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Archive for the ‘Belgium’ Category

Our hosts in Visit Flanders  provided comfortable accommodation both in Bruges and in Leuven, but these were in chain hotels that do not merit a blog post. The night in between, however, we stayed in a small family run hotel, Klein Nederlo, in the countryside. As rural as can be, but if you look closer, you see the highest buildings of Brussels in the distance.

There are sheep grazing in the fields next to the hotel. It is quiet enough to sleep with your window open – if you don’t mind a wake up call from the cock across the road.

Large, comfortable rooms, too, and a generous breakfast buffet.

I arrived at the Klein Nederlo at the end of a long day, I actually skipped a beer festival to be able to check in and freshen up. But at the reception I was told that their café was still open, and after a shower I felt I was ready for one more.

The Tavern has a menu of small snacks and more substantial meals, but at the time my main interest was the beer list. The usual suspects, of course, also Orval both fresh and cellared for one year. A few hand-picked beers I’ve never encountered. A Moriau Oude Geuze, a Witte Trippel from Ronaldus.

And two beers from the Brussels Beer Project. I went for their Delta IPA. The beer menu said blond, the label said IPA. The color is blond, the hops are definitely IPA. Spicy and herbal, yet there is something Belgian in the background, underlining the crisp bitterness.

Some locals finishing their meals in the back, a quiet and pleasant atmosphere as the day was coming to an end. A place to come back to – perhaps to enjoy a few beers on their terrace while reading a book? Buses with Brussels Zoo as their destination passed right in front of the hotel, so it should be easy to get there.

The Brussels Beer Project popped up again the other day. They are planning their own brewery, but are at the time being hiring capacity elsewhere. They go new ways, crowdfunding their activities and crowdsourcing to decide which test beers to  brew on a regular basis. Not surprisingly they are not in total agreement with the Belgian breweries who, in an open letter, use strong words about contract brewing.

Once more – I traveled to Belgium as a guest of Visit Flanders and local tourist authorities. They do not in any way influence the material I publish.

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Freddy Delvaux

Professor Delvaux guides in the old brewery

Zigzagging our way through the Flemish countryside, a lunchtime stop was at the Brouwerij de Kroon, where we were welcomed by Freddy Delvaux, head of the family that owns and runs the brewery.

But this is more than a brewery. A bar/restaurant, a museum and a laboratory. They call it a multifunctional centre of brewing and taste, no less.

 Let’s start with the lab part, which is where Freddy has his background. He was appointed head of the laboratory at the Artois brewery in 1973, and continued in this position for many years as the brewery merged many times over.  He also established a lab at Leuven University, which he ran for decades.

When the university told him he was approaching retirement age, he decided to set up on his own together with his sons, and they have established a lab doing services for 25 Belgian breweries. They also have a yeast bank, and they develop new beers for a number of breweries.

The facilities they use today was opened only last year, but in the same building as the historical de Kroon brewery, which closed down in the nineteen eighties  but is remarkably well-preserved – showing brewing methods going back many decades. The equipment and the recipe books show that the beers used to be brewed with mixed fermentation, among the beers they made was the lost style of Leuven beers. A modern beer inspired by this is brewed today, the Super Kroon.  The highest volume was lambic-like table beers with alcohol content between one and three per cent.

The modern brewery is next door to the old one, and this is where they make their own beers as well as developing and testing new ones for other breweries.

The brewery tap also reflects the activities in the lab. There is one beer here from each of the 25 breweries that de Kroon does the lab work for, in addition to the three house beers.

There is an enclosed courtyard in the center of it all, a sun trap even on a slightly chilly spring day. I did not really study the menu, but they have some really nice salads if you want to tend to your lunchtime hunger.

 

Of their beers, the mentioned Super Kroon was the most interesting. The tap line goes directly from the unfiltered tank in the brewhouse, the beer is a hazy amber. It is bittersweet and fruity, with an elegant lemon-like sourness.

De Kroon is reachable by bus from Leuven station, it takes about 25 minutes. You could do worse on a sunny day.

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Kris Boelens

Three weeks in the barrel

Leaving Brussels behind, it was time to meet our first brewer in the village of Belsele in the Waasland region.

The Boelens family has been brewing since the middle of the Nineteenth century. Our host was Kris Boelens, who took over from his father in 1980. A long history for a brewery in Flanders means large fluctations, with the two world wars brought both destruction of the brewing facilties – the stripping of all the copper – as well as restirctions on raw materials. Boelens was reducet to a distribution company at one point, supplying beer to a number of pubs and cafes in the area.

When Kris took over, he decided to make a new start, but his current brewhouse is still small, the batches are 2500 liters.  The old 500 liter brewery is rented out to those who want to make small batches.

He brews with local city water and gets malt from a maltery just 20 kilometers away.

There is a fairly traditional core range of beers, with a Dubbel and a Tripel, but also two honey beers, one from an old recipe at the brewery.

We were served a special treat, the Tripel Klok that has spent some time in Bruichladdich oak barrels. This has a smoky nose, the whisky blends in very well with the beer without taking total control. The secret? Only three weeks in the barrel.

Kris prefers to work with his core range of styles and not jump on any new bandwagons. As he summed it up:

You can have IPA and IPAPAPAPAPA.

They are open Tuesday-Saturday, check their web site for opening hours. I’m afraid I have no idea about getting there by public transport.

 

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Straffe Hendrik Wild

On the Wild side

This is actually a place I have visited before, I had lunch in the bright and airy restaurant/café some years ago. The Half Moon brewery is a tourist destiantion in its own right.  If you are in Bruges, this is a nice place to visit, good food and family friendly.

We did not meet the brewer here, but this is also a destination in its own right. While running a modern brewery, this is also a museum showing how the company has developed from its humble beginnings. The tour takes about an hour, be prepared for many steps up and down and some narrow passages, but also lots of breweriana and splendid views from the roof.

There is even a new beer worth trying, Straffe Hendrik Wild. A fruity beer with some brett adding another layer to an elegant beer. Apricots , almonds and funk. Limited edition – catch it while you can.

 I imagine this is a place that gets very crowded in the summer. Try to get on the first tour in the morning.

View from brewery roof

A brew with a view

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Lunch in Brussels meant cured meat, cheese and bread – and a beer tasting. While the two Moeder Lambic bars have established themselves as cornerstones on the Brussels beer scene, this is the first time I have visited any of them. Easy to find, minutes away from the main attractions for the tourist and strategically located if you are in town for business. Business usually meaning government.

We enjoyed a conversation with  Jean Hummler, one of the two owners of the company since 2006. With great passion he gave us samples of some of his beers while talking about his philosophy about beer (and food).

Their focus is on Belgian beer, but not exclusively so. Among the 150 Belgian breweries, there are 15 outstanding, according to Jean. When he considers which beers to order, he considers both taste and how the beers are made. Freshness is the imperative word, and the taps and the temperature control makes sure the quality is as good as it gets.

There is a broad range of customers in the bar, an estimate is 60 per cent local, the rest expats and tourists. Most are in the 25-25 age range, but there are also students saving up to drink the best beers they can get.

There is no best beer in the  world, says Jean, but there is one that is best for my palate.

Among the beers we got to sample were an Oud Bruin from Verzet, less sweet than others of the same style, and a very interesting brewery to follow.

Cuvee de Ranke is a blend using sour beer from De Ranke blended with Girardin lambic. The lambic has consumed the sugars from the other beer, but it still has a hop profile that is is more prominent.

This is a bar, not a restaurant, but there is excellent cheese, salami etc if you cannot tear yourself away.

Endless rows of beers on tap, bottles in the fridge, too. Not exclusively Belgian, we even got to try a fresh pale ale from Kernel while we were there. But the imports also have to live up to the demands for freshness that they set for the national beers.

Check out their website for a list of the current beers on tap. You will not regret a visit.

 

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Maturing bottles

For the years to come

On arrival in Brussels, I met most of my fellow travellers at the Cantillion brewery. We were not given any special tour, and I will not  waste your time retelling the information in their brochures. But if your are seriously interested in beer, this is a place you need to visit once. It is a living brewery museum, where lambic, the spontaneously fermented beer of the Brussels region, is brewed the way it used to be. If you want to see the active process, you need to turn up during the winter, as this beer can not be brewed during the warm months. There are open brewing days when you can participate more actively, too. Check their web site for details.

After finishing your trip, taking in the aromas of the beer alchemy taking place in the oak casks, there are two beer samples waiting for you. But there are also some special bottles you are unlikely to find anywhere else. We shared a bottle of the Zwanze 2012 Geuze with rhubarb. A fresh, well-balanced geuze with a hint of sweetness. Some rhubarb in this blend, but, while there is some fruitiness, it is impossible to detect any particular flavour from that.

Since my last visit – about seven years ago, I suppose, they have rearranged the reception area, expanding the shop and adding a sit down bar area. There used to be just a very basic counter and a few empty barrels, now there’s a lot of blond wood and a place where you could actually hang out and sample some beers.

But that was not for us. We had places to go. Many places.

Cantillon glasses

As real as they come

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George W. T.  Omond in Bruges and West Flanders, published in  1906. He has some advice on Bruges as well:

Their native Flemish is the tongue they use among themselves, but many of them speak what passes for French at Bruges, or even a few words of broken English, if some unwary stranger from acros the Channel is rash enough to venture on doing business with these sharp-witted plausible folk.

 In the table of content, there are lists of illustrations, some of them from taverns. They are, however, missing from the current electronic edition. We can only imagine.

 

 

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