Sunday, November 10, 2013


The true title of this blog post is what we kept looking at each other, Mrs. Mountbreithaupt and I, while we were there:

"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
The trip started in Bruges, with a foray into the nearby countryside to visit the Westvleteren abbey and see the monks chant. Only, the monks were sick, and there was no chanting. Fortunately, we had a plan B.

and plan C and plan D
I don't need to say much more about Westvleteren, except we shepherded a 6-pack of Westie 12's back from Belgium without casualty. No, you cannot have one. Westvleteren 12 is the highest ranked beer in the world at Ratebeer, and also in the top 10 at Beeradvocate. It is a simply superb Belgian quad by any measure, and it sets the standard. What a way to start!

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?

Bottling Dalek

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'.
Our last brewery in Belgium proper (before heading into the Netherlands) was maybe our favourite. Brouwerij De Dochter van de Korenaar, whose name translates literally to "Daughter of the ear of the corn", an old Belgian reference to beer. This operation was the closest thing to a home brewery (in fact, speaking technically, it is a home brewery) and also hosts its own retail shop on premises with the brewer's family home.

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.
In addition to being a wonderful example of why North America suck with its hyperprescriptive zoning and puritan attitudes towards alcohol, the Dochter brewery also makes some amazing products. In particular, their barrel series:

Yes, they have both Laphroaig-barrel and Lagavulin-barrel aged beers.
The Charbon pictured in the corner above was also a standout smoked porter. And we got a few sips of something special: some Eisenbock ice-distilled beer, clocking in around 30% alcohol, served from a plastic iced tea bottle.

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.
But by the time we were at La Trappe we had crossed into the Netherlands. There, we also visited De Molen brewery and Brouwerij 't IJ, two Dutch breweries with one thing in common.

Apart from the fact they both have fermenters...

they both...
...are under windmills.
Thanks to Untappd and a few other notes, I know I tried some 69 kinds of beer (in sample size or larger) during the whole time we were there... including some opportunities outside the tour like our finding one of the only meaningful Parisian beer spots (La Fine Mousse) and discovering a great brasserie in Amsterdam Oud West called Gollem's Proeflokaal.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment