Buying a beer on Brussels’ Grand Place can be expensive and overwhelming if you’re unfamiliar with Belgian beer. Ierste Klas Cafe, just off the square, makes the choice more enjoyable.
Belgium produces countless beer varieties. This is a great thing if you know a bit about the beer. However, if you are new to Belgian beer, the variety of styles is daunting. Tripel, Dubbel, Abbey, Trappist, Brown, Lambic, Gueuze, Blond, Ambree, Saison, … the choices can make your head swim!
This beer selection dilemma was why I started my series about Belgian beer. I also shared a list of my favourite beer bars in Brussels – places that will help you get to grips with Belgian beer. Today I add another bar to that list: Ierste Klas Cafe.
Tucked into an alley just off Grand Place, Ierste Klas Cafe has an unassuming exterior. Originally home to a Tibetan Tea room, the new proprietor, Mike Hermans, has renovated but kept the interior quite simple. Exposed wooden beams, wood floors, a hulking wooden bar bought at an antiques shop in Hasselt, and a smattering of beer paraphernalia. What gives this bar its name, however, are the first class bench seats Mike has used to create booths, complete with luggage on the racks above. The train seats add a certain charm to the bar, a nod to a bygone era and to tourists, who pass through.
Mike is passionate about beer and he wants to share his knowledge with his customers. He spent 25 years working at À La Bécasse, giving him a solid background in serving customers and educating them about beer. Sharing my view on the overwhelming beer selection in Belgium, he offers a curated selection of 50+ beer, varying based on demand and his preference.
What I like most about Mike, and his new bar, is he knows his customers and is not afraid to cater to all tastes. First, tourists need help understanding and choosing. Ierste Klas is, after all, just off Grand Place and on the way to Rue des Bouchers. He knows his customers will be overwhelmed with the beer selection and is ready to help them make a choice. He even offers tasting flights, just like you might find in a wine bar.
Second, and most importantly, Mike wants to attract locals and beer enthusiasts. Unlike many other bars around Grand Place, Ierste Klas Cafe isn’t tied to a particular brewery. Mike stocks everything from a standard pils to some of the harder to find beer, such as Gouden Carolus Tripel (golden yellow, refreshing, slightly spicy). His menu may not be as diverse as Moeder Lambic or Bier Circus, but it is broad and well curated. It is the best selection, with the best prices, I’ve seen – especially considering it is only 30 metres from Grand Place.
Finally, in keeping with his vision of education, he offers a room upstairs, which holds up to 40 people and frequently hosts beer-tasting groups. This is great for a company event or for a group of friends wanting to learn more about Belgian beer. It is also a good opportunity for him to set up an occasional group event via Bookalokal. Hopefully he’ll see this article and be inspired! Regardless, Mike is happy to host any group and can offer various services for your event.
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Ierste Klas Cafe keeps their food options simple, offering pasta, cheese and meat platters, and other nibbles. The focus is squarely on serving good beer, not on becoming a brasserie. I respect how Mike knows his strengths and doesn’t try to be something he’s not.
If you are in the Grand Place area and looking for a nice spot to grab a beer, Ierste Klas Cafe is a great choice. Mike speaks excellent English (as well as French and Flemish) and is happy to advise you on something you may not have tried.
During my visit, he introduced me to the Gouden Carolus, Malheur 10 (golden, peach fruit with a bit of citrus finish), and the Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel (blond, hoppy, citrus-y, dry finish). Each of his recommendations was different but enjoyable. For those not interested in beer, he offers other drinks, such as mojitos, Aperol spritzes, and more.
Ierste Klas Cafe
3 Rue Chair et Pain
Thanks to our friend Matthew Crasner for inviting us to visit Ierste Klas Cafe and to Mike Hermans for hosting us.
Do you have a beer bar recommendation for me to try out? Share it in the comments below.
Find out more about Belgium’s favourite beverage on our Guide to Belgian Beer and Breweries in Belgium page.
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