BEER TREK 2012: New Adventures in the Beer-o-Sphere

The continuing saga of Michael 'fezz' Nazarec at large in the world of beer, hunting down new and varied species of the fermented ambrosia in its natural habitat: breweries, brewpubs, beer bars, restaurants, train stations, airports and beer festivals.
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Current Posts: fezz's picks: the Top 12 of 2012; Back to Brussels, London Calling; Get Lost in Maastricht; Amsterdam and Beyond; In Bruges and Ghent; Mussels in Brussels; Brussels Beer Weekend #14; Further Adventures in the Beer-o-Sphere; Calgary's Best & Wurst; A Wee Peak at Vancouver Craft Beer Week 2012; A night out in Denver; Drinking Beer in L.A.

Amsterdam and Beyond

Into the Netherlands
The trip from Bruges to Amsterdam took about 3 hours, traveling through Ghent and transferring in Antwerp. We actually got off in Den Haag for lunch, locking up our luggage in the station, and wandering through Chinatown looking for beer and food, in that order. In no time we found Café-Restaurant Rootz, located in an old coach house right in the old centre of The Hague. They had a bottle list of some 80 beers, mostly Belgian plus 14 taps and feature a large terrace. The 'wissel-tap' or rotating tap that day was
Scheldebrouwerij Zee Zuiper Tripel, a very tasty 8%, cloudy, pale gold very drinkable beer, some malt sweetness, fruity, hints of spice (it's name means 'drinker of oceans', or something like that) and the Brand Pilsner: a crisp, clean and refreshing beverage. After a fortifying lunch, our server cheerfully recommends De Paas, a small beer cafe on our way back to the train station, featuring a floating terrace in the canal. Unfortunately, they were running late and were not open as we passed by. Maybe next time.

It was a straight run into Amsterdam from here, except for the unexpected change of trains in Haarlem. It is a beautiful warm sunny day as we arrive in the Central Station and make our way (the wrong way I have to admit) to the Prinzgraacht (canal) in order to find our hotel. My bad. It was a nice afternoon for a walk, but not so pleasant with luggage bouncing along the cobblestones in tow. Eventually we made it, showered, changed and headed for a evening out on the town. 
We cruise the long shopping streets and find many a café on the even smaller side streets, some quiet and pensive, an after work spot for locals, others were busy, just cranking up for the evening to come. One of the former was where we found Witte Trappist (5.5%) from La Trappe. This is something new from the Dutch monks, a very well balanced white beer, tart and thirst quenching, cloudy pale yellow smooth with hints of spice, yeast and malt tonality. We continued our vague wandering and soon came across a small alleyway just off the main shopping drag, crowded with a laughing, friendly crowd. The tiny bar, Café Belgique was well into happy hour, DJ spinning a great selection of tunes, barmaid pouring continuously from 8 taps, the crowded room spilling into the street of this self-serve bar café.
Luckily, two seats at the bar open up just as we survey the room, and that was it, we were there for the evening! Every inch of wall space is covered in beer trays and other Belgian beer memorabilia, and the place seems to pick up steam as we settle in, feeling right at home, chatting with customers waiting for beer, as well as the DJ and barmaid. We start with La Trappe Dubbel (7%, soft aromatics, sweet malt & caramel characteristics) and St. Feuillien Saison (6.5%, tangy, rich, warm golden ale), move on to Zinnebir (6%, blonde, fruity, complex, thin bitterness) and Floreffe Abbaye 
Blonde (6.3%, malt, fruit,citrous) then La Chouffe (classic big 8% blonde ale, spicy, yeasty, woody) and Blanche de Bruxelles (4.5%, cloudy, tart, some spice, malty tonality). The party was in full swing by this point, when I discover more interesting beers in the bottle menu, especially two new Belgian brews I don't know: De Graal SloCK (6.5%, hazy gold, bitter hoppy, spicy - they use Duvel yeast) and Strandgaper from Scheldebrouwerij (6.2%, floral, bready, malty edge,  gently bitter finish).

Well, fun is fun, but hunger was setting in now, so we stumble off
into the night in search of something hearty, just not sure where we are going to find it. It's not long before we fall into the large and beautifully restored historic building housing Heffer, dating from 1637. 8 beers on tap, twice that in bottles, and an extensive menu, whatever your fancy. We feast on ribs and hearty salad, and quaff a couple of Lindeboom beers: Gouverneur Brune (6.5%, ruby, malty) and Lindeboom Pilsner (3%, bare, blond and beautiful!) I'm sure I must have tried the 'wissel-tap', but notes are scarce. After this we stroll the fabled Red Light District, taking in the midnight
madness, window shopping in the well lit galleries, watching the throngs of people out on this gorgeously warm evening, the tourists, the late party people just getting started, locals going home. And the bicycles, the miles and miles of bicycles locked to each other, on every fence or pole! Truly a night to remember, if only I really could. We got lost again, this time I opted for the gentleman's way out - a taxi. Home James, tomorrow is another day!
The next morning we are up fairly early, all things considered. We take the tram to the station (10 minutes), stash our bags and head out to find brunch. We end up in the flower market area, at a little place called Gewaeght Café. They have only two beers on tap, a light beer
and a dark beer. We order one of each. Turns out the light beer is Weihenstephan Weizen (classic Bavarian wheat beer, cloudy, tall, banana, cloves, yeasty and more) and the dark is St. Christoffel's Brune. This brew seems to be an oude brune at first sip, slight sourness, balanced with fruity aromatics, but malty and more complex, silky smooth, long finish. We buy amazing sunflowers in the market before we leave the square, the most beautiful we've ever seen! On our way to the train, we drop by Prael, only one of three breweries within the city limits. Their new taproom is right around the corner from their main storefront/brewery, featuring their line of unique and delicious 
brews many named after Dutch pop stars of the past. No less than 14 beers on tap this day, we choose the Johnny Kolsch (5.1%, tall, light, refreshing, smooth)) and their 'seizoenbier' Hepie-Hepie Dubbel (8.5%, dark brown, malt accented, nutty, fruity) at the inside bar, then sit out in the street on the pub picnic tables. It's quiet here now, but Prael is building a shelter across the lane, part of their on going commitment to help those who cannot help themselves. They hire those who need direction to work at the brewery too, and help to get them back on their feet. We shop briefly in the main store, then head to the train. Our next stop is only a half an hour away, in Bussum, where friends are awaiting our arrival for the weekend.

Bussum and Beyond 
Ulli and Edzer's house is a short walk from the train station, and they are waving to us as we walk up the street. Donna presents them with the sunflowers and we all relax in their spacious back yard. Thoughtful as always Edzer has laid in a few bottles of Westmalle Tripel for me and some Brand Pilsner for everybody else. Ah, refreshing! We do some catching up, then decide to go for a drive
to visit Cafe Demmers, an excellent little pub in neighbouring Naarden, an old town surrounded by a medieval fortress wall. We sample some excellent Dutch brews: De Leckere Willibrord Amber Special (5%), a hazy copper-colored beer, slight malty sweetness, caramel notes, some hop nuances; Gulpener Chateau Neubourg Pilsner (5.5%) very clean and crisp, sparking yellow-gold, good balance, dry finish; and the Vestingbier, made by locals members of the Vestinggilde (Fortress Guild), basically friends of local caterers, specializing in traditional high quality fare. This brew is 6.5%, blond in color, fresh and fruity, with a well balanced palate and a dry finish. In business since 1885, Demmers has 8 continuously rotating taps featuring local, Dutch as well as Belgian specialties.

The next day we decide to hit the beach, as in drive up to Noordwijk and take a dip in the North Sea. The weather is still gorgeous, the country side beautiful and crossed with canals as we take the scenic route to the sea. It's Saturday and a perfect day, as the crowds usually like to hit the beach on Sunday. In tow is a cold mixed pack of Hertog Jan beers: Weizener, Oerblond, Karakter, Grand Prestige and Natuurzuiver, all good beers in their own styles.
We do dip our toes (some of us more) in the North Sea, walk around the town a bit and stop here and there for a refreshing Wieckse Witte (5%) always served with a slice of lemon and a little plastic plunger that allows you to squash the fruit into the bottom of your glass. It is a wonderful day, topped off by very delicious and spicy Indonesian take-out, a local favourite, from nearby Hilversum. The evening is spent in earnest conversation, eager laughter and a switch to some very lovely wines. This turns out to be one of the best days on our trip. Dank u wel Ulli & Edzer!!

In Bruges and Ghent

 The next destination on our odyssey of beer is Bruges, capital of West Flanders, prominent UNESCO world heritage site, and this 'Venice of the North' was once a major port from the 12th to the 15th centuries. Laced with canals, it is a romantic spot to spend a few days far from the maddening crowds. Or, so we thought. We arrive in Bruges by train, a quick one hour from the Gare Centraal in Brussels. It's a short walk through station, park and square to our hotel, at one time a malthouse, how appropriate. It is a beautiful day and a another short walk to the centre of the old town, where we stop for frites, admire the tower, the square and the surrounding architecture and then look for a side street café for a beer. We then notice parades of tourists marching
through the square and the narrow streets, each group following someone with a number held high. We are told a cruise ship is in port, at Zee-Bruges, and this is their day in town. We settle into a spot on the street and the local De Halve Maan beer is on tap, so we enjoy Brugse Zot (6% golden blond ale, well balanced, smooth, refreshing, drinkable) and Straffe Hendrik (their 9% tripel, also golden, strong but balanced, malt held high by hidden hops, long finish). We soon realize that the brewery itself is not far away and that they give tours until 4 pm. So, off we go, negotiating long lines of numbered cruise groups, narrow streets and a couple of canals  to find the brewery. Resurrected in 2005 by Xavier Vanneste, the sixth generation of his family to brew beer in
Bruges, they offer an informative tour in several languages, have a large bar/restaurant, a shop and a comfortable terrace. After our tour, we settle there with a lovely couple from Basque and one of the tour guides, who regales us with her quick wit and funny stories of travel. She quickly tunes us into two other beers on the menu, a Brugse Zot Brune (a wonderful 7.5% Belgian dubbel, dark, nut brown, hints of fruit and caramel) and a Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel (11%, a jet-black, complex, malt forward & dry big boastful brew). Berinda tells us a batch of this last marvelous beer was aged in Bourgogne wine barrels for one year, packaged in corked bottles and sold only through the local newspapers. The staff each got a glass too, but the bottles were gone in 3 days. Sorry to have missed that one!
What a great afternoon! We slowly wander back through winding streets, (the crush of tourists now gone back to their cruise ship), a number of squares and shopping streets until we just happen to stumble upon 't Brugs Beertje, considered one of the best beer bars in Bruges. They have 5 taps and over 300 beers in bottles, truly an amazing choice on hand. Two of their taps beers that day were Kriek Boon (4%, cherry red, oaked, sour and bright) and an extra dry hopped Saison Dupont (6.5%, dry, funky and aromatic), just the thirst quenchers we needed after our walk.
Next up were De Dolle Brouwers Arabier (7.8% strong amber ale, white head, aromatics of honey & hops, fruity palate balanced with an earthy bitterness) and Femme Fatale from local Brouwerij De Leite de Rudderoode (6.5%, light amber, creamy head, malty nose, hints of fruit
on the palate, somewhat wheaty, dry finish). We very much enjoyed this friendly little pub, chatting with the locals at the bar and the staff were very knowledgeable. Tomas recommended riding bikes along the canal, suggesting Zee-Bruges was only an hour away. So, we made plans to do that the next day, checking maps and rental shops while enjoying another De Dolles Brouwers product, Oerbier, at 8%, a very effervescent brew, huge frothy head, cloudy amber, full bodied, bottled conditioned, aged to a well balanced smoothness. Stepping out into the tiny side street after this, we immediately smelled rich aromas flowing out of The Habit, a restaurant two doors down. So we sat down to a wonderful meal of local grilled meats and a farmer's salad to die for! Great first day!

We rent a tandem bike the next morning, riding through the city streets to find our balance and to get a sense of direction, finally heading out along one of the major canals to Damme. In our usual way, we get lost somewhere past Damme, but regroup with a couple of Jupilers in St. Josef and eventually (after 3 hours) find the harbour in Zeebruges. We lunch at the Old Steamer Restaurant on the marina on croque monsieurs and a couple of beers. Hoegaarden White (4.9%, very refreshing) and Ramée Abbaye (7%, slightly cloudy, yellow/gold, aromatic, hints of spices) and finish with
Blanche de Bruges (4.8%, another very thirst quenching pale yellow wheat beer, hints of fruit, some hoppy notes) and Verboden Vrucht (8.5%, strong dark ruby, sweet apple notes, fully balanced, hints of spice, dried fruit). Yummy! Now fortified, we begin our trip back. Our waitress directs us through Blankenberge, the seaside beach resort town next to Zeebruges, still packed with summer revellers, enjoying the great weather and then it's straight south along the bike highway, and sure enough, in under an hour we are back on the cobblestone streets in the old quarter in Bruges.
Showered and changed we head out for some pre-dinner beers at Staminee de Garre, another great beer café, not far off of the main square, tucked into a tiny alley. The place is filling up but we are seated with Lola and Rob, just over from Bristol for a long weekend and we hit it off marvelously. We talk about travel, the UK, Canada and of course beer, and carry on trying a number of selection from the house menu. They offer 4 beers on tap, one of which is their own house Tripel de Garre (11.5%, solid golden brew, well balanced, hiding its strength in complex flavours, hints of spice, notes of malt and fruit). There are about 150 bottles on the menu too, we all dive into a few we've never tried before.
Moinette Blond (8.5%, Saison-like tripel, beautiful balance, little funky nose, slightly cloudy gold, spicy notes, dry and full bodied), Bon Secours Bruin (8%, dark malt, complex tones of chocolate, coffee, nuts, well balanced, dry finish). Rob finishes us up with a round of Kwak, famous for its bulb-bottom glass seated in a wooden holder (8.4%, dark amber, bready, zesty, lightly hopped, malty, hints of fruit).

At this point we pay up and head out the door, having completely forgotten about dinner. Bruges, unlike its larger sister cities, closes early, so we find ourselves alone on the main square, all the restaurants closed, munching on frites and skewered meats from the one of the two take-out wagons, the only things open at this time, watching the full moon hazily approach the old tower, thinking that, yes, finally, it's time for bed.

The next morning we take the 20 minute train ride to Ghent. Another prosperous medieval city, full of canals, tiny winding alleys and well preserved architecture. We hop the tram from the station to the historic city centre, jumping off at the Gravensteen Castle. Right across a canal sits Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant, a lovely old pub right on the canal, large terrace stretching to the street and accompanying gin-house next door. They have some 140 bottles beers available with 16 taps, 3 of them house beers. Mammelokker Bruin (6%, light malt nose, beautiful clear brown ale, initial sweetness dries on the palate, becoming

smooth, well balanced) is the light 'lady's beer'. Gandavum Blond is a bit bolder and hoppier (7.5%, floral aromatics, gold hued ale, beautifully balanced palate, dry hopping pushing this beer to a dry finish) and their killer Klokke Roeland Amber checks in at 11%. Again, the aroma gives nothing away, maybe some light malt sweetness, a frothy head leaves lovely lace, deep gold/amber, smooth palate, balanced, complex, some apparent alcohol warmth belies its true strength, under-
pinned by a whole lot of hops, dry finish. We pair this with an excellent course paté made with the Klokke beer itself, served with a piquant horseradish-bite brown mustard. Right below the terrace, canal boats take tourists through the city as far as the river Scheldt, pointing out historical architecture and shedding some light on the city's past glories. We too take this leisurely ride, enjoy the views and discover a new brewery along the canal route, which we return to to investigate.

Located in the heart of Ghent, and built on the site of the original Lely Brewery (1383-1673) Annick De Splenter opened Gruut in 2009. In the middle ages, as the story goes, the river Leie divided the city, brewers on the French controlled west bank used spice/herbal mixtures or 'gruut' to flavour their brews, while the Dutch east bank breweries preferred hops. It was all about taxes and political power. Annick studied ancient brewing and researched 'gruut' to create her own mixtures for each of her beers. Unique and subtle, we were unaware of the lack of hops when we started sampling, the beers being well balanced and fully flavourful. Gruut Witte (5%) is very aromatic, fruity with herbal notes, soft and round with a spicy dryness and a sweet
creamy finish. Gruut Bruin (8%) has a fruity nose, a malty palate, with big notes of nuts (actually made with 3 types of nuts!), smooth with a fairly dry finish. Gruut Blond (5.5%) displays a floral nose, is a cloudy pale gold, full rocky head that falls to great lace, hints of orange and lemongrass. Gruut Amber (6.6%) is a deep copper, malty nose, rich palate, and delicately balanced. Gruut Inferno (9%) is a more traditional Tripel, strong, pale yellow, complex and the only beer here that does use hops. All were delicious! Thank you Tony & Annick for your time and information. By the way, they do a good lunch here too!

Our last stop in our short tour of Ghent was also found serendipitously, also spotted from the canal cruise. Aba-Jour is a medium sized room, after an odd entrance way, a nice little bar, their windows facing the canal. They boast about 100 bottled beers and 6 taps, including a rotating tap from Popperings, this day featuring Bios Hommerbier (big hop values here, but balanced, golden, long finish). Also on its own rotating tap, Dupont IX (an extra special
Saison, fruity, funky, cloudy, big flavour complexity). We looked at the bottle list next, quite a variety, lots of lambics, all the Trappists...
I choose Hanssens Artisanaal Oude Gueuze (6%). Very sour, straw-gold in colour, fine head falls to the surface of the beer, aromas of grapefruit & horse blanket, tart palate, acidic, not for the faint of heart. I loved it! We rounded out the afternoon with a Trappist classic Orval (6.2%). Impressive head, musty peach nose, almost orange in colour, a multitude of notes: flowers, pepper, copper, dried fruit, caramel, dry with some malt sweetness, long finish.

Mussels in Brussels

Things to do in Brussels before you die:
1. Try as many Belgian beers as you can.
2. Don't miss having some Belgian chocolate, especially pralines.
3. Eat the food!
There is a lot more to the food here than just delicious 'moules et frites'. Someone once told me that basically Belgian cuisine is French cooking, but in German portions. Not only is traditional Belgian cuisine hearty and inspired (think rabbit cooked in gueuze), but even their lunchtime/anytime cheese and chacuterie plates are varied and delicious. And of course you can find almost any international restaurant in Brussels. Down in the core, a couple of short blocks from the Grand Place, crossing in behind one of the main shopping districts are the tightly packed streets of Brussels 'stomach', ubiquitous cafe tables line these alleys, creating narrow passage ways through which all potential diners must negotiate, running a gauntlet of Matre D's vying for your taste buds and your wallet. 
Here you can find the famed 'moules et frites' and almost any other sea food, any kind of meat, any cuisine: Italian, Spanish, etc. It's all here and the atmosphere is pretty lively in the dinner hours. We enjoyed a paella meal with a decent bottle of wine, next to a nice fire, as the evening had cooled off a bit, at Restaurant Savarin on Rue des Bouchers. From our cozy corner we could watch the parade of diners marching by and the large amounts of seafood being freshly prepared out on the street. The only danger of this particular location is its proximity to Delirium Village, right across the alley.

Another great spot for lunch, with wonderful beers and fabulous people watching is the   Le Café Poechenellekelder on Rue de Chene, right across from the Manneken Pis. They serve up a great lunch, hot or cold and have a huge selection of beers are available. I enjoyed an Oerbier from De Dolle Brouwers, a dark malty brew, but balanced with Poperinge Goldings, it hides its 9% ABV very well. Donna opted for the St. Feuillien Tripel (8.5%), golden, spicy nose, hints of citrus, malty palate, mildly sweet finish. In fact there
 was a gathering of members of St. Feuillien or something in the cafe, as they were all dressed like the Manneken Pis himself was this day, long green robes and a hat to match, all sporting giant goblets of their favourite beverage. They gladly posed for photos in front of the diminutive statue. We finished our lunch, an excellent selection of sausage, paté and an assortment of Belgian cheeses, sided with pickles, onions and mustard, whilst enjoying the spectacle on the street.
We rented bikes one day and rode a circuitous route through La Marolles district and eventually to  the Cantillon Brewery, the only working lambic brewery/museum in the capital. We wandered through the self-guided tour of this family owned brewery, unchanged since 1900, chatting with friendly folks from Philadelphia and enjoying the tastings offered at the end of the tour.
The Rosé de Gambrinus is a classic, a blended raspberry lambic, it balances fruity sweetness against an acidic sourness with champagne like results. Their Gueuze enjoys a reputation, an oak-aged blend of old and young lambics, this sourness perhaps an acquired taste for some.           

Later in the day, when we find ourselves beyond the park next to the Royal Palace, it was time to stop in at Bier Circus. This is when we met the Courtneys, two lovely young students from St. Louis and Atlanta respectively, very much enjoying a beer education when not studying at the university. I had first discovered this excellent out-of-the-way beer café some years before and was happy to see the owner again. He offered a Vivien Imperial IPA (8%) for my hop muse, a big, bountiful aroma, hoppy and fruity, cloudy amber, slowly dissipating head, huge palate of malt underpinned by bitterness, well balanced, dry finish. Wow! Bier Circus offers a limited menu, but some delicious stuff, including some traditional fare (Fish Waterzooi in Lambic) and unique offerings (Home-Made Spaghetti Bolognaise à la Trappiste de Chimay!) We went for the traditional plate of Belgian Cheese and Butchery, some of the items sourced at Trappist monastries. A crisp, clear and clean Strubbe Pils (5%) washed it all down, and Oude Gueuze Tilquin (6.4%) brought up the finish (corked, cloudy amber, joyous balance of sour). Tilquin is a fairly new Wallonian blender using both Flemish and Brussels-area lambics.

As mentioned, international cuisine does not take a back seat to the local gastronomy. With a renown reputation, we ventured into Kokob to thrill our taste buds with Ethiopian fare, and what a treat it was. We ordered the discovery platter, an appetising selection of meats, vegetables, hot spices, mild dips and roll up flat bread with which to eat it all. It was a feast, with very cool Ethiopian music in the background, there were special drinks and even Ethiopian wines available. We took a short break from beer to try these with the meal and were not disappointed. Highly recommended.

"Back to Moeder Lambic!" I kept hearing myself say throughout our stay in Brussels, enjoying the ambiance of their terrace on the Place Fontinas so much, and with so many special items brought in for the festival, well, it was just hard to stay away. They had beers from Tocccalmatto and Montegioco in Italy, Brew Dog from Scotland, even beers from Norway, France and Switzerland too. Abbaye St. Bon Chien was one of the latter, from BFM  (Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes). OMG! A rather neutral nose leads to a surprise lambic-like sourness throughout the palate, more understated with each sip, cidery and vinous, but with a golden malt quality that brings it all together, small puckering finish. Another unique selection is the house 4% cask ale, made in collaboration with Brasserie de la Senne. Some sweet herb and malt in the nose, fine tall head that eventually falls to good lacing, hazy gold/amber colour, carbonated low like an English bitter, with enough hops to get over the malt nose with flare. This is a Belgian style British cask ale, and they call it Band of Brothers S01E01. Bink Bloesem from Kerkom (7.2%) flowery nose, fruity palate with hints of caramel, no hop presence, nice balance of sweetness finished off the visit.

Brussels Beer Weekend #14

Every year for the last 13 years the Grand Place at the centre of Brussels has hosted the Brussels Beer Weekend, the biggest celebration of Belgian beer anywhere in the country, and I'll bet in the world. 51 breweries showed up for edition #14, presenting more than 350 different Belgian beers from Lambic, Stout, Trappist, Wit and Oud Brune to Golden, Saison, IPA, Abbey and beyond, they are all here! There is no admission fee, one just lines up for beer tokens (bottle caps actually) at 15 caps for 15 Euros and the obligatory 2 Euro glass token. Every Belgian beer has its own designated glass that it is served in, so you leave the token and get it back when you finish your glass so you can move on to the next beer. This is a real challenge in the shoulder to shoulder international crowds that descend on the Grand Place in happy delirium. 

This year, however, there were other options. Just a long block away from the madness was Beer Street, a 50 meter long bar with 46 taps set up at the back end of the Stock Exchange building. A smaller selection was available here, but it was less crowded and there were no worries about proper glass etiquette, all beers served in generic festival glasses. You still had to line up, as there seemed to be only 2 kiosks selling tokens, but then we discovered the Beer &  Food part of the festival while looking for Kiosk #3. Inside the beautifully restored Stock Exchange building a Belgian Beer Cafe had been set up, offering tasting trays of 3 different beers paired with gourmet appetizers. What a marvelous idea! Not only that, but the delicious selections changed every hour throughout the day!

We tried the Malheur (6%, golden, subtly hopped honey beer) with prosciutto wrapped capers & cream cheese, Buffalo Bitter (8.5%, sharp, tart, hoppy) accompanied by a blue Gorgonzola style cheese and finally, a Stella Artois (generic 5% lager) paired with some chocolate mousse. Right away the chocolate made the beer taste better, but with hints of wood, as if the beer had been aged in oak. Wow! We did come back for different selections throughout our weekend's activities.

Another match up: Hoegaarden Rose (3%, light, sweet, fruity) was offered against a beet, feta & couscous salad balancing them both, then Chimay Bleu (9%, beautiful dark auburn, complex & smooth) with a mysterious blue cheese, soft rind enhancing them both, and finally a Double Eighen, an abbey style dubbel (8%, deep amber, full malt) enlightened the chocolate mousse with candied sprinkles, underlying the contrast between sweet and piquant that swings both ways between beverage and tasty tapas.

My goodness, we flowed back to the sea of people in the Grand Place a few times over the weekend, and that's one of the beauties of this festival - you can come and go as you please! We slipped out for food (a wonderfully spicy Ethiopian meal at Kokob), cafe time on other streets ((Poechenellekelder andBier Circus) and visited museums (Magritte, Old Masters, The Royal Palace), but always returning to where there were still many untried beers to be had. We sampled Silly Saison (5% amber, dry & fruity) and Silly Pilsner (5% golden, malt balanced), barked at Blanche de Namur Wit (4.5%, cloudy, spicy, tart) and whistled at Vanderghiste Oud Brune (5.5% blended with lambic, oak aged) on Beer Street, we sipped Kwaremount (6.5% soft, rich) and puckered Petrus Double Brune (6.5% deep brown, full bodied) at the Bavik tent, we tippled Sint Gummarus Triple (8% golden, fruity, some hop) and threw back Pax Pils (crisp, clean, tasty) from the taps at Sint Josef and finally shared Keyte Grand Kriek (strong, big cherry, giant killer) at Strubbe. I'm sure there were more, but documentation gets spotty. All amazing beers in their own ways, running the spectrum of Belgian beer styles, all making me want more, to stay longer, try

something new and different again and again! But, alas, all good things come to and end and soon it was Sunday. Surrealism was born in Belgium and is somehow fused into many aspects of Belgian life and society, and certainly the Belgian beer world can seem downright surreal at times, especially on those late nights when you wander from beer bar to cafe, well beyond a decent bed time, until you find yourself, once again, back at the Delirium Cafe wondering what comes next.

Further Adventures in the Beer-o-Sphere

After my last visit to Europe (, I was hoping to make attending the Brussels Beer Weekend an annual event. Held on the first weekend in September every year, this is what I consider one of the best beer festivals in the world. Right in the centre of Brussels, in the historical Grand Place, more than 50 tents dispense as many as 350 wonderful brews from many of Belgium’s finest breweries. Starting on Friday evening at 5 pm, an international crowd gathers to taste, talk and tackle some of the most interesting and flavourful beers this amazing country has to offer. Joining me on this odyssey was Donna Dupuis, long time friend, but first time Belgian beer novice – and it sure was to be an eye opener for her, whose only knowledge of Belgian beer came from Stella Artois ads.
Our adventure began months ago as I started to plan our two week pilgrimage. Landing in Brussels for the weekend festival, then moving on to Brugge, Amsterdam, Maastrict and what other places we could fit in between. Transportation and hotels booked, we left Vancouver bright and early one Wednesday morning for our cross Canada jaunt to Toronto, where, to our surprise, we stumble upon a Mill Street pub ( Open since March 2012, they serve the same selection of great beers as their Distillery District location and even had a tasty seasonal 7% bière de garde on tap called Ambre de Chaudière, pale straw in colour, cloudy, but quite fresh, with an understated hint of spiciness, a smooth middle, light palate and long, sweetish, drying finish. It went lovely with lunch!
Then it was onto Frankfurt on the intercontinental red eye, finally arriving in Brussels early Thursday morning. We ended up having a very tight turnaround in Frankfurt, made easier by excellent Luftansa agents, who whisked us through the very busy airport, security and passport control to make our connection to Brussels. Alas, our luggage was not so lucky (though they did arrive the next morning, delivered right to our hotel!). So, sans baggage, dazed and sleepy, we take the train downtown and soon find ourselves on the historic cobblestone streets of the capital of Europe. We stash our few things at the front desk of our hotel (check in is not until 3 pm), a short walk from the Gare Centraal and just steps away from the Grand Place, and stumble out into the sunshine of the new day.
We cross the Grand Place where white tents are going up, trucks are unloading kegs and bottles while many people are setting up for the 14th Annual Brussels Beer Weekend. We go to Blanche ou Tonneau au Brasseur at rue de Brasseurs et rue des Chapeliers, whose outdoor tables spill around its corner location. They open a bit earlier here, so we settle into a freshly tapped Lindeman Kriek and a tall frothy Leffe Bruin. We watch the street sweepers, the early tourists and the local shop keepers beginning their daily routines, all with the step and verve of a new summer day. Joined in conversation by a friendly Swiss gentleman, we talk about beer, life, the cities we were all from and Brussels itself. Bidding us adieu he goes on his way, as do we, wandering the winding streets, checking out the Manneken Pis, the chocolate shops and visiting a small open church, taking in its history and marveling at the details of the modern and ancient art works inside.
We eventually find our way to one of my favourite beer cafes, Chez Moeder Lambic. Listed on their outdoor chalk board were some very interesting brews from Scotland, Italy, Switzerland and some unique offerings from local Lambic makers as well, all brought in by the pioneer proprietor Jean especially for the big festival. He went over his list with us and recommended other special beers as well. Sitting in the outdoor terrace on the Place Fontainas, we contemplated the rest of our day with two beautiful beers. Being a fan of the sour beers of Flanders, I opt for an oud bruin from Brouwers Verzet, while Donna enjoys a Witkap Stimulo. The oud bruin is a blend of an old, oak-aged and a younger brown beer, it is a hazy, auburn brown with a fruity, earthy nose, a green apple sour bite, but is well balanced, complex and refreshing, checking in at 6%. Also at 6% the Stimulo is a blonde ale with panache. Pale yellow, tight frothy head, warm herbal nose, fruity palate, complex flavours floating underneath each other creating a beautifully balanced and drinkable brew.

We move on to have some lunch at A La Becasse, a wonderfully woody hole in the wall featuring the beers of Timmermans. I jump into a sour, bottle conditioned Gueuze Lambicus while Donna enjoys the Kriek Lambicus on tap. We order a cheese and sausage plate, which comes with pickled onions and sweet pickles, and enjoy the relaxed ambiance of this curious little cafe. The Kriek is deep red with a pink head, a bit sour, but balances towards to the sweet tartness of the cherries, while my Gueuze is definitely a classic blend of young and old lambics, displaying an oak aged smoothness amid a complex balance of sour and sweet. By now we are feeling the vast distances we have covered and decide to check in and have a wee nap, there is, after all, the evening is still ahead of us.

 Revitalized, we visit A La Mort Subite for a pre-dinner beverage. Still on a lambic kick, I choose their Mort Subite Faro (candi sugar sweetness challenges the lambic sourness, complexity rules) on tap and a goblet of Special Palm (smooth, golden amber, malt balanced) for Donna. Run by the Vossen family for four generations, this is the proverbial classic Belgium cafe, deep and narrow, complete with Art Deco overtones, small street-side tables and a nice selection of beer, their own and others.

Kitty corner to this venerable institution is Arcadi Cafe, far enough from the tourists to still draw locals into its warm and cozy atmosphere or onto the terrace spilling around the corner and into Les Galleries Royales St. Hubert. Fresh daily selections, wonderful service, the place is packed, but we find a tiny table in the back from which to people watch and enjoy our classic Brussels mussels with a white asparagus and salmon salad, yummy! Jupiler and Chimay Blue were the appropriate accompaniments here.

Time has a funny way of catching up to you, especially when jet-lagged, it can go either way. That, I think, is how we found ourselves at the infamous Delerium Cafe, probably the best beer bar/street in Brussels. It is an entire alley, as a matter of fact, they call it Delerium Village. The Monastarium serves 100 Trappist & Abbey beers,  plus 400 vodkas, next door it's 500 tequila's & mezcals, across the alley is the absynthe bar. But we came for the three story main event: Hop Attic above, Delerium Tap House on the mid floor and the whirling dervish of a room, the Delerium Tremens downstairs, featuring a beer menu of over 2000. We descend upon 'jam night', the atmosphere a smoky blues/jazz vibe, the place is buzzing, the beer flowing, the bands are cooking...  
Of course we start with Delerium Tremens (8.5% big golden ale, huge malt character, scary smooth), then La Rulles Estivalle (5.2%, hazy, sparkling golden ale, hints of honey & flowers), followed by Buffalo Stout (6.5%, deep roasted/coffee character, brown sugar/malty notes), a La Rulles Brune (6.5%)... somewhere in there was the absynthe...
it sure was a fun night!