After several years of soft planning, I’ll be departing for Belgium this Saturday for a beer vacation. To say that I’m excited would be an understatement. One of the most common questions I get asked by casual acquaintances is “Why Belgium?” Why not Belgium? It’s home to the European Capital. There are many world-class museums which include the Flemish Masters. If you’re a history buff, there are historical sites that range from Roman era ruins to WWII monuments. There are picturesque Medieval towns: Ghent and Bruges. Bruges was made famous in the Colin Farrel/Brendan Gleeson dark comedy “In Bruges.” There are more Michelin rated restaurants in Belgium than in France, which always seems to irk the French for some reason. And of course, there’s the beer.
Belgium has long been renowned amongst American beer lovers as the “Holy Land” of beer. From the Trappists to the Lambics, no country can quite boast so much variety and oddity in its beer selections. I’ve always had a fascination and love for Belgian beers since I first started getting into beer way back when. I remember my first Geuze, Boon. I remember how it blew my mind that a beer could be sour and taste so amazingly good. I remember tasting a Chimay and wondering how could they get that much weird flavor into a beer that’s made with same ingredients as the American Pale Ales I drank. Now I know all about yeast and the amazing flavor it can impart into beer. I’ve become a true lover of yeast driven beers and seek them out intensely. So when I had the chance to take my first real vacation, why wouldn’t I go to Belgium?
The first Week
I’ll be based in Antwerp where I’ll be staying with my friend who runs the “Football Tourette” blog. It’s your premier source for information and opinions on Club Bruges and Belgium’s National Team as they make their World Cup 2014 run. Antwerp is one of the great cities of Europe and I look forward to exploring it with a local. One of the things I’m looking forward to is checking out their local brewery De Koninck. It’s basically the city brewery and the one most identified with Antwerp. From Antwerp, I’ll be making day trips around Belgium using their great rail system. You can basically use a train to get to any part of Belgium you want in about the same amount of time it would take you to drive. And who wants to drive after visiting breweries? Am I right?
One of the first day trips will be to Brussels where I’ll do a short visit to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts (Yes, Belgium does have a king and a royal family). Then I think it’s on to Mort Subite for lunch and beers. I realize they make great Lambics, but they’ve also got Westmalle Dubbel on draft, rare even in Belgium! Of course, what sour beer lover’s trip to Brussels would be complete without a trip to Cantillon?
My next planned brewery visit will be to Brasserie de Brunehaut in the south-west of Belgium. This little brewery is making a splash in the United States and beyond with their extremely well made gluten-free beers. In addition, their St. Martin line is truly exceptional (especially the Brune). I’m also very curious to try their regional offerings. From there, it’s on to Chimay for an insiders tour of the Monastery and the brewery during their 150th Anniversary which will include a tasting of their extremely limited 150th Anniversary beer, only the 4th beer the brewery has ever brewed.
Then, a weekend in Bruges to explore this historically preserved city and to watch the Civil War game between Club Bruges and Cercle Bruges with Football Tourette. While we’re there, I’m sure a beer or three at De Halve Maan will be in order.
The Second Week
Next stop, Paris! I have exactly 0 beer related events planned for Paris. I’m going to Europe with a girlfriend, and intend on coming back from Europe with the same girlfriend. Although, if I do encounter a rare French Biere de Garde, I’ll most certainly partake. We do have a museum trip or two planned along with a boat ride on the Seine River and other Parisian pursuits. I’m sure many a croissant and bottle of wine will be conquered during our short stay.
On my return to Antwerp, my last scheduled trip will be to Roselare to visit Rodenbach where I’ll take a personal tour with Head Brewer Rudi Ghequire.
I’m sure I could hit more breweries, but there’s a certain charm in just planning on some touristy stops and walking into the local scene unplanned to see what pops up. And really, I’m basically hitting the major bases of Belgian beer: Trappist, Lambic, Flemish Sour, and more. I’ll try to post some blog posts while I’m there, but there is no guarantee I’ll have time. I’ll certainly have a ton of material to post when I get back, that’s for sure. I hope everyone has a nice last week of summer where ever they’re following my blog from and an equally pleasant first week of fall. I’ll be celebrating fall in Belgium!
I think about beer