Posts Tagged ‘Brussels’

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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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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A nap on the plane, a coffee on the train, ready for some sponanous fermentation. First stop of the Grand Tour of Belgium: Brasserie Cantillon.

As they say on their web site: A time machine. Back to beers from another age. Saved from extinction by a handful of enthusiasts. A museum, but a living, working museum.

We share a bottle of Swanze 2012, if there were rhubarbs involved in this they are hard to detect now.


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Belgian flag

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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The alarm rings at 05:30, I stumble out of bed and into the shower. There is time for a quick breakfast before we jump into the car again. I locate a clean shirt as well. In ten minutes we have parked and we drag our bags over to the terminal.

I have a loyalty card with SAS which means I can jump the queue and check in at the Business class counter, which comes in handy today. It is mayhem in the check in area, with people with skis, golf clubs, dogs and what have you going off on their vacations. The security line is moving at a snails pace, too, but we manage to get trough to international departures well before boarding time. I try leafing through a newspaper, but I nod off just as we are taking off, and I think all four of us sleep most of the two hour flight to Brussels.

Brussels airport i huge. On arrival, you walk for sol long you feel you’ll soon be leaving Belgium and end up in another country. Next worry: Is all the baggage her?. Yes, it takes some time, but it’s there. Next, the railway station.

Four tickets for the Gare de Midi, please.

We catch the 11:02 for Brussels.

It is spring in Brussels, The grass is green besides the railway line, and I swear I saw the cherries in bloom as we pass Schaarbeek. Most of the passengers get of at the North or Central stations, it’s just a few of us waiting for the last stop.

What next?

I find the ticket office for international departures. A new line and another 15 minutes of waiting, but I’m beginning to feel things are under control now.

Four tickets for the 14:57 Eurostar for London, please. Two adults, two children.

The ticket clerk taps on his keyboard.

It is cheaper to buy return tickets than one way. Here you are,  I made return reservations for you on 4 June.

We find baggage lockers and walk out into the sun. I have no map with me, and I do not want to stretch the patience of the rest of the family. No, I do not think they want to visit the Cantillon brewery, even if it’s five minutes away. And, actually, I have far too many beers waiting for me in Manchester. We stroll along the streets in the area, stock up on water and find a friendly Portuguese restaurant. An omelet, some calamares, a steak frites for me. And a Duvel…

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I don’t know how long the good people over at mo’time will keep my inactive old blog up, so I’ll republish a few of the best posts of 2007 here. I haven’t found a clever way to migrate the whole blog. The first offering is from the end of February:

This micro brewery in Brussels also functions as a museum for lambic brewing and has a tasting room for its products.  Both Cantillon and the lambic beers are covered extensively in any guide to the beer styles of the world, so I’ll just give you some personal impressions.

The concept is simple – you turn up at the brewery, enter and pay a 4 Euro entrance fee. You then get a leaflet explaining the brewing process, and you are free to wander around as long as you like. The start of the brewing process is like in any brewery, the difference comes at the point where you’d usually add the yeast. The lambic beers use spontaneous fermentation, which means that no yeast is added. Instead they expose the cooling wort to the open air, and yeast spores then, like Tinker Bell, come dancing on the breeze and settle in the beer. Theses spores could be anywhere in the environment, so they have to be extra careful when doing any alterations to the building. And they leave cobwebs and dust in some corner – the food control authorities are not too happy about that!

After the wild yeast has started to do its job, it’s time to fill the lambic into oak barrels, which, for the first three or four days, are overflowing with foam. After this has died down, a slow fermentation starts in the barrels, and this can go on for years.

Some of the lambic is bottled as geuze, some has fruit – cherries, raspberries or grapes – added in the process. At the end, a mix of new and old beers (up to three years in the cask) is bottled and sent to the market.

When you walk through this shrine to old fashioned brewing, you have the smell of beer evaporating everywhere, from open vessels and from barrels of various vintages. The strong smells tells you that this is a rather more expensive way of brewing than in large plants where everything is hermetically sealed to make sure you can bottle every drop.

And at the end you get to taste two or three varieties. The Geuze is a blend of 1, 2 and 3 year old lambics. It is more sour than bitter, with a lot of acid. You have no feeling of the malt or hops, it is a cider-like beverage, but extremely dry.

The Lou Pepe Kriek is their premium brand of cherry lambic. It is very smooth, with the cherries adding a new dimension. A little sweetness in the finish, but the sourness lingers, too. Very refreshing.

The last beer I tried was their Faro. This is lambic where they have added caramel and candy sugar. The yeast is still so potent that this will only keep for a few weeks. This was very sweet, had a peach-like fruitiness, but with the sourness underneath. A bit too syrupy for me, more interesting than outstanding. I guess that this was the form they drank much of the lambic in the old days, adding sugar as it suited the customers of a particular cafe.

You can get Cantillon lambics all over the world, and they even make special beers for other countries, with additions like blueberries and cloud berries.

If you want to really explore the world of beers, this is a family of beer styles you need to look into. Be warned, though, the sourness is not to every one’s liking.

I raise my glass to the enthusiasts who keep this running, keep it open to the public, and even sell their beers at a very nice price to people dropping by.

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Brussels – Bier Circus

OK, then, one more Brussels spot, this one a return visit.

It was the end of a long day of meetings, finishing up with a stand up networking dinner. Good food and pleasant company, but I needed some time of my own before going to bed. The Metro a few stops to the Central station, a short walk up hill instead down towards the Grand Place, and here I was at the Bier Circus.

It is a quiet weekday evening. Last time I was here the bar was more crowded, today it is easy to find a stool. Some regulars pop in, have a glass of the blond on tap and then continue into the night. The rain has stopped during the day, the temperature is quite blamy ( at least for a Norwegian). But the calendar says Christmas is right around the corner. So it is time for trying a few seasonal beers – there are more of a dozen of them in the beer list that otherwise runs into the hundreds.

There is one Christmas beer on tap, the lovely Tournay de Noëlfrom the Cazeau brewery. Lovely sweet and spicy, enough of a body to cope with both candy sugar and spiciness. Dark, warming beer.

I have room for one more, but some of the bottled Christmas beers are 0,75 l bottles of beer approaching 10%, which would simply be too much of a good thing at this stage. I go for a Winter King or Winterkonikske from the Kerkom brewery (Motto: We brew it here. We drink it here. We sell what’s left). This is a real winter warmer! Malt, sugar, spices, yeast giving a little sourness, warming alcohol. It is not dissimilar from the first one.

Attentive service without being intruding, no music that would offend anyone. 5 beers on tap, some of them rotating, a long beer list, a sensible prized menu including daily specials. Give me a local like this!

I pay the bill, compliment the bar man on their selection and stroll content out into the Brussels night.

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This pub is on the same street as the Bier Temple shop, but it is located at the end of a blind alley, so look for the sign, you won’t find any windows or doors inviting you in here.This is a serious beer bar. They have other drinks, too, but for once, this is focused on beer. The wines on offer are listed as just red, white and port, while there are about three dozen beers available, six of them on tap. The food is limited to small bags of crisps, as far as I could see. No real beer rarities here, but an easy going atmosphere and speedy service.

Some background music – sung in French – and small groups of people – who looked and sounded local to me – chatting, either at tables or by the bars while they enjoyed theri beers. The style? Sort of upper class gone seedy, rickety chairs, wooden tables and benches with the upholstery falling apart.

A very nice Christmas beer on tap,  Busch Noel. Sweet, nutty and warming. A dry finish of cinnamon and hops. Do I have time for one more? Sice the service is so speedy, I have a bottle of Cuvee des Trolls, too, a well balanced Belgian blond.

This was a nice oasis to sip a glass or two, particularly in contrast to the pretentious brewpub I blogged about a few days ago. Actually, this would be a fine bar to go with a bunch of friends and drink one’s way slowly through the beer list as the night creeps slowly towards morning and the demands of work and other duties are a light year away..

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This is a rather new establishment, but interior architects have clearly made sure that it looks like it’s been around for a century or so. I’m sad to report that it will not be around for much of this century, either, unless they get their act together.

Given its location, I’d guess it’s crowded in the high season, but it was not when I popped in. I got a sampler of 3 of their beers for € 6, which is not bad. I got the wit, the blond and the brown, the amber not being on.

The blanche had a sweet banana aroma, a little citrus sting in the tail, but rather boring. The blond was off. There was an aroma of rotting vegetables dominating the aroma, so it was impossible to finish the sampler glass.

Finally the brune. Syrupy sweet, like they took a beer and filled it up with syrup. Sorry, but this is not good enough!

There was loud Adult Contemporary music as muzak, and it managed to be rather smoky despite being almost empty.

You get some nice nuts to nibble on, I’ll give them that. And if you, even after reading this, end up stranded there, they have some bottled beers, too. Have a Kwak!

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