you’re able to get tickets ? as it sells out quite quickly every year). And during the festival always the same question rises: will Billie visit or not?? And yes, he will make his appearance, checking out the crowd, patiently posing for pictures etc…
Sadly past December Billie past away, but he will not be forgotten in the bar, or at the festival. At the beginning of this year Billie is even chosen as Belgiums Beer Personality of the year 2021!
Back to the festival, every year mid-November, Billie gathers some friends for a nice (sometimes exclusive) craft beer. The festival is spread over 2 days (Friday & Saturday) at the Waagnatie in Antwerp, an industrial Expo & Event location in the Antwerp harbor area. Together with a team of 5 certified beer connoisseurs and hobby brewers from both HopisHop.net and Billie’s Bier Kafétaria, Billie selects over 50 of the world’s best craft brewers to guarantee you a delightful taste experience. His motto is: No Crap Just Craft. Next to this you can expect to find great food, fun & games, some beer related shops and good music.
Billies Craft Beer Fest uses an American concept, which consists of an all in entry price. You buy a day or a weekend ticket, which includes a festival glass, unlimited drinks, a bottle of water that you can refill and a booklet with all participating brewers and their beers. Because you don’t have to buy any tokens to sample a beer (remember unlimited drinks), the glasses are small. With this system they hope that people will try out new beer styles/breweries without any prejudices. If a beer isn’t to your liking, it doesn’t cost you extra. With a token system (regularly used in the Netherlands & Belgium) people are more likely to make a safe bet. They stick to the stuff they know.
Every year, Billie will invite around 50 brewers, who bring 8 different beers each. But you’re not able to find all 8 beers at the same time. Both festival days have 2 sessions of 3.5 hours, during every session each brewer will have 2 beer on draft, so you have 3.5 hours to sample 100 beers. After 3.5 hours, no matter what, both beers will be taken off and 2 new beers will come on. So on 1 day, you’ll be able to sample 200 beers, 400 if you attend both days (poor liver)…
All the brewers are located in the middle of the venue in a big square, and you can just walk around, sample your beers, talk to the brewers (yes, the actual brewers will be present). Or, as time goes by and your feet start to get painful, grab a chair at the one of the long sites. In 2019 Billie made some changes, he added more chairs and tables and reduced the number of tickets per day, as the 2018 edition felt a bit too crowded with not much seating opportunities.
Having less people visiting the festival every day has an extra benefit: at most breweries there are only a couple of people waiting in line, or even no people waiting in line. But like at every other festival you might know, there always is that 1 very rare brewery, or that 1 very special beer being released, which may results in a long line of people. Sometimes even half an hour before a new session begins, you can see by the amount of people gathering at a brewery if something special is going to be on.
This all, made it that this festival has been chosen as Best Belgian Beer Festival in 2017, 2018, 2019 & 2021.
For us, this combined with a great crowd of people (from all over the world) with a lot of friends from the beer world, makes us buying tickets every year as soon as they come available.
Although Billie is no longer with us, luckily he left behind his notes and contacts in the beer world, so the rest of the team will be able to organize a new edition this year!!
Who will we be seeing there for a beer?