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.

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!

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