30 December, 2007

Our Beer Pilgramage to Abbay of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren

Once we had solid plans to spend a few days in Brussels and Bruges after Christmas, I quickly called up the Abbay at Westvleteren to see if it would be possible to purchase some of their fine beer. First you have to call the automated phone line and find out what day you have to call back, at what time, and what beer or beers are available for purchase. The availability depends on what has recently been produced and is ready for sale. They seem to alternate what is available and spread it out so that they don’t run out of any one beer for too long.

We found out that we had to call a few days before our trip, 20 December between 9am and noon, to make a reservation and we also found out that the Blonde and 12 would be available. Knowing that the 12 would be available I had a strong feeling it would be very hard to get through on the phone. Both Paula and I called on the 20th and found it very hard to get through but eventually at about 11:30 am or so we got through and made a reservation for 2 crates of the Blonde. The 12 was long sold out at that point.

My original plan was to try to visit the Abbay while we were in Bruges as the travel time from there is a bit shorter than from Brussels but when we got through to the Abbay, the only day we could pick up beer was on the 27th, when we were still in Brussels, but we jumped at the chance to purchase any amount of beer at anytime.

Our appointment was for 2:15 pm on the 27th and we had a drive of about 1 and ½ hours so we left around noon so that we didn’t miss our time. The drive to the Abbay is a fairly easy one as the greatest part of the journey is on the motorways with only 10 or so miles on roads through little towns. Our GPS device got us there very easily, despite a little detour right before the Abbay on some farm roads.

The Abbay is not that well signed or that prominent but when drive up to it, you know you are there. We arrived about an hour early to be safe and we also hoped visit the café across from the Abbay as they usually have the Westvleteren beers for sale but unfortunately the In Verde café was not open while we were there. Probably running under holiday hours.

To help kill some time before our appointment, I got out of the car and did a little walk about the Abbay as they have some walking paths that you can stroll along. I headed down a little dirt road toward what looked to be a grotto. It was about a 100 or 150 yard walk until I got close to the little grotto or outside chapel. When things were really in sight I realized that there were 2 people kneeling or standing at the alter and they were not just people, they were monks from the Abbay. As soon as I saw them I quickly turned around and walked back the way I came so that I would not disturb their praying.

We stayed in a little parking lot at the front of the Abbay waiting for our time to arrive. It looked like the appointments started at 2pm as a few cars started to line up at that point. It seemed very organized as the cars would like up and drive into a horseshoe shaped driveway. At 2:15 pm we drove into the driveway and found only 2 other cars in queue which was nice. The car in front of us had 3 empty crates of beers to return and then he picked up 2 new crates of the Blonde beer. He was in and out in just 3 or 4 minutes. We were also in and out in a very short period of time. When I was first in line, I pulled up to a man that was loading stacks and stacks of crates. I got out, gave him my license plate number and he helped me load my 2 crates into my trunk. After I stopped smiling so much, I went into the little office and paid for the beer. The man who was loading the beers is also in charge of cashing you out. If you bring back empty bottles and a crate, the case of Blonde costs €22 but if you need the bottles and crate like I did, a case costs €34 in total, a steal in my mind seeing that a single bottle of the Blonde sells for about €6 at the cheapest that we have seen at bottle shops. You can even use a credit card to pay for your beer purchase but the quantity that I was able to purchase didn’t warrant a credit card but if I could have purchased more, I surely would have.

Since we were not able to visit the café and we only purchased Blonde on this day, we will surely be back for more trips to the Abbay now that we know how to get here and how the process works.

Take a look at pictures from our Westvleteren visit.

Bruges Beer Bars

Paula and I were lucky enough to visit several of the best beer bars in Bruges including:

As with Brussels, there are several very good beer bars in Bruges that are a must if you travel there for any length of time. We did some research into which bars to head to first and when to do it. I also tried to find out if there were any rare treats in bottle or on tap that would be worth the trek to find.

t’ Brugs Beertje – The first bar that we visited on our first night in Bruges was t’ Brugs Beertje and it just so happens to be the most famous and well respected of all the Bruges bars from what I could tell. As with several of the bars in town, this bar was not easy to find but after a few wrong turns and dead end alleys, we arrived at the front of this cute little bar. There is some cool breweriana in the front windows before you enter the bar.

We arrived at about 6 pm and when we popped open the front door we were greeted by a full house at the bar and all the tables in this room, and a lot of smoke. I didn’t really get a chance to take in the sights in this front area but we were quickly greeted by the owner, Daisy, and told that there should be a few tables at the very back of the bar. We exited the front bar and went into a middle room that looked like a small living room as it had several tables and a fireplace that is now gas burning. As we were walking through I didn’t take in all the sights but there were several large posters on the wall and other old breweriana. We will come back to this room later.

After exiting the second room we found our way into the back bar which had a few open tables so we quickly grabbed one. This back area is really cool. The walls are covered with breweriana mainly from breweries you would recognize but they looked like older labeling. I also spotted a bottle of Victory Hop Devil on the top of one of the walls. There is a bar in the back and a very friendly guy working it but there are no seats at the bar, it is just for serving and there is a table that pretty much backs in the bar.

We were seated for less than 3 minutes when our bartender came around with a large menu in a nice binder and he also pointed us to the 5 drafts that were available. After giving a quick look of the beer menu we each settled on our first beer. My first choice was a Christmas De Kononick on draft but that was out so I picked a Still Nacht 2006 and Paula had a Tripel Karmaliet bottle. Both were served in proper glassware. After taking a few sips of our beers, we started to look around and listen and it appeared that more than half of the crowd in the back area where either American tourists or from England or Australia. It felt like a bar back home to actually understand the conversations going on around us. It was also good to see that a number of the groups around us were studying the beer menu like I was or writing down notes on beers in notepads or journals, again like I was. We even saw a girl next to us writing things down in a special beer journal that was organized by beer styles and all. The one thing that struck me as odd about some of the groups was what they were drinking. We saw a large number of Lindeman’s Peche beer being ordered. With all the other great, real, lambics on their menu, I felt like suggesting something different to them but they seemed happy with their choices so good for them. We each had one more beer for this night, a Bruge Zot for Paula and a Pannepot for me.

The beer menu at t’ Brugs Beertje is very indepth and I could have spent much more time than I did reading it. There was an extensive selection of lambic beers, trappist beers, and even some rare treats that looked interesting. I tried to order one, a 1984 Liefman’s Goudenband but unfortunately that was out.

We returned the following night to another full house, this time around 11pm or so. We found our way to the very back again and were lucky that a couple was just getting ready to leave a table right by the bar so we grabbed it. This time a new bartender came over to us with the menu and a few suggestions for bottles. I asked if they had any bottles of the Struise Earthmonk and unfortunately the last one was consumed a month or so back. Because I asked about this rare bottle, he told me of some other harder to find bottles that they had but were not on the list. We started this night out by splitting a 750 ml bottle of Glazen Toren Canaster Winter Scotch. When the bottle was presented to us in the wrapping paper and all, it turned some heads in the load crowd. Although the crowd the night before in this part of the bar was rather quiet, the crowd on this our final night in Bruges was much more talkative but what do you expect for after 11 pm in a great city like this. Like the night before, a lot of the people in the bar crowd were American or at least spoke English.

After finishing the Canaster bottle, we picked 2 more bottles that were not on the actual beer menu but suggestions from the bartender. We ordered a T’Smisje Grande Reserva which was aged in whiskey casks and also a T’Smisje Calva Reserva and split them. Both bottles were made for the U.S. market but I hadn’t ran into them before leaving for Luxembourg so I thought we should try them now. The Grande Reserva was pretty dark tasting although the alcohol was a bit higher. Although the Calva Reserva was interesting, it was not our cup of tea. The alcohol was much more noticeable in this one and the beer was rather flat but interesting none the less. We then moved onto another bottles to split, a Rodenbach Vin de Cereale which is very limited and comes in at 10%. Since it was now approaching 12:30 am or so, we split this one again. I just can’t get enough of this beer and apparently the bartenders really enjoy it as well as they were happy that I ordered it. About half way through this bottle we were only 1 of 2 tables left, a total of 5 people in this whole section of the bar so they moved us up to the 2nd room so they could lock up the back part. It was about 1am at this point and they supposedly close at 1 am but they were in no hurry to get us out, actually some of the bartenders were having drinks of their own and socializing with us.

After finishing the Rodenbach, we moved onto one last beer for the night, a 750 ml of De Ranke Kriek, a wonderful beer. In fact it was the favorite beer of our one bartender so we talked about it for awhile. We got more into talking and he said that folks from the New Belgium Brewery were recently on one of their beer vacations with employees and he also mentioned that Tom from Monk’s Café in Philly had been there in the past.

I got a laugh out of the other table that was left with us in the back and moved into the middle room. There were 2 guys and 2 girls, all American. They were asking the one bartender about different beers and he served them up a bottle of Deus and some other expensive beers.

After doing more socializing and some drinking, we decided to leave as it was approaching 2am and there was no sign of this place totally closing down although they had locked the front door. When we were ready to leave we got a nice goodbye from our bartender friends and were told we should come back soon. I am sure that we will try. When we got outside of the bar, I took a few pictures of the front of the place and thought it was pretty cool that although all of the curtains had been drawn and the door was locked, you could see some light coming through the windows and you could certainly hear the classical music and socializing going on inside. For a minute I also wanted to head back in but we moved on to our hotel for the night.

Hotel Erasmus
Hotel Erasmus has a few personalities. It is first a hotel, then a restaurant and then a quality beer bar. We were staying here for the 2 nights that we were in Bruges and we made dinner reservations when we arrived on the evening of the 28th of December for that same evening and they were kind enough to accommodate us at 8pm. After we arrived back at the Erasmus from our first trip to the t’ Brugs Beertje, we sat down in the upscale dining room and I was instantly focused on the wall of beer bottles above my head, maybe 200 or so. I read they had a vintage and extensive bottle selection and great food so it was a combination we had to try. Upon getting the beer menu I ordered a Kerkhom Winterkoninkske draft and Paula had a draft of Verhaeghe Christmas. My beer was ok but Paula’s was a real hit with her and I.

For dinner we decided to get a 3 course prix fixe menu that was only about €35 per person. For starters Paula got a smoked salmon dish and I ordered Belgian ham dish which was basically like pruscuitto. Both were very good. For our main courses Paula ordered sole filets in a Gouden Carolous sauce and I ordered the Flemish Grandmothers stew with apple puree and pomme frites. To go along with our main courses Paula ordered a bottle of Achel Trappist Blonde and I ordered a 9 year old bottle of De Dolle 21 which I read was made specifically for Hotel Erasmus for their 21st anniversary in 1988 so the bottle was around 9 years old at the time I drank it and the label really showed its age but the beer tasted very nicely, aged nicely.

Den Dyver

Cambrinus Restaurant

t' Poatersgat

This is a relatively new bar that I read about while doing some research about bars in Bruges but it was not in any books. It probably had the coolest location of any bar we have been to in that the entrance is down a tiny set of stairs down into a cellar. The bar didn’t open until 5pm and when it was closed it just looked like a couple of painted boards with a name on it. You could not tell that there were actually steps under there and you could not tell that it was a bar as there was only a name and nothing else. But when it did open up, we ducked our heads and found ourselves into a dark but well appointed cellar which seemed like a wine cave or something along those lines. Huge white columns all over the place and marble floors, some covered by large rugs. Besides one guy at the bar, we were the only ones there but we still had a good time and based on the beer menu, I think this place would be a good time when the crowds started to roll in later at night.

Paula started with a Pere Noel draft and I had a bottle of Struise Rosse, both very fine beers. My second beer was a Leute Bokbier. The more we stayed at this bar the more we enjoyed it, especially the music. They were playing classic American music. I remember hearing songs from Elvis, the Mama’s and Papa’s and Jackson Brown. The best part about this place is that it is a good 5 minute walk from the main tourist area so the crowds are lower but it is still extremely easy to find.

De ZolderDe Zolder is right across the street from t’ Poatersgat and has an almost equally dangerous entrance down a tiny set of stairs with some well placed beer signs. We also heard good things about the selection at this place and that it has the same owners at t’ Poatersgat so we wanted to give it a shot before dinner. Since it was about 7pm or a little earlier at this point, the crowd was rather light with only about 3 English guys at the bar and a young couple having dinner near us. There was a friendly husband and wife running this place and the bar had a really nice feel inside with a fireplace, hardwood floors, wooden ceilings and honey yellow colored walls. This bar also had a nice mix of American classics playing on the surprisingly high tech stereo system. We could have stayed there the whole night and worked through the beer menu if not for reservations for dinner at Den Dyver at 8pm. Paula had a Petrus draft and I had Christmas draft that I can’t remember at this time and for some reason I didn’t write it down on my geeky beer pad. After our first and only drinks here, we make the 10 minute walk back to our dinner destination.

Check out our pictures from the wonderful Bruges beer bars that we visited on this trip

Brussels Beer Bars

Although it was not the main focus of our trip to Brussels, the opportunity to visit some of the best beer bars on the world was something that we could not pass up on. We arrived in Brussels on 26 December and after doing some site seeing and museum walking, we decided it was time to get a drink or two.

Mort Subite - Out of all the possible choices, we decided to find Mort Subite for a drink. Paula and I had been wanting to visit this bar since we saw it featured on a show, Three Sheets, which we watched all the time on Mojo HD back in the U.S. In this show, the host Zane Lampry would visit a city somewhere in the world and go to the local bars and watering holes to drink what the locals drink. His first bar stop was Mort Subite so we figured we should try it as well. We got there at maybe 5pm or so and it was packed. The bar is narrow but very long so we walked to the back and finally settled on a table at the very back of the bar, right outside the bathroom. Although the location near the bathroom was not a lot of fun with people walking by our tight corner every few minutes, we did get to sit right next to the bars cat, which was sleeping on a little bed on top of some game boards. This cat was also in the Three Sheets episode in Brussels so we felt special to sight right near it. After awhile the cat woke up and walked onto my lap and then to Paula’s lap. It was hanging out near me for awhile and rubbing its little face on the side of my cargo pants. In between playing with the cat and doing some people watching, we ordered a few beers including a Mort Subite Gueuze, Mort Subite Faro and a Bush de Noel for me and a Mort Subite White Lambic and a Kriek for Paula. We also got a nice little cheese plate to go along with our beers and to hold us over before our dinner plans at 8pm. Although the beer selection at Mort Subite it not nearly as extensive as some of the other bars in Brussels, it has a very classy quality to it and social aspect that you don’t get in all bars as a lot of the tables are very close together and they make for close conversations and making new friends. Overall there were about 17 beers in bottle and another 16 on draft and the prices were a little high for some of the trappist and other beers but the Mort Subite prices seemed reasonable. Mort Subite is definitely worth a visit while in Brussels and it is very close to some of the other bars that are worth a visit as well.

Delirium Café – This was the bar that I was most interested in visiting in Brussels as I had read so much about their extensive bottle selection, some 2,000 or more beers. Delirium was also featured in the Three Sheets episode so we really wanted to check it out. The bar is down a somewhat shady looking alley that was filled with a lot of guys and girls just hanging out but it was safe. Delirium is right across the alley from the Floris Bar which is related to the owners of Delirium. We entered the front door of Delirium and were greeting with a choice to either go to the upstairs bar or downstairs. I seemed to remember that downstairs is where all the good beers were located from watching Three Sheets so we headed down there.

We later found out that the downstairs is called the Delirium Café and the upstairs based in the Delirium Taphouse. The Café was very busy but there was still room to walk around and we found a little table in the elevated section of the Café which is no smoking but since there is no wall between the smoking and non-smoking sections, we were basically sitting in the smoking section. I also quickly found out that there was no waitress service here, you had to go up to the bar to get your drafts or bottles. I wasn’t able to get a beer menu right away so I went to the bar and ordered 2 drafts so that we would have time to look through the menu, while drinking a beer, to figure out what to get for our next beer and our next beer, etc. The two drafts I got were a Bush Ambree for me and a Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux for Paula. Both were very tasty treats and helped to give us time to look through the 2,000 beers listed in the menu. I don’t think there were enough menus to go around for everyone that wanted to look at them but I did my best to hoard a menu long enough to look through all of the pages and to try to pick out hard to find and rare treats that we would want to try.

For our next beers I got a Gertrude for Paula which was a nice little hoppy Belgian ale and for me I got a De Koninck Kriek which I hadn’t had in awhile and I really enjoyed. Some of the other bottled treats that I saw in the menu were Pannepot, Cuvee de Ranke, De Koninck Gueuze, Struisse Rosse, Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel, Pannepot Reserva and too many more to list all here. I wrote down some names to try to either buy to take away or have later in the night or later in the trip. I finished the night with a bottle of the Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel which was excellent and although it was not Belgian, I had to try as it is highly rated and hard to find.
Although the Delirium Café has the largest beer selection I have ever seen and probably in the world from what their menu claims, there is a bit of a college bar feel here and it also feels a little like a tourist destination, rather than a beer destination. I guess a place with this large of a beer selection can’t be a secret so you have to take it all when you go here. The bar walks and ceiling are loaded with brewery serving trays which is really cool. I tried to read a lot of them but you get dizzy from leaning back too much.

Moeder Lambic – This bar, that features a lot of Lambic beers, is not in the middle of Brussels but is rather on the outskirts of town and better reached by a taxi or one of the Metro trams that drop you off near here. I had read a lot about this place having a very local feel to it and a nice selection of several hundred beers, including some hard to find Lambics. We decided to get out of the very busy tourist centre of Brussels on our second night in town so we took the Metro here.

After walking around some odd streets trying to find the right way to the bar, we stumbled across it when I saw a big bright Duvel neon sign, always a welcome sight. Moeder Lambic is not big at all with only maybe 8 tables or so and about 6 seats at the bar. We found 2 bar stools at the far corner of the bar, against the wall and backed up against a large table of drinkers but it suited us just fine. The bartender was very friendly and after taking care of a large drink order, he gave us a menu and helped us with our first order. Paula got a bottle of Duchess de Borgougne and I ordered a draft of Cantillon Faro which I had been wanted to try for awhile and heard this was one of the only places to have it. They served the Faro from a little plastic jug that looked like a wooden barrel. After we finished our first round of beers, Paula ordered a draft of the Grisette Lambic that appears to be a mix of blueberry and raspberry. I ordred a draft of Taras Bubla which I had never heard of but enjoyed.

This bar had a really nice cozy feel to it and although we had never been there before, we felt welcomed. They have a large selection of comic books to read if you are so interested. The beer menu is also very extensive and I could have spend awhile looking through it but we were only planning to stay here for a few drinks and then we were off to dinner at about 8pm. Our visit was cut a little shorter than expected as a guy sitting at a table right behind us was smoking unfiltered cigarettes and the smoke was blowing right into our faces and really bothering us and our beers so we used that as excuse to jet off to dinner. The prices at Moeder Lambic were really reasonable and it would be worth another trip here on our next visit to Brussels. It would probably be better to visit during the day or later when seats are easier to obtain. It also looks like they have a little seating area out front for when the weather gets warmer.

The next major stop on our beer bar hunt in Brussels was to be Het Bier Circus but after taking a taxi to the location of the bar, we were greeted with no lights on and the bars down over the windows. I had read that the owners don’t always stick to the published hours of operations and we found that out first hand and after a €20 cab ride. The cab driver ( a minivan) was a little surprised that we wanted him to take us back to the place he picked us up at a few minutes earlier.

After the Bier Circus disappointment, we headed of to the Delirium Taphouse to see what they had to offer. Actually we were first going to head back to the Café but they had a live band there and it was impossible to get a table or any space to have a beer. The Taphouse has a different beer selection than the Café, 25 beers on tap as opposed to about 10 at the Café. I don’t believe there are any bottles available in the Taphouse but you can get the bottles in the Café which is in the basement and just bring them up to the Taphouse. We decided to try a few drafts including a Gouden Carolus Christmas for Paula and an Anchor OSA for me. Yes, a good American beer on tap in a Belgian bar. The prices were reasonable as well and all the drafts were from an overhead tap line system that is similar to what they have at Bridgid’s in Philadelphia for 1 or 2 of their drafts. Although the drafts available were very respectable, this bar really felt like a college campus bar as there were large groups of loud younger looking tourist. I know that makes me sound like an old fart but when you see people drinking 10% beer out of 20 oz boots or 40 oz chalices, you don’t really feel like you are in a good beer bar. If you have the choice of going to either the Delirium Café or the Taphouse, I would stick with the Café and their 2,004 beers and leave the Taphouse for the 18 to 20 year old American tourists that can’t get served back home.

One of our last stops in Brussels was for dinner at the BXL Café which is right off the Grand Place. This was after we could not find room in 2 other dinner choices but the food here was really good and the beer was good as well. I believe this place is owned by a fellow that owns a bar in NYC under the same name, right off of Time Square.

Overall our few days spent in Brussels were definitely enjoyable well worth the drive up from Luxembourg. Although it was very busy when we were there due to being there for the Christmas holiday time, I am sure it is very busy almost anytime you visit as it is a great destination city for both the beer tourist and someone looking for European history.

The Cantillon Brewery

On our last day in Brussels (28 December), we decided to track down the Cantillon brewery to go on their self guided tour. Since they produce some of my favorite beers and the brewery is so historic, we could not pass up on the chance to visit and taste a few of their spontaneously fermented treats. From our guidebook the brewery looked to be a good 15 or 20 minute walk from the centre of Brussels and since the weather was clear and not too cold outside, we decided to walk it instead of taking the Metro. Well the 15 or 20 minutes turned into more like 30 or more since my expert navigation skills seemed to be left at the bar from the night before. After a few wrong turns, we made it to the brewery and if not for my reading reviews of the brewery before our trip, I would have thought that the brewery was not open as the entrance is very non- descript.

I was very pleased to turn the knob on the front door and to be greeted by a nice crowd of lambic lovers and a nice funky feeling of being inside this historic brewery. The brewery is really a warehouse on a city block and appears to be very original. Upon opening the door you find a tasting area to the left where they pour samples of various beers at the end of the door and they also allow you to purchase a glass of any beer that is currently being sampled. When we visited they were sampling Rose d’ Gambrinus, Lambic, Kriek and Faro. Walk a little further past the tasting area and you find the reception desk and gift shop. The gentleman that greeted us was actually the brewer. He gave us a brief description of the brewing process and then they leave you to the brewery and let you walk through at your own pace. The little booklet they give explains each major room and what happens when they brew but sadly there was no brewing going on this day. Just walking through the brewery was amazing to see how such specialized beer is made.

There are several numbered sections to the tour including the mashing house, room with hop boilers and crushing machine, the granary, cooling tun room, barrel storage, barrel cleaning, the bottling line and the cellar. Going up into the loft for the granary was really cool as it was very very old and funky looking and smelling. The cooling tun area was also cool to visit as that is really where all the magic happens with the making of lambic beer. You can see where the shutters are opened and closed in the roof to let in the wild airborne yeast to help with the fermentation process, spontaneous fermentation that is.

After walking through the entire brewery and taking lots of pictures and videos, we ended up at the tasting bar where we had a few free samples of Cantillon beers including Gueuze, Kriek and Rose de Gambrinus. I also purchased a full glass of the Kriek for a mere €2.

The tasting bar area is very rustic and so is the seating area where you can relax and take in their great beers. There are a handful of odd tables and chairs in the seating area and 2 wood burning stoves that warm the otherwise cold warehouse. While drinking my full glass of Kriek I walked around the tasting area and ran into (no literally) the brewery cat that was walking around and climbing on things. He or she was up on top of a large palate full of Cantillon beer crates. He or she was pretty friendly as you can probably tell from the pictures below.

Overall we probably spent about 2 hours at the brewery and could have spent more time taking in the brewery and drinking their beers but we were on our way to Bruges so we had to leave. We will surely be back for more tours in the future.

Take a look at these funky pictures from the Cantillon brewery

Our Christmas in Bruges, Belgium

Our Christmas in Brussels, Belgium

I never really got around to writing down my thoughts on our time spent in Brussels around Christmas but it mainly involved visiting several great bars, seeing the main attractions and also visiting the Cantillon Brewery which was a highlight for me and I think for Paula as well. We got to see tons of dogs in town which is always nice as a dog lover and a cat in a bar and a cat in a brewery which was also cool. Overall it was a great trip and we will definitely visit a number of time over the next 2 years as we have visitors!

For now, check out there pictures....

25 December, 2007

Merry Christmas / 12 Days of Christmas Update 2

Merry Christmas everything. It is already 4pm on Christmas Day here in Luxembourg, we are planning for our trip tomorrow to Belgium and I am getting ready to move on to Christmas beer number 2 of this festive day!

Below is a recap of my 12 beers of Christmas as today is the actual 12th day. I will eventually get around to also posting my notes on all of these beers but for now, here is the udpated list.

Day 1 - Kerst Pater Christmas 2007
Day 2 - Gouden Carlous Christmas 2007
Day 3 - Noel des Gèants
Day 4 - Bofferding Christmas (Luxembourgish)
Day 5 - Simon Noel (Luxembourgish)
Day 6 - Stille Nacht 2006
Day 7 - Stille Nacht 2007
Day 8 - Diekirch Christmas (Luxembourgish)
Day 9 - La Rullés Cuvee Meilleurs Voeux
Day 10 - Bocq Christmas
Day 11 - Chouffe N'ice
Day 12 - Brasserie Caulier Blonde de Noel

There were many more Christmas beers that we sampled these past few weeks, most of them at the beer festival we attended a few weeks back in Essen, Belgium, but these are the ones we had full bottles of and planned to sample. Some were very good, some were not so good but that is the fun of trying different beers.


23 December, 2007

Rochefort, Belgium At Christmas Time

Today Paula and I decided to spend the afternoon in Rochefort, Belgium for their Christmas Festival or as they call it here, Marche de Noel. Last week on our way back from Antwerp, we found that Rochefort was just a little more than 1 hour from our flat so we figured today would be a great day to spend the late afternoon at their Marche de Noel eating some local food for dinner and roaming the town to get the Christmas cheer.

Conveniently Rochefort is also the home to one of only 6 Trappist monestaries in Belgium that brew beer, Brasserie de Rochefort which is also the Abbaye de Notre Dame de Saint Rémy. They make a 6, an 8 and a 10. The 10 is one of the top rated beers in the world and a favorite of mine. Since we were heading to Rochefort for the afternoon, we also decided to try to find the Abbaye so that we could take a few pictures and be near brewing greatness. Although our GPS directed us right to where the directions on Beer Advocate told us to go, it actually led us to a dead end road around a few houses. Either the website was uninformed or the Abbaye moved. We headed back in the heart of town for the Marche de Noel and on the way I think we found the road for the Abbaye but we decided to pass and head to the fest for some dinner.

The downtown area of Rochefort is very charming with a good amount of restaurants, bars and little shops and plenty of shoppers to keep them busy. Although it was a Sunday evening, everything was open and hopping. After parking we made our way to the block or so that hand a handful of the little wooden huts we are used to seeing in this part of Europe. We quickly walked through all of the gift vendors and made our way to the stand that had little wursts. We each got a blanc wurst and a little cup of hot white wine that was pretty good. The wurst was great and we chased it all down with a nice sweet Belgian waffle.

We were a little disappointed that this fest in downtown Rochefort didn't sell any bottles of Rochefort beer so we found a cute little hotel with a restaurant and bar a block away that had all 3 Rochefort beers and some wine. I got a Rochefort 8 in the proper glassware and I could not be happier. Ok, I was a little happier when we got a little plate of cheese and salami. Yum.

After my beer and Paula's wine we headed to our car. On the way down we passed a little butcher shop that had a bunch of different Rochefort beers and gift sets in their window. I was blown away when I say a 1.5litre magnum of Rochefort 8 for only €13! The reason this was such a big suprise to me is that just a week earlier in Essen, Belgium I paid €30 for the same bottle. I guess not everything I buy here is a deal and it just teaches me a lesson to buy closer to the source.

All in all it was a very nice evening in Rochefort. A cute town that has alot of charm and it worth another visit in the time to come. Next time, we will definitely find the Abbaye.

Click here to learn more about Rochefort beers

Click here to see a few of our pictures from Rochefort at Christmas

21 December, 2007

How Are We Spending Our First Christmas In Luxembourg?

Thank you for asking. Christmas is a big deal in Luxembourg and Europe in general, just like at home. Just today I was at our local megastore, Cactus, for a few food items and last minute Christmas gifts and it was a freaking madhouse. It did remind me of home, just with foreign voices.

The Christmas markets are great in the towns that we have visited. It seems like most European towns have little wooden huts setup to sell all kinds of great foods and gifts like the Luxembourg City and Strassen markets we have mentioned earlier. Tomorrow, Saturday, 22 December we are taking a train to one of the better markets in Trier, Germany. It is less than an hour by train from Luxembourg and is supposed to be great with tons of shopping and eating options.

On Sunday, 23 December we are going to take about an hours drive to Rochefort, a little Belgian town to visit their Christmas market. Rochefort happens to be the home of one of the best Trappist breweries in the world. We probably won't visit there but we will surely try some of their beers while in town.

We will spend the 24th and 25th in Luxembourg, probably going to Christmas Eve mass in Luxembourg City at a church that is in English. We are not sure the exact denomination of the church but who cares, it is in English.

On the 26th we embark on our Belgian Christmas trip! We will spend the first 2 nights in Brussels and then we move on for 2 nights to Brugge. We are really looking forward to both and will surely post more stories and pictures on those trips.


16 December, 2007

Beer Bars in Antwerp

While visiting Antwerp this weekend, Paula and I visited 2 great bars, the Kulminator and Oud Arsenal. I had been waiting for this trip for some time. Ever since I was a little boy...ok, not that long but it has been awhile.
After checking into our B&B in the middle of the old section of Antwerp, we found our way through the winding streets to the Kulminator, which many regard as the best beer bar in the world. The front of the bar is pretty unassuming and even the big sign on the top is hard to see from down the street as it is not lit up. When we entered the bar we were instantly greeted with the feel of a real old fashioned Belgian beer cafe. When you walk in you are greeted by a small bar to the left. There is about 5 or 6 bar stools and some room to stand at the bar as well. there are 3 or 4 decent sized tables in the front area next to the bar. As you progress to the back of the cafe and toward the bathrooms, you go up a we steps and there is another area with a few more tables but is pretty tight. As you walk back to the bathrooms there is a large window that gives you a view into a beer lovers toy store. There are hundreds of bottles on display in this storeage area, some are rare and special while others are everyday beers.
Paula and I found 2 bar stools at the left end of the bar, near the window and near the 2 house cats that live there. More on them later. It is pretty intimidating to sit down and have to make a decision on what beer to get first, knowing that you will probably have a limited time to drink. Luckily they have about 10 or more drafts so we each chose a draft (a Kasteel Rouge for the lady and a Gouden Carolous Christmas for me). I then got a hold of the beer book which is about an inch thick and very very interesting to read. Although it is a little hard to read due to it being in Flemish, you still can make out the names of 99% of the beers. The prices and sizes are also easy to get through. I found that for the most part the prices were pretty reasonable as well. They had most of the current Belgian beers you would expect to see but the real draw to the Kulminator is the rare and vintage beers they stock. Although there are way too many to mention here, a few that caught my eye were vintages of Chimay blue back to 1981 or so, vintages of Thomas Hardy's(not Belgian, I know) back 25 or more years, and many vintage lambic beers that were really tempting. During the 5 hours or so that we were there, I had a Chimay D'Oree from 2004 which as I understand is the monks special beer they consume. I also had a Rochefort 6 from 1998, a Rodenbach Grand Cru from 2000.
After some reading and talking between Paula and I, we started to chat with a buy sitting next to us and a couple at the other end of the bar. It turns out that the guy sitting next to me was on his way to the same beer festival the next day and to top that, it turns out that he was from Scranton, PA where I grew up! It is a very small world to run into someone in Belgium that lives and works near where you grew up. The couple sitting next to him was from Minnessota and also heading to the beer fest. After while a British fellow showed up and started to talk to the guy next to me. We all started to chat about beer and travel and the fact that everyone was going to the fest. After we all determined that we loved lambic beers, our new British friend ordered a 750 ml bottle of De Troch Gueuze from 1999 that was very tastey and suprisingly fresh for its age. We also sampled a 25 year old bottle of Thomas Hardy's which still had good life left in it as well.
Aside from the beer, one of the main attractions to the Kulminator is the husband and wife that run the place. They do everything themselves including pouring and serving all the beers, most of them in proper glassware. They also cut up meats and cheeses and serve to their patrons. The area they walk behind the bar is rather small and cozy. They have stacks of boxes with beer glasses and as they wash glasses that were used that day, they put then back in the proper boxes or the cases above the bar. The walls behind the bar are lined with shelves of various different beers, all served at room temperature and including current beers and several vintage beers. From where we were sitting we could see several different label variations to Chimay blue and others. There is also an impressive list of gift beers that were given to Dirk the owner by guests. In the 5 hours we were there I spotted a bottom of Alaskan Smoked Porter from 2004, some Brooklyn Monster, Some Sierra Nevada, Anchor OSA, Alesmith Decadence, Captain Lawrence Smoke from the Oak.
After sitting in the same spot staring at the same walls and cats and breweriana, we had to move on to the next bar, Oud Arsenal. Although I left with the regret of not purchasing a few special beers to take away including a 1979 Cantillon frambozen and the Duvel Tripel Hop, we had a great time at the Kulminator and we know that we would be back soon.

How on to the Oud Arsenal

Pictures of Kulminator and Oud Aresenal in Antwerp

Beer Bottle Shops of Antwerp

Before heading to Antwerp I did some research and found that there were a few really good beer bottle shops to visit in the city. It makes sense that in a great beer city like Antwerp with a cafe like Kulminator, there has got to be some good places to take away beer. We visited two shops on Sunday before heading back to Luxembourg.

The first store that we visited was Bierwinkel Den Borstvlegel which is on Oude Vaartplaats, just a few blocks away from a great bar, Oud Arsenal. I have read recently that this shop may be closing at the end of 2007 so I wanted to get there to do a little Christmas shopping for myself. The shop was very busy so it was hard to walk around and look and not knock things over. The selection is pretty impressive but does not border on the rare. I found a handful of harder to find lambics including a few faros. There was a nice selection of Cantillon beers at very reasonable prices including Saint Lamvinus at €7, Iris at €5 or €6 and Vignoronne at the same. Throughout the store there was a really nice selection of glassware and gift sets. They did have beers from 6 of the 7 trappist beers but no Westy to be found. They did have the largest bottle that I had ever seen in my life, a 12 litre bottle of 25 year old beer. I was not really sure what was in it but I was tempted to buy it, if not for the €85 price tag and the huge huge size of the bottle.

The next bottle shop we hit was something called 280 Belgian Beer Sortes or something like that. It was right at the end of the shopping area near our bed and breakfast so I wasn't expecting much. The store was fairly large with 2 large rows, one on either side as you walked through so this helped me to not knock over any bottles with my large backpack. I did find some nice bottles here like the Duvel green label that you don't find in the U.S. I also got a 4 pack of Kasteel Rouge for Paula. I then picked up a bottle of Coke on my way to the cash register and I almost tripped over the best find of the weekend. A case of Westvleteren 12!! A full case and then there was another case just sitting in their front window. Without hesitation the owner said they were for sale so I purchased 2 bottles. Yes, just 2 bottles. They were €7 a bottle which is a great price but since my back was already loaded down with other bottles, I thought 2 was a reasonable number. Plus, I expect to visit the Abbey to get a few crates of Westy in the week after Christmas. Check back to see whether I am successful.

Check out our shopping pictures

12 Beers of Christmas....Update 1

As the 12 days of Christmas started on Thursday, I started my travels through 12 different Belgian (and maybe a few Luxembourgish) Christmas beers.

Day 1 - Kerst Pater Christmas 2007
Day 2 - Gouden Carlous Christmas 2007
Day 3 - Noel des Gèants
Day 4 - Bofferding Christmas
Day 5 - Simon Noel
Day 6 - Stille Nacht 2006
Day 7 - Stille Nacht 2007
Day 8 - Simon Noel
Day 9 - Diekirch Christmas
Day 10 - TBD
Day 11 - TBD
Day 12 - TBD

Our Trip to Antwerp, Belgium

2007 Kerstbierfestival in Essen, Belgium

On Saturday, 15 December Paula and I went to a Christmas beer festival in Essen, Belgium which is a small town about 10 minutes from the border with the Netherlands. We stayed in Antwerp, Belgium for the weekend and traveled back and forth to the fest.
After waking up Saturday morning a bit later than expected (see the reasons on my post about bars in Antwerp) we got some breakfast and met a group of folks waiting for shuttles to this beer fest. About 24 of us loaded into 3 large taxi vans and headed to Essen, Belgium.
The beer list consisted of 18 draft beers and 108 beers in bottles. The bottles ranged in size from 25 cls to 1.5l magnums.
Here are the beers that I remember ordering over the day and show that we sampled from our new friends:
- Avec les Bons Voeux (draft)
- Noel des Gèants (draft)
- Stille Nacht (draft)
- De Ryck Christmas Ale (draft)
- Boucanier Christmas (draft)
- Bravoure (draft)
- Glazen Toren Canaster (draft)
- Chapeau Winter Gueuze (bottle)
- Grobbendonks Kerstbier (bottle)
- Père Canard (bottle)
- Huyghe Plaizierke (bottle)
- Prime de la fin d'annee (bottle)
- Glazen Toren Saison Christmas (bottle)
- Toernichoise Fumee (bottle)
- Triest x mas 2007 (bottle)
- Struisse Tsjeeses (bottle)
- Proefbrouwerij Ysbok (bottle)
- Hiete Kriek (bottle)
- Gluhkriek Liefmans (bottle)
- Antwerps Kerst (bottle)
- Bush de Noel Premium (bottle)
- Struise New Year's Blond (bottle)
- Rochefort 8 Cuvee 2007 (1.5 l bottle)
- Bush Prestige (bottle)
- Duvel Tripel Hop (bottle)

More words to come soon.

09 December, 2007

Christmas In Strassen

I mentioned earlier that the town we live in, Strassen, was having a little Christmas Festival today. Although it was raining this evening, we took a walk down a few back streets to get to the parking lot where the fest was being held. There were about 30 little wooden huts setup for this fest in a similar style to what they are holding in Luxembourg City. The stands were selling a limited amount of crafts and Christmas ornaments. The main attraction was the food. They had a crepe stand, a few beer, wine and other drink stands. There was also a stand selling some Swiss items including raclette, a cheese over bread and potatoe item that is very interesting.

Click here to see some of the pictures we took from the Strassen Christmas Fest

Christmas Shopping in Luxembourg

When we first arrived in Luxembourg we thought we would only be shopping at smaller stores and shops for things like groceries, household items, bookes, etc. That was the case for the first week or so but then we got turned on to Auchan, a huge French supermarket in the Kirchberg section of Luxembourg which is only a few minutes from my office. This supermarket is within a decent sized shopping mall and covers 2 floors. Each floor is about the size of a Target or Walmart it seems. Auchan carries everything from wine, beer, cheese, TV's, DVD's, seafood, clothes, and everything else in between. As parking is limited in Luxembourg and Auchan is so large, they also have a huge parking garage that is several levels underneath the store. In addition to parking down there, they also have little kiosks that you can rent DVD's and Playstation 2 games. We haven't found them yet but the parking lot also has a car wash at one of the lower levels and a drive through drink store (beer, wine, soda, etc). Full service to the fullest.
Another shopping option that we found out about when we moved into our flat is Cactus, a Luxembourgish supermarket that is in several places around Luxembourg. It seems that the largest store is about 750 meters from our flat and it is huge. It is part of a shopping mall that has several clothing stores, many restaurants and bars, including stand up bars that are busy from the morning until the evening. We are still getting used to seeing men and women standing up at these bars drinking a beer or glass of wine, any day of the week. Catcus is only one floor but it feels like it is about 3 or 4 football fields long. They are a full service supermarket but they also sell TV's and all kinds of household items and they also have hardware and other do it yourself type items. Not as large at Home Depot but it is enough to get the job done.
This brings me to the topic of Christmas shopping here. Today (Sunday) Paula and I went to Auchan to get some Christmas decorations and of course some wine and beer. This is a big deal as Auchan and the other supermarkets here are not usually open on Sunday. They are open on some Sundays in December for holiday shopping. I could not believe the number of people there today. I guess because it is sort of a novelty, everyone had to be there. The Christmas decoration isle was a mad house. It was as if they were selling Furbies or Cabbage Patch Kids or whatever the hot toy or game of the day is. We could not even bring our cart down the isle. After while it was too much to take so we checked out and left.
Before we left I did a little looking through the beer isle and found some nice holiday beer gifts....for me of course since it is too hard to ship things like this. :-) I picked up a Duvel gift set that included one large 750 ml bottle and 2 glasses, but not the regular Duvel tulip. This was a set of 2 smaller tulip glasses, intended to be apertifs. We also picked up a gift set of Lindeman's beers and a tulip glass in there. There should be some pictures of these at the below link.

08 December, 2007

The 12 BEERS of Christmas

I was doing some thinking today while in my new favorite beer store in Arlon, Belgium. They had about 10 or more Christmas beers and I know of several others I could get in Luxembourg so why not put a twist on the old song and do the 12 Days of Christmas! I picked up a few bottles at the shop in Arlon and assessed what I had in stock at the flat. I don't have all 12 beers worked out just yet but there is what I have so far. The arrangement of which beers to have what days has yet to be worked out in my head but it will come soon. I hope to be able to taste one per night leading up to Christmas and to post a review of each. I am not crazy enough to try the same number of beers for the specific day as in the song. I don't think that on Christmas day I could drink 12 of whatever the last beer is.

Here are the beers that I have so far. Any suggestions on addditional Christmas beers (Belgian only please) would be greatly appreciated.

Here are a few others I am thinking of throwing in the mix if I could get them in time. My bottle shop in Arlon was fresh out of one of my favorites, Gouden Carolous Christmas. Here are some others worth a try...

Abbaye de Rocs Speciale Noel

Gouden Carolous Christmas

Bush de Noel Premium

Saint Bernardus Christmas

Gordon X-mas

That doesn't get me to 12 just yet but I will be doing some research with Paula next weekend at a little Christmas beer fest in Essen, Belgium. If you check out this link you will see there extensive beer list which features a great deal of Christmas beers in addition to some other strong Belgian ales. O.B.E.R. Christmas Beer Festival Essen

Check back over the next few days to see my progress.

06 December, 2007

International Bazaar of Luxembourg

This past Sunday Paula and I ventured out in the rain and wind to attend the International Bazaar of Luxembourg. This is a 2 day event that features the food and merchandise of nearly 50 different nations from all around the world. Since it is just around Christmas, a lot of the merchandise was Christmas related which is great for our shopping needs. The main attraction seemed to be the food…and the beer, wine and spirits that accompanied the food.

Paula started the morning by working at the American stand selling grocery items like cereal, peanut butter and brownies. Apparently people go nuts for some of the American goods that were offered. So much so that a lot of the key items like oatmeal and pop tarts were sold out on Saturday. Once her shift was over, Paula and I met up to start our shopping and eating.

We started our eating in Spain. We stopped off at the Spanish stand and grabbed an assortment of tapas including a crab salad on bread, a chunk of manchego cheese on bread and several other tasty treats, including freshly cut ham from the leg right in front of you. We washed it all down with some sangria.

After Spain we did some gift shopping at various stands. To not give away what we may have purchased for family, I won’t say exactly what we purchased and from where but I could say that the gifts were pretty nice. The German stand had a ton of Santa’s and other Christmas ornaments. The Scandinavian stand also had a great assortment of Christmas ornaments and unique foods to their region. Back to the food….

To start, I was a little disappointed that there was no food at the Belgian stand. We were thinking mussels or chocolates but none to be had. There was however….beer! There were about 20 beers to be exact with 2 or 3 on tap. The selection had something for the whole family from Leffe blonde to Rochefort 8 and Orval. They had Gouden Carolus Christmas but it was a 750 ml bottle and I could not down that quickly enough myself to make it worth it. Paula was going to help out but we still wanted to try a lot of food so I had a Rochefort instead. They made the bar area feel very cozy and helped me to forget I was in the middle of a large convention center. It was great to see that at something like this they had mainly the proper glassware and they didn’t care if you walked around with it.

After a little more shopping and walking around without much purpose but to walk off the last food we ate, we headed for another food stand. We found our way to the Lebanon stand and something called a chawarma. They had both beef and chicken. We opted for the chicken. The chawarma is basically a gyro type thing with cut up and seasoned chicken along with a nice helping of tomato, onions, pickles and the typical sauce you get on a gyro, I think tahini? It is all wrapped up in basically a pita but they pull it apart into 2 sections and it is actually better than a typical pita. We then walked to a standing table by the Argentina stand and picked up a few glasses of Argentinean red wine. As we were eating we ran into a few friends we recently met at a wine tasting during the week. Micah and Jessica are both from American and recent additions to Luxembourg as well.

From there we did more shopping and then found our way to the French stand and a glass of champagne. There is something classy about standing at a little bar table with a crystal glass full of bubbly on a Sunday afternoon. More time passed and then we tried a little chicken skewer thing with a peanut sauce at the Holland stand. I washed it down with a €1 glass of Heineken. Not my favorite beer but when in Rome, drink what they drink.

Our food intake was slowing down at this point so we did more shopping and walking around. We ran into some other friends from work, Jason and his wife Jeanine. At this point we were about ready to hit the road so we stopped by the Lebanese stand and got another chawarma for dinner, this time a beef one as they were out of chicken. I also grabbed a nice sausage sandwich from South Africa. The folks hanging around at this stand were living it up all day with beer and wine. I think they were still celebrating their countries win in the Rugby World Cup.

Although the walk back to the car was bad due to the driving rain and crazy wind, we had a great day with friends and shopping and eating our way through the world, all while staying in the Grand Duchy!

03 December, 2007

Luxembourg City Christmas Fest

This past week was the start of the Christmas Fest in Luxembourg City. We had heard nothing but good things about how fun the Fest is. It runs to just before Christmas and includes tons of little huts setup to sell all kinds of gifts and all kinds of good food and booze of course.

We went for the first time on Saturday and met up with some friends. Saturday also happened to be the last day of a large Luxembourgish wine festival in town as well. For the small sum of €5 you get a nice glass and have the ability to fill it all you want from whatever the 40 plus wineries had to offer. They were all Luxembourgish wineries and they make some really good wine and sparkling wine or cremants as they call them.

After the winefest we headed back into the Christmas Fest area and had some great food. The best thing we tried were these little potatoe pancakes. They were not actually little at all and reminded me of home as you sometimes get them back home and they were complete with apple sauce. We ended the night with what I can only describe as the best dessert I have had at something like this. They were little piece of doughy heaven, fried and then topped with powdered sugar and a side of chocolate for dipping. Yum! I will have to go back for more this week....