20 September, 2008
Brussels - On 5 and 6 of September we cruised around Brussels. On Friday the 5th we started with a beer and lunch at Poechnellekelder right across from the Manniken Pis. We then wandered over to the Cantillon brewery for a tour and some extended tastings. In addition to the 2 samples you get in the tour at Cantillon, we also got to try their draft faro, straight lambik and also Broucsella straight from a bottle coming off the bottling line from the brewer. We also got to talk with the brewer a bit which was cool. We mentioned that we were from the Philadelphia area and they said they had some good friends in Philly including Tom Peters from Monk's Cafe. It just so happened that Tom was at the Cantillon brewery the day before to choose the barrel for their next Monk's Cafe Gueuze. Darn, we missed him by one day!
On the 6th we started our the day with a trip to the Brussels city museum and then off to the lambik countryside and lunch at Drie Fonteinen. Aside from really good food, they had their draft faro, kriek and a few others. After lunch we walked around the corner to the brewery and brewery shop to pick up a few bottles. When ready to leave Ed mentioned that we were from Philly and that he had seen the brewer Armand at a few events in Philly in March with my cousin Keith. Much to our surpise that was enough to get us a great tour of the brewery and their newly opened Lambik Droom tasting cafe. Lydie, partner at the brewery with Armand started by giving us a great tour of the brewery and then the barrel room down below in the cellar. Not only did we get a vip tour but Lydie grabbed a pitcher and cracked open a barrel of lambik and gave us several sample straight from the barrel. There is really no other place on earth to have their beer as pure as this as it would not travel well or and it is not bottled in this state. We moved on from the barrel room, after many pictures, over to the Lambik Vroom for more tasting, this time with Lydie and Armand the brewer! We were treated to gratis samples of their oude gueuze, oude kriek and kriek straight from the barrel. Side by side with the bottled kriek, the kriek straight from the barrel was hard to beat!
After about 2 hours with Lydie and Armand, we said our goodbyes and headed further into the countryside to take in a beerfest at De Heeren Van Liederkercke, a great restaurant outside of Brussels. We wanted to visit anyway as I have heard they have a great beer cellar and excellent beer cuisine but they were also having a beer fest that included a good deal of the beers they had on their menu. We were able to try some stellar beers for only a few euros each including the rare Drie Fonteinen Hommage and their J & J Blauw! We also stayed for dinner and had a great time listening to a band play music and watching kids in spiderman outfits running around while their parents drank great beer. Overall a great day.
We headed back to Brussels in the early evening and hit a few more bars for good measure including Morte Subite and Porte Noire. Brussels is one great beer city.
Brugge - After 2 days in Brussels, we headed off to Brugge about an hour away. We spent Sunday and Monday (7th and 8th of September) in this walled and watered town. I was stoked because our B&B we were staying in was on the outside of town, outside of all the crazy one way cobblestoned streets and all the people. When we arrived I was delighted to find I had my very own garage to park in and at the cheapest rates of the whole trip! The owner of our B&B was very nice, had several cats and knew alot about beer. When we told her that we were visiting Westvleteren on Monday to pick up some beer, she knew all about it and said she had a few crates at home and really liked the 8.
On Sunday and again on Monday evening we visisted a good deal of the Brugge beer bars including 't Brugs Beertje, Cambrinus Restaurant, Staminee de Garre, Brasserie Erasmus and De Zolder Keldercafe. Check out some pictures from these great stops.
On Monday the 8th we headed started the day off with a great sightseeing tour on the canals of Brugge. Check it out.
Later in the morning we all piled into the car and headed west to the Abbey at Westvleteren for lunch at the In De Vrede cafe next to the Abbey and then we had an appointment at 2:45 to pick up 2 crates of Westy 12, one of the best and some sought after beers in the world. We were not sure how we would fit 2 crates of beer in the car after we loaded in all the luggage and other things we purchased along the way but it all worked out.
After the great stop at Westvleteren we headed over to the Struise Farm for a visit and some sampling of the great beers they produce. Although the brewer, Urbain, was hard at work doing some bottling, he was gracious enough to spend time with us sampling about 5 beers including Fedeltà, a slightly sour blonde beer that Urbain said he had recently brewed at Allagash in the U.S. Next up was the Tsjeeses Reserva from a 750ml, a beer that is not even released to the public but that Urbain keeps on hand for samplings. After that we moved on to Dirty Horse, a fantastic beer that I had been waiting to try for some time. The beer was 5 years old and served from a really cool wine decantor. This the Struise take on a lambik style beer and it also has some flemish sour characters. The next beer was Pannepot Grand Reserva from a 750 ml bottle which I have never seen before. Another great beer. With some of the PGR left in Paula's glass, Urbain talked about a new beer he had recently brewed for a group in Sweden. This new beer, Black Jack is billed as an imperial porter with a special coffee used in fermentation. I think the coffee is Columbian. Urbain pulled some of the beer from the barrel and mixed it into Paula's PGR and it was a fantastic beer. The coffee aroma from the Black Jack was noticable once you got your nose just close to the glass and it was wonderful in the taste as well. Even after letting the last 1/2 ounce of the beer sit in the glass for 10 minutes or more, the coffee quality was still strong. I will surely be searching out this beer in Sweden if need be! After another great visit to Struise we were off to Brugge for the evening and a great dinner and some drinks at 't Brugs Beertje and the Garre, two great bars.
Antwerp - On Tuesday the 9th we headed off to a brewery tour at Rodenbach. Although the tour was only in Dutch, the brewery was good enough to let us join along with about 30 Dutch senior citizens and it was a great time. In addition to wandering around rooms full of huge wood foeders aging wonderful Rodenbach beer, we also got some nice samples at the end of the tour. After the tour we were on to Antwerp and a mission to spend a few hours at the Kulminator, one of the best beer bars in th world and they probably have the best aged beer cellar in the WORLD!
I could go on for days about the Kulminator but I can only type so much before I have to go to bed so I will hit some of the highlights. On two trips to the Kulminator that night, we had several great beers including Struise Earthmonk and Struise Pannepot Grand Reserva and we did a little blending experiment and it was damn fine. In addition to that we cracked into their vintage collection and pulled out a 750 ml bottle of Felix Oudenaards Kriekbier from 1975, a beer as old as me! Despite being as old as dirt, it tasted damn fine also. The cherry taste was very present and there was also some carbonation. One fine beer and served in a cool basket so it was all good. We also had a 1995 De Neve Gueuze that also had a fresh character to it and was another excellent aged beer. After sharing those 2 beers from breweries no longer in business, I moved on to a 1979 Oud Hoegaards Bier Blanche which is basically an early version of Hoegaarden and aside from no carbonation, this beer also held up very well. Between all of this Paula had a bottle of Kwelchouffe from 2000 which is no longer made. At the end of the night Ed and I shared a bottle of 1982 Thomas Hardy's and it was a great way to end the night.