HOPTOLOGY

San Diego Beer, Local & Independent!


1 Comment

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

Advertisements


2 Comments

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


2 Comments

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