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.

Back to Brussels, London Calling

The train to Brussels the next day is uneventful. We pass through Leuven and notice acres of palleted kegs piled high next to the Stella Artois plant, home of beer giant InBev. We see the first rain of our trip and meet an amazing young man who studies piano in Maastricht, but lives in Antwerp, commuting on weekends, Zheng Qiu Chen (check him out, who guided us on our trip.
We reach Brussels Gare Centraal readily, dump our bags at our hotel on the very busy Charles Buls Square and get into power shop mode. My favourite beer shop for variety and price is Beer Planet so we head there first. I easily manage my 8.5 litre duty free allotment in 19 various sized bottles. We shop for souvenirs next and other things we noticed first time through, then its quick siesta time before we head out for our last night in Brussels.

We visit A La Mort Subite one last time. The atmosphere is relaxed, I order a bottle of Rodenbach (5.2%, classic blended Flanders red ale, tart, fruity, ruby red) while Donna opts for a Grimbergen Blonde (6.7%, smooth and balanced, fruity nose, yeasty) from the tap. Next up, Chimay Blonde (8%, white label, hoppy nose, fruity palate, classic Trappist)) and Mort Subite Lambic Blanche (4.5%), a new beer from a venerable old brewery. This latter brew is an actual wit beer featuring some caramel maltiness, an understated lambic sourness, frothy head, small acidic nose, pale blond colour, slightly cloudy, hints of candi sugar in the long finish. Next we check out a curious little local 'estaminet' down a dark alley entrance, A L'Imaige de Nostre Dame on our way to dinner, a genuine 16th century cafe, low ceilings, wooden beams, two
tiny rooms. They appear to have no draft this day, so we coax a bottle of Beersel Oude Gueuze (6%, tart, refreshingly sour) from out of our distracted barmaid, take in the ancient atmosphere and move on. After a relaxing dinner, it's back to Delirium Village for one last tour. We start in the Delirium Taphouse, enjoy a Vivien IPA (a hoppy favourite) and an Ename Abbaye Double from the Roman brewery (6.5%, roasted malt, hints of dried fruit, caramel, dry finish) then descend the back stairs to the main room of the Delirium Cafe. The place is packed as always, but we manage to
share a table with a couple from Cleveland, chatting about beer and international travel. I go to the bar and order a big bottle of Augrenoise (6.5%, bottled conditioned, cloudy, straw coloured, citric nose, quickly dissipating head, wheaty and winey with a slight sourness). We finish with a 750 ml. bottle of Saison St. Feuillien (6.5%, traditional golden farmhouse, warm and rich) and decide it's time to stumble home. Instead, we stumble into the Monastarium for one last look around (100 Trappist/Abbey beers, 400 vodkas).
Unbelievably, it's Black Russians we order, chatting up the bartender, who we'd met first time through. The smooth tall drinks are absolutely delicious and go down way too quickly. Now it really is time to go, but our bartender has a parting gift for us, two corked bottles of oak-aged La Trappe Quadrupel (10%) to take with us. Wow! I sure do love this place! Unfortunately, our hotel room faces the busy square and is so hot we have to have the windows open. A cacophony of late night partiers, earlier morning garbage and delivery trucks conspire with all the beer we'd enjoyed and deliver me a tremendous hangover by the time we actually rise late the next morning. What was I thinking?
Double espressos at the train station don't seem to help much. Slowly, we do make it to the airport for our short hop to London Heathrow. Mercifully, our beer laden bags
were checked in Brussels right through to Vancouver, so we easily navigate the free public buses to our nearby hotel. Donna's friend Helen is waiting for us downtown, so we quickly head right back out to the tube and find ourselves in Picadilly Circus in no time. Helen's has done her real ale homework and takes us to the Dog and Duck, featuring four hand pulled tasty real ales. Topaz Gold (4%) seems to be the bar favourite, a golden pale ale from Admans, fruity with medium bitterness and a long dry finish. All too soon they're out. Junga (3.9%) from Itchen Valley, a very dark and roasty, malty mild-like brew, gets my juices flowing and I'm starting to feel human again. Up next, Lamplighter (4.8%) premium bitter, amber, heavier malt but a balanced, dry finish. Reverend James (4.5%, rich fruity palate, aromatic, long
and dry) from Brains in Wales completes our real ale quartet. We enjoy these pints on the sidewalk outside the pub huddled under a skinny awning as sheets of rain pour down on the streets for about half an hour, then stops. We take the cue and make our way to Bodeans, Canadian owned I'm told, serving an amazing selection of pulled pork, barbequed chicken, ribs several ways, coleslaw, you get the picture - delicious and much needed sustenance. I managed a bottle of Spitfire (4.5%) a premium Kentish ale from Shepherd Neame, amber, floral, hoppy, and finely balanced. This really put a wonderful cap on a great meal and a brilliant night out. We made our way back to the tube and said our goodbyes. Thank you muchly Queenie! Back at the hotel I think we both didn't really want to fly home in the morning. Travel is so seductive and romantic, who wants to go home until you have to. Gotta pay the bills. But there will always be a next time. The trick is keeping the time between now and then relatively short. Cheers for now.

Get Lost in Maastricht

 Maastricht is located in the south of the Netherlands in the province of Limburg, a Dutch peninsula tucked in between its neighbours, Belgium to the west and Germany to the east. From original Roman settlement to the birthplace of the European Union, Maastricht is a delightfully historic city built on both sides of the river Meuse, with many squares and cafés, featuring some wonderfully unique cuisine and a deep beer culture.
After our train-bus-train ride from Amsterdam, we relax on our hotel's terrace, watching the square and quenching our thirsts with fruit beers. The local De Ridder Brewery makes Wieckse Rosé (4%), it's bubbly and clear pinky red, sweetish, cranberry-raspberry tart and easy to drink. The St. Louis Kriek (3.2%) is an aged lambic, sweet but with sour overtones, also pinky-red, tighter head, fruity aroma, delicate body. We followed that up with an Erdinger Weissbier (5.3%) a classic German wheat beer, banana and cloves notes in play, cloudy, creamy and smooth. Across the square and seemingly on the wind, we hear the
sounds of distant music. Ready for a stroll, we wind our way through the narrow cobble-stone streets, drifting ever closer to what we discover to be a music festival, their annual Bruis Free Festival and they were rocking day two with a full line up on two stages. The weather was great, blue sky, +20s, and the fair grounds were packed. We saw several very cool Dutch bands (including the Mary Shade Experience, Ozark Henry) and sipped back many Brand Weizen beers at 2 Euros a pop, what a great afternoon! With bands still playing and the sun going down, we make our way back into
the labyrinth of the old city looking for food. After getting lost (what's new?) we circle back around a church terrace and find Café Seijk, a beautiful little classic diner serving traditional Maastricht dishes and great wine. We jump right into two amazing dishes, Maastricht Zoervleis (horse stew in a dark, rich and beery sauce) with Belgian frites and apple sauce and the daily special, a roasted 'lapin' with a beautiful side salad of fresh seasonal veggies. Stunningly delicious, served with aplomb and humour from our fantastic waiter and perfect after an afternoon of dancing and beer at the free festival. Sated, we eventually find the river and our bearings, making it back to our hotel terrace (which seems to be the happening place on the square!) for a night cap of Affligem Dubbel (6.8%) and conversation. We meet a nice couple on holidays from the
north of Holland, but their English is halting and our Dutch non-existent so we just laugh a lot and drink our beers. Then we meet a couple of locals guys back from the festival who regale us with tales of the bands, the festival, the city and life in this lovely little part of the world. Slowly the night winds itself up, fewer and fewer cyclist whiz by, the pedestrian traffic seems to evaporate and only the odd bus and occasional taxi seem to cross the square now. We decide to call it a day as the tower bell in the square strikes 12. Good night Maastricht, tomorrow is another day.

 Of course it was. We cross bridges, explore parks, enjoy coffee in the sun and before we know it, it is time for a beer. We find ourselves in another beautiful square, Vrouweplein, at Café de Comedia,  where all the chairs face out, the better for people watching, and settle in to do the same. The café features the beers of another Limburg brewer, Gulpener. Neither of us cared for the Gulpener Lager, but their Chateau Neubourg Pilsner was passable, the Belgian wit Korenwolf was cloudy with substance and flavour and the Dort was the copper coloured, more malty
alternative. The day was warming and so were we. Off into the streets we go again, intrepid explorers, perusing boutiques and after additional window shopping we are happily lost again, in the maze of streets, until we find the 'speciaalbierencafé' Café Falstaff in the delightful Amorsplein in time for lunch. A tasty smorgasbord of local delights was the way to go, cheeses, chacuterie, dips, bread, bitterballs, accompanied, of course, with a couple of delicious beers. Palm was promoting their Hopper (6%) beer, made with their own estate grown Hallertau hops - some hop dryness, gold, carbonated, easily drinkable brew. Also, Ciney Blonde, (7%) a Belgian strong ale of character, tight white head, clear amber, malt accented, dry finish. A nice pair of beers to start, but the next up

were even lovelier. La Trappe Isid'Or (7.5%), brewed for the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Brasserie de Koningshoeven at the monastery, in limited edition numbered bottles. Spicy aromatics, cloudy, yeasty, creamy and a long finish, this is a very special brew indeed. Also on the table was Urthel Hop-It (9.5%), pale gold, fresh herbal nose, golden yellow, a big malt based bully of a beer but hopped up, truly one of the first Belgian double IPAs, bitter and balanced with a long, dry finish allowing the hops to prevail. The rest of the day went by in a blur, more sightseeing, nosing around interesting public statuary, awing at historical architecture, we might have slipped a siesta in there too, then we sat by the river and thought about this beer journey we've been on. Pretty lucky, pretty fantastic.
That night we dine on 'moules et frites' one more time, accompanied by monk made Orval (6.9%, orange-amber, creamy, smooth on the tongue, notes of bread, yeast, fruit, spices) and Judas Tripel. (8.5%, strong Belgian pale ale, golden, fruity, hints of spice). It's another quiet night in town, in fact we are only 2 of 5 people eating at Basilica this evening, a Monday. The waitress tells us tourist season is pretty much over, students are all back at school, the evenings are getting cool, autumn has arrived. Time to head home.