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.

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.

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