MEANDER THROUGH FLANDERS - DAY TWO
Today we were meeting Joris and Lut and taking our first excursion of the holiday, and so we had a leisurely stroll to the train station, via coffee at Straffe Hendrik brewery, through the lovely Minnewater, and after an early lunch we caught the train to Aalter, which is just 10 minutes away. During lunch we had had the first snow of the trip, which left a gentle powdering all over Brugge.
Joris was at Aalter station to meet us, and after a few minutes we were back at his house meeting the children and finding out that Bob the Builder is also a big hit in Flanders. We went into the cellar and pulled out a few beers, which Lut, Theresa, Joris and I shared while we chatted: a Cnudde Kriek from 1993, a Westvlereten 8 from the early '80s, and a Westvleteren 12 from the mid '80s. All were good, but the Cnudde Kriek was great and it was a real treat to sample such a rare beer.
Then it was off to our first port of call: the Gans. What an amazing place this bar is. A classic country pub, which only opens at weekends. Its just north of a small town in East Flanders called Huise, which is not far from Oudenaard. However, unless you like very long walks, the only way to get there is in a car, so we were indebted to Lut for driving, and to Joris for setting the whole thing up.
For anyone who has yet to visit the Gans, you have a massive treat in store. This is right up there with the classic bars of Belgium. You have to experience it to fully see what I am on about, but believe me you will not be disappointed. It is a two roomed pub, with open fire place, relatively simple furnishings, masses of atmosphere, a great beer list, and two superb hosts, Hein and Ingrid. Gans means Goose, and they have geese everywhere - not real ones, but the goose theme even extends to the beer list, which is on goose shaped cards. Hein and Ingrid welcomed us warmly and served us attentively all afternoon. We arrived around 3pm, and had several hours working our way through the superb list, which includes many beers no longer in production. My list for the afternoon reads as follows:
Petre Devos Reserve, from the Br Petre Devos
Hoegaarden Grand Cru 1986
De Dolle Speciaal Brouwsel 20th anniversary
Uitzet 1730 (that's the name of the beer, not the year it was made!)
Stephenson, from Br Wielemans (- late '70s?)
Jawadde Kerstbier, from Br Jawadde, another extinct one
This just scraped the surface of what was available. Most of us could easily spend a good couple of days there and not have any beers that we've had before: the selection is huge and impressive. Hein showed me round, including their back garden where he has some great breweriana and a few tables - apparently they have BBQs there in summer. There is an overflow third room which was full by the time we left - Sunday is a busy day at the Gans, despite its remote location.
We were also treated to a heavy snow storm while inside, and the two snow starved Brits who rarely see any snow just had to go out and run around in it! It was almost perfect to be sitting in a spectacularly remote country pub, with great company and fantastic beers, sat right next to the roaring fire, with a great snow storm going on outside the window. Classic stuff.
This was our second visit to the Gans, and Hein and Ingrid had remembered me and T despite the first visit being far too brief. They also had a copy of my article on last January's trip which includes references to their pub, so perhaps they are Babble Belt lurkers? Anyway, fortunately I had said nice things about the Gans then, but then again I would find it impossible to criticise this wonderful place in any way. Everyone should put the Gans right at the top of their list of places to visit in Belgium.
After a couple of pancakes - their other speciality - to soak up the beer, we were off to our next stop: 't Kroesgke. This is about a half hour's drive away, back into West Flanders. Everything I have said about how great the Gans is applies equally to 't Kroegske, this is another bar which is right up there in my top three of Belgian bars right now.
A second visit for us to 't Kroegske too, but the first time we had met Danny. Danny and Nadine run a great, great bar, and everything you have heard about its unbelievable ambience is true. The breweriana, the music, the beer, the food, the hosts, what more could you want from your drinking experience in Belgium? It really doesn't get much better than this. And for us to get to two such fantastic bars in one day, well, thanks to Lut and Joris this was a very, very memorable day, one of the best we have ever had in all our trips to Belgium.
Anyway, beers sampled at 't Kroegske were:
Elckerlyc from Br Callewaert
Quelque Chose (yes the one from Unibroue)
Urthel Ambree, which strangely didn't taste as good as it did when served by its own brewer
Vanderlinden Frambozen bier - late '80s?
Piro Bruin from Verhaege
La Mouscronnoise from Br Facon
La Scaldienne, also from Facon
Gouden Carolus Christmas
Theresa and I had a beef stew which was very good indeed. The music was again Celtic. The ambience was wonderful. When are we going back??
Before we knew it, it was almost midnight, and so we really needed to go before we ended up staying the night. Lut drove us back to Brugge through thick fog, and deposited me and Theresa right by the frituur in the Markt, which, conveniently, was still open. After a day like ours, frites were an absolute necessity. What an amazing day!
Photos: Brugge, Gent, Aalst and De Haan
Photos: De Gans, 't Kroegske and Heeren van Liedekercke
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