17 April 2018

Leuven - Saturday night

The sun had already set over Leuven when we left the Ibis Budget hotel and crossed under the railway station to walk into the city centre on our last night (Saturday 24 March).
There was no room for us at Domus, a popular brewery restaurant where waiters skilfully ignored anyone not already seated at a table.
We headed to Oude Markt 37 where L-Cafe had been listed as a good place to find traditional Belgian food, run by two sisters - Liesbet and Lori. However, we were too late to eat as the kitchen closes at 20.45.
Belgenius - Citrus Strong Golden Ale
We were encouraged to stay for a beer and as beers from Belgenius were stocked we were easily won over. The small space downstairs was chilly so we decided to sit upstairs despite a warning about having to share the space with 'loud Dutch men'.
The pale wood furniture and lampshades give a Scandinavian feel to the upstairs room. Simon had the sensible idea of asking for a restaurant recommendation when we paid the bill for a bottle each (10 euros).
De Nachtuil, Krakenstraat 8, was only a minute's walk away and its Night Owl name reflects the late opening hours (until 2am Tue-Thu, 3am Fri-Sun).
We ordered mixed olives as a starter and main dishes which came with a separate large serving of Belgian frites to share.
We also ordered bottles of Cornet, as recommended on Friday night by Gunter. The Brouwerij De Hoorn tasting notes mention 'Cornet is an oaked, strong, blond Belgian beer (Alc. 8.5% Vol.). Its subtle touch of vanilla is achieved by adding oak chips during brewing. Brewed in honour of Salomon de Maldeghem, Knight in the 11th century.' I will look for Cornet again when in Belgium.
Having enjoyed a visit to Metafoor on Thursday night and finding it too busy on Friday night we decided to try and revisit this bar set back one street from Oude Markt at Parijsstraat 34.
Arthur's Legacy 13 - Aerts 2016 / Brouwerij de Hoorn
Simon found a spare seat at the bar and I stood next to him until another seat became free. The bar was very busy but the bartender was expertly serving customers as fast as they could present orders. We watched as he selected the correct glass, rinsed it, quickly filled it with beer from a bottle or tap, dunked the glass into a sink of cold water to rinse off any residues before serving. A craftsman at work and captivating to watch!
Another favourite Leuven bar to return to was De Blauwe Kater and on the way we passed an interesting looking comics shop - Het Besloten Land - just a few doors along from Metafoor.
We reached De Blauwe Kater around midnight and were glad to find a free table on the ground floor.
My first beer here was a Houblon Chouffe, the hoppy 9% ABV version of La Chouffe from Brasserie d'Achouffe (4.40 euro). This was a favourite beer on the trip and three bottles were purchased on Sunday from the essential Carrefour Express at Brussels Midi station before heading home.
The music volume was turned up and SoundHound was deployed to detect The Levee by Belgian band Blues Lee.
As previously observed, beer and music go well together especially the Blues! By the time I was drinking (green label) Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor, brewed in Mechelen by Het Anker, the tunes were authentic blues from John Lee Hoooker - Mr Lucky. Indeed I was!
Tasting notes from the Het Anker website describe the 8% ABV Hopsinjoor as 'derived from “Opsinjoor”, the typical character of Mechelen and also because of the use of 5 different kinds of hops. These hops are fractioned at a different time during the cooking process in order to conserve a maximum of aroma.' This is another beer that I will seek out again, perhaps even at the brewery in Mechelen where the station conveniently lies on the railway line between Brussels and Antwerp.
After 1am, as Simon was slowly drinking a quadrupel beer and my check on buses revealed an imminent departure it was time for me to leave and save the walk back to the hotel - on a bus that cost another 1.60 euro clip on my Lijn Kaart. The female bus driver cheerfully coped with everyone who boarded.

15 April 2018

Leuven - Saturday

After grey skies on Friday, it was nice to wake up on Saturday 24 March and see blue skies above Leuven railway and bus stations from my 6th floor room at the Ibis Budget hotel.
Our plan was to visit Hof ten Dormaal brewery in the afternoon, a bus ride away from Leuven.
Buses in Leuven, Mechelen and Antwerp are operated by De Lijn.
The first task for today was to buy a 10-ride Lijn Kaart (16 euro) from the ticket office at the bus station. After a walk into town, Simon and I enjoyed a bargain breakfast of coffee and croissant at EXKi, Rector De Somerplein 8, where the special offer is available until 11am.
We passed a market next to St Peter's church that included a stall with Belgian beer glasses for sale at reasonable prices.
With time to spare before the bus to the brewery we passed the Fishmarket square, which is now home to De Blauwe Kater, on the way to another bar with 'blue' in its name - De Blauwe Schuit.
The Blue Barge entrance passage houses part of a (red and white) barge and gives views to an inner courtyard which is home to a splendid peacock.
We entered the main bar, above street level, and found a table in the sunshine. Simon ordered a Hopus and I chose a Poperings Hommelbier which is brewed with hops from Poperinge.
The high-ceilinged bar is decorated with nautical and travel related items including an old map of the Belgian Congo. An unusual mixture of music (Ghostbusters, Don't lose my number (Phil Collins)) was playing a bit too loudly for a lunchtime.
We caught the delayed 284 bus (towards Mechelen) from the stop at nearby Dirk Boutslaan to Tildonk Brug, a journey of 25 minutes via Herent. We were able to validate the Lijn Kaart twice to cater for two passengers.
Google maps estimated the 1.8km level walk to Hof ten Dormaal brewery would take 23 minutes. We passed Kasteeltje van Tildonk dating from 1642. Only a few cars and cyclists would pass us on the narrow Kasteeldreef road.
Some barking and shouting preceded our arrival at Brouwerij Hof ten Dormaal when the farm's dog took an interest in a dog being exercised by passing cyclists. We were admitted to the farm at and then into the tasting room on the left of the gates.
It was just after the 2pm opening time and we were the first customers to arrive. The wood-buring stove was warming the large room with traditional furniture.
Having established that we were planning to sample several beers it was agreed that we would each use tasting glasses (for the forthcoming Leuven Innovation Beer Festival) and share bottles.
We started with the 7.5% ABV Saison. It has low bitterness (20 IBU) 'lightly sour, brewed only with grain and hops, made right here'.
Witgoud, an 8% ABV beer (25 IBU) is brewed with chicory 'Belgian Endive, and dates back generations to a time when the Flemish region of Belgium prospered from its growth'. We were told that after some time in the oven, slices of chicory are added to the brew. Witgoud is the brewery's best selling beer in Belgium.  
André Janssens sat with us for a while to talk about the brewery and the Leuven Innovation Beer Festival. I gave André a copy of Ullage, the West Berkshire CAMRA magazine to read. The spring issue had a front page story about Tutts Clump Cider.
From the 'Zure van Tildonk' (Sour from Tildonk) range we tried Stekelbees (6% ABV), made with locally picked gooseberries.
André kindly suggested a tour of the farm and brewery given by himself and Jef, his son and brewer. 
A hop garden is part of the farm and an old chain-driven machine is used to separate the hops from the bines. André mentioned an innovation they are looking into is to grow hops with artifical lighting to provide green hops outside the traditional season.
Spent grain from the brewing process is used as feed for the cows on the farm. Swiss cows were chosen as less time and effort is needed at calving time.
Viewed from an elevated platform, the main brewing vessels include a Mash Tun, Lauter Tun, Kettle and Whirlpool (on the right). Although having copper exteriors, the Mash Tun (left) and Kettle both have stainless steel interiors for ease of cleaning.
So far, so relatively familiar, but then Jef showed us an oak Foeder that would usually be filled.
Jef opened it up so that the heating element could be seen inside. A variety of wooden barrels for ageing beer were stored in the open floor above the Foeders.
We chatted with Jef after the tour on the walk back to the Tasting Room and Simon discovered that English football is one of his interests. Jef later revealed that he is interested in tanks and ships and has enjoyed a visit to Bovington Tank Museum.
Jef sat with us and kindly offered to share his bottle of Dad's Tea with me. This new beer in the range is a 6.5% ABV Saison brewed with Jasmine Tea in a bag introduced to the wort at the end of the boil. This was my favourite beer of the visit and before leaving I would buy two bottles to take home.
When asked about the relative merits of Mechelen and Leuven, Jef replied that he only has time for Leuven. He is fond of the city and recommended De Fiere Margriet in Leuven as the best bar.
The beer that Simon was keen to try was Frambuesa y Chocolate, a 7% ABV beer made with raspberries that was quite sour and fruity.
By now it was 5.30pm and this would be our last beer although there were still plenty more from the brewery that we did not have time to taste! There had been a steady turnover of customers during the afternoon including cyclists enjoying the better weather but Simon and I may be among the few beer enthusiasts able to claim they spent the whole afternoon in the Hof ten Dormaal Tasting Room and Brewery!
By the time we left at 6pm the low sun provided a nice light on the pond across the road from the farm. We set off to retrace our steps to Tildonk Bridge. The Janssens family had really looked us after on this visit but the icing on the cake was when a car stopped in front of us and driver André indicated for us to get inside. 
André handed me a bottle of Hof ten Dormaal cider he had mentioned earlier as originally aimed at the USA market. Once on our way Andre spotted the Leuven bus approaching at a junction. He drove us just past the bus stop, trapping the bus so that we could board immediately! The bus took us to Leuven station, giving us a chance for a break, at our nearby hotel, before setting out again for our last evening in Leuven.

03 April 2018

Leuven - Friday night

Earlier on Friday 23 March, we had called in briefly at M-Cafe, using the internal entrance from M-Museum, when there was insufficient time to visit an exhibition by Edgard Tytgat.
After a rest at the hotel, we returned to M-Cafe via the external entrance at Savoyestraat 10.
The dimly-lit interior of M-Museum is visible through a glass wall at the far end of the bar. I ordered Brasserie de la Senne Taras Boulba from the beer menu under the misapprehension that it was available on tap. 
In fact the 14 beers on tap are listed on a blackboard behind the bar.
Koen brought the beers to our table and chatted with us about the cafe. He accepted a copy of West Berkshire CAMRA's Ullage magazine from my stock. We passed Koen's 'beer test' questions - I identified Brasserie de la Senne as a brewery from Brussels. Koen mentioned that M-Cafe holds regular beer events and that people were gathering this evening for a presentation about the Arthur's Legacy beers brewed at Brouwerij de Hoorn where Cornet is also brewed.
Later, Gunter Slachmuylders noticed that we were taking an interest in the presentation and invited us to stand at the side and sample a few of the beers that attendees were served while he translated salient points from the talk and slides. 
Gunter, quietly explained that he is employed by Brouwerij Palm (Steenhuffel) which owns Brouwerij Rodenbach (Roeselare) and Brouwerij de Gouden Boom (Brugge) as well as Brouwerij de Hoorn (Steenhuffel).
Simon was overjoyed to discover that Alexander, named after Alexander Rodenbach (b 28/9/1786), is now being produced again at Brouwerij Rodenbach for general sale. 'This mixed fermentation beer consists of two thirds beer that was matured in oak casks for 24 months and one third young beer, and has been subjected to maceration with sour cherries.'
After making a contribution towards the cost of the presentation we were able to sample Brugge Tripel Prestige 2016 (9.5% ABV) from Brouwerij de Gouden Boom. Also present at this event, Steven Bollion commented on Untappd 'Nose: juniper, coriander, orangepeel. Little Sweet, Dry, juniper, gin. Some cardboard... lemon, spicy....'. 
Simon and I had not intended to stay this long before finding a meal so we thanked Gunter and left before the end of the presentation and managed to find a table at De Werf, Hogeschoolplein 5, overlooking the square.
Simon's pasta with meatballs may have been a better choice than my pork wrap but my Duvel Tripel Hop Citra made a good accompaniment!
The decor is shabby chic with a 'decorating in progress' theme. It had an informal atmosphere and seems to be aimed at a student crowd serving popular beers and easy to prepare food.
Leuven's Oude Markt is famous for being ringed with bars of all types and has been named 'The Longest Bar in Europe'. 
We had identified Cafe Belge, Oude Markt 35, towards the lower left side of the www.use-it.travel map (illustrated by Studio Oogbouw) as a bar that should have some decent beer and arrived to find it dimly lit, noisy and crowded. 
 We found a space to stand below the DJ's pulpit, near the entrance to Cafe Belge. 
This was my chance to drink Pauwel Kwak from Brouwerij Bosteels from a new design freestanding glass. The famous hourglass shape is retained but it no longer requires a wooden holder. Closing time at Cafe Belge is 6am on Friday nights!
Oude Markt - looking south towards Heilige Drievuldigheidscollege
One beer here was enough and we emerged into the Oude Markt.
We called in to The Capital, Grote Markt 14 where there was one free table by the door. I enjoyed a bottle of one of my favourite beers - Hop Ruiter, an 8% IPA Tripel brewed by Scheldebrouwerij in Meer. We watched the chain-driven 'bottle lift' bringing beers up from the cellar to bar level and concluded that an employee must be based in the cellar simply to find bottles and place them on the constantly rotating lift.
We returned to M-Cafe shortly before midnight and found Koen and Steven at the bar. Only a few customers remained.
Steven introduced us to Spacelord from a 75cl bottle. With its coffee and vanilla flavours this was an ideal nightcap. 
The rear label has some nice graphics and plenty of information including ingredients (water, sugar, pale malt, chocolate malt, black malt, caramalt, malt extract, coffee, vanilla and cocoa), food matching suggestions and that 'Maltefakker' brewed Spacelord at Brouwerij de Vlier, Holsbeek (only 5km away). 
Subsequent research shows that it is usually possible to visit Brouwerij de Vlier's taproom on Saturdays from 16:00 to 20:00 and include a brewery tour at 15:00 for 5 euros. A return visit to Leuven seems necessary!
Oude Markt, Leuven
Friday night in Leuven had been interesting and enjoyable. Special thanks go to Koen, Steven and Gunter.