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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

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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!