HOPTOLOGY

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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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12 Beers of Christmas pt. 3 – Deck the Halls with Beers aplenty…Beers #9-12

Here we are and Christmas is upon us. I can smell the chestnuts roasting on the open fire but I can’t let that distract me from the visions of great holiday beers that are dancing through my head. Let’s wrap this up like a present to put under the tree.

Picking up where we left off…

9. Lost Abbey – Gift of the Magi – Belgian Golden Ale 9.5%ABV Leave it to the mad geniuses at Lost Abbey to create a beer based on the Three Kings and the gifts they delivered to the baby Jesus; Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. What we get is an ale of golden color that uses the bark of Frankincense to add the bittering component and a dash of the herb known as Myrrh. The beer is delicious! Even if you don’t care for the bible, this beer might cause you to reconsider. Once the big, frothy head on this beer settles down you will find a pleasant spiced aroma waiting for you. First taste will bring a mild sweetness to your palate then the hops will come on the back end. The beer has some crispness to it as well and as it warms there will be a little bit of dryness to the finish. As usual with beers from Lost Abbey, this can be bottled aged which is never a bad idea if you can be patient.

If it's good enough for Jesus...

If it’s good enough for Jesus…

10. Delirium – Noel – Belgian Strong Dark Ale 10.%ABV – In my house there are few rules as simple as the “The pink elephant will never steer you wrong.” OK, so maybe the rules in my house are a little weird. Noel is another fine example of Belgian’s making great beers, especially for the holidays. The pour is a rich mahogany color with a strong nose of holiday spice and fruits. The beer drinks much the same way with a hint of sweetness and bitterness surrounded by strong spices. This beer also finishes with a slight dryness. As it happens, this beer can be aged as well.

Pink Elephant on a sled. Normal Saturday.

Pink Elephant on a sled. Normal Saturday.

11. Brasserie Dubuisson – Scaldis Noel – Belgian Strong Dark Ale 12%ABV – If you go looking for this one, the name on the label that jumps out is simply the ‘Scaldis Noel’. This is a big beer in a little bottle. It pours a rich dark amber color with a big frothy head of a creamy color. The nose is all spice and fruits and you can detect a hint of the strong alcohol that lies waiting for you. It has a sticky sweet quality that mingles well with the spices involved. The beer drinks incredibly well especially as the flavors warm and have a similar effect on your body. This is another beer that came on my radar late as I was formulating my list and came on strong to knock other contenders to the side with relative ease. This beer also cellars well so I might grab a few more to stuff my own stocking with this year.

The surprise performance!

The surprise performance!

12. St. Bernardus – Christmas Ale – Belgian Quadrupel 10%ABV – While it was not initially my intention, I did save the best for last. This beer ranks right up there with actually witnessing the birth of Christ, minus seeing placenta and all that nasty stuff. This beer is worth turning into Ebeneezer Scrooge and hoarding for your self. It’s that damn good! It pours super dark and with a wonderful cream colored head and a sensual nose of dark fruit, candied sugars and mulled spices. The taste is complex and understated with notes of caramel and Belgian hops on the backend. It refrains from overwhelming the palate and it masks its high alcohol content superbly. The Christmas ale goes down silky smooth and can do nothing but remind you of all the comforts of the holiday. If I had need of a fireplace in Southern California I would sit in front of it with this beer and think of Christmases long, long ago. As it happens, this beer is also prime for ageing and it may be the first beer that I attempt to cellar. I can’t recommend St. Bernardus’s Christmas Ale enough, it’s it alive with the spirit of the season.

If it's good enough for Snoopy...

If it’s good enough for Snoopy…

 

So that wraps up the list of my twelve favorite beers of the Christmas season. Belgium made its presence felt on these final four didn’t they? With any luck, next year, I’ll find twelve all news ones to rave about and as always, I’d love to hear any recommendations that you might find.

Cheers and Merry Christmas,

Tom


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12 Beers of Christmas pt. 2 : I’ll have a Brew Christmas (with or without you) Beers 5-8

Here we are, Christmas is less than a week away and you know what that means, I need to get the rest of this list out fast! So let’s cut the chit-chat and get right down to the brass tacks.

The 12 beers of Christmas numbers 5-8.

A holiday tradition

A holiday tradition

5. Alesmith – Yulesmith (Winter) – Imperial Red Ale 8.5%ABV. This beer is a long standing tradition for me, the beer presents a rosy amber color with an aroma of sweet malts balanced by a nice combination of pine and citrus hops. The strong malt backbone is what makes itself known first on your palate. You get a little sweetness almost like caramel notes, just as the bittering hops kick in and make all the flavors pop together in your mouth like a symphony. While this Yulesmith is slightly less enjoyable than its summertime counter part it is no less an essential of the holiday season.

Lost Abbey's 1st ever IPA

Lost Abbey’s 1st ever IPA – Not my best photo

6. Lost Abbey Merry Taj – Imperial IPA 8.0%ABV – When setting out to write this series of Christmas blogs I had put together a pretty good list of beers to drink that I then would then narrow down to twelve. This beer wasn’t even on the list, partially because I had somehow never heard of it and Lost Abbey has NEVER made an IPA. So you can understand my surprise when I was drinking at Stone World Bistro in Liberty Station and saw this on the menu. I even asked if it was a mistake. Luckily for me, and the rest of the beer drinkers lucky enough to find this draft only beer from the brew masters at Lost Abby it wasn’t. Lovers of IPA will find a lot to like from this beer as soon as you catch a whiff of the aroma on this one. Piney hop notes will lure you in and coat your tongue with holiday cheer. The malts are subtle but bring a light, crisp quality to the beer. Easy to drink and very tasty, I only wish Stone had offered up a bigger pour, 8oz just wasn’t enough. Lost Abbey’s first IPA is a delight and that fact it’s a holiday beer is just a bonus for me to include it in this post.

So damn good!

So damn good!

7. Affligem – Noel -Belgian Strong Dark Ale 9.0%ABV. Finally a Belgium beer makes its presence known on this list and this one does so with authority. My serving was on draft at Stone Brewing and the glass presented with a lovely dark gold color and a nice frothy head on top. The nose on this beer is distinctly of dark fruits – raisins, dates, maybe some fig as well as spiced holidays flavors. The beer drinks incredibly well as the candied sugars used in most Belgians help to obscure the high level of alcohol. This one also has a nice warming effect and as is the case with most of the best beers from Belgium, this beers flavors really start to come alive as the glass warms. This is a fantastic Christmas treat.

Santa might be a drunk.

Santa might be a drunk.

8. Rogue – Santa’s Private Reserve Ale – Amber Ale 6.0%ABV – This is the second red ale to make the list, but this one is something of a craft beer holiday classic. Rogue brews this up annually and it’s always a treat. My favorite thing about ales from Rogue is the rich creamy head that shows up in most of their brews. Santa pours a deep red, kind of like his suit. You will notice a sweet malty aroma. When I took my first sip what jumped out at me was the strong malt base of the beer. It’s the back end is where the hops make their presence shown. Chinook hops give the beer a very tasty pine quality that helps to further the idea of this as the beer of choice for Saint Nicholas. I can’t emphasize enough just how impressive the creamy foam head on this beer is.

So that’s beers 1-8 for Christmas 2013. I still have four to go and a few surprises might be waiting underneath the Christmas tree.

Cheers,

Tom