Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Belgium Trip--Part 4--The Breweries

Our Belgian trip included optional excursions to various breweries situated near our hotels. Because it’s never to early to start drinking beer in Belgium, the first excursion from Brugge was a morning trip to a small brewery called De Struise, located in Oostvleteren.

The Wikipedia article on this place says:
“Craft beer fan rating website Ratebeer selected beers from DSB for 9 of their Top 100 Best Beers of Belgium in 2009. Struise was edged out for the #1 slot only by the venerable Trappist Brewers of Westvleteren.”
The Tasting Room at De Struise
After visiting and tasting some of their beers, The PubScout concurs. Perhaps the most impressive one was a beer called “Double Black” which used Black Albert stout (13%) as a base. The final product turned out to be an incredible and delicious 26% ABV beer. Almost as memorable as the beer at De Struise was the sharp, narrow right turn our luxury bus driver negotiated to get us there. His achievement earned a sustained round of applause from the entire company.
Rock settles in at the Westvleteren Café
Next, it was on to the Monastery at Westvleteren, the scene of a previously discussed—and, sadly, totally fictional—“international incident.” Because the public is not admitted to the monastery (the story above perhaps being the cause), the café across from the abbey is permitted to sell this liquid gold, and sell it they did—not only to our group, but to a constant stream of customers. Many of them live nearby, apparently, and just came in for their weekly/daily supply. Of necessity, my supply of Westvleteren 8 (they were out of the 12) will be carefully rationed back home to last longer than that. A sixpack was €17, about $21 USD, which is not at all outrageous for this beer, called by many the “best beer in the world.”
Larry and Donna hoist their Westvleterens
One Christmas, the missus ordered ONE bottle of the W12 as a gift for me, and the tab, including shipping, came out to $40. Westvleteren monks do not label their beer, but the styles—6 (5.8%), 8 (8%) and 12 (10.2%)—are designated simply by the color of their bottle cap. These monks only brew enough of this beer to keep the monastery solvent. According to Father Abbott on the opening of the brewery, "We are not brewers. We are monks. We brew beer to be able to afford being monks.”
I wonder where you sign up?


After  eating and imbibing at Westveletern, we headed to the famous Rodenbach Brewery (though I can’t say I recall much of the ride). Michael Jackson anointed Rodenbach as “the most refreshing beer in the world,” an encomium that needs no embellishment from this humble beer writer. After touring the unique, aged buildings, no longer used in the making of the beer, actually walking inside an ancient malting oven and wandering among the huge, towering oaken barrels, we repaired to the tasting room for some Rodenbach Classic and some Grand Cru.
Our group was dwarfed by these tall barrels
My two Westvleteren 12's had “worn off” by now, and I was delighted by the slightly sour taste of this special beer, now owned by the makers of Palm. Made by combining different percentages of fresh and aged beer which initiates a secondary fermentation, one cannot disagree with The Beerhunter’s candid assessment above. The experience, I think, was certainly enhanced by the omnipresent 150 year-old, ceiling-high oak barrels, too.


If the reactions, laughter and general noise from our fellow travelers was any indication, Bosteels may have been the favorite stop of the brewery tour, even though it was undergoing major renovations. Bosteels makes three beers: Tripel Karmeliet, Kwak and Deus. The upstairs tasting room was most comfortable, and our host, the cordial –and generous-- Jack Van Antwerpen, was most informative and knowledgeable.

That he was pouring us Tripel Karmeliet (which became my buddy Rock’s favorite Belgian beer) and Kwak (which prompted a host of humorous comments from the now-high spirited assembly) was an added benefit. The signature bulbed glass of Kwak comes in its own special wooden handle, originally designed for horse coachmen to attach to their vehicles for drinking while driving. That should tell you all you need to know about how seriously the Belgians take their beer.
The Three Beersketeers--me, Jack and Larry
Good beer does wonderful things. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was in a great mood as we headed for the bus. 

On the way, a fully sated senior citizen in our group offered us two pieces of sage advice he had learned as he got older. As with most valuable advice, it was succinct:
 1.     If there is a bathroom, use it.
     2. Never trust your flatulence.

 Some advice is just golden.

Erica demands service at Timmerman's at 10 AM...
Just outside Brussels is Timmerman’s, the oldest lambic brewery, and, keeping in mind the credo that it’s never too early to consume good Belgian beer, we headed there in the morning. You can read and see more about this brewery, launched in 1702, at this link.

Lambic is a very special type of fruit beer grown with wild yeasts only extant in that particular region, which is why not everyone can brew a true lambic. And because it has fruit, it’s good for breakfast, right? Right.

We toured the old brewery, which, during brewing season, still leaves its beer open to the night air and the wild yeasts that impart its special flavors. The equipment they used, as well as some of the items in the museum section, were still essentially in working order and fascinating. Those who built these devices were craftsmen indeed and deserve a toast as much as the brewers do.
In the aging rooms at Timmerman's
Apart from the sweeter, fruitier Framboise, Kriek and Faro, Timmerman’s flagship products are Oud Gueuze and Oud Kriek, both very sour beers that are definitely acquired tastes. The Oud Kriek, especially, is amped up pretty high on the sour dial. But the regular Kriek (far better than Lindemann’s, IMHO) was good enough to bring home, carefully wrapped in my previously-worn clothing and stored in a suitcase—right along with the Westvleteren.

PS: All the beers made the return trip safely.

Drie Fonteinen

This very small brewery in the neat castle town of Beersel, also just outside Brussels, produced a very sour and highly rated oude gueuze on the day we were there, but it produces others as well. According to theAlstrom brothers at Beer Advocate, Brouwerij Drie Fonteinen is a world class beer.

The Brew Crew at Drie Fonteinen's restaurant
Considering that a disastrous spontaneous explosion of 30,000 bottles in the brewery once crimped its production and nearly closed the place, that’s a helluva comeback. 
It’s attached to a nice little restaurant, too, where we had a decent lunch, some very nice Beersel Blonds and an Estaminet.

Visiting these breweries, in addition to being interesting, informative and blessed with free beer, increases the enjoyment of their products after you have left. For some mystical reason, going to the place where the stuff you are drinking is actually made adds a certain charm to the beer. That it adds to fond memories goes without saying.

Coming next: It's a Wrap

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