Belgium 2011 – Day One & Two

Day One: We arrived in Brussels on Saturday morning,  9am local time, and were lucky to get situated in our hotel right away. After a quick shower we stopped first at a touristy coffee shop near the Grand Place for a cappuccino and a croque madame, which aside from being Sarah’s first taste of anything in Europe, were unfortunately nothing special at all. Then it started to rain, which is fine except it was already quite cold and all we’ve packed are t-shirts and sundresses. The sundresses are Sarah’s… not that you should be judging either way…

After breakfast we took a much needed two hour nap that turned into a four and a half hour nap, woke up, and headed out to Moeder Lambic. I’d been dying to go here because it was recommended highly, mostly by Belgian brewers that I work with. The menu consists mainly of De La Senne, Cantillon, and De Ranke beers – fine by me!

Moeder was fantastic, I highly recommend it and I will return again when we’re back in Brussels – there are two locations, by the way, and we went to the one nearest that Grand Place, Moeder Lambic Fontainas. Moeder has several Cantillon beers on tap, served very appropriately at cellar temp. The Rose de Gambrinus was spectacularly fresh and  in a way that imported Cantillon can probably never quite be. Of course, I am drinking this 10 minutes from the source. The raspberry flavour is so fresh and pure that I expected to feel the crunch of little raspberry seeds every time I took a sip.

Sarah’s favourite beer of the night was Bink Bloesem, which is basically a dubbel with some pear juice, made by Brouwerij Kerkon from St Truiden. A fantastically made beer, as was the Kerkom Adelardus Dubbel. I also had my first taste from the new Gueuzerie Tilquin, which was terrific. And just because, we also sampled a Cantillon Lambic (unblended), Taras Boulba, Cazeau Saison, and Troubadour Magma.

Day Two: An early rise to catch the train to Bruges, were we met Nino Bacelle of De Ranke, and his wife Christine for lunch at De Halve Maan in Bruges. We followed this with a tour of De Dolle Brouwers, a short drive from Bruges. Everything in Belgium is a short drive away.

De Halve Maan is a gorgeous place, right in the center of Bruges, it’s a much bigger facility than I imagined, and it must do a tremendous amount of business; Bruges itself is packed with tourists and the brewpub was one of the busiest places I saw in the town. We tried the Brugse Zot, a Belgian blonde ale, which was rather spicy, clean, typical, and not very hoppy. Apparently the bottled versions are filtered and pasteurized and thus not quite as good, but this was certainly a very nice beer.

The tour at De Dolle was something I had wanted to do for over a year, since Nino first suggested it to me. Nino tells me that De Dolle is essentially the first craft brewery in modern day Belgium, with brewer Kris Herteleer and his brother Jo having got their start as homebrewers in the late 70’s and opening De Dolle in 1980. Jo moved to South America to practice medicine and Kris now brews on Friday’s and Saturday’s, making some 40 batches a year, or about 1,000 hL.  They are open for tours only on Sundays, the English tour is at 2pm and the Dutch/Flemish tour at 3pm. The tour is conducted by the 92 or 93 year old mother of the brewer Kris Herteleer, which is in and of itself amazing. She whisks herself up and down the breweries staircases as she goes from room to room, always landing at a well placed stool, even once using the brew kettle’s ladder as perch for her next sermon. And she does preach; extolling the virtues of natural beer, the health benefits of hops, and the rationale behind the traditional methods used at the brewery.  For example, they still use a koelschip to bring the beer to 70C after boiling, and then using a baudelot chiller for the rest of the chilling. This is a type of heat exchanger that sends cold water through a curtain of pipes while beer is run OUTSIDE of the pipes, exposed to the air. (see a picture in the gallery at the bottom)

“Mom” by the Koelschip

This was my first time drinking the beers from De Dolle. All were good, some exceptional. My favourite was the Arabier, which is basically a dry hopped blond ale, superb in it’s simplicity and execution, followed by a 2008 barrel aged “Stille Nacht” which was complex, very strong, but purely delightful. We were also lucky enough to do a tasting of the Oerbier Reserva from 2005, and 2006. This is a barrel aged version of the Oerbier at 13% ABV, which is aged on wine barrels (Chateauneuf du Pape I think) for at least one year.

So far, Belgium is treating us very well!

Oh and, here are few more pictures: