SPONTANEOUS FERMENTATIONS: DAN AND JOELLE'S REPORT ON THEIR RECENT BELGIUM TRIP
Dan and Joelle recently made the long trek from Austin, TX to Belgium for a week at the end of May. First up, here are their photos:
Click here for Dan and Joelle's photos
And here is their excellent, detailed write up of the trip:
Day 1 (Brussels)
We landed in Brussels around 8:30 and made our way to the Hotel Opera with little trouble. Considering our last trip to Belgium had started with an unplanned detour to Amsterdam things were going swimmingly. Unfortunately check-in wasn't until 14:00 and there were no available rooms so we dropped off our luggage and headed out to see the sights. Hotel Opera is at Rue Gretry 53, so it is only two or three blocks from the new Delirium Café. Dan and I decided that 10:30 wasn't too early for a beer so we headed over to check the place out. Not surprisingly we were the only customers at that early hour. The bartender Cali hooked us up with a Pink Killer from Silly while we perused the voluminous menu. Talk about the perfect breakfast beer! It is a mixture of Titje (Silly's Witbier) and grapefruit juice. Very tasty (yes, it was tasty, even to beer geeks). Next we decided to try a Dutch Oud Bruin named Brand, which was new to us. It was not as good as Duchesse or Petrus in our opinion. It had a saccharine-like sweetness that was kind of unpleasant. We had a reservation set for our much-anticipated lunch at Restobieres at 13:00, so we decided to get a head start to make sure we found it OK.
Amazingly we arrived at Restobieres at 12:00 without managing to get lost. Luckily for us there were only two other tables occupied so they were able to take us early with no problem. We decided on the three-course lunch menu for 20 Euros. Of course being the Dewberries we basically shared everything. We decided to split a 75cl Drie Fonteinen Geuze. Dan’s appetizer was a huge portion of pate with a Westvleteren reduction sauce and I had mussel casserole made with Bink Blond. Both were stunning! For the main course Dan had pork chops with mushroom and Grottenbier sauce and I had steak with a shallot sauce and mashed potatoes. Once again, both were very good, but maybe not as good as our appetizers. There was a choice of three different desserts, but we decided we were so full that we'd just have one sabayon with kriek. It was very good and we were VERY full. Our waitress was very friendly and prompt. We had our Tim Webb book out on the table checking on some of the beers that were on the list. I think the waitress mentioned it to Alain because when Dan came back from the boys room, Alain chased him down with his copy of Tim's book and mentioned that Tim had been in a couple of weeks earlier. After a superb two hour lunch we headed back to the hotel for a short nap. By the way, they take VISA.
Much refreshed, we decided it was time to get down to some real beer hunting. First stop was Poechenellekelder. We'd been there once before and had enjoyed it quite a bit. Service was a bit slow this time, but we managed to get in a Cuvee Des Trolls, a Binchoise Blonde and a Witkap Pater Tripel (they were out of the Stimulo). We were still pretty full from our lunch so we split a cheese plate to go with the beer. Next we tried to hit Porte Noire, but they are, in fact, closed on Sundays so we headed on to Toone. This was where we saw one of the strangest sights of the whole trip. We were making our way down a relatively dark street when along came three mariachis in full regalia (no really, we saw them!). They must have been on their way home from a gig at Chi Chi's which is on Boulevard Anspach. Unfortunately we couldn't get our camera unholstered in time to get a picture of me with them. This is something you'd expect to see in Austin, TX, but not Brussels.
Toone has a pretty small list of beers, but they are nice ones. I chose an Orval which was excellent as usual, and Dan had a Leffe Radieuse since he'd never tried it before. There was a cool cat sleeping on a high windowsill in the back room at Toone. We were amazed he didn't fall off since his rear end was hanging precariously over the edge of his perch. It was about midnight when we got back to the Delirium Café (which felt like 7 a.m.). Cali was still at the bar after having opened at 10:00 that morning. The man must be crazy! We weren’t done drinking yet so "first" up was our all-time favorite Vichtenaar along with a Straffe Hendrick Spring Brugs Lentebier van 't vat. We struck up a conversation with a nice couple from Nottingham who were in town on holiday. We shared some sips of our beers with them and had a sip of his Jan Van Gent, which was his favorite beer of the trip. Not bad. We decided to take another foray into Dutch beers and tried Natte and Struis from t' Ij. Natte is a brown ale and Struis is a barleywine. Both were excellent. This is probably where we should have stopped, but I had a wild hare and said we must order a 75cl Fantome Flop. It was a wonderful dry and tart beer. Not sure if the folks from Nottingham cared for it though, but hey, more for us. It was about 1:30 at this time and we asked Cali why there weren't more people in there since they closed at 4:00. He let us know that on Sundays they actually close at 1:00, but he wasn't complaining. Oops. We decided to let him go home and get some sleep. By now we were definitely hungry again, but after a half-hour of searching, we couldn't find a frites stand. Oh well, there were energy bars back in the room. We scarfed down some food and tried to get some sleep but the Flop proved to be too much for Dan. We finally managed to get to sleep around 4:00. Needless to say, we weren't going to make our trip down to Beersel the following day.
Day 2 (Brussels)
At about 14:00 we pulled ourselves out of bed and went in search of food and a cash machine before we headed over to Cantillon for some shopping. We had tried to get cash on Sunday, but of course all of the machines were empty. We had this same problem on our previous trip. Later on we found out that the banks don't fill the cash machines over the weekend, so by Sunday night they hardly ever have anything in them. Flush with cash and full bellies we decided to take a cab to Cantillon. Unfortunately the guy we hired didn't know exactly where it, even with the address we had written down for him. After a few tense moments he managed to find it in his road atlas. Seven minutes and 10 Euros later we were at Cantillon with a glass of Gueuze in hand. We proceeded to buy a couple of t-shirts, 3 bottles of St. Lamvinus, 2 bottles of freshly labeled Loerik and one bottle of Vigneronne (all 75cl). While buying our stash a couple from Orange County CA came in and asked if there was any Faro available. Jean Pierre didn't think there was, but after talking to Jean they did come up with some. I liked it, but not as much as the Gueuze. As we were drinking our free samples a threesome from Orange County (small world, eh?) appeared. It was practically like being back in America. The threesome had just come from trying to get a tour at Belle Vue. Apparently they were closed. Using their trusty map they found their way to Cantillon, but they had to go through a kind of slummy area to get there. They were carrying a few thousand dollars worth of video equipment with them, so that wasn't a very enjoyable trek. After we loaded up our beer in our rolling suitcase, the five of us headed back to the city center. Their map was much better than ours, so we were very glad they let us tag along with them.
We dropped the beer off at the hotel and headed out in search of food. We weren't going to make the same mistake we made the night before (when in doubt, fill the belly with food) ! We finally settled on Sherlock's Pub for dinner after not being able to find a restaurant we had noticed the night before. I wonder why?? It sounds like an English pub, but the menu outside had quite a few beer cuisine items on it, so we gave it a go. Dan ordered mussels cooked in Westmalle Dubbel, and I had tagliatelle in a mushroom cream sauce (I know it wasn't beer related, but it sounded good). Both dishes were very tasty and affordable (around 10 Euros each) and the service was quick.
Next we headed to Porte Noire which was open this time. It was just as I remembered it from our previous visit. What an awesome atmosphere! It has low brick ceilings and torches in the back rooms. It’s a little smoky, but still nice. Unfortunately they were out of my first choice of Queue de Charrue Brune, so I settled for a Bieken. Dan had a Witkap Stimulo. As we drank our beers we noticed that the bluegrass music they were playing had some vaguely familiar lyrics that seemed out of place. It was a remake of "Fight for Your Right to Party" by the Beastie Boys. Too funny! Next up was a bluegrass version of "Enter Sandman" from Metallica. Finally they finished up with "Deep in the Heart of Texas". That made us feel at home! We asked the bartender who the band was and he said they were a Belgian band named the Moonshine Playboys. Apparently they play at the Porte Noire once or twice a year and he was selling their CDs behind the bar. We seriously thought about buying one, but they were 15 Euros and the exchange rate wasn't in our favor on this trip. Luckily I did find their website when I got home. You can listen to samples from 4 of their songs (www.moonshineplayboys.com). Check 'em out! We made one last stop at the Delirium Café for a Gaverhopke Bruin and called it a night.
Day 3 (Brussels)
We were up at a reasonable hour on our third day and made it down for breakfast. Hard-boiled eggs, cheese, various meats, what tasted like a liverwurst tureen, and bread. Ah the breakfast of champions! They did have cereal and yogurt, but who wants that?? Properly fortified we headed out for some sightseeing. The previous night we noticed that they were putting in a 40 by 40 yard square of some sort of sand mixture in the Grand Place. There also seemed to be portable horse stalls. We decided to go and see what might be happening there and lo and behold it was a rural Belgium exhibition. There were horses, cows, goats, and sheep. We watched while the owners braided the horses' tails, preparing for the exhibition. About 30 minutes later music started blaring out of loudspeakers above the various buildings in the Grand Place and some teenagers came out riding some of the horses. These horses were huge compared to some that I've seen. Their hooves were kind of hairy like Clydesdales.
After watching for awhile we decided to go to Bier Circus for some lunch and, of course, beer. Along the way we came across a huge cathedral. What the heck, we decided to go and check it out. It was the cathedral of St. Michael & St. Gudula (Sinte Goedele), and it was beautiful. Don’t miss it if you are on the way to the Circus. Having had a bit of unplanned culture, we moved on to the Bier Circus. It was quite smoky in the front room, so we went to the back where it was less atmospheric, but also less smoky. They have some terrific dishes on the menu at Bier Circus. I had beef carbonnade and Dan had a veggie platter that had melted cheese from one of the breweries. Beers were Hanssens Oudbeitje, the much-anticipated Queue de Charrue and Ellezelloise Blanche des Saisis (very hoppy), We decided the menu looked so good, we'd come back for dinner.
After a much-needed nap we decided to go and check out Le Zageman. It was about a 15-minute walk from our hotel. Unfortunately even though it was a Tuesday, and it was 18:15, they were closed. I have the feeling we're never going to get to try this place! Oh well, at least there was the Bier Circus. We headed out on a long uphill walk and after about 30 minutes we were seated in the front room of the Bier Circus. It was much less smoky than it had been earlier in the day. We ordered a Rulles Blonde and a De Dolle Oreal. The Rulles started out sweet, but ended dry and hoppy. Very nice. The Oreal was hoppy and dry with the usual De Dolle flavor. The Oreal label was awesome. It had a plane with "Oer Force" written on it. Classic! Dinner was steak frites for Dan and fish Waterzooi for me. Both were delicious. For dessert we had St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel and Rodenbach Alexander 1997. Now that's my kind of dessert! We decided to hit the sack early for our move on to Gent the following morning.
Day 4 (Gent)
Because we would be returning to Hotel Opera for our last night in Belgium we were able to leave our Cantillon filled suitcase in their baggage room. Much lighter of load we caught the requisite tram and train to Gent arriving around 13:00. Along with about 30 sweaty school children we crammed, and I mean CRAMMED, into the tram to the city center. It would have been fine if we hadn't had all of our luggage. Luckily for us most everyone got off at our stop so we didn't have to figure out how to push our way past all of the students with our bulky gear. A short 7-minute walk brought us to the Hotel Flandria (located at Barrestraat 3) where we'd spend the next three nights. It is a very basic hotel, but for 48 Euro/per night for a double with bath (including breakfast) we weren't complaining. Unfortunately there wasn't a lift at this hotel, so we had quite a workout hauling our stuff up seemingly endless flights of stairs. Thank God we left that other suitcase in Brussels!
We took a few minutes to rest and then it was off to Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant, which translates to "the waterhouse on the beer side." It is a very cozy pub, with a wonderful view of the Leie river. There is an outside patio where you can sit if it is a nice day. As it was a little chilly, we decided to sit inside. The Waterhuis has a very nice beer list that represents pretty much the whole of Belgium. I went for a Girardin Gueuze Black Label and Dan had the Oud Zottegems Kriek. The Girardin was excellent. I'd rank it at the top of the list of Gueuzes I've had. The Oud Zottegems was a little disappointing with a moderate bottle cap flavor and not quite as sour as we expected. Also, it was not as good as the Zottegemse Grand Cru we'd had on our last trip to Belgium. Since we hadn't had lunch yet we decided to order some food. Unfortunately inside the Waterhuis you can't order from the big menu from Leontine that is available on the patio, so we went for a sausage and cheese plate and a ham sandwich. Both were very tasty, as was the Tierenteyn mustard that accompanied it. Next up were Ichtegem's Oud Bruin and Tonneke from Conteras. I loved the sweet/sour flavor of the Ichtegem's and the Tonneke was good and light at 4.8%. Gert arrived for his shift just as we were leaving so we introduced ourselves and told him we would definitely be visiting him again.
Across the street was the Galgenhuisje, so we stopped in to check it out. Talk about a small bar! There were only 3 or 4 tables in the 1st floor bar area, and a tiny loft above that would probably hold another 3 or so tables. The decor had the gallows humor you would expect being in a gallows house, and the woodwork was impressive as well. They had a menu that matched the size of the bar, but it had some nice beers on it. We selected a Gentse Tripel and a Poperings Hommelbier. Both were good. We didn't recall the Hommelbier having coriander notes when we had first tried it, but it appeared to have some now.
Deciding to have a little culture before we pickled our brains too much, we headed over to the Castle Gravensteen for a little tour. The tour costs 6 Euros/person and is self guided plus they take credit cards, which is nice. It originally started out as a castle, then it became a prison, and now it is a museum. It was very impressive, with high walls and turrets. There was a scary collection of torture devices used while the place was a prison. I don't think I would have liked to be locked up in there! There were also suits of armor and weapons from back in the 16th & 17th centuries (if I recall correctly). Pretty cool!
As Rich Link would say, we had WUPT, so we ambled over to Aba-Jour for some dinner and beer. It had a nice wooden bar area and a view of the Leie river from the non-beer side. We took a table with a view of the river and ordered a Pater Lieven Bruin and a Rochefort 6. It looked like most of the people were having huge bowls of pasta for dinner, but we went with Gentse Waterzooi and Kip met Orval & Spek in Dragon Sause. We freaked out when the waiter came back with our order. Not only is the pasta served in huge portions here, but Dan's Waterzooi came in one of those Dutch ovens that you usually get mussels in. My chicken dish was monstrous as well, and VERY good. It was probably in the top three of all of the dishes I had on the trip. It was a cream sauce with mustard, herbs and of course Orval. I'm definitely going to try to make this one at home. All of that food and beer made us very tired, so we decided to head back to the room and watch the Champions League soccer final. There was always time for more beer the next day.
Day 5 (Gent)
After another vein clogging breakfast of eggs, cheese and pastries we headed over to St. Baafs Cathedral to soak in some more culture. Once again it is another beautiful church with awesome sculptures, stained glass windows and paintings. The cathedral would have been enough on its own, but we were treated to a viewing in the crypt of several pieces from the Museum of Fine Arts. The museum is in the process of being renovated so they moved some of the collection to St. Baafs. This is a must-see if you are in Gent. The Cathedral is packed with art, even without the extra items in the crypt.
Our feet were starting to hurt after a couple of hours of sightseeing, so we stopped in at the Brooderie for some sustenance, and of course, beer! This place, as the name indicates, is a bakery, but it is also a B&B and a cafe as well. We had an extremely tasty lunch of vegetarian spaghetti and a vegetable tart. The beer list was short, but OK, and we had two Orvals with lunch.
After lunch it was time for another visit to the Waterhuis. There was a rowdy bunch of Irish ex-pats in the bar this time to provide some entertainment. I had a very hoppy Bink Blond and Dan went with a Rodenbach Grand Cru. Many people have mentioned that this one has been dumbed down since the takeover, but we found it to be a nice complex combination of sweet and tart. Just about as we've always remembered. Good news I guess. We had a nice chat with Gert and then made our way to the Trappistenhuis for a few more beers.
The front room at the Trappistenhuis was very smoky, but they do have a little addition in the back that is non-smoking so we retreated there. As the name implies, the Trappistenhuis has a very good selection of Trappist beers. We decided to try the Chimay Doree since we had never tasted it before. I liked it quite a bit. It was dry, light at 4.6% and blonde in color. It is much better than the Chimay Red in my opinion. We also tried a St. Bernardus Witbier and orange peel dominated this one as it warmed. It was a little bit dull in the back room since we were the only ones there, but we didn't want to brave the smoke, so we decided to pay our tab and head back to the room for a short nap before dinner.
After reading Jeremy's good review of 't Klokhuys, we decided to give it a go for dinner. We were not disappointed! Dan had a huge bowl of Stooverij which he couldn't even begin to finish. I selected a dish with a pork chop, sausage, something else I can't remember and mashed potatoes. Both were very good. We washed it down with an Affligem Blond. It had mild hops and sweetened as it warmed.
Next stop was 't Velootje. We entered the "pub" with more than a little sense of trepidation. It was just as everyone has described: piles of clothes everywhere, numerous candelabra, statues of Jesus and the requisite bicycles. The seating consisted of three long tables with benches. Luckily there were two other groups of people already there so we felt a little bit better. We decided that the owner must be the guy sitting in the fluffy chair next to the blazing fire. He looked a bit like a combination of Frank Zappa, Einstein and Ian Anderson. We took a seat and he brought us a one-page menu. Since we had been forewarned we weren’t surprised to see it was a pretty nice list. Dan went with the Hoegaarden Grand Cru. My first selection of Zatte Bie wasn’t in stock, but he said he had replaced it with St. Feuillien Bruin. I decided to give it a try since I had really enjoyed their Blond. He served our drinks in what appeared to be clean glasses so we were good to go as long as we didn’t touch anything else. The music was very eclectic, but most of them contained accordions. Some songs sounded Irish and others possibly Finnish. After the first drinks we loosened up a bit and decided to order a couple more that were new to us. Both were rated 4-stars in Tim Webb. I had Ne Kopstoot from Brunehaut, which was a 7% blond with Jenever. It was light and floral in flavor. Dan had the Lamoral Degmont from Van Den Bossche which is a sweet, spicy 8% Tripel. Since we had ordered more than one round the owner must have decided we were OK. He brought us an autograph book and asked us to write a message in our own language and sign our names with where we were from.
By this time a group of musicians came in carrying their instrument cases. We assumed they had just finished with a gig and were stopping by for a beer. Wrong! They pulled out a guitar, a clarinet and an accordion and commenced playing some Bulgarian Gypsy tunes. Very festive! Not to be outdone the owner pulled out his own accordion and started playing a decent rendition of Waltzing Matilda. After three songs the leader of the band passed the hat for tips and moved on to the next bar. We took this as our cue to leave. After entertaining some thoughts of becoming Bulgar Heads (ala the Dead Heads for The Grateful Dead), we set course for Dulle Griet. Even though it was only Midnight they had already closed despite the 1:00 closing time listed in Tim Webb. We decided to call it a day at that point.
Day 6 (De Haan and Gent)
After breakfast we caught a tram to the train station for our trip to Oostende, where we caught the coastal tram to De Haan and the much-anticipated De Torre. It is a modern bar that has a very beachy, outdoorsy feel. The first beers of the day were Caves by Verhaeghe and Moinette van ‘t vat. Since Vichtenaar is our all-time favorite beer we had high hopes for the Caves. It was very drinkable at 5.8% and it had the excellent sweet/sour flavor that we had anticipated. The Moinette was very good as well with a very fresh, tart flavor. We had a question that the waiter couldn’t answer, so Daniel came over to talk to us. He was very friendly and knowledgeable. It was obvious that he loves beer and talking about beer. The "special" beer list had been taken from the bar by a customer, so he offered to take us into the cellar so we could see his stash. Of course we didn’t refuse this generous offer! Let’s suffice it to say, he has quite a nice collection, some of which obviously weren’t for sale. There was Orval Vert, Westmalle Extra and a special beer from Drie Fonteinen made with a grape varietal I can’t recall. Those weren’t for sale, but we did see a Drie Fonteinen/De Cam Millennium Gueze with our names on it.
Lunch was vegetarian spaghetti for Dan and spaghetti bolognese for me. There’s nothing like a big bowl of pasta to get you primed for more beer. We tried a DuPont Cervesia which was light bodied, mildly bitter, highly carbonated, very herbaceous and floral. It had mint and ginger flavors. Awesome! Next up were Gageleer and Bloemenbier from De Proef. The Gageleer was 7.5% and spiced with bog myrtle. It was sweet, with a floral finish and a slight cinnamon flavor. The Bloemenbier was 7% and it had a sweet almost saccharine like flavor. The aroma was of candi sugar and orange dreamsicle. Both were good.
We decided to take a break and check out the beach, which was about a ¼ mile down the road. This was our first experience on the Belgian coast but it reminded us a bit of the South Texas beaches. The waves were small, the sand wasn’t pebbly and the water was relatively warm. Back at De Torre we decided to finish up with a Drie Fonteinen/De Cam Millennium Gueze. It was everything we expected with medium acidity, high carbonation, and a citrusy, funky nose. We thought we were done, but Daniel decided to give us a sample of the Stuise Rosse by Caulier that a rep had just dropped off for him to taste. It said it was an amber, but it sure looked blonde to us. It was OK, with low hops and a mild sweetness. Not bad for free. After taking a few pictures with Daniel for his website we jumped on the tram back to Oostende and caught the train back to Gent.
We decided to have a light dinner after all of the beer and pasta, so we went to the patio located between the Waterhuis and Leontine for some salad. It took us awhile to flag down a waitress to order. Dan had a Mannekin Pis van ‘t vat to go with his salad while I opted for water. You’d think that salad would be relatively quick to prepare, but after 30 minutes we still didn’t have our food. The waitress saw our empty table and went to check the kitchen. She came back and said they were just behind. Finally about 15 minutes later we had our salads, which were quite tasty. We had to wait another 15 minutes or so after finishing to flag her down again and get our check. So much for a quick meal.
It had been a long day, but we still needed to try and visit Dulle Griet again for at least one beer each. It was a nice looking bar, and the wait staff was pretty attentive despite reports to the contrary. Dan had a Buffalo stout from Van Den Bossche. It was 5.7% with medium bitterness and body. I opted for a St. Feuillien Blonde. I had really enjoyed this beer when I had it on our last trip in 2002, but this one seemed a little different than I remembered. There was a bottle cap flavor that competed with the nice fruity, spicy flavor I expected. We decided to call it an early night because tomorrow was the big day. The Spontaneous Fermentation Festival!
Day 7 (Buggenhout and Mechelen)
Before heading to Mechelen to check in at Hotel Carolus we decided to take a slight detour to Dranken Geers for a shopping spree. Thanks to Dominic’s bus recommendation, and a very helpful bus driver, we made it to Dranken Geers after about a 40-minute trip. This would have been really easy had we not been dragging our luggage, but we made it OK. Dranken Geers was just as wonderful as everyone had said. Unfortunately they were out of Vichtenaar, but we substituted some Caves in its place. There is a very wide selection at Dranken Geers, and the prices are VERY good. We filled our remaining carryon suitcase for only 27 Euros! Included were lots of lambics, some Regenboog beers and miscellaneous others. Dominic wasn’t around, but we met Vera and their son and had a nice talk. They were amazed that we had come all of the way from Texas to shop at their store.
After packing our beers it was back to Gent to catch the train to Mechelen.
Unable to figure out the bus system in Mechelen we chose a cab to get to Hotel Carolus since we were short on time. Then it was back to the train station for the short trip to Buggenhout and the Spontaneous Fermentation Festival. We had been in the parking lot next to the train stop for only a couple of minutes when we heard Joris yelling at us from across the train tracks. He very kindly made the call for the free ride to the fest. While waiting we were joined by Tim Webb and Siri. They were biking to the festival so we took the copies of Lambicland they had been carrying along with us to make it a little easier going. After a very short ride we were at our final destination. It was a very small hall and we were the first to arrive. We poured over the menu and by the time we had made our selections, a few other people had arrived and it was time for the fest to begin. They had a very nice arrangement at this festival where all you had to do was sit down at a table and the Bierpallieters who were our hosts came around to take our food and drink orders. We chose Belle Vue Lambick van ‘t vat and Girardin Kriekenlambiek as our first beers. The Belle Vue was flat, tart and citrusy, and the Girardin had a mild tart cherry flavor, which improved with warming. Both were very good. Next up were the special beers made by the Bierpallieters for the festival. The Opstalste Tripel at 7% was sweet, with a maple flavor, and dry hopping. The Opstalste Specialleken was the same triple with cherries added. It was spicy, with good carbonation and a floral aroma and it improved with warming.
At some point during this period we were joined by Jeremy, Theresa, Podge, Siobhan, Filip, Katrien, Casimir, Tim and Siri. It was really nice to make new acquaintances and renew old ones with this group. Joris had scoped out a Shwarma shop across the street so Dan ran over to grab us some additional sustenance to complement the cheese and ham we had earlier from the menu at the fest. Time was flying and we only had a couple of more hours before we had to head back to Mechelen for dinner at the Het Anker pub, so we went into overdrive ordering beers. We tried the draught lambic from De Keersmaeker (a/k/a Mort Subite). It was less tart than some and flat with an acidic aroma. Theresa, who isn’t a big lambic fan, could even deal with this one. Next we split a bottle of Cantillon Loerik with Jeremy. Even though it didn’t carbonate as expected at the brewery, it now is very nicely carbonated. It had a very nice sweet/sour balance, with lots of brett funk and an acetic character. Very drinkable. By this time the Drie Fonteinen Framboise had sold out, so we settled for a Cantillon Lou Pepe Framboise instead. ;-) Lots of carbonation, very acetic sourness and excellent funk. Joris had a Boon Faro he wanted us to taste, so we obliged him. The consensus was an Old Spice aftershave flavor (yuck). Dan ordered a Keersmaeker Kriek, which was very cherry, but there was something strange about it. Time was growing very short now so we split the hard to find Belle-Vue Selection Gueuze 1999 with Jeremy as our last beer. It was very balanced like Girardin’s Gueuze, funky brett, but less acetic flavor than Cantillon. Excellent! Just before we left the main organizer of the festival came over to us as we were talking with Danny (a/k/a Cyberyannis) and his wife. He told us he had a special beer that was essentially a wit lambic made by Keersmaeker. He gave us a sample, and it was really very good. It had a nice coriander and orange flavor with sourness from the lambic. Unfortunately it was time for us to leave so we could make it for dinner. I could have stayed a few more hours, but Dan and Jeremy were in need of beer that wasn’t quite so sour. We said our good-byes, and the nice lady from the Bierpallieters dropped us off at the train station.
It was a very quick train ride since we were well lubricated by this point. Assisted by Jeremy’s call to the cab company while we were en route we made it to the hotel in no time. We dropped off the booty from the beer trades made at the festival and headed next door for dinner. The food and beer were very tasty. I had the monkfish, the guys both had the Mechelense Chicken dish, and Theresa had what we determined was watercress soup and Stoovflees. All of the dishes were very good. We washed that down with some Gouden Carolus Tripel, and Classic.
With dinner finished we headed out to meet Podge for our pub-crawl of Mechelen. First stop was a Het Anker tied café called T’ Ankertje aan de Dijle, where we found Podge waiting for us. We split a Gouden Carolus Cuvee Van De Keizer which was as wonderful as always, followed by a Carolus Tripel van ‘t vat. I think it was better than the one we had earlier at the restaurant. The staff was trying to close up for the evening, so we headed on towards Den Stillen Genieter. It was already open so we didn’t have to ring for the owner, which pleased Jeremy. We lucked out and the beers we ordered were in stock. On Jeremy’s suggestion we tried a Fantome Ne Dorstige Kajotter which was tart with an orangy, citrusy flavor. It was delicious & sweetened up as it warmed. The other beer we ordered was Schauvit from Callewaert which I had really enjoyed at ‘t Kroegske on a previous trip. This one was not in very good shape. It had no head and a strong brown sugar flavor and aroma. Weird. We decided to share one last beer before turning in for the night, and boy were we glad we did. The St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel was dark, spicy and dangerously drinkable at 9%. It was late and Jeremy and Theresa had to get an early start the next morning if they were going to collect all of the Bob tics on their agenda for the day. Once again it was another nice, but all too short visit with Podge, J & T.
Day 8 (Brussels)
We saw Jeremy & Theresa off bright and early the next morning. After a quick breakfast we checked out and walked through the middle of town to the train station so we could see a little bit of Mechelen in the daylight. We got a good workout dragging luggage full of bottles for 30 minutes!
A quick train ride brought us back to Brussels and we checked back into the Hotel Opera for our last night in Belgium. They even gave us the same room that we had the first three nights. By the way, if you stay at Hotel Opera, be sure to ask them for a room away from the street. Unfortunately ours faced the street and there was a fair amount of noise from cars and revelers.
Even though Dan had sworn to Jeremy that we wouldn’t be drinking beer on our last day, we found ourselves at Delirium Café for a few more. We started with a Westvleteren 6 (finally--we had been asking for it everywhere) and a Caves. Then we moved on to the Dutch beers ‘t Ij Wit and a Jopen Koyt. The ‘t Ij was a relatively strong wit at 7%, but it hid it well. The main spice was coriander. The Jopen Koyt was an 8.5% gruit. It was fruity and relatively sweet with obvious spicing. We managed to find a beer that was out of stock when we ordered a ‘t Smisje Honing. I guess Johan needs to send them some more!
We decided to move on to A L’Imiage Nostre Dame which was a new café for us. We found it at the end of a narrow alley off of Rue du Marche aux Herbes. It is a nice little café with lots of wood and atmosphere. We sat in a small room away from the main bar. A rather severe looking lady bartender came and gave us menus. It was a small, but nice list of beers. We chose a Rodenbach and a St. Feuillien Blonde and both were good as usual. As we were sipping our drinks a group of older gentlemen sat down at the table next to us. They were Scottish and obviously had been friends for a long time by the way they joked with one another. They seemed a bit unfamiliar with Belgian beers, but they were willing to give them a try. Well, except for one of them who insisted on having a Jupiler. The other guys said it was mainly because he was cheap! Of course we had to have the usual conversation about Shrubby when they found out we were from Texas. They shared our sentiment that someone else needs to win the next election. A couple of them had been to the States and really enjoyed their visit to San Diego.
We decided that we had put off our gift shopping as long as possible, so we headed out to grab a few things for friends and family. As we exited the café, we were greeted by the first rain of the whole trip. We had been really lucky up to this point. The rain helped us make our choices in short order, and we took our loot to one of the many Italian restaurants on Rue Gretry. The hustlers outside of these restaurants had been keeping us away with their constant pressure to dine at their establishments, but this one seemed to have decent prices, so we gave it a go. We both ordered mussels and frites, and they were very good. One last Duvel went very nicely with them, too. With dinner finished we decided to call it an early evening since the next day would be a long one.
Day 9 (Heading Home)
The flight to Newark was uneventful and we settled in for our 6-hour (ugghh) layover before our flight to Austin. A Brooklyn Brewpub in the airport made the wait much easier. We tried three Brooklyn beers we hadn’t had before. The Brooklyn Pils was a nice German Pils. The Brooklyner Weisse was yeasty with good banana flavor and aroma. Finally the Brooklyn Pennant Ale was okay and it was probably a Special Bitter in style, but might have been past its prime. The waiter said he hadn’t seen anyone order it before. While the beers were good, the prices were insane. It was $6.50 a pint! We chalked this up to being in an airport, and being kind of close to NY where the prices are a bit higher. It was kind of tough to swallow though after paying a similar amount for 75cl beers in Belgium. All in all it was a nice end to another trip to the promised land of beer.
Joelle and Dan Dewberry