"Mother****ing Belgium, man!"
I'd make that the real title, but I'd feel bad if someone shares this out and gets dirty words all over their URL. But it's a word necessary to express that deep and fundamental amazement about being in mother****ing Belgium and drinking its fabulous beer.
We planned this trip a long time back-- and after some delay, it finally happened. The centrepiece of our foray across the water was a week-long tour hosted from a river barge (the good ship Fiep) by Ruth and Mike who together make up Bon Beer Voyage.
|Mike and Ruth, in the middle, along with the good folks at 't Waagstuk in Antwerp|
|The Fiep, our home for a week, resting in Amsterdam|
|and plan C and plan D|
In comparison, De Dolle Brouwers was much more quirky, a small but well-established brewery near Esen, Belgium. But no less worth the visit.
|Literally, "The Mad Brewers"|
|Who doesn't like a cheery yellow keg of oerbier?|
After Bruges, our stop in Ghent proved to be very interesting, and not just because of beer. Ghent reminds me of KW: 250,000 people, of whom 65,000 are students. While the town has lots of history, it is energetic and seemingly always reinventing itself. It is also the home to Gruut, a brewery specializing in beers without hops. While the herb mixes used to balance each beer's sweetness left me finding some fault with their thin-tasting Wit and pale ales, their malt-forward dubbels and darker beers were simply fantastic.
After Ghent was a grueling (or at least challenging) 3-brewery day. Bosteels, home of the Pauwel Kwak:
|A traditional Kwak glass. The beer inside is a nice malty golden ale.|
|The stainless steel halls of brewing|
|Bosteels' recently retired owner pours a champagne-style beer for Erin.|
The giant Duvel, which despite their size have some fantastic beer.
|Also, Hop Straat.|
And another small brewery, Malheur, in the wonderfully named town of Buggenhout.
|Got to catch the brewer recovering yeast from one batch to start the next.|
|Tripels a la Malheur|
|That's a paddlin'.|
Goes to show what's possible in Europe and not in heavily over-regulated North America: In Belgium, the brewer installs a condensation chamber on his vent hood so he doesn't bother his neighbours with lots of steam. In North America, you're just not allowed to run a commercial brewery at home, you criminal, now go back to your desk job.
|The head brewer alongside the equipment he custom built: insulated mash/lauter tun and kettle.|
|What's that? It's a recirculated hot oil kettle! The oil is heated to 130 celsius and run through these tubes to boil the wort.|
|Yes, they have both Laphroaig-barrel and Lagavulin-barrel aged beers.|
Which is also probably illegal in about 4 different ways here in Nanny Canada.
After Dochter, the famous La Trappe trappist brewery is almost unremarkable despite its size and history. Except when we got a hint of what brewing at that scale means:
|Malt delivery, La Trappe style.|
|Apart from the fact they both have fermenters...|
|...are under windmills.|
What this trip has left me with is a new appreciation for Belgian styles I had only sparingly tried and not really grokked... now I want to be able to replicate some of the dubbels and tripels-- and possibly even quads-- in their rich flavours.
It also left me with a hat.
|Once a kwak, always a kwak.|