Belgium Beer Tour pt. 5 – Sleep at a brewery without getting arrested.

2014-01-22 11.36.01When the plan for our trip to Belgium started to come together, one of the most exciting pieces of information I discovered was a cute little Bed & Breakfast in the charming countryside. It just so happened that this B&B was owned, operated and conveniently located right next to St. Bernardus Brewing. So yes, staying there for two nights was a no-brainer.

St. Bernardus has a fascinating history in its rise to being a heralded name in the Belgium Beer community. For instance, did you know that for nearly 50 years, these were the guys that actually brewed the legendary Westvleteren XII? Back in 1934 St. Bernardus wasn’t a brewery, it wasn’t even a monastery any longer. The Monks had headed back to France and sold their cheese making operation to Evarist Deconinck. Shorty after World War II, the monks of nearby Sint Sixtus (the monks who originated Westvleteren XII) decided they no longer wanted to produce and sell beers outside of what is consumed for the monks. Deconinck stepped in and essentially became a contract brewer for Sint Sixtus while also selling off the cheese business to focus exclusively on beer. The partnership ended in 1992 when the International Trappist Association declared that Sint Sixtus would no longer be able to be called an authentic trappist beer brewer unless all production was moved back within the walls of the abbey. Sint Sixtus went back to making their beers in the monastery but that left the brewers at St. Bernardus in a bit of a pickle. They decided that they would strike out on their own and the monks of Sint Sixtus, being the amicable guys that they are, let the brewers at St. Bernardus keep the original recipes. The only thing that would change is the strain of yeast used in the beers.2014-01-20 16.39.58-2

St. Bernardus is located just outside the small town of Watou, Belgium, about sixty minutes south of Bruges. It’s lush, beautiful countryside with hops farms in many of the surrounding fields. We arrived at the brewery towards the end of the day just after they had stopped brewing, but the smell of hot grains was all around and provided some nice ambiance to our tour of the facilities. I found the tour conducted by the brewery to be very informative and our tour guide to be quite knowledgeable. The tasting area for the tours is also very nice and had a lovely Bavarian style to it. There are a lot of similarities when visiting most breweries, and that is also true when visiting one overseas, however there are some subtle differences that I truly enjoyed being able to talk about with our guide. I would consider it a must do if in the region and a requirement if you are staying at the Bed & Breakfast.

"You can bring these up to my room"

“You can bring these up to my room”

The Beers in their impressive lineup include

Watou Tripel, 7.0%ABV, Grottebier 6.5%ABV, Christmas Ale, this seasonal beer is 10%ABV and is perfectly suitable for aging, Wit, a 5.5%ABV that is easily one of the best whites I’ve ever had, St. Bernardus Tripel 8.0%ABV more of a floral aroma in this tripel and much easier to find here in the U.S. The next three I’m going to mention are the three beers based on the original recipes of the monks of Sint Sixtus, these are the beers that made St. Bernardus what they are and they are all insanely tasty and excellent representations of their respective styles.

  • Bernardus Pater 6, 6.7%ABV – A traditional abbey dubbel with dark fruit flavors and a wonderful nose to it. A nice introduction to the style
  • Bernardus Prior 8, 8%ABV – A bigger version of an abbey dubbel, the color is a little richer and the flavors a little bigger with a smoothness that makes this beer go down far too easily.
  • Bernardus Abt 12, 10%ABV – This is the big one. If you have heard people rave about Westvleteren XII, this is just as good if not slightly better. This quad ale is rich with color, pervasive dark fruit flavors and a super creamy head on top. This is a prime example of the traditional quadruple ale done correctly and to perfection.

Staying at the Bed & Breakfast, known as the Brouwershuis, was a delight. The house itself is a large estate with ample sized rooms and a great deal of comfort to offer travelers from around the world. The Brouwershuis is designed so that multiple guests can easily be accommodated and given as much attention as they require for their stay. Jackie is the main caretaker of the house and she is simply a marvelous person to spend time with. She also does the cooking for your breakfasts and she certainly knows her way around a kitchen with skill. Our breakfasts were the perfect way to start each day while we were there. Jackie was also more than happy to make two excellent suggestions for local restaurants for our dinners, which turned out to be two of the best meals we had in all of Europe (Een Huis Tussen Dag en Morgan & my favorite: ‘t Sparhof). There is also a tennis court on the land and you are able to borrow bikes to go for rides around the countryside or to trek over to the legendary Sint Sixtus and try your hand at acquiring their beers from their café, In De Vrede, although if you plan on bringing some beers back with you I would suggest taking your car instead.  2014-01-20 19.59.48

Since our stay at the Brouwershuis was in the middle of the week in late January we had the entire house to ourselves at night, which made for a very relaxing time, but when we go back it will be at a busier time of year because I’d love to be able to sit in the spacious living room to engage and drink beers with the wide variety of beer lovers that make their way to St. Bernardus on their beer adventures. This brings me to my favorite part – the Brouwershuis beer fridge…actually fridges. You have unfettered access to fully stocked refrigerators with wall to wall St. Bernardus beers! It’s true what Belinda Carlisle says, heaven is a place on earth… it’s Watou, Belgium.

This does it for recapping my trip to Europe, I hope you’ve enjoyed it and perhaps inspired a few ideas for your own beer adventure.

Here is the website for St. Bernardus & here is the Brouwershuis.

Cheers,

Tom2014-01-20 22.21.43

Belgian Beer Tour pt. 4 – Drink Like a Monk!

The wife and I had started planning a trip to Europe as a second wedding anniversary gift to ourselves. My wife gets really excited about vacation planning and this trip was no different. The vacation package we selected would allow us the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time in Paris, France and Barcelona, Spain. Both cities are full of wonderful experiences and opportunities for fun and unique excursions. That’s when something popped into my brain. I remember the moment perfectly, we were sitting on the small balcony of our condo sipping beers and doing some research on what we would want to do on our trip. I was looking at maps of France to see what kind of day trips would be possible from Paris. I had pretty big desire to visit Normandy and a few other sites from World War 2 if I could plan things correctly. I shrunk the map down to get a better feel for just how far away things were and then I noticed that Belgium was close by. Really close. Trappist beers immediately popped in my mind. That’s when I used my trademark question of, “What do you think of this brilliant idea?”

That’s also the story of how I proposed to my wife. OK, not really.

A few months fly by and the next thing you know we are travelling by car through the beautiful country side on Belgium. We are using some of our limited time in the country to explore a couple of the rare trappist monasteries that have helped Belgium earn its world wide acclaim for fantastic brews. Trappist beers are some of the oldest and most unique beers you can find. Monks have been making beer for hundreds of years and they have gotten pretty damn good at it. We are fortunate enough to live in a day and age where these beers, most of them at least, make it to store shelves in America. Having the opportunity to get the beer straight from the source is a whole new experience unto itself. But what is a trappist beer? Let me hit the major points for you.

The International Trappist Association exists to protect the quality of products and ensure that no one else tries to infringe upon the name. The criteria for being an official trappist brewery is as follows.

  • Beer must be brewed in the wall of the monastery by the monks themselves or under their supervision.
  • The Brewery is of secondary importance when held up to a monastic way of life.
  • The Brewery is not for profit. It exists to cover the living expenditures and maintenance of the facilities. All profits are donated to charity.
  •  Trappist breweries are constantly monitored for high quality standards.

There are ten active trappist breweries/monasteries in the world and six are in Belgium: Orval, Chimay, Westmalle, Achel, Rochefort, and Westvleteren. We had just enough time to visit two. First up was…

Westmalle.

Something that we learned really quickly was that the monks don’t really want to bother with American’s who are on beer hunts. Sometime in the last decade or so all the Belgium trappist monasteries have opened cafes to sell their beers and in some cases, their cheeses, to all amateur beer hunters so as not to disturb the monks. I can appreciate that I suppose. Although you do have some reign to walk to grounds of the monastery, you will not be getting into the brewery, unless you happen to be more devious than I.

Westmalle is roughly an hour north of Brussels and as you get further away from the city you really get a feel for the beauty and serenity of the countryside and all it has to offer. Just after you pass through the town of Westmalle, the land opens up with farmland all around and you’ll see the Café Trappisten – 487 Antwerpsesteenweg, Westmalle 2390 Belgium. It’s a large café with sizable parking and a ton of bike racks. I would later learn that there is a bike & beer route than is very popular in the warmer months of the year.

Bring your bike or two.

Bring your bike or two.

The café itself is nice enough, though there is a fair amount of disappointment in my heart at not even being able to see the site where the beers are made. Just about every beer that is produced by the monks at Westmalle is available to here in the States. With the exception of the half/half which is a delightful blend of their abby dubbel and trippel with very nice results. Which I suppose someone could make on their own at home with two bottles, but I will admit to typically not being too crazy about blending beers on my own. Personal preference I suppose. We stayed long enough to grab a quick lunch and a slice of authentic trappist cheese to go along with our beers. Everything was delicious with little to complain about but I did have a slightly hollow feeling that I was simply at a restaurant and not an actual brewery. Perhaps life in San Diego has spoiled me that way.

The Half/Half

The Half/Half

Our next destination would take us to the western side of the country, a land full of hops fields and fresh beers at your finger tips. Our next stop was the legendary Sint Sixtus Monastery, home of Westvletern XII, home of one of the greatest beers in the world.

Westvleteren

The monastery of Sint Sixtus has long been frustrating beer drinkers around the world with their extremely limited distribution and insanely complicated methods for procuring a case of their mythological XII quad style ale. If you are in the mood to try and get a case, there is a hotline you can call and if you manage to get through, which is no easy feet, you can possibly get a case of the beers. However, if you are of a slightly more impatient nature, like me, you can simply walk across the street and go to their café, Café In de vred – 13 Donkerstraat, Westvleteren 8640 Belgium.

The beer is inside.

The beer is inside.

Both the café and the monastery are in a somewhat remote area of the country side. Surrounded by farms and hops fields, it does make for rather striking scenery and the sunsets are simply marvelous. One of the best parts about a visit to the café is that it eliminates the difficulty of getting any one of the three elusive beers made at Westvleteren. You can simply grab a table and order whatever is on hand for the day. The other incredible convenience afforded by the café is that you can easily purchase six-packs to take home with you, not only of XII, but also of VIII aka Bruin and the Blonde. These six packs are sold at the start of the day and each day offers something different. It’s sort of a luck of the draw system, but all three beers are super tasty and well worth the effort. As I mentioned, this system may be a little odd, but it is so much simpler than dealing with a phone that may or may not be answered when you call.

While we were not hungry enough to sample any of the meals at the café, my wife was really excited to try their cheese and it blew the cheese from Westmalle. Also of note was that the prices for the rare and elusive beers were ridiculously low. What better excuse do you need to go and stock up on one of the top rated beers in the world?

The Blonde and the Bruin

The Blonde and the Bruin

While two out of six isn’t exactly a great batting average, it’s still good enough to be on Padres. Orvel, Chimay, and Rochefort are all on the southeastern side of the country and will have to wait for my next visit along with Achel which is more northeast than we were able to make. So while I still have four on my list, it’s good to save a few things to help make sure it’s not too long before my next visit.

Wow! I still have one more post to go to recap our time in Belgium and it’s going to rock your socks off!

Cheers,

Tom

Perfect Day

Perfect Day

Belgium Beer Tour pt. 3 – When In Bruges…

A must see movie!

A must see movie!

Until the year 2009 I don’t think I had even heard of the city of Bruges. Then I watched Martin McDonagh’s outstanding movie “In Bruges” starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as two hitmen hiding out in the city after a hit gone wrong. It’s a great film with excellent performances and lots of dark comedy which I always enjoy. The film also does a fantastic job of showcasing the beauty of the city. I’ve been intrigued with going to the city ever since.

Fast forward to 2014 and the time has finally come to see this historic city and all it has to offer. Perhaps more importantly, this city happens to be in Belgium. That means an opportunity to find more bars and beers to check out as we make our way around the country. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, when I’m traveling with the wife, sightseeing comes first and beer drinking comes in second. Normally I’m able to make this concession work to the best of my ability but with limited time in Bruges, I wasn’t able to check every box off the list that I had in mind. 2014-01-21 13.37.45

So let me get the disappointing part of the trip out of the way first: I didn’t make it to De Halve Maan, the only family owned brewery in the city, before it closed for the day. They close early during the winter months so if you travel during the spring and summer I don’t think you’ll have the same issue. But I was able to drink several of their beers at other establishments around the city and I have concluded that it is worth a visit if you have the chance, especially the tripel. Here is the address for any who want to visit – Huisbrouwerij De Halve Maan 26 Walplein 8000 Bruges.

Two other local bars really caught my attention, first up is…

 ‘t Brugs Beertje – 5 Kemelstraat, Bruges 8000.

Classy glass

Classy glass

This is a small bar populated mostly by locals and they are very serious about the beers they serve. How serious? Well, when I asked for the bottle list I was handed a one-inch thick binder. Holy cow they have a lot of beers here. The draft list was pretty impressive as well, but if you take the time to pour through the pages of the binder you can find some true gems. Including Orval aged 6 months, 9 months or 12 months if you feel like conducting some research. They open late in the afternoon but happily pour beers till midnight allowing you plenty of opportunity to dive into the immense offerings. The folks working the bar are very friendly, especially after ordering the Orval which I think impressed them a little bit. Small, cozy and not touristy in the least, this is a top bar in Bruges.

 Le Trappiste – 33 Kuipersstraat, Bruges 8000

Laying bricks!

Laying bricks!

From what I leaned at the bar, Le Trappiste is something of a franchise type bar. The original location is in the U.K. with the purpose of bringing the great beers of Belgium to the people of England. Normally franchise bars are not my favorite thing, but the Le Trappiste in Bruges is one of the most impressive bars I’ve been to in just about any country. Set in an 800 year old brick cellar, this bar not only features the best of traditional and long running brewers of Belgium, they are also pouring the some of the best beer from all the up and coming brewers of Europe. The brick cellar is one of the coolest and most unique locations for a bar I’ve ever seen. Sitting inside surrounded by impressive brick work arches and knowing this building has existed for almost a century was something I’ve never experienced before. When you add in a delicious beer, I’m in heaven. The place just oozes with atmosphere and ambiance. This bar is also the second in Belgium, but first in Bruges, that I was able to find that carried the super rare Westvleteren XII. The staff there is super nice and very knowledgeable on all the beers they happen to be pouring, and in the case of our bartender, very knowledgeable of the beer industry in Europe in general. It’s a great spot that I can’t recommend enough.

These are three spots I recommend, I also recommend checking out the film, but please try to be a better tourist than Colin Farrell’s Ray character from the film.

bad tourist

bad tourist

Cheers,

Tom

Respect.

Respect.

the Binder

the Binder

Big Board

Big Board

Belgium Beer Tour pt. 2 – Bar crawling in Brussels

It's kind of a big deal.

It’s kind of a big deal.

Brussels has quite a few fun historical sites that make the city worth a visit, the medieval town square where the Grand Palace sits being the biggest and most impressive. It’s also home to more chocolate shops in a two mile square radius than I’ve ever seen before. The chocolate is pretty damn impressive so if you ever feel the need to take a breather from your own beer adventure in the city, I’d recommend indulging your sweet tooth for a while. After spending some time playing tourist around the city it was time to resume our beer adventures, and this time we went to a place that my wife was actually more excited to go to than I was.

Delirum Café – Impasse de la Fidélité 4, Brussels, Belgium 1000

My wife is sort of obsessed with Delirium, not only for the beer but for the pink elephant logo as well. To say that she was excited to be here was an understatement. Before coming to Belgium she was already a fan of Tremens and the Noel that Brewery Huyghe releases for the holidays. Introducing her Nocturnum and Red was something of a spectacle to behold2014-01-18 15.49.53

The Delirium Café is something of a frat party having sex with a chaos demon. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Like a bar at the end of the universe, this is a place where people from everywhere come together to get drunk as one. The United Nations should take a page from these guys. You can easy walk around and hear a dozen different languages being spoken as well as finding every other American who happens to be in the city at the same time as you. The crowd slants a little towards the younger side, but not so much that someone in their 30’s or 40’s would feel out of place. It’s crowded and noisy and people tend to swarm the bar for their beer orders, but there are plenty of bartenders that are able to accommodate most people in a quick and orderly fashion. Seating is available all over this big, sprawling location, with tables all around and booths made from old industrial boiling kettles. There is bar seating available as well, although it does come with some risk. Yes, you can get the bartenders attention quickly, but the odds of a press of patrons attempting to smother you so they can place their order are also possible.2014-01-18 15.52.39

The draft list is about 15 beers deep with a pretty worldly selection available, however, if you want to be impressed, you have to take a look at the 2,000 plus bottle list that is also available to choose from. Aside from the Delirium beers, I was able to indulge in Gulden Draak and damn is it good from draft. It’s a safe bet to say that you’ll easily find whatever beer fits you mood. If however the idea of potentially dealing with a ridiculously crowded bar is off putting to you, I’d also like to mention that you can visit the “Little Dilirium Café”, located just a few streets over at Rue du Marché aux Fromages, 7-9 Brussels, Belgium 1000 which has a slightly less chaotic environment and where we had the opportunity to engage with our bartender and several of the very friendly locals. Also, as if my wife wasn’t already in love with Delirium, we now also have four glasses in our home with their name emblazoned all over them.

Moeder Lambic –  Fontainas Plaats 8, 1000 Brussels, Belgium

Moeder Lambic is simply amazing. This is a beer bar that is helping to change the beer culture of Brussels. They were the first bar to refuse to sign contracts with Duvel, insisting that they would not be yet another pawn of corporate brewers. They sell legitimate Belgian craft beer and the rest of the draft board is a wonderful selection from across Europe and even parts of the U.S. Words fail me when it comes to describing how impressed I was with the place. The staff is very knowledgeable about every beer they sell and are eager to answer your questions and even make a recommendation or two if you ask for one, which my wife does constantly.2014-01-18 19.58.27

There is also a great feel of community at Moeder Lambic, it was a full house when we entered but they quickly seated us at a booth shared by another couple. At first we thought this was a little strange, but being friendly Americans we were able to quickly strike up a conversation with our butchered version of French and their better attempts with English. This made for a fun portion of the night as they were able to help us assemble a tasty meat and cheese board that complimented the beers we drank marvelously.2014-01-18 19.09.01

They have 46 taps at your disposal as well as a bottle selection that hovers around the 200 mark. The atmosphere is fun, modern and very cool. I couldn’t get enough of this place and I recommend it wholeheartedly if you are lucky enough to spend some time in the city.

The last bar that I’d like to share with you is something from a time vortex…

 Au Bon Vieux Temps – Impasse Saint-Nicolas 4 Brussels, 1000 Belgium2014-01-19 13.51.55

In my mind, I’m not sure it gets much better that visiting a 300 year old Gothic bar in the heart of the city off of a dark and scary ally. While it’s possible, according to my wife, that I spent far too much time trying to actually locate this place, I can say with all honestly that it was worth it. Saying it’s a little tricky to find is something of an understatement, although in my defense, trying to locate a small bar in a foreign country certainly adds a degree of difficulty to my efforts. You need to pay attention because the first and only thing you’ll see is a non-descript sign pointing you though an archway that could easily send you back in time or a parallel dimension. Next you walk through a dark ally, with only a few lights pointing you towards your destination. The stained glass windows will probably make you think you have found some sort of old church rather than a bar but once you walk trough the tiny doorway, you find yourself in a bar where time has seemingly stood still. Beautiful wood paneling along the wall, with tables both big and small available to any groups or couple who make their way inside. This bar is essentially the polar opposite of the Delirium Café. Instead of big crowds and lots of noise you get a much more subdued and classy environment in which to enjoy the beers of Belgium. I also found this bar to be more populated with locals then many of the spots around the GranPalace. What also helps to distinguish this bar from all of the others in Brussels is the fact that they stock, on a regular basis, the very rare Westvleteren XII trappist quad, from the monks at Saint Sixtus. It’s a tasty beer and well worth the effort if you have the time to indulge. Being an ‘old school’ bar, they don’t have any draft beers, just a very nice selection of Belgian beers, a mix of trappist ales and other less rare Belgian style ales. 2014-01-19 12.38.39

These three bars represent what I would personally consider the cream of the crop. However, when in Belgium, it’s pretty hard not to find a bar with some pretty decent beers to select from. One thing you may notice is that some bars will prominently feature signs and logo from one specific beer. From what I was told, these are bars that are essentially owned by that brewery, which is something that is illegal in the U.S. My personal stance is that I avoided going to any such establishment but to each their own. I’d much rather find the locally owned, small business and give them my money. While waking the streets you will also find several very nice bottle shops such as “de Bier Temple” and “250 Beers Belgium” which can easily provide you with any souvenir bottles that you might want to bring home…unless of course, you have some other bottles in mind that you’d like to bring home with you….

Westy XII!!

Westy XII!!

That’s what we call a ‘teaser’

Cheers,

Tom2014-01-19 14.14.33

Belgium Beer Tour pt.1 – Cantillon Brewery

Cantillon

Cantillon

Waking up early on a Saturday morning in Paris, France the wife and I grab our bags and make our way to the Paris Gare du Nord train station. Gare du Nord is the station for all trains heading north. If geography is not your favorite subject you might not realize to the Northeast of Paris is the small, yet beer rich country of Belgium and we had made arrangements to take a small break from our time in Paris so we could indulge our palates on all the tasty libations that this wonderful country had to offer.

We ride the high speed Thalys train to Brussels, which is only a 90 minute train ride. After arriving at the Midi station, which is the center of the city, we take a quick two stop ride on the metro and drop our bags at our small but very cute bed and breakfast in the middle of the tourist area. From there it’s a relatively short twenty minute walk through some of the more…colorful…parts of Brussels. Not that we ever felt unsafe at any point but it always pays to be aware of your surroundings.

The tasting area.

The tasting area.

Located in the middle of a nondescript street in a rather unassuming building is the  Brouwerij Cantillon, Rue Gheude 56 Straat Bruxelles 1070 Brussel, www.cantillion.be. Cantillon is a very unique brewery, opened in 1900 by Paul Cantillon, this brewery is still owned and operated by the family that started it. They are very proud of that and it’s this pride, I believe, that has lead to the maintaining of such high standards for their products. I suppose what you might be thinking, if you aren’t familiar with the Cantillon name, is that it’s simply a brewery that makes beer. You would be correct, but that doesn’t tell you the whole story. Cantillon is home to one of the oldest and most rare styles of beer that you’ll find, the lambic.

So what the hell is a lambic? I’m glad you asked. A lambic style beer starts like most other beers with the same traditional ingredients, water, wheat, barley and hops, but where lambics change the game is in the fermentation process. Using the original methods employed by brewers for thousands of years, the beer is exposed in large vats to what is known as wild yeast, which in this case is a broad range of wild airborne fermenting agents that are specific to the room in the brewery where it takes place. Scientists have found over 100 different strains of yeast in lambic beer and legend maintains that the specific microorganisms required for production of lambics are only to be found in this particular region of Belgium. This specific environments has not been altered in the one hundred plus years that the brewery has existed, one example of this is that while touring the facility you may notice cobwebs and possibly even spiders. All of these elements and others help create the environment necessary for Cantillon to create the beers that they do.

The goods

The goods

If the open fermentation stage is not enough to separate what they do at Cantillon from others breweries, I’m guessing this part will. After initial fermentation it’s time to age the beer, for years, so that it can be turned into what is called “Guezue”. A master brewer will take 1,2, and 3 year old lambics and blend them together to create the Guezue and at a certain point, to be determined by the brewer, they will add fruit. A lot of fruit. For example, 500 litres of 2-year old Lambic will have 150kg (which is 330 lbs)of fruit added to its barrel. The fruit will soak for a minimum of three months as the beers takes in the fruits color, taste and sugars. Then when the time comes to bottle it, about 1/3 of the bottle gets a hit of 1-year old lambic to aide in the secondary fermentation process which then creates a Kriek style beer. To clarify, Guezue is the blended lambic, while adding the fruits is what makes it a Kriek.

To say it’s a complex operation is a bit of an understatement, but there is true artistry behind what they do at Cantillon. While not a large scale brewery by any means, they are dedicated to quality control and preserving the traditional methods of creating the styles that come from lambic brewing, like the Geuze and Kriek varieties. It’s these old school methods that distinguish them from other, more large scale lambic brewers who take short cuts to speed up production of lambics such as adding artificial sugars. Cantillon looks down on this practice and it’s one of the reasons why the brewery is also considered a museum. So if you end up in Belgium and your spouse is hassling you about all the beer you are drinking just tell her/him that your next stop is a cultural museum.

I'll take the whole crate please.

I’ll take the whole crate please.

Barrels full of goodness

Barrels full of goodness

Ageing a few bottles

Ageing a few bottles

 

Here is a list of some of the beers available and what fruits are added to them.

Gueuze – 1,2,3-year old lambics artfully blended together.

Kriek – 2-year old lamic in which Schaerbeek (sour) cherries are soaked.

Rose de Gambrinus – Kreik but with raspberries

Vigneronne – Lambic with Muscat grapes.

Saint-Lamvinus – Black merlot grapes.

Fou’foune – Bergeron apricots.

Grand Cru Bruocsella – A 3 year old lambic that does not undergo secondary fermentation, considered a missing link between beer and wine.

So damn tasty!

So damn tasty!

I have visited a lot of breweries over the years but Cantillon has to be one of the most unique and for that it is definitely worth your time when you happen to be in Brussels. I highly recommend taking the tour while there. It’s self guided, unless you happen to make prior arrangements to go as part of a group, but they provide you with a lot of information and send you on your way without making a guide a necessity. It’s not often you have the opportunity to visit a brewery that’s been around for over 100 years.

That said, if you happen to have a good bottle shop around you, you might be able to sample some without having to dust off your passport. Hopefully, I’ve done a decent job explaining the process of lambics, but if you have questions I’m happy to try and answer them, or better yet, just try the beers for yourself. I found them to be light and refreshing with excellent flavors. The beers do not exceed 5%ABV so it on the lighter side for most of us hopheads, but they are a class act at Cantillon and their recent ranking on ratebeer.com as one of the 100 best breweries in the world is well deserved.

 

Cheers,

Tom

a great logo!

a great logo!

 

Finding a dark corner to drink in the City of Lights

Paris, France is a city known for dozens of delights in the culinary world. It’s a land of baguettes, croissants, es cargo, and mouthwatering pastries that can stretch your waistline just by looking at them. The cheeses are simply some of the best I’ve ever had and they pair the wide variety of cheese very nicely with any one of a hundred wines that are grown and fermented across the region. It’s impossible to visit and not find something to satisfy the foodie that lives in all of us and usually takes control of us while on vacation. But how does a beer lover satisfy his or her need for biscuit-like malt flavors and some form of hops that we are all in love with?

There is a way.
Of course when you are in  Paris, or anywhere in France, you truly owe it to yourself to seek out wine from area and sample it. Just about every local we spoke to was more than happy to point us in the right direction on the extensive wine lists that are found in just about every restaurant, cafe and bistro you walk in. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t beer to be found in France. Craft Beer is a little harder to find, but I’ll get to that later.
Just about all the cafes and restaurants will offer a limited selection of beers, mostly on draft and mostly beers from the InBev family which, if you are like me, you will avoid with every fiber of your being. Luckily with neighbors to the north like Belgium, it isn’t too much strain to find something that isn’t owned by a giant corporation that cares little for quality and craftsmanship of their beers.
Now as much as I would have preferred to spend my time in Paris like the Beer Hunter Michael Jackson, I had to spend much of my days there being a tourist and photographer for the wife. Not that I minded too much. Well, maybe a little if I’m being honest. It was after one of our tourist adventures that I finally managed to do a little beer hunting of my own. After crossing the river Seine back to the left bank we walked the winding roads of the 5th arrondissment (district), not too far from where the Pantheon stands, I found a bastion of craft beer and it was noteworthy.
If a smiling beer face doesn't make you want to drink I don't know what will.

If a smiling beer face doesn’t make you want to drink I don’t know what will.

BREWBERRY – 18, Rue du Pot de Fer 75005 Paris www.brewberry.fr
Brewberry is basically a bottle shop with cold beer on hand that can be consumed on the premises while snacking on a tasty cheese board and other delectable delights. It can also be described as something of a beer cellar, as you walk down the steps and enter you get the feeling that you have entered into the basement of a good friend who knows good beers and hordes them all. If you don’t know what a basement is, I’d recommend meeting someone not from California to help fill you in. The walls are lines with shelf after shelf of fantastic beers, most are organized by style, but it’s easy to find your way around and get what you are looking for. In the center of the room are several tables for you and your friends to sit and enjoy your beverages. This is where craft beer lives in Paris.
There is a little bit of home on these shelves.

There is a little bit of home on these shelves.

Having been open for just about three years, Brewberry has in that time carved out a nice niche for themselves in a city of wine lovers. The staff is very friends as was the mix of locals and ex-pats who were there on the night we stopped by for our visit. Oddly enough, of all the places I went looking for beers made in France, this was the only spot out of an innumerable amount of bars we visited that carried them. Brasserie Fleurac makes a pretty solid tripel and I can only hope that the brewery gets more success in its own country. The selection of bottles on hand is very diverse and I had to admit a fair amount of pride at seeing some of San Diego’s best breweries prominently on display like Green Flash, Alesmith and Lost Abbey.
French beer. Pretty good!

French beer. Pretty good!

Paris has several other highly praised bottle shop spread around the city as well as one or two micro breweries that I wish I had the opportunity to visit. Unfortunately my old enemy, time, prevented me from finding more locations that I could compare to Brewberry. Another reason was that I didn’t want to get too crazy with the beer in Paris because our next destination was Belgium and I needed my liver in top condition.
This is called a "Prelude" of things to come!

This is called a “Prelude” of things to come!

So how did Belgium go? Stay tuned.
Cheers,
Tom

Barcelona; Making a name for itself in the Craft Beer world.

I love having the opportunity to visit Europe. It’s not very often that I get to visit, but when I do, I like to walk the streets of the old world and get a sense of just how long civilization has been around, something that is very easy to forget in the comparatively young United States of America. What I also like to do is find the beer culture that exists in these places and get a feel for them as well.
Barcelona loves Gaudi

Barcelona loves Gaudi

Last year I was surprised to find a small but growing beer following in Italy. This years trip resulted in some other interesting finds as well.

The first stop on our three country tour is Barcelona, Spain. Despite that last sentence and what every globe and map will tell you, Barcelona is not Spain, and every Barcelonan you meet will tell you the same thing. Barcelona resides in the Catalunya region of the country and a few hundred years ago they were taken over by and made a part of Spain. They still hold a grudge about it. The Catalan flag hangs from many balconies around the city and quite a few citizens prefer to speak Catalan over Spanish. It’s this attitude of defiance that I believe helps to fuel their small but quickly growing beer culture in a land that historically prefers other fermented or distiller beverages.

Within the city limits you can easily find several breweries and a quite a few beer bars that are helping to spread the word that beer is here and it makes all things better.

The economy in Barcelona, much like the rest of the world, has stalled dramatically. The government has encouraged entrepreneurs to start striking out in bold new directions to see what sticks and can turn a profit in an economic downturn. Does this sounds slightly familiar to many in San Diego? Many in Barcelona were shocked by the one thousand plus turnout at Barcelona’s first beer festival last spring. It’s all the more evidence that craft beer continues to make an impact around the globe. Plans are well underway for the now second annual craft beer festival in Barcelona where an even bigger turnout is expected for this showcase for not only bigger, more well known craft brewers but also for the smaller, local brewers.

One of the conundrums faced by breweries and home brewers alike in Barcelona and Spain over all, is that grain and hops for beers must be imported from Germany and the United Kingdom. For the moment this can result in beers with a rather high price. While not outrageous, I’m optimistic that within a few years this can be changed as the industry continues to evolve and grain growers realize they are missing out on a whole new market.

While I didn’t have the opportunity to visit any breweries or even most of the bars on my list, my wife did force me to do a lot of tourist activities, I did manage to spend time at two bars that are helping to push craft beer forward in a landscape dominated by wine, sangria and mojitos.

La Cervateca – Carrer d’En Gingas 25 Barcelona, Spain

Located on the edge of the Gothic quarter of the city, this bar is Barcelona’s beacon in the night the dark night of vienna lagers and cheap pilsners. La Cervateca has a select few beers on draft, the bottle shop in the bar more than makes up for any short comings in that you might find in that area. I found the draft list to be a pretty diverse selection of brewers from around the globe with one or two local brewers on hand but in general they seem more interested in pushing craft beer styles from around the world. Not a bad strategy when it comes to luring in craft beer virgins, you might as well hook them on the best stuff you can find. The bottle shop area is much the same way although you will notice a crazy amount of beers from Rouge Brewing available as well as a really nice choice of beers from all across Europe.

Maybe 1/4 of the beers in the bottle shop.

Maybe 1/4 of the beers in the bottle shop.

This is a place for hipsters and cool cats, no doubt about it. The vibe is fun and youthful but not drunken belligerence…at least not on the nights I was there. It’s also a fun spot just to sit and people watch as the local go about there business. Mix that with a knowledgeable staff and you have a winning combination for a craft beer bar that plants a sizable steak in the ground to announce that a new era of drinking has arrived in Spain.

Our next stop is slightly different….

Cat Bar – Carrer de la Boria 17, Barcelona, Spain

Just ignore that last part. I did.

Just ignore that last part. I did.

It’s a vegan restaurant. Stop! Don’t leave yet, here me out. I’m not a vegan nor do I ever plan to be one. I came to this spot for one reason and one reason only…craft beer. That’s the thing with this place, it’s more than meets the eye. It’s called Cat Bat but their mascot an adorable French Bulldog named “Charlie”. This place is a dive bar in the best sense of the word. Sure they have vegan food but the atmosphere is pure North Park.

Charlie on his cushion.

Charlie on his cushion.

The draft beer list is dominated by UK brewers Brew Dog, which are all pretty solid beers, with such staples as Punk IPA and Hardcore IPA, however the beer fridge in the back of the bar is stocked with an excellent selection of bottles from Spain and beyond, including Whym, LaPirata and Reptilian. These last two are brewed in Barcelona.

Easy access!

Easy access!

What is also exceptional about Cat Bar is that it’s small enough and divey enough that it is really easy to strike up conversations with the employees and even the owners which can only add to your enjoyment. And while I’m no vegan I do love a good potato dish and the Patastas Bravas they serve there was hands down the best in the city and possibly all of Spain! Yup, I said it!

Cheers,

Tom