But visitors to the country looking for a more permanent souvenir might have a problem they haven’t encountered before.
Cafes, bars and drinking dens across the country are complaining that thousands of their unique beer glasses are being stolen every year by people looking for a piece of Belgium to bring home with them.
In an effort to save their glasses from the multitude of tourists, the sellers of Belgian’s famous beer are resorting to unusual techniques to keep their barware behind the bar where it belongs.
Speaking to The Guardian, one landlord describes how he’s invested in an expensive security alarm to attach to the stem of each glass. Philip Maes, landlord at the Bruges Beerwall cafe, which overlooks the central Groenerei canal: ‘We have lost at least 4,000 [glasses] every year. Especially the tourists liked to walk with them. For some reason, some customers think that when they pay for something to drink, they get the glass as a present.’
Maes continued: ‘Such an alarm system does indeed cost €4,000. But we already had a large part of it because we have a beer store. There was already a scanner at the exit and the cafe is a part of the business.’
Alex Devriendt, who works at the Dulle Griet, a bar offering 500 types of beer in Ghent, has taken the more drastic step of asking whoever drink there to place their shoe in a basket at the bar when they drink a house beer. Speaking to Belgian newspaper the Nieuwsblad, he said: ‘Anyone who drinks our house beer must hand over his shoe.’
‘We then put them in a basket that we pull up against the ceiling. The basket has now become an attraction, but for us it remains a guarantee. [The glasses] are quite expensive because we have them made especially.’
Devriendt continued: ‘We have to supplement our inventory every day. Tourists simply want a souvenir. Some even try to throw those old-fashioned billboards off my wall. Certainly in the winter a lot disappears, they have thick coats on. In the summer they can hide the loot less well.’
Belgian is famous for its beer glasses, which come in many shapes and sizes. They’re shaped as they are due to the fact that Belgian beers taste better when they have a voluminous head of foam, which the glasses encourage.
Jan Paillaert, who works for the central Bruges beer company Brugse Zot, spoke about the glasses. The company gives them away to help market their product, which comes at a price. ‘Every month we have to deliver a thousand new ones here in Bruges,’ Paillaert said. ‘Glasses are a necessary evil for brewers. They are our business card, so you want every cafe to have them all the time. But it costs you money when people start walking with it. Hotel bars are even worse than cafes. A lot more disappear there.’