Toer De Geuze! Day Two

So day two of Toer De Geuze. Again, another hearty breakfast before heading out in the car to meet up with Seth and Casey at Mort Subite in Kobbegem, Asse. The Sunday starts an hour early at 10am and as the brewery (De Keersmaeker) was the furthest one away from our final destination it made sense to head over there. De Keersmaeker was founded in 1869 at a brewery site which originally dated from 1604. After a merger with Brabrux it was acquired by Alkaen-Maes in 1971, who were bought out by Scottish Newcastle in 2000. They are now part of the Heineken portfolio. They also produce another range of syrupy-sweet lambics – BUT I was interested in trying the limited edition Oude Kriek which was promised to be available.

Mort Subite
Mort Subite

In all honesty I was gob-smacked at how beautiful this brewery is. We took a great self-guided tour through the blending and maturation rooms with a taste of their superb lambic from the casks. Then off to the temporary bar where we received more tasting tickets so we could get a taste of the Oude Geuzes.

Mort Subite
Mort Subite

In between beers we also had free rein of the brewhouse which is simply stunning. The gleaming mash tuns and kettles sit within a tiled brewhouse which has a glazed wall that looks across the courtyard to the maturation room. The copper grant had recently been used too and this was such a treat for a brewery buff (read bore) like me.

Brewhouse Mort Subite
Brewhouse Mort Subite
Grant, Brewhouse Mort Subite
Grant, Brewhouse Mort Subite

In the bar the range of sweet fruit lambics was available alongside the wonderful Oude Geuze and Kriek plus other special brews for the occasion. A truly lovely surprise was to bump into old friends from Brugge who had come up on a special coach for the day. We managed to make time for a photo which Casey kindly photo-bombed for us. Quality!

Mort Subite. 3 legends and PD
Mort Subite. 3 legends and PD

The weather was behaving itself so we headed off to Gooik to check out the De Cam blendery. I was really looking forward to this as De Cam are a truly traditional blendery and when they opened in 1997 they were the first new blender for almost 40 years. The site was a former brewery and is now owned by the local community and also houses a tavern, museum and community centre.

De Cam
De Cam

The blendery offered regular tours around the site and ran through the process of fermenting the wort which they receive from Boon, Girardin and Lindemans. Frank Boon and Armand Debelder supported Willem van Herreweghen from Palm Brewery when he set up De Cam 23 years ago. When he went back to Palm in 2000, Karel Goddeau took over. Karel combines De Cam with his day job as brewer at nearby Slaghmuylder, the reason for Big Dan’s early night on Friday. We seemed to miss the free tasters of their lambic but the boys made up for it as there was a bar serving the full range. I definitely want to return.

De Cam
De Cam

Onwards to Geuzerie Tilquin, the only location of the Toer that sits – just, at 200 metres – in Wallonie. Based in Rebecq, Pierre Tilquin founded his blendery in 2009 and is the only one to use wort from Boon, Cantillon, Girardin and Lindemans. By now breakfast had worn off but Tilquin had a number of food options available in their courtyard including a hog roast or ‘pig on a spit’ which did nicely thank you very much. Unfortunately this is when the weather of the previous day decided to return and pay us another visit. Even the beautiful beer on offer struggled to lighten our moods so it was time to head back into Flanders and make our way to Beersel and their eponymous lambic brewery, Oud Beersel.

Geuzerie Tilquin
Geuzerie Tilquin

Oud Beersel was founded in 1882 and passed through generations of the Vandervelden family, the last being Danny Draps, nephew of Henri’s grandson. It closed in 1991 and didn’t re-open until 2005 when Gert Christiaens and Ronald De Bus took it over. The beers made here are also fantastic though their non-lambic Beersalis range is made by Huyghe.

Brouwerij Oud Beersel
Brouwerij Oud Beersel

We couldn’t get on one of the organised tours as the place was rammed though we did manage to get into the now closed tasting cafe where the boys got themselves some bottles. It is rumoured that Gert is hoping to re-open the cafe sometime in the future. Beersel town is definitely worth a visit with a number of cafes to choose from – In De Oude Pruim being a personal favourite. You also have the Brouwerij Drie Fonteinen and their excellent restaurant plus the Biercentrum De Lambiek museum.

Brouwerij Oud Beersel
Brouwerij Oud Beersel

It was now getting late and everyone was keen to make the most of the time left at the last of our stops – Hanssens Artisinale blendery in nearby Dworp. Converted from a dairy to a brewery by Bartholomé Hanssens in 1896, the site was known as Sint-Antonius and didn’t produce lambic but a brown beer. Production ceased during the 1st World War and when the war ended Bartholomé (who has also become town mayor in 1914) decided to cease brewing as the brewkit has been taken by the occupying German army, and re-launch his site as a geuzestekerij.

Geuzestekerij Hanssens Artisanaal
Geuzestekerij Hanssens Artisanaal

Since 1997 the blendery has been run by fourth generation Sidy and her husband John Matthys. The site is rarely open to the public so we were keen to spend as much time there as possible. Great tours available throughout the blendery where you can check out the barrels from Boon, Giradin and Lindemans.

Since 1997 the blendery has been run by fourth generation Sidy and her husband John Matthys. The site is rarely open to the public so we were keen to spend as much time there as possible.
Geuzestekerij Hanssens Artisanaal

A major bar set up – we were all keen to get the Very Special Oud Red released specially for the occasion, plus many others. Food and even llamas! A real party atmosphere so when you go to the Toer make sure that you give yourself plenty of time on the Sunday to wring every last drop out of the experience. With a heavy heart it was finally time to bid Hanssens farewell and drop Seth and Casey off at the train station.

I couldn't resist
I couldn’t resist, in with the casks at Hanssens

Time for Dan and I to head back to Ninove and get stuck back into Brouwerij Slaghmuylder’s finest. For some reason we also thought that it would be a good idea to have another go at that 1.5kg cote a los. The drive the following day was going to be fun!

Witkap Stimulo, In Den Keizer
Witkap Stimulo, In Den Keizer

Homeward-bound Dan and I took in a number of breweries to help me get a grip on the distances between them for future tours. This included Slaghmuylder, Roman, Verzet, De Feniks, Gulden Spoor, Omer and St Bernardus. Wonderful.

Brouwerij Slaghmuylder
Brouwerij Slaghmuylder
Brouwerij Roman
Brouwerij Cnudde
Brouwerij Roman
Brouwerij Roman
Brouwerij De Feniks
Brouwerij De Feniks
Brouwerij Gulden Spoor
Brouwerij Gulden Spoor
Brouwerij Omer van der Ghinste
Brouwerij Omer van der Ghinste

 

Toer De Geuze!

As a dry run for the newly formed AleHunters and something that I’ve wanted to do for such a long time, I arranged to host a small group where we could take on the biennial Toer de Geuze in Pajottenland last May 2019. Our group consisted of big Dan, Seth and Casey – all lovers of craft beer but not all currently working within the industry – a great mix of peeps tbh. Dan and I had arranged to stay in Ninove, west of Brussels and the others in downtown Brussels.

D'Oude Maalderij
D’Oude Maalderij

Taking advantage of being in Belgium I obviously picked up supplies on the way to Ninove and popped in to a couple of breweries for a catch up, namely Jef Pirens at D’Oude Maalderij in Izegem and then on to see Glenn Alvinne at his eponymous brewery in Zwevegem. I thought that I was being good only having a sip of Jef’s beer as I was driving. That wasn’t the case at Alvinne as the guys there had some special treats for me, including rare Oak Melchior courtesy of one of the brew team. It would have been extremely rude of me not to have accepted their hospitality of course.

Brouwerij Alvinne
Brouwerij Alvinne

I must admit that I was running late getting to Ninove, what with Glenn’s hospitality and rush hour traffic but I managed to hit Ninove at 6pm, check into Hotel Croone and to meet up with Dan. He’d travelled over earlier on Eurostar and had already been enjoying himself at Moeder Lambic and in one of the bars in Ninove. Certainly he looked in a cheerful state when I met up with him.

Well-named pubs in Ninove
Well-named pubs in Ninove

We had a great evening taking in Taverne Grambinus and In Den Keizer (a particular favourite of mine) and enjoying the local beers from Brouwerij Slagmuylder. It was the latter who recommended a new flemish restaurant Eethuis De Koepoort. Heading over there we were diverted by the excellent Trappist bar which does exactly what is says it does – serves great Trappist beer along with many others.

Witkap Stimulo, In Den Keizer
Witkap Stimulo, In Den Keizer

The Koepoort didn’t disappoint and Dan and I enjoyed a wonderful shared Cote a Los, though being mainly plant-based for five months, the one and a half kilo of beef was a bit of a shock. A nice shock though, beautiful Ardennes beef in a green pepper sauce with Belgian frites. Wonderful. The evening ended with my dropping Dan off at the hotel and visiting the new bar Gonzo for a nightcap.

Brouwerie Girardin
Brouwerij Girardin

So the big day arrived and after a suitable breakfast and rousing Dan we had some time to kill before the Toer. Nothing for it but to take a drive over to Brouwerij Girardin which isn’t part of the weekend. Located in a beautiful setting, Girardin brews and blends all their beers on their compact farmyard site. They also send out lambic wort to other blenders. It is truly a stunning place and I am not surprised that they don’t wish to be overrun by beer geeks though it is a shame as I would love to get into the brewery and taste their lambic.

Lambik-O-Droom
Lambik-O-Droom

Another short drive and we arrived at Drie Fonteinen’s Lambik-O-Droom in Lot. The brewery is based in Beersel as is their bistro. They don’t offer tours at the brewery. They don’t consider that interesting when compared to the blendery in Lot as this is where the magic happens. They were gearing up for a busy weekend (even though they are not part of the Toer), with lots of lambic available via beer engine, merchandise and food. I was keen to check out the recently planted cherry trees and bee hives out the back – to be used for future projects no doubt.

Brouwerij De Troch
Brouwerij De Troch

Time to head over to Brouwerij De Troch in Ternat to catch up with Seth and Casey. The Toer’s logistics are pretty challenging with breweries and blenderies opening at different times and not always on both days so planning the routes over both days takes a bit of time to ensure we had as much time as possible to enjoy each site.

Brouwerij De Troch
Brouwerij De Troch

The brewery and blendery has been established since the 18th century and is still a very small family business. Beer geeks in general have an issue with their beer as the most successful ones are produced under the Chapeau label, a range of super-sweet fruit lambics that use syrups and lose much of the lambic characteristics. These were introduced in the 1980s which kept the brewery going. I tasted the base lambic used in these beers and it was excellent. The brewery is also a living museum and well worth visiting and I had a great chat with Pauwel who runs the place with his wife Kristel. The boom in ‘sour’ beers has been encouraging for De Troch with extra casks being brought into the brewery. Seek out their Oude Geuze Cuvee and do visit when you have the chance. Unless you have a sweet tooth, give the Chapeau beers a miss.

Brouwerij Timmermans
Brouwerij Timmermans

While we were at De Troch the forecasted rain appeared – when I say rain I mean horizontal rain, hail, wind, almost biblical. Probably good we were staying indoors most of the time. Next up was Brouwerij Timmermans in Itterbeek, another brewery/blendery and the self-styled oldest lambic brewer. This is tenuous as the ’17th century’ brewery was called De Mol (The Mole) and wasn’t a lambic brewery. The brewery was acquired by John Martin in 1991. However, the old brewery is stunning and well worth a visit. As is De Troch, Timmermans are known for sickly sweet syrup beers but they started to produce Oude Geuze again in 2009 and have won awards. Again, the lambic that I tasted here was excellent, just avoid the sweet stuff.

Brouwerij Timmermans
Brouwerij Timmermans

Onwards to Vlezenbeek and Brouwerij Lindemans and the sun came out. Good thing too as this brewery and blendery is based within another stunning setting next to a stream in a valley of farmers’ fields. Founded in the early 19th century Lindemans is run by sixth generation cousins Dirk and Geert Lindemans. Another producer that moved to sweet, syrupy beers for commercial reasons, they are now producing authentic lambics and creating new beers with unusual ingredients. This brewery was also showcasing a brewday during the Toer. I was ridiculed for filming the lauter and boil but had a great chat with Jan their brewer who explained that the brewday was nine hours! They are making really great beers again and I tried the Goyck collaboration with Varenbroek – delicious! Guests were also able to blend their own lambics and the size of the site meant that there was much more to keep children and non beer bores occupied. There was even a hot air balloon with a small bar counter around the bottom. The balloon went up and you then toasted each other with lambic while up in the sky. Not sure about that. There was plenty of space to sit, drink beer, eat local food and listen to live music. Well worth visiting!

Brouwerij Lindemans
Brouwerij Lindemans

Our final stop for the day was back in Lembeek to visit Brouwerij Boon. Frank (who I was honoured to meet while judging at World Beer last summer) is a legend in the lambic-world, purchasing the brewing equipment from Rene De Vits in 1975 and learning his secrets up until Rene retired three years later. The lambic brewery was originally known as Brasserie Hygiena in Lembeek. Committed to a beer style that was threatened with extinction, Frank set about perfecting his skills and improving the brewery.

Brouwerij Boon, new brewhouse
Brouwerij Boon, new brewhouse

In 1982 Frank relocated to a site on the Senne river and after constructing a brewing hall brewed the first beer there in 1990 and by 1992 was self-sufficient. Other blenders also started to purchase lambic wort from Frank at this time. In 1997, with Frank’s help ‘Oude Geuze’ and filtered ‘Geuze’ became protected within the EU. Also, HORAL was founded by Armand Debelder, Dirk Lindemans and Frank. That year also saw the first edition of the Toer De Geuze. In 2000 and 2011 two new foeder warehouses were installed increasing the amount of lambic in barrel to over 1 million litres. In 2013 a new, fully automatic and more sustainable brewhouse was opened. By 2016 production increased to 2.1 million litres with 2.5 litres of lambic in barrel. Frank is joined by his sons Jos and Karel (who runs the brewery) and a fourth warehouse is being built on the opposite bank of the Senne.

 

VAT 109 Brouwerij Boon
VAT 109 Brouwerij Boon

At the brewery we enjoyed guided tours of the brewhouse and foeder halls and tasted fresh lambic from the barrels. The rear of the brewery was like a party in a massive tent, plenty of food options, live music and a rammed bar featuring all of Frank’s heavy-hitters. It was cool to bump into Breandan Kearney from Siphon Brewing who was with one of the team from Garage Project in Barcelona. I also met Stu Stuart from Belgian Beer Me! tours in the States. I’m afraid that by now my thirst was getting the better of me. You see while the lads were busy buying new and exciting bottles of lambic, I was restricting myself to the free thimble-sized samples of lambics on offer – it was time to make a move and have a beer myself.

Belgian Giant, Brouwerij Boon
Belgian Giant, Brouwerij Boon

Dropping the car off in Ninove we managed to locate a taxi to take us to Eizeringen in Lennik – not an easy task. When I enquired at our hotel where the taxi rank was, the owner just smiled and said he would find us a taxi. This was to prove a problem later. You see, Lennik is the home of one of the most amazing cafes I’ve visited. In de Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst (Insurance against a Great Thirst) has been voted gold and winner in the best beer bars in the world by Rate Beer since 2011. I’d also stumbled across an ad for a beer festival in Eizeringen, Pajottaleland craft beer fest, so a visit seemed a no-brainer, we could worry about getting home later.

In de Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst
In de Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst

The cafe is opposite Saint Ursula Church in this tiny village. It was in the grounds of the Church that around 14 tiny producers set up to sell their beers including our friends Alvinne and Lambiek Fabriek. Some very unusual and tiny producers, many one-man bands. This is where I was given an espresso stout which the brewer proceeded to top the liquid with beer foam from an espuma gun – the result was like a nitro head something that I’d never seen before or since!

In de Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst
In de Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst

Back at the cafe which was much warmer than outside, the place was rammed. This being a Saturday, the bar would normally be closed. They currently open once a week, every Sunday from 10am – 8pm. Prior to 2017 it had only opened for three and a half hours per week. We were lucky as this evening was billed as the Night of the Great Thirst, so we were able to enjoy this fantastic pub. The cafe was founded in 1842 and part of the existing building was a sweet shop so the original cafe would have been smaller. Moving forward to 1999, 85 year old Marguerite De Maeght who ran the pub decided to retire that Christmas Eve. Fortunately, Eizer and Kurt Paneels bought the pub and spent five years renovating and restoring it. Kurt, his brother Yves and their parents run it today. You need to visit if you haven’t done so. Where else can you buy a six year old bottle of Orval for 5 Euro? And where else can you find 4 types of Methode Goat?

In de Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst
In de Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst

Anyway, it was time to leave and when I enquired of Kurt if he could call us a taxi he laughed. Not a good sign. The locals advised that there MAY be a bus passing through and could be reached via a complicated set of directions in pitch black darkness. I was about to ask if Alvinne could give us a lift when we met a couple of guys who offered each party a life back to their hotels – in exchange for beers of course. Luck was smiling down on us and Dan, myself and our new mate enjoyed a couple at Gonzo in Ninove before bed.

Tomorrow we had five more breweries and blenderies to visit. To be continued…

 

 

 

Belgium Summer Saunter – Day Seven, Brugge

When Brouwerij De Gouden Boom closed and production at De Halve Maan ceased brewing in Brugge in 2002, the great city was without a brewery. Fortunately the brewing at De Halve Mann was restored in 2005 with the launch by Xavier Vanneste of Bruges Zot. Owing to the success of this new beer, the Straffe Hendrik beer brand was purchased back and returned to the brewery, which hasn’t looked back since.

In 2015 another brewery opened its doors in Brugge. Bourgogne des Flandres was brought back to the city and this new site is 50 metres from the old La Marine Brewery, former home of this beer. Both breweries offer excellent tours.

De Halve Maan, modern brewhouse
De Halve Maan, modern brewhouse

On the edge of the city there has been further brewing activity. Kristof Vandebbussche opened Brouwerij Fort Lapin, near to the former castle on the road to Damme. Producing 9 regular brews, Kristof also does commissions with the house beer at Cafe Vlissinghe being a favourite of mine. He also hosts a great brewery tour with a very generous tasting by the way!

Kristof Fort Lapin
Kristof Fort Lapin
Fort Lapin Brewhouse
Fort Lapin Brewhouse

Further up the Damse Vaart-Zuid, past the Damme village sits the Siphon restaurant, feeding many locals and tourists alike in a beautiful setting within the Flemish Polders. A lunch or dinner is highly recommended, with cooking of the highest calibre. Jan is the fourth-generation member of the Callewaert family to run the restaurant. In 2016 a brewery was opened in the restaurant outbuildings. Breandan and Franklin are the small team who make award-winning beer. Last year their team was bolstered with the arrival of Mathias. Check out Breandan’s podcast and blog Belgian Smaak. For their third birthday last year they released a six pack, the Noble Gas Project, a group of collaborations between Siphon, a Belgian brewery and an international brewery. I was privileged to be asked to see if Fuller’s would be interested in taking part which they did producing a Belgian Dark Mild alongside Omer Vander Ghinste. Sipping their Kolsch, Lieve out of the tanks on a beautiful summer’s afternoon was a real treat!

Siphon
Siphon
Siphon brewhouse
Siphon brewhouse
Blinker
Blinker

In other brewing news, gipsy brewer Rudy Vossen set up Brouwerij De Vier Monniken in 2016 with Joachim Nuyttens (owner of Hoppelaar), producing a range of award-winning beers which can be found at his beershop Bierboom on Langestraat. The ‘Four Monks’ are completed with former hobbybrewers Bram and Jeroen. Last year Kristiaan Ampe launched his Bar Belge beer and is currently looking for suitable premises within the Brugge ring in which to brew the beer and open a taproom.

Belgium Summer Saunter Day Six – Oudenaarde

I was privileged to receive a personal tour from Marc Coesens, Head of Production at Brouwerij Liefmans, Oudenaarde in East Flanders. Founded in 1679, Liefmans specialises in Oud Bruin beers and is justifiably famous for having Belgium’s first female brewmaster, Madame Rosa Merckx who was at the helm for 40 years. After a break in production, the brewery was taken over by Duvel Moortgat. Rosa’s son and Head Brewer Olav lived near to the Duvel site and Marc, who was head of the laboratory at Duvel lived in Oudenaarde. So they switched sites. I was very excited to learn more of this venerable old brewery and to get the chance to try some oud bruin which is hard to find in the UK.

Jan van Oudenaarde
Jan van Oudenaarde

Oudenaarde is just over an hour from Bruges by train and I arrived in plenty of time to reacquaint myself with the Carillion cafe in the market square. I just had to have the De Proef-produced Jan van Oudenaarde brewed in honour of the 200 year anniversary of Jan van Gent, a local sugar baker.
River Scheldt

Suitably refreshed I made my way across the River Scheldt to the brewery. Upon entrance to the brewery you are greeted by a brewing kettle, gleaming in the sun. I met Marc in the tasting room and I have to say his hospitality was beyond generous. After pleasantries he suggested a beer. We started on the Oud Bruin and Marc confided in me that they were considering re-naming the beer Odnar which was the name of a beer that was previously produced by the brewery up to 2007.
Brouwerij Liefmans

We then had a glass of Goudenband, the higher abv ‘provision beer’ which is suitable for ageing. The beer was originally named IJzerenband (Iron Band) and is truly a delicious beer. Originally the beer would have shown more tart notes than currently but to satisfy the market the level of tartness was reduced. Marc then decided that another beer would be appropriate before we went into the brewery and we enjoyed their latest beer Fruitesse, a light summer quencher which is best appreciated when poured over ice. It was then time to enter the brewery.
Tasting room, Liefmans

The old brewery is now a museum and it was fascinating to see and touch the brewing kit, equipment that Olav would have worked with during his long tenure at the brewery. However, I was keen to get down to business and see where the mixed fermentation takes place. Unlike the red beer of Flanders oud bruins usually undergo mixed fermentation in stainless steel and not wood these days although some newer brewers are moving back to oak (Verzet, for example). Drinking oud bruin out of the Liefmans’ tanks was an experience that I will never forget.
Old Mash Tun, Liefmans

Before long we were back in the tasting room, Marc was behind the bar and we were enjoying more Liefman’s beer. A lot of the ageing and mixed fermentation of Duvel Moortgat’s other beers takes place at Liefmans and some of these were on offer. To be honest I cannot recall which beers we tasted next apart from their Kriek Brut. It was at this moment that we had a surprise visitor, Madame Rosa herself! Another unforgettable honour and after a quick beer and selfie she picked up a handful of 75cl beers and was on her way.
Ancient Liefmans beers

Marc’s final act of hospitality was to gift me a number of their large paper-wrapped bottles to take home and then drive me to the train station. What a gent and a truly wonderful experience!

Belgian Summer Saunter Day Five – Izegem

So, on an unseasonably wet and dreary day Cait and I decided to head off to Izegem where in 2016 the new Bierjasteel Van Honsebrouck opened, the brewery having relocated from its original site in Ingulmunster. The original St Jozef Brewery was launched in 1900 but this forward-thinking producer have grand plans. After a thirst-inducing walk from the train station we entered the brewery gates and headed to the tap room, Michelle’s pub which is run by the sixth generation lady who it is named after. This gave us an opportunity to sample some of the Kasteel beer range and take in the scale and ambition of the new brewery. Cait went for the Kasteel Tripel – 11% abv (hic) while I went for the Hoppy. At 6.5% abv this subtly hopped beer has an EBU of 45 giving it plenty of balance.

Kasteel Hoppy
Kasteel Hoppy
Michelle's nuts
Michelle’s nuts

Xavier, the fourth generation of the family to run the brewery commissioned a 46 million euro site down the road from the original brewery, expanding capacity to up to 25 million hectolitres. The site is fully set up for visitors with a highly rated bistro to compliment Michelle’s pub, a shop and visitor centre. Groups from 2 to 250 can be accommodated and each stage of the brewery tour is met by a multi-media presentation. Impressive. While we were enjoying our drinks we met our guide for the day, Nico who is responsible for procurement and logistics at the brewery. Nico explained that Wednesday afternoons were the day of the week when Belgian schools closed for a half day and that parents tended to have to stay at home. As such we would be having a personal tour. He then pointed out Xavier the owner who walked past to have a lunch meeting, with beer of course.

Brewhouse
Brewhouse

Following an introductory video in the visitors centre Nico took us to the brewhouse. The brewhouse is impressive to put it mildly. Every section has been designed with brewery tours in mind with screens strategically placed to explain the relevant brewing process, packaging, etc which means that different languages are catered for and that the message delivery is consistent. The packaging area is huge and as we were such a small group Nico gave us a treat and took us to the cool ship which is not normally part of the experience. The team had realised that the wild yeasts used by the brewers to make their St Louis range of beers were living within the oak beams of the old fermenting room. So they moved the beams allowing these yeast strains to carry on fermenting the beers.

Coolship
Coolship
Barrel ageing
Barrel ageing

We then headed to the shop where we received some magnums of beer – I had to go for the Slurfke Dubbel 8.5% abv – and tasted some fabulous chocolate made with their beer. Slurfke was inspired by the Slurfke beer brewed by Eddy in the Thuis tv series. The Kriek chocolate is delicious and will give me an incentive to revisit. We also managed to grab some Trignac for Christmas, their Tripel beer matured in Cognac casks. Abv 12%.

Bierboetiek
Bierboetiek
Bierboetiek
Bierboetiek

Back to Michelle’s pub we were then given some further beer tasters. The Cuvee du Chateau Quad is another beer suited to Christmas. Roasty, caramels and sweet madeira notes. Delicious. I also took the opportunity to try their traditional sour beers Fond Tradition. Currently there are two of these beers, a 5% gueuze blended with young and old beer giving it a strong lambic character. Very tart and dry on the finish. There is also a 6.5% Kriek, using whole cherries and not syrup. The tartness is retained but is balanced by the krieken cherries.

St Louise Fond Tradition Gueuze Lambic
St Louise Fond Tradition Gueuze Lambic

The tour is very impressive with the investment and inspiration behind it evident. Best to book online as it can get extremely busy. I’m looking forward to going back soon. And get those chocolates!

PD and Nico Vanderheeren
PD and Nico Vanderheeren
Slurfke
Slurfke

http://www.vanhonsebrouck.be

 

 

Belgian Summer Saunter 2018, Day Four Gent

Chemical Dealership, Gent
Chemical Dealership, Gent

Gent/Ghent/Gand is a city that I have been wanting to return to for some time. I last visited over a decade ago, a not-so successful beer trip as we were spending a day there with Wifey’s parents who are certainly not beer bores like me. I was struck by the grandness of the architecture within the centre of the city with the Graslei harbour being a notable memory. However, I was keen to explore Gent in more detail and try to get under the skin of the second largest municipality in Belgium.

Shopfronts, Gent
Shopfronts, Gent

I was staying at the Ibis Dampoort, just on the north-east side of the city and a simple stroll into town. Walking north to the Handelsdok basin felt like being on a Terminator movie set. Many of the crumbling dockside buildings were taken over to art installations, skateparks and meeting places of all descriptions. Crossing the footbridge brought me to Joint Dokkaffee, an arty beer cafe on a barge. The temperature was hitting 37 degrees and a Saison Biologique from Dupont hit the spot.

Joint Dokkaffee, Gent
Joint Dokkaffee, Gent

Suitably refreshed it was time to take in some of the city’s sites. Heading down to the Graslei, the medieval port in the centre of the city, the many grand buildings surrounding this area are a reflection of the city’s past wealth. Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant is on the Leie just before you get to Graslei and an ideal place to stop for a restorative. I tried a glass of dry-hopped Gandavum from Proef. The beer list is impressive and if you’re hungry you can pop next door to their Eethuisje Chez Leontine. Moving on to Vrijdagmarkt I spent some time away from the heat in the Dulle Griet, another old beer cafe with an impressive list. Situated on the market square this pub was unavoidably full of tourists, the majority of who happily gave up one of their shoes for the privilege of drinking one of the Max house beers from a 120cl stirrup glass. Each to their own. I went for a Soleil Levant from Brussels Beer Project.

Soleil Levant
Soleil Levant
Gent architecture
Gent architecture

My next stop was another institution, the Trollekelder next to St Jacob’s Church. A remnant from Belgium’s impressive tilt at the World Cup title, Go Belgium is a red berry Belgian ale which unfortunately lacks a fruit punch.

Go Belgium, Brussels Beer Project
Go Belgium, Brussels Beer Project

A new day brought more searing sunshine so why not head off to a brewery in the heart of the city? Gruut has been around for almost 10 years now and brewer Annick De Splenter’s family use to own Riva in Dentergem. Of particular interest is that Annick brews her beers without the use of hops, hence the name Gruut. Gruut is the mixture of herbs and spices used to flavour these beers. Many years ago, brewers from the French side of major Belgian rivers used gruut, those from the northern German side used hops. This is not unique to Belgium as even in Britain, brewers used to make ‘ale’ which was un-hopped. Once British brewers adopted hops to flavour their beers was it then called ‘beer’.

Gruut Inferno 9%
Gruut Inferno 9%

They currently make 5 beers and the 3 that I tried were all good quality and well-balanced. The glasses have a little silver mirror on the bottom which reflect erotic drawings from the beer mats. There is an open door policy at the brewery but you can pre-book guided tours if you wish. They also offer guided walks, boat rides and give you the opportunity to add your own flavours to their blond beer.

Gruut Brewkit
Gruut Brewkit
Eclectic
Eclectic
Gruut Brewery, Straight Outta Chiswick
Gruut Brewery, Straight Outta Chiswick

Suitably refreshed it was now time to wander towards Sint-Pieters and the university area of town. It was summer so the pace of life around here had slowed somewhat and many of the student-orientated bars were operating on reduced opening hours. Planck, a lovely steamer-turned beer cafe is located on the canal just down from the University. The terrace is an oasis of calm and I enjoyed a lovely Netebuk from Gulden Spoor.

Kaffee The Planck
Kaffee The Planck

Across the street is De Brouwzaele who’s claim to fame is its amazing bar which has the top of a brewing kettle sat atop it. I was excited to see a favourite of mine on tap, Witkap Stimulo. However, the beer was tart and not up to standard. A shame.

De Brouwerzael
De Brouwerzael
Witkap Stimulo, not the usual standard
Witkap Stimulo, not the usual standard

Redemption was to be found across the footbridge to the other side of the canal. I think that I’ve found my favourite cafe in Gent, thanks to the indispensable Good Beer Guide Belgium. On the water’s edge below St Peter’s Abbey sits Geus Van Gent. I enjoyed a lovely Geuze from Tilquin on the terrace with a generous helping of cheese, salami and local Tierenteyn mustard. I’m glad that I then chose to explore the cafe’s interior as it is a dream.

Geus Van Gent
Geus Van Gent
Terrace, Geus Van Gent
Terrace, Geus Van Gent

Various styles of cafe furniture mingle with leather sofas and a pool table. The art is funky, sometimes rude and the soundtrack is classic jazz. I could happily have stayed here all evening and am kicking myself for not doing so. A repeat visit is certainly on the cards. Apart from a superb range of lambics they also champion local producers. I was happy to try another wonderful beer from the ever-impressive Humboldt en Gauss.

Populist, Humboldt en Gauss
Populist, Humboldt en Gauss
Geus Van Gent
Geus Van Gent
Geus Van Gent
Geus Van Gent
Ahem, Geus Van Gent
Ahem, Geus Van Gent

Foolishly electing to head back into the centre of town I took a walk to Trappistenhuis. Nice bar, good service but be warned that it is just around the corner from Gent’s blue light street, I somehow have an uncanny knack for stumbling onto these areas like a moth to a lamp. Beating a hasty retreat, I was tempted to return to the Trollekelder but at the last minute decided to try Afsnis which is just opposite. Another cool cafe dedicated to lambics and locally-produced beers. I plumped for some more beers from VDBCK. I think that these boys are destined to go from strength to strength. Must pay them a visit soon.

Gravensteen, 10th century moated castle
Gravensteen, 10th century moated castle

I would definitely recommend a trip here and urge you to step off the well-beaten tourist track and seek out some of the great bars outside the centre. If you are travelling by car I would strongly recommend stocking up at Hopduvel, one of the best beer warehouses in Belgium.

 

http://www.waterhuisaandebierkant.be

http://www.dullegriet.be

http://jointjoint.be/Kaffee/Dokhome/index.html

http://www.gruut.be

http://www.deplanck.be

http://www.trollekelder.be

http://www.geuzenhuis.be

http://trappistenhuis.com

https://www.vbdck.be

http://www.dehopduvel.be

 

Belgian Summer Saunter 2018, Day Three Breendonk-Puurs

So my next visit took me to the home of a beer that I was pretty much addicted to many, many years ago. I’ve always wanted to visit Duvel Moortgat, making contacts with people from the brewery only to never make it there. Travelling from Mechelen to Gent, you can take a route that runs right past the brewery, so no more excuses. Breendonk is a small village within Antwerp Province which merged with Puurs municipality ion the 70s. Apart from its legendary beer, the town is known for the site of a Nazi concentration camp which transported prisoners to Auchswitz.

Ssh, here the Devil ripens
Ssh, here the Devil ripens

Jan-Leonard Moortgat and his wife founded what was then a farm brewery in 1871. When his two sons joined the brewery, Victor focussed on operations and Albert on brewing. They were committed to developing quality beers and inspired by beers from the UK, Albert travelled across the channel to acquire a special yeast strain, which came from Scotland. This strain is re-cultured to this day. Following the end of the First World War, a recipe had been established and the beer was christened ‘Victory Ale’. By 1923 it was re-named Duvel and its fame grew beyond Belgium and into the Netherlands. In the 1960’s the iconic tulip glass was created, with its large bowl designed to enhance the aroma and flavours and the narrowing of the top of the glass preserving the large, rocky white head and its carbonation.

Bezoekers (Visitors)
Bezoekers (Visitors)

Exported to over 60 countries, the brewery now produces more than one and a half million hectolitres of beer annually. Daisy Claeys, former owner of ‘t Brugs Beertje told me recently that Duvel had a ‘nose’ for finding good investments and making those investments stronger. In the late 90s, Duvel was one of the founding investors of Ommegang Brewery, New York before buying it outright in 2003. In 2001 they bought a 50% share in Bernard Brewery, Czech Republic and in 2006 acquired Achouffe in the  Belgian Ardennes. In 2008, after it went bankrupt Duvel purchased Liefmans in Oudenaarde and purchased Antwerp brewery De Koninck in 2010. They then purchased American breweries Boulevard in 2013 and Firestone Walker in 2015.

Vintage Advertising
Vintage Advertising
My type of bidon
My type of bidon

I was fortunate to meet Olav Blancquaert, Duvel’s Brand Ambassador, Master Brewer and former Head Brewer at Liefmans earlier this year, and he kindly arranged for me to take a tour around the brewery. Olav is also the son of the legendary Madame Rosa Merckx who led the brewing team at Liefmans for over 40 years. Zytholigist and travel guide Pascal Francois took me around the brewery. Throughout the tour Pascal emphasised the focus on quality throughout the brewing process with the brewery using only the finest malt, hops and their ‘special’ yeast to create their wonderful beers.

Mash Tuns and Kettles
Mash Tuns and Kettles
Fermentation and Largering
Fermentation and Largering

That day the team were brewing Vedett and Achouffe. Pascal explained that the brewery’s electricity is produced on site and that they are working towards treating all waste liquid to an extent that it isn’t disposed of but re-introduced into the brewing process. Sustainability is a key ingredient to this business and building materials in the new hospitality space is either reclaimed or made from sustainable materials.

Bottling- no foreign bottles
Bottling – no foreign bottles
'A Devil of a beer'
‘A Devil of a beer’

The tour ended with a tasting of course. Alongside the traditional Duvel brands – Duvel, Chouffe, Verdett – their partnership beers were also showcased. I tasted the new Vedett Session IPA 2.7% abv, continuing the trend for lower-abv session beers throughout Belgium. This was followed by an Ommegang Pale Sour, delicious at 6.9% abv. My only regret about this visit is that I was on my way to Gent by car and couldn’t stay longer to enjoy more of Pascal’s company and these delicious beers. Next time…

http://www.duvel.com/en

http://www.ommegang.com

https://www.bernard.cz/en

http://www.achouffe.be/en

http://www.liefmans.be/en

http://www.dekoninck.be/en

https://www.boulevard.com

https://www.firestonebeer.com

 

 

Belgian Summer Saunter 2018, Day Two Antwerp

De Koninck Brewery
De Koninck Brewery

I love Belgian railways. Cheap, on time, if you miss your train a guard will usually advise which circuit of alternative routes will get you to your destination, phone charging sockets, bathrooms, etc, etc. Leaving from Mechelen, in 20 minutes I arrived at Antwerp Centraal. Such a beautiful station, the grandness of its architecture is breathtaking. Arriving on a sleepy Sunday my first detour was to the De Koninck Brewery. With a history dating back to the early 1800’s this is the home of the classic Antwerp Pale Ale, a beer that you can order by the name of its glass alone – a Bollecke. Since 2010, the former one-beer brewery now has a wider range of beers within its portfolio and also showcases many of the other Duvel-owned breweries within its Taproom.

A classic
A classic

The tour requires no advanced booking as it is fully automated and interactive. Starting with a glass of one of their new beers, Triple D’Anvers on their sunny terrace you are taken on a history lesson of the city and the brewery.

Triple D'Anvers
Triple D’Anvers

The production of beer is delivered via a video screen on a brewing copper and numerous innovative AV tools are used to inform you of the brewing history and innovations that have occurred over time. I particularly enjoyed being taken on a virtual tour in a vintage dray – the child in you will love this!

Bollecke Glass Chandelier?
Bollecke Glass Chandelier?

There are two tap rooms – one for Duvel and the other featuring the De Koninck brands plus beers from Liefmans, Boulevard, Firestone Walker and Ommegang. You get two tasters of your choice and then I would recommend a tasting flight to try as many beers as you can. The room is very comfortable and were I with friends I would probably have stayed longer. The team behind the bar couldn’t be anymore helpful either, giving much-needed advice on how to navigate the tram from the brewery into the centre of the city.

De Koninck beer brands
De Koninck beer brands

So off by tram I went into the heart of Antwerp to take in a whistle-stop tour of most of my favourite city bars. Starting at the Pelikaan, a brown bar at the back of the Cathedral I headed to the Quinten Matsijs, the oldest continually licensed cafe in Belgium for some kaaskroketten and a beer.

Pelikaan, Antwerp
Pelikaan, Antwerp
Merckx at the Pelikaan
Merckx at the Pelikaan
Quinten Matsijs
Quinten Matsijs

After lunch it was time to take a quick tour of the city’s sights but the heat from one of the hottest summers on record forced me to take further liquid refreshment. Paters Vaetje wetted my appetite before venturing onto Ware Jacob, a lovely old brown bar specialising in local brews and British breweriana – I spotted an old Whitbread Best Bitter keg font I kid you not! Jack’s Precious IPA is part of the Belgian Legends series by The Musketeers Brewery who are building a new brewery in Sint-Gillis-Waas. Local brewers ‘t Pakhuis are also featured and I enjoyed their Zwarte Jacob stout.

Warre Jacob
Ware Jacob
Zwarte Sinjoor, Warre Jacob
Zwarte Sinjoor, Warre Jacob

A pair of local chaps insisted on taking me to a bar down the street. Not for the beer which was the usual selection of lagers and Belgian heavyweights but for their juke box – of sorts. Along the rear wall of the cafe is an old fairground music machine. I have never seen anything quite like it. They kept passing euros across the bar so that the landlady would keep playing the thing. Some of the locals had fingers in their ears. If you want to see Belgian Bizzare, head for the Beveren.

Beveren, Antwerp
Beveren, Antwerp

My next to last stop is my favourite cafe in Antwerp (the Kulminator was closed for holidays). The Oud Arsenaal on Maria Pijpelincxstraat is a wonderful local pub with a great beer list and a noisy, laughter-filled atmosphere. I tried their house beer plus SmasH Pale Ale from Brasserie C in Liege.

Torpah, Oud Arsenaal
Torpah, Oud Arsenaal

It was now time to get my train back to Mechelen. Just missing it I stopped off at the Bier Central on the square outside the station. Having some time before my train I also took advantage of a proper look at the interior of this station. Right up there with my favourite grand railway stations, it is pretty awe-inspiring.

Antwerp Central Station
Antwerp Central Station
Antwerp Central Station
Antwerp Central Station

 

http://www.dekoninck.be/en/home

https://www.facebook.com/Caf%C3%A9-Pelikaan-430809940641852

http://www.quintenmatsijs.be

http://www.patersvaetje.be

https://www.facebook.com/DeWareJacob

http://www.dorstvlegel.be

https://www.biercentral.be

 

 

 

Belgian Summer Saunter 2018, day one Mechelen

As is the norm in my house, this summer Wifey went back to the US to catch up with family leaving me the opportunity to cross the Channel to Belgium, visit breweries new and old, check out the beer scene within various cities and catch up with friends.

Arriving in Mechelen after a four hour delay at the Tunnel I was gasping for a beer. My host Frank obliged me with a fridge full of Het Anker beers – gratis – his effort to spread the love for this fantastic brewery. He even had the full range of glassware to go with his beers. A great start to the trip.

Gouden Carolus Tripel
Gouden Carolus Tripel

I was visiting Brouwerij Het Anker which I reviewed a while ago, follow the link: https://pauldav1963.wordpress.com/tag/brouwerij-het-anker/  However I wasn’t taking a tour of the brewery this time but dining in their brasserie which was unfortunately closed for refurbishment when I last visited. I also wanted to taste their new U.L.T.R.A. beer, a reduced alcohol pale weighing in at 3.7%. As expected dinner was fantastic, perch cerviche paired with the new U.L.T.R.A. beer – very tasty at 3.7%. Grilled rib eye, peppercorn sauce and Carolus Classic. Can’t wait to go back!

Brouwerij Het Anker
Brouwerij Het Anker

Other Mechelen highlights included a bar that is new to me. Makadam is located on the main square and has an interesting beer list with a focus on newer producers. I had a lovely Saison from Kerel with a view of the beach volleyball in the square.

Kerel Saison, Makadam
Kerel Saison, Makadam

Another steak at the consistently high quality Afspraak, on the road leading from the main square to Nekkerspoel train station was followed by some refreshing lambic at the Gouden Vis, a beautiful art nouveau cafe better suited for a date rather than a beer hunter. However, a real treat was to discover that an institution that I had assumed had been lost forever had re-opened. Den Stillen Genieter has risen from the flames and is located on Korenmarkt, a lovely tree-lined square with plenty of outdoor seating. 300+ beers available, mainly from smaller and new producers. I went there both days enjoying beers from Het Nest, Wolf and Kerel.

Wolf 7, on the terrace at Den Stillen Gentier
Wolf 7, on the terrace at Den Stillen Gentier

All in all another great visit to Mechelen, a lovely city that is easy to navigate with many bike routes out into the countryside. About 30 minutes to Antwerp it is a more affordable base from which to discover the delights of Belgium’s second largest city.

Goodnight from Mechelen
Goodnight from Mechelen

https://www.hetanker.be

http://www.dafspraak.be

https://barmakadam.com

http://www.degoudenvis.be

https://www.facebook.com/denstillengenietermechelen

 

Belgian Summer Saunter, part 4 – Hoppeland

My Belgian Odyssey was at an end and my final day would be spent cycling around one of my favourite parts of West Flanders, Hoppeland. Pitching up at Barbara Sedeyn’s lovely hotel Het Wethuys in the ‘brewers’ village’ of Watou and rolling out my trusty Boardman bike, a breathtaking five hour bike ride commenced. Watou is located on the French border, about 6 km from Poperinge home to the region’s triennial hop festival. A gentle 8 km ride brings you to Sint-Sixtusabdij Westvleteren, a Trappist monastery that happens to produce some of the most sought after beers in the world. You can’t visit the monastery and can only purchase their beers by reserving 2 crates by phone and arriving at your allotted time to collect them – don’t be late. This particular day was collection day and a long line of cars snaked out of the monastery gates, their occupants awaiting their purchases with thirsty anticipation.

Sint-Sixtusabdij Westvleteren
Sint-Sixtusabdij Westvleteren

However, you can taste their beers at the In de Vrede, just opposite the monastery gates. This tasting cafe is a vast ampitheatre dedicated to beer serving up all 3 of the Westvleteren beers, light snacks and a shop selling pate and cheese, souvenirs and when in stock Westvleteren beer. If you are very lucky they also have the odd ‘flash sale’ – just get in line and take whatever you are offered! Mid morning and it was time for a refreshing glass of Westvletern 8, a lovely 8% Dubbel that I prefer to the much lauded Quadrupel 12.  A truly great way to start a bike ride.

Westy 8
Westy 8

Time to put the hammer down and get some serious kilometres into the legs. The great thing about biking around this part of the world is that the bike paths are numbered and it is quite easy to navigate your way around your preferred route. You need to be prepared and a fietsroute map is essential – however, I left mine at home which meant I put many more miles into my legs than planned. The plus side is that I made my way to Woesten by mistake, home of the small but charming Deca Brouwerij. Founded in 1919 the brewery produce their Antiek and Vleteren ranges of beers. They also rent the brewhouse out to a number of small producers including Struisse and De Pose.

Deca Brouwerij
Deca Brouwerij

By now it was time to investigate the local eateries for a spot of lunch and I was lucky to spin past the Vleterhof, near Vleteren. This farmhouse tavern owned and run by the Fossaert-Demaeght family serves up a range of snacks, steaks and typical Flemish food. The portions are huge, the quality excellent and prices are very reasonable. The beer list includes Trappist and Abbey beers plus classics from Bosteels, Mortgat, Struisse and Van Eecke. The carbonnade was delicious, served with an enormous bowl of frites, a huge salad and home-cooked bread with farmhouse dripping – indeed, manna to a boyo from Penarth. Now refreshed and my stomach bulging it was time to continue my pedal around the region, taking in Doorntje by mistake. Mis-reading the road signs I was now heading for the North Sea, oops.

Cycling, West Flanders
Cycling, West Flanders

Next stop on wobbly legs was Brouwerij Van Eecke, now re-christened Leroy Watou. Founded in 1862, they produce the Kapittel range of abbey beers and the wonderful Hommelbier, showcasing the fantastic hops from around the region. I always anticipate their Fresh Harvest, released each autumn and made with an addition of fresh Poperinge hops picked during the harvest. I had a chat with one of the brewers who told me that I had come a couple of weeks too early for the production of their 2018 vintage – damn! The brewery passed into ownership of the Leroy family in 1962 who have their brewery Het Sas in Boezinge just north of Ypres. The breweries were merged in 2016.

Copper Brewkettle, Leroy Watou
Copper Brewkettle, Leroy Watou

By now the almost mediterranean weather was giving me a serious thirst, but I had one more visit to make. A quick-ish sprint up the Trappistenweg brought me to the gates of Brouwerij Sint Bernardus, another of my favourite breweries and the producers of their eponymous range of abbey beers. Founded in 1946, the brewery was established to brew beers for Sint Sixtus which continued until 1992, when the monks brought production back into the monastery. Sint Bernardus continue to brew the same beers and have expanded their range. Their Kerstbier is probably my fave Christmas beer. At the time of my visit, a major construction was taking place alongside the brewery just in front of their hop fields. Additional capacity for brewing and storage with an improved visitor experience is underway. I’m looking forward to re-visiting in December to monitor the progress.

Brouwerij Sint Bernardus
Brouwerij Sint Bernardus

Making my weary way back to Watou it was time to tie up my trusty steed, take a shower and plant my sore backside on the terrace of Het Wethuys. Watou is based around a neat village square, lined with restaurants and bars. Of particular note is Stefaan Couttenye’s restaurant ‘t Hommelhof, one of the best beer cuisine restaurants in the world. After my lunchtime binge I was in no condition to enjoy Stefaan’s amazing food so I settled down for the evening to enjoy some cheeky ones and soak up the sunshine. A big range of locally produced beers are on the list at Barbara’s place including their house beer which is made at Deca from a recipe created by her mum. Her restaurant dishes up some wonderful Flemish dishes too, including the house speciality Hopgalet – savoury buckwheat pancakes. The rooms are clean and comfortable and breakfast is not to be missed – hot and cold dishes, locally produced cheeses, meats and preserves. Delicious.

Hommelbier, Het Wethuys
Hommelbier, Het Wethuys

So time to bid Belgium farewell and to plan my next trip – December for shopping and the odd beer or two.

Deca Brouwerij
Deca Brouwerij
Deca Brouwerij, rear
Deca Brouwerij, rear
Leroy Watou, filter
Leroy Watou, filter
Leroy Watou
Leroy Watou
Sint Bernardus
Sint Bernardus
Sint Bernardus, construction
Sint Bernardus, construction
Cuvee Watou, Het Wethuys
Cuvee Watou, Het Wethuys

http://www.sintsixtus.be

http://www.indevrede.be

http://www.decabrouwerij.be

http://www.hetvleterhof.be

http://www.leroybreweries.be

http://www.sintbernardus.be

http://wethuys.be

http://www.hommelhof.be