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Archive for the ‘Belgium’ Category

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I had to rearrange the schedule of my day job this Easter. In Norway, this is serious vacation time. Many take the whole week off, going skiing on the last patches of snow or opening their summer houses for the season.

I’ll be home most of the week. I was supposed to be on duty the week after Easter, but I received an email that made me change my plans.

Visit Flanders, the tourist promotion body for the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, has invited 8 Scandinavian beer writers for a four day visit from 24 April.  Four Swedes, two Danes, two Norwegians.

We will be visiting cafes and restaurants, breweries and beer festivals.

Here are the breweries where we will make a stop:

  • Cantillon
  • Brasserie de la Senne
  • De Halve Maan
  • De Struise Brouwers
  • Brewery 3 Fonteinen
  • Brewery De Kroon
  • Hof Ten Dormaal
  • Domus

 

Full coverage here on the blog, but also on twitter, @KnutAl, and Facebook.

This is a part of what looks like a general push for Belgian beer tourism. The craft beer explosion has swept the globe, but Belgium has the whole range from historical styles saved in the nick of time to daring newcomers pushing the boundaries. In my nine years of beer blogging, I haven’t given Belgium its fair share of coverage – I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to remedy that.

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Over the years, I have written about the beer scene in many European countries, but I haven’t written very much about Belgium. Sure, I covered some places in Brussels and Brugges, but I am a novice compared to those who make annual visits and know both the back streets of Antwerp and the green country lanes of Payottenland.
I am happy to tell that I belong to a group of eight Scandinavian beer writers invited to a four-day visit to Belgium next month. More about the itinerary later.
I like to plan ahead, so I have already spent some time with google maps, guide books and other sources.  My guides to Belgium were a few years old, so I thought I’d check what’s available.
There are guide books of all shapes and sizes. With 3D drawings of palaces and museums, with pull out or fold-out-and-never-able-to-fold-back-again-maps. And there is a peculiar tradition among the guidebook publishers – they hide the publication date of the book as well as they can, fearing that they will be considered past their sell-by date.
But there are some real gems out there. On Amazon, there are scans of old and out of print books, I stumbled across Peeps at Many Lands: Belgium by George W. T.  Omond, published in 1909 and now in the public domain.
According to Wikipedia, the author was awarded the Order of the Crown for his books about Belgium. I have a nagging feeling that the Belgians did not read the books before giving him the award.
A few highlights:
…..This seems a dull and hard life, but the Flemings do not find it so. Like all Belgians, they are fond of amusement, and there is a great deal of dancing and singing, especially on holidays. Sunday is the chief holiday. They all go to church in the morning, and the rest of the day is given up to play. Unfortunately many of the older people drink too much. There are far too many public-houses. Any person who likes can open one on payment of a small sum of money to the Government. The result is that in many quite small villages, where very few people live, there are ten or twelve public-houses, where a large glass of beer is sold for less than a penny, and a glass of coarse spirits for about the same price. Most of the drinking is done on Sunday, and on Monday morning it is often difficult to get men to work. There are many, especially in the towns, who never work on Mondays. This is quite understood in Belgium, and people who know the country are pleased, and rather surprised, if an artisan who has promised to come and do something on a Monday morning keeps his word. Of course there are many sober work-people, and it is a rare thing to see a tipsy woman, much rarer than in England; but there is a great deal of drunkenness in Belgium.
…………………….
The rooms in these public-houses are pretty large, but they get dreadfully hot and stuffy. The constant laughing and talking, the music, and the scraping of feet on the sanded floor make an awful din. Then there are sometimes disputes, and the Flemings have a nasty habit of using knives when they are angry, so the dancing, which often goes on till two or three in the morning, is the least pleasant thing about these gatherings.

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I didn’t expect much.

That’s always an advantage.

Many summers on the shores of the Mediterranean have taught me that there is plenty of pale lager, and the rest should be counted as a bonus. Barcelona was an exception.

So I arrived in Antibes without any significant hope of beery experiences. I had one excursion planned, but I’ll come back to that in a separate post.

A little background first. Antibes is on the French Riviera, between Cannes and Nice. A postcard pretty town, conveniently close to Nice airport. IT has one of the biggest yacht harbours in the area, giving a distinct upper class feel to some of the shops and establishments.  At the same time, cheap flights from the Nordic countries mean a steady supply of more laid back visitors.

The beaches are not too crowded, and they tend to be open to the general public without outrageous fees for sun chairs and parasols. There is a great market with local food every morning, there are plenty of mid-price restaurants with good food. Even the snacks sold from kiosks at the beach are freshly cooked. You can choose between five types of cheese in your sandwich, and the french fries are made from potatoes peeled, cut and fried at the spot.

The beer market seems to be firmly controlled by Kronenbourg, nowadays owned by Carlsberg. That means their standard pale lager on tap in most places, in supermarkets supplemented by superstong lagers and oddities like a Tuborg with vodka flavour. (Don’t ask me!)

But all is not bad. I don’t know the organisational setup, but there seems to be a distribution deal where Kronenbourg allows a few Belgians into their fridges.  And this does not mean just any Belgians. In numerous supermarkets, including the kiosk near our hotel, you find Duvel and blue Chimay ready available.

I can live with that for a week.

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The lineup for this year’s event in Drammen (30 minutes from Oslo) is more or less ready.

This year it takes place on Friday, May 24 (16-22) and  Saturday, May 25,  (12-22).

Confirmed participants so far:

  • Aass Bryggeri (N)
  • Bierbrouwerij Emelisse (NL) @Rest_emelisse
  • Birrificio Toccalmatto (IT) @Toccalmatto
  • Brouwerij de Molen (NL) @molenbier
  • De Struise Brouwers (B)
  • Haand (N)
  • Lervig Aktiebryggeri (N)
  • LoverBeer (IT) @LoverBeerBrewer
  • Magic Rock (UK) @MagicRockBrewCo
  • Monks, Stockholm (SE) @Monksevent
  • Naparbier (ES) @Naparbier
  • Närke Kulturbryggeri (SE)
  • Partizan (UK) @partizanbrewing
  • Picobrouwerij Alvinne (B) @alvinnebeer
  • S:t Eriks Bryggeri (SE)
  • Ægir Bryggeri (N)

I particularly look forward to the return of Magic Rock, the new London brewery Partizan and Lervig from Stavanger, Norway. Not to mention Alvinne, Emelisse, de Molen and the rest of the stellar lineup.

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The Haandbryggeriet beer festival sold 1200 tickets in total on the Friday and Saturday, the budget was 1000. This means a new festival next year, I will keep you posted.

But back to this years event. I have praised the setup, but how were the beers?

First of all, I was only present at the Friday session, meaning I cannot do justice to all breweries present. I did not go through the range of beers from the hosts, for example, as I hope I will be able to taste them later.

Prestesonen is a new porter from the Norwegian Kinn brewery. Not trying to be too pretentious, this dark brown beer has a smoky nose and a fairly light palate. Roasted grain and coffee, fine balance.

The Oaked Sunturnbrew from Nøgne Ø has not been barrel aged, but is a special order that’s been aged with oak chips. I feel there is some extra dryness compared to the regular version, maybe some vanilla, too. This is one of my favourites among the Nøgne Ø beers, but I’m not sure if the extra treatment really lifted it.

A legend in European beer circles is the Stormaktsporter from Närke in Sweden. The version available here was aged in Cognac barrels, adding an intense aroma that was very much to my liking. The Närke stand was probably the hit of the festival, both for the eccentric range of beers and for the great visual presentation.

De Molen from the Netherlands had brought a wide range of brews along, some of the will probably turn up in Copenhagen this week as well. The had a brand new Flemish sour ale in two versions, one aged with cherries. I preferred the variety without the cherries, having a cleaner sour flavour which I really enjoyed. We’re talking Rodenbach territory here.

But the brewery which really made my day was Magic Rock from Huddersfield, England. Lovely keg versions of ales available on cask closer to home. This small-scale operation is inspired by American craft beers, meaning a far more liberal use of hops than the standard British fare.

Their Amber ale, Rapture, had a stong, refreshing herbal bitterness. Low in alcohol, intense in flavour, this would make great drinking for the summer months ahead. Honorable mention for their High Wire and Cannonball beers, too, but my highest praise is reserved for their imperial stout, the Bearded Lady. The regular version come in bottled form, and is a smooth and deceivingly soft tipple with fine chocolate tones. The barrel aged version has a lovely bourbon character, smooth beer given extra dimensions. Sweet and dry, charcoal, some sour smoke in the background. Oak and smoke in the tail. All these served by two friendly brewers.

The rest of my notes are blurry. I hope the good people from Emelisse and Alvinne come back next year, so I can do justice to their beers.

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Might be old news to some of you, but these Belgian stamps featuring Trappist beers have just reached my attention. Lovely.

If more countries follow up, I’ll have to start collecting again.

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Summer sipping

Sure, a crisp pilsener or a clean IPA is usually what you want when the summer really sets in. A hefeweissen, perhaps. No smoked bocks or chocolate overdosesAn alternative is to go for one of the classics. It does not come in champagne bottles like its upmarket siblings. You don’t have to go to a dingy back street bar and mumble a password to get it, either. In Brussels, you get a fourpack for 5 Euros or so.

Canned Rodenbach. Sweet and sour. As refreshing as it gets. Who needs Campari?

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The follwing description of the Villaggio della Birra 2010 beer festival sounds like just the thing if you are in the area:

It takes place on 11 and 12 September at Bibbiano, Buonconvento, Siena.

Amongst the sweet rolling hills of the Siennese countryside, rises the village of Bibbiano – not more than a couple of houses. It is in the direct neighbourhood of Buonconvento, in a valley that has been an ongoing inspiration for poets and painters.
This year, however, it will not only be the enchanting landscape that will astonish the traveller, fortunate enough to pass by, but as much its inhabitants: brewmasters from Belgium and Italy that proudly will display their knowledge and products for him. Beerexperts and artists alike will transform the little hamlet into a lively Village of the Beer.
The result will be an unforgettable trail, that will enable both the passionate as the curious, fortuitous amateur of beer to explore the traditional artisanal beers from Belgium, as well as from the vivacious Italian culture. The Village of the Beer will take place on September 11th and 12th 2010.
After purchasing a token, one will be able to taste artisanal beers, try out dishes, based on beer, and compare one’s own impressions with those of experts in sensory workshops….
Village of the Beer is an all-round, 360° experience – meaning space for homebrewers, for a beershop, for gastronomical stalls, live music and artistic exhibitions…

If that wasn’t enough, here are the breweries and brewmasters:

Belgium:

Boelens Huisbrouwerij (Kris Boelens)
‘tHofbrouwerijke (Jef Goetelen)
Den Hopperd (Bart Desaeger)
Brasserie de Cazeau (Laurent Agache)
Brouwerij De Ranke (Nino Bacelle)
Brouwerij De Leite (Luc Vermeesch)
Brasserie Artisanale de Rulles (Grégory Verhelst)
Brouwerij Sint Canarus (Piet Meirhaeghe)
Glazen Toren Brouwerij (Jef Van den Steen)
Hof ten Dormaal (Andre Janssens)
Schelde Brouwerij (Frans Ooms)

Italy:
Birrificio l’Olmaia (Moreno Ercolani) – St. Albino Montepulciano (Siena)
Birrificio Italiano (Agostino Airoli) – Lurago Marinone (Como)
Pausa Cafè (Andrea Bertola) – Torino
Birrificio Toccalmatto (Alessio Gatti) di Fidenza (Parma)

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Just to let you know that the latest issue of All About Beer Magazine has a special supplement – Beer Traveler. Focus is on the US, but there are articles about Germany and Belgium, too. A list of 150 Perfect Places to have a beer will surely lead to discussions. Nice to see Olympen in Oslo at number 98, but I would probably have skipped the visitor’s centres of Heineken and Guinness.

Btw, the magazine itself is recommended, I don’t know of any other beer periodicals with such a consistently high quality currently available.

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As I said, there was no clear trend at the festival. Sometimes everyone rushes to brew, say, smoked beers, but not this time around.

Among my personal favourites were a saison variety from Brooklyn Brewery, Sorhathi, and a series of lambic beers brewed with a variety of hops from Revelation Cat.

Eklipse, a splendid pale ale from Djævlebryg at 4.5% abv, meaning a session beer from this brewery in addition to their mighty imperial stouts. A few more beers in their stable, and you could have a bar devoted exclusively to Djævlebryg. (Sure, it would probably have a rather satanic style..)

Great stuff from De Molen, their limited stuff seemed to sell out very fast.

A splendid imperial stout from Midtfyen, a brewery I have to explore a bit further.

Harvey’s Prince of Denmark, was one of a long list of choices of British ales from OnePint.

And several many very good beers from the two breweries with the broadest range at the festival, Nørrebro Bryghus and Mikkeller.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Hornbeer at the last two festivals, they were not as consistently excellent this year. A nice Oak Aged Cranberry Bastard, but their Czech pilsener was actually the only beer at the festival I was unable to finish. Porridge.

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