02 August 2017

Belgian Beer Trip 2017 - Day 1

My first trip on new Eurostar stock was from London St Pancras International to Brussels Midi, before an Intercity train to Bruges, on Wednesday 21 June, 2017.


On a hot and sunny day there was precious little shade for the walk from Bruges station to Hostel Lybeer.
A winding staircase led to my room on the second floor where thankfully the window was open providing a breeze.
My original plan to find a table at 't Brugs Beertje was stymied by discovering that the famous beerhouse is closed on Wednesdays.
Plan B involved meeting up with Mark and Dave / Bod at the new home of the Bourgogne des Flandres brewery at Kartuizerinnenstraat 6 where entry through the red door leads to a courtyard.
Mark and Dave had enjoyed the brewery tour earlier that day but my first concern was to enjoy a Belgian beer as soon as possible!
We ordered a round of Bourgogne de Flandres (Brune / Bruin - 3.20 euros for 25cl) at the modern bar with windows overlooking a canal.
It was a relief to find that the canalside terrace enjoyed the shade at this time of day. It was a pleasant spot to hear about the brewery tour and watch the canal cruisers, full of tourists, pass by.
The second draught beer, Martin's Original Pale Ale (3.60 euros / 30cl) was even more suited to my palate and earned a 4.5 score for my log on Untappd.
We agreed to return to our respective hostels before meeting up at Le Trappiste later. The bar at the Hostel Lybeer with its high ceiling was attractive although the music choice was strange.
This was an appopriate spot to enjoy a bottle of Brugse Zot although Mark and Dave had improved on this with an earlier visit to Brouwerij De Halve Maan itself. They discovered that the sign to the underground 'beer pipeline' there may be purely for tourists and should not be trusted!
We met up again at Le Trappiste (Kuipersstraat 33) which opens daily at 5pm and descended the steep stairs into the vaulted basement.
Mark and Dave posed with copies of Ullage, the West Berkshire CAMRA magazine, which I had brought with me from Newbury.
My first beer here was from the long list of draught beers. The Belgian Coast IPA from Brasserie St Feuillien (4.50 euros 33cl) was pleasant.
Next a familiar extra hoppy pale ale from visits to Brussels - Taras Boulba by Brasserie de la Senne.
My third beer was surprisingly dark and redolent of blackcurrants - Troubadour Westkust IPA by Brouwerij The Musketeers. The basement was not too busy but Mark recognised a honeymooning couple at the bar who had been on their brewery trip earlier.
After a memorable first day in Belgium it was enchanting to walk back through the cobbled streets and past buildings dating from the 17th century on the way back to my hostel.

19 July 2017

Belgian Beer Trip 2017 - Day 2

Bruges to Ghent 
On Thursday 22 June, 2017, there was time for black coffee at Hostel Lybeer before heading to the station with Mark and Dave / Bod, who had been staying at Snuffel Hostel.
At Bruges station, after checking that we could break our journey at Ghent, we bought single tickets to Antwerp (15.40 euro) and boarded a long Brussels-bound train.
On arrival at Ghent we were able to fit all our luggage into a large locker (5.50 euro for 24 hours). It was a hot day so it was frustrating to walk past the fountain outside the station without any cooling effect!
Mark led us first to the site of the original Gruut brewery at Grote Huidevettershoek 10, via Bijlokekaai (on the east bank of the river Leie / Lys), Nederkouter (the route of tram #1) and Ketelvest (beside Ketelvaart waterway). He was disappointed to see that everything had been stripped out, including the bar, so that no refreshment break was available here.
However, we passed some interesting buildings in Biezekapel Straat, beyond the cathedral, on the next leg to the current Gruut brewery.
Later research showed that a 2011 light festival show had been held in the rear courtyard of the Royal School of Fine Arts (KASK) / Royal Conservatory, with an unusual circular tower, accessed from Biezekapel Straat.

Gruut Brewery
A street fair was being set up in Rembert Dodoenstreef, a route to Baudelo Park, and the location of Gruut brewery.
With bright sunshine outside we appreciated some shade in the building that was once the city's fish market, although the sun still reached some parts through sections of glass roof.
Our first priority now was a cold beer and some water to go with it. My choice of Gruut Wit was refreshing. A 33cl glass cost 3.20 euros. In his 'Protz on Beer' feature of 31 January 2016, titled 'Annick's Gruut Beer is the Spice of Life', Roger Protz writes 'White is a wheat beer and is cloudy and extremely pale. It has a big spicy nose and palate with a pronounced hit of ginger, with hints of orange and creamy malt. Fruit and spice combine in the lingering finish.'
From our seats around a table near the bar, overlooked by stuffed cattle and a large painting of Ghent characters, we studied the beer menu before ordering a second glass.
Gruut Blond was my second choice. As with other beers from the brewery, apart from Inferno, there are no hops but but various herbs and spices are used instead.
The brewing vessels were relocated here from the previous site and can be seen at the end of the room, underneath the large painting and on the opposite wall to the bar. Fermenting vessels are horizontal.
Although we were apparently the first customers of the day, we later talked with Francois Prowse, a Kiwi now based in Brisbane, who was also on holiday in Belgium. Francois mentioned that he is a home-brewer and is able to source ingredients from Bacchus Brewing Co nearby. As usual, I took the opportunity to give Francois a copy of West Berkshire CAMRA magazine, Ullage.
Roger Protz's feature mentions that Gruut's brewster - Annick de Splenter - has parents who are both from important Belgian brewing families.
There are various brewing related portraits and pictures on the walls of the extensive space available for visitors.

Ghent to Antwerp
Dave and I persuaded Mark that it would be a good idea to get a bus back to the station as the sun was still shining brightly when we emerged. We each paid a cash fare of 3 euros to the bus driver and returned to Gent-Sint-Pieters station by a circuitous route. After retrieving our luggage we boarded a direct train to Antwerp. The first stop was Gent-Dampoort, a mere 500 metres from Gruut Brewery! For visitors to the brewery travelling from Antwerp by train it would obviously make sense to use this station. Other stations on the route included Sint-Niklaas and Antwerpen-Berchem before arrival at Antwerpen-Centraal.
We left from a side exit and walked down Vestingstraat, a narrow street where every shop was a jewellers, reflecting the continuing importance of the diamond trade to the city. Soon we would be on a wide pedestrian shopping street and then back to side streets to reach our modern hostel 'Pulcinella' in Bogaardeplein.

Cafe Kulminator
After checking in we soon headed out again to nearby Cafe Kulminator, Vleminckveld 32.
We sat at the big table by the window where we had sat on a visit the previous year. The noticeboard listing draught beers (bier van 't vat) was easily visible from here.
My first beer was Zure Kriekenlam by Timmermans (Martin's). This rarely available sour cherry flavoured lambic cost 4.20 euros.
This is a classic beer cafe, run by Leen and Dirk who will be winding down to retirement by closing at 7pm, with last orders at 6pm from 2020, according to a notice in the window.
We didn't consult the extensive bottle menu on this occasion and I next enjoyed a draught Chimay Grande Reserve from 2016 (3.80 euros).
The decor here has not been changed for many years which adds to its charm.

Billie's Bier Kafetaria
We only had to walk 400 metres towards the city centre to find Billie's Bier Kafetaria with bench seating on the pavement outside.
A blackboard sign at the entrance suggests 'Beer nerds come in try all Billie's crazy beers' and mentions that there are 11 beers on tap.
We found a table near the entrance doorway, which provided a welcome breeze, on a day which was still hot.
My first beer was from tap 4 - Stone the Crows IPA by Brewski (Sweden). At 5.50 euro this proved to be one of my favourite beers with a hazy appearnace and peppery notes.
We decided to eat at Billie's. The limited menu included Vlaams Stoofvlees (18.50 euros) a casserole dish served with chips and a dish of slaw. There was too much Flemish beef stew for me although Mark did accept one piece from the casserole. This would be a good dish to share between two people on a future visit.
While we ate our meals, the bar's dog spent more time near our table. His patience went unrewarded but perhaps he would be able to eat my leftovers later.
Ster, our charming and attentive barmaid / waitress explained that the bar is named after Billie the dog who seems to have the run of the place when he is not exploring nearby streets. I took the opportunity to give Ster a copy of Ullage, the West Berkshire CAMRA magazine and mention some local breweries that advertise in Ullage and might be able to supply the bar like Wild Weather Ales and Renegade / West Berkshire Brewery.

Paters Vaetje
Paeters Vaetje, Blauwmoezelstraat 1, near the cathedral, is only 200 metres further on from Billie's.
John Reynor, Keith Moore & Mark Geeson
We had arranged to meet Keith and John here, also arriving a day early for Antwerp's BierPassie Weekend beer festival. My first beer, draught Gouden Carolus Classic by Brouwerij Het Anker is in the foreground of the photo above.
This busy bar, like most Belgian bars, has a big range of glasses to match all the beers they serve.
Some extra seating space is available in a raised section at the back of the room where a blackboard has details of beer specials.
After a long day, it was a struggle staying awake. Although failing to keep pace with my friends drinking and conversation there was still time to enjoy a Vedett Extra Ordinary IPA before the bar closed up for the night.

13 July 2017

Belgian Beer Trip 2017 - Day 3

The 18th Antwerp Beer Passion / Bierpassie Weekend opened at 5pm on Friday 23 June, 2017.
Sint Andries stroll
After breakfast, with seven hours until the festival opens, Dave / Bod and I set off from Bogaardestraat for Antwerp's Museum of Contemporary Art, M HKA. We headed south west, towards the Sint Andries neighbourhood.
We passed a building featuring interesting brickwork and an art nouveau style balcony at the angled corner of Waalse Kaai and Timmerwerfstraat.
We arrived too early for the museum opening at 11am so sat at a table outside Nick's cafe, Waalse Kaai, and ordered a coffee, which was kindly served before their usual opening time. This is a plesant spot with a wide cobbled street lined by trees and the bonus of a classic blue Renault van parked nearby.
The main museum entrance leads into a large room lined with shelves for books and displays including old camera and film related items.
A long table with assorted chairs allows further study of the large format catalogue and other books at leisure.
We ventured further inside to the free section of the museum where 'Olympia' a film of the Berlin Olympic stadium by David Claerbout proved fascinating. Software imitates a camera, moving at a constant slow speed, recording the view of the stadium's exterior and grounds during elevated circumnavigations.
There are two approaches to M HKAFE, the rooftop cafe bar, either by lift, for museum visitors who have paid for admission or from a separate external entrance and several flights of stairs, in our case.
I enjoyed a glass of De Koninck 'Wild Jo' from the bar and we sat outside in the sunshine. A 33cl bottle of this fresh tasting beer cost 4 euros. The bottled beer is fermented with wild yeasts and is named after Joseph van den Bogaert, who ensured the survival of the brewery after WW1.
Seating is also available in a greenhouse but we guessed it would be far too hot in there! An untitled Keith Haring mural painted in 1987 adorns the interior of the M HKAFE. An inspiration for the mural was the work of Tanzania born artist George Lilanga.
Although it was closed for renovation, we passed Antwerp's main art gallery, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts on the way back to the city centre.
Howevere, some sculptures remain on display outside the Royal Museum of Fine Arts. 
Our next stop was at Coffee and Vinyl, Volkstraat 45, where the presence of a red De Koninck caravan outside indicated that beer was also available.
We had a look around the shop which has a huge selection of vinyl records with art displayed on the walls. The Temple of I and I by Thievery Corporation was one of the music tracks played on the sound system.
There were various bottles of beer in a fridge behind the counter and it was nice to be able to sit at the front of the store with a glass of chilled Duvel Tripel Hop Citra (9.5% ABV). Since 2007, Duvel have innovated by introducing a third hop to the Saaz-Saaz and Styrian Golding hops. From a contest in 2016, Citra was chosen as the permanent third hop in preference to Mosaic, Amarillo, Sorachi Ace, Equinox and HBC291. The Citra hop from the Yakima Valley, Washington, is also used at the dry hopping stage.
Before leaving, a trial of the Wild Jo electrical test of hand coordination skills, with a bottle opener as a ring, proved irresistible. My skills were found to be limited, I blame the effect of the strong beer!
Across the road at Volkstraat 40 stands the ornately decorated Rudolf Steiner School building.
Shortly before reaching Groenplaats, the site of the Beer Passion Weekend festival, we walked down Korte Gasthuisstraat and passed an older building signed as Goossens. Antwerp certainly has a lot of interesting buildings sandwiched between less interesting examples. 

Bierpassie Weekend XVIII - Friday opening
By now it was 5pm and the beer festival had started so it was time to pay 5 euros for a tasting glass and programme and buy some 20cl beer tokens at 2 euro each. We exchanged our first tokens at the Delirium bar with Dave choosing Mongozo Banana while my choice was Mongozo Mango
At the bar, Martin spotted my Danske Ølentusiaster (Danish beer enthusiasts) cap, a gift from my Danish brother-in-law. With a Danish parent himself, Martin was probably better qualified to wear my cap!
Boulevard Brewing Co Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale was spotted on draught at the Duvel Moortgat bar. My first bottle of this beer proved delicious in 2016 and the draught version was also refreshingly compatible. Tank 7 was a rare example of a non-Belgian beer on sale at the festival.
Keith, John and Andrew (the latter two wearing festival t-shirts from previous years) arrived at the festival to join our table.
Keith Moore lives in Langen, near Frankfurt airport. He kindly shared out a large bottle of the Black IPA, brewed under his supervision at Rheinhessen Brau, Mainz-Ebersheim, for the second CraftBeerMesse in Mainz in November 2016.
The extra label tag for the bottle gives details of the hops used. Cheers Keith!
Leffe blonde is easily obtainable in the UK but there was an opportunity to taste Leffe Royale, hopped with Cascade, from the high counter of the Leffe bar. A further bonus was two sticks of cheese to go with it. Leffe Royale (7.5% ABV) is also available with hops from Australia (Ella), Argentina (Mapuche) and England (Whitbread Golding).
We had been sharing our table with a friendly Belgian couple and when it was time for them to go they agreed to pose with a spare copy of Ullage, the West Berkshire CAMRA magazine, for later perusal.
L to R: John, Mark, Keith, Simon, Dave / Bod, Andrew & Richard
Now there was space for our group of eight to sit down on the table.
Musical entertainment was provided by a jazz band who stopped to perform at various points around the festival. 
My last beer at the festival's first day was Waterloo Recolte. This seasonal beer is brewed at the Mont-Saint-Jean farm, the 'English hospital' of the battle of Waterloo. The Belgian Beer Tourism website describes the 6% ABV summer beer as falling between a white beer and a blonde. The brand has the tagline 'The Beer of Bravery!'.

An Orval nightcap
However, this would not be my last beer of the night as Mark, Dave, Simon and I returned to the hostel bar for a beer before it closed at 1am. Here it was possible to enjoy a 33cl bottle of Orval with its distinctive fruity and bitter taste, for 3 euros after Hostelling International discount applied.  

Twitter links:
@m_hka Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen - Musée d'Art Contemporain d'Anvers - Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp