Belgium Notes 5-8 March
Posted by MikeK on 03/20/2003 04:23:10 PM
Denise put together a trip to London and Brussels and there were about 30 people. I won't say much about drinking in London other than we had another wonderful evening with Jeremy and Theresa and Thom and Paulette and Keith (who I had not previously met) at the White Horse. Some friends of mine from the group joined us, including Rob who has a substantial background in beer hunting, his wife Anne and Kathleen and Chris (who like beer but aren't afficianados). Once again, Jeremy and I made a trans-Atlantic beer exchange.
We took the chunnel to Brussels on Wednesday. We stayed at the NH City Center off Avenue Louise on Rue de Charlerois. They were replacing their generator when we arrived forcing everyone to walk up five flights of stairs. I went off to see the Victor Horta house museum which is quite spectacular if you like art nouveau. Denise and I then met up with Rob and gang at the Lop Lop Bar because it is relatively easy to find and has a large enough beer selection to keep everybody happy in case some part of the group was late. We had the Affligem blond and Lop Lop's house Grand Cru which was pretty good, but I do not know who brews it for them. Since we were hungry and trying to keep things simple we went to Chez Leon for mussels. We then headed off to Porte Noire for a session. It was very crowded and we wound up in the very back room and we had to go out to the bar to get candles. But we were pretty happy with the selection.. Denise had gone back to the hotel to take care of business. Rob buried his nose in Webb's guide and we started some serious drinking. Rob is quite serious about beer and his wife is fairly knowledgeable. Their friends like beer but are not seriously into it. Anyway Rob and I had the following Gouden Carolus triple, Ambiorix dubble, La Divine, Chateau Ramegnies-Chin, Quintine Blond and Verhaeghe's Caves.
Thursday there was a group tour to Bruges. We left late enough, 10 AM, so that we would not have to come back until 6 PM so that we could at least have a short session Brugs Beertje (there are limits on how long a bus tour can go before exorbitant surcharges kick in). It was raining when we left Brussels and the bus driver wanted to get out of town as quickly as possible because of a fireman demonstration which he said promised to tie up the streets (later in the week other people had a half day tour of Brussels disrupted because of protests in various places including one where there was tear gas being set off.) We passed the Belle Vue brewery, which turned out to be a good omen later.
We had a very good walking tour of Bruges. The guide was very knowledgeable and entertaining. Although I usually don't travel with group tours (except when Denise runs them) I have done enough to realize this guy was definitely above-average. Besides doing a good historical tour he also explained, after saying he does not like to bring politics into his talks, that the only reason Belgium was backing France is that the Belgian oil company had been acquired by a French oil company and the French government ordered the Belgian government to do what France said (I have no idea if this is true). He also mentioned that he was giving up Belgian citizenship because he had been born in Luxembourg and since taxes are so much lower there he was going to resume his Luxembourg citizenship, at least on paper. Finally, we ended up at the Groeninge Museum which has just been reopened after renovations. He did not like the renovations and I was not excited by them either. I had only been there once but now it is very bright inside and some of the most important paintings are covered by protective class. Consequently, you can barely see the paintings because of all the reflections off the glass.
After the tour we went to Erasmus for lunch. I had never been there before. The owner was quite amusing. One of Rob's friends ordered a Straffe Hendrik. He refused and suggested that she order a real beer. Denise and I had a draft Moinette and Pere Noel and Vive da Kapel (sp?) and Achel Bruin in bottles. The food was good too.
Denise went off with friends to do some shopping. I did some shopping on my own then headed to Brugs Beertje and got a La Gauloise Brune (after saying hello to Daisy from Jeremy). There was a group of people (3 guys 2 gals) in their early 20s who were very interested in beer. They joined me at a couple tables and it turned out that the gals are into serious gueuze so I recommended a Hanssens Oudbeitje and a Drie Fonteinen kriek. Rob and his gang showed up and we got down to a frantic drinking session since we had to leave the bar around 5:30 to get back to the bus. I had a St. Louis Fond Tradition gueuze and a Regenboog Christmas. Rob bought a bottle of the Gouden Carolus Christmas to take away. We wandered back to the bus arriving at around 5:50. But the bus driver was not happy. He had scheduled an appointment at the Brussels airport for 7:15, even though we weren't scheduled to leave until 6:00 and return to Brussels until 7:30. He then snarled at us for walking around in the bus--we were drinking the Gouden Carolus and other beers in the back.
Drunken confusion ensued upon our return but eventually we camped out in the friendly little bar across the street from our hotel (I think it was called Stephanie). No great selection but Duvel, Orval, and a few other decent beers. We then wandered up the street and found a cafe with traditional Flemish cuisine and there was some decent beer as well, including Rochefort 8 and 10. It seemed like a good idea at the time but it didn't occur to me that 10 people arriving after 9PM would severely tax the kitchen staff. So it was a long wait for food but the food was pretty good. I got stoemp. Denise ordered with a sense of adventure and wound up with kidneys--we think.
Friday we went to Huy, pronounced we. Or so we think. I asked at the hotel desk and the French speaker wasn't sure how to pronounce it but we settled on we, sort of. Why Huy? Well we picked Huy from a guidebook because it sounded quaint and then checked Webb and found that Huy has a very good beer bar, Big Ben. It is about 90 mins from Brussels. We left the train station and started walking hoping we were going in the right direction. We were. But we were also kind of giddy in Huy and started making Huy-we comments. Had we ennui in Huy? Perhaps, but it is a very nice little town with a wee Grand Place, an impressive cathedral and an imposing fortress on top of the mountain overlooking the town. But we weren't planning to climb up to fortress so we wandered to the wee Grand Place and discovered, to my horror at least, that the highly rated Big Ben beer bar was closed for vacation, as well as a couple other restaurants. We also discovered that the people of Huy are very slow about taking down their Christmas decorations--there were lots of Christmas lights still hanging and the Grand Place still had stands that looked like they were from a Christmas market, but of course they might be used for other purposes well into March. We selected a restaurant on the Grand Place and had lunch. Fortunately, the restaurant had Rochefort 8 and 10 to go with our crepes. So we finished lunch, spent some time in the cathedral, and wandered back to the train station going a different way then we had used to get into town. This was a mistake since it took us to the left and above the train station and then we had to go through a park to get down to the station. Back to Brussels. Huy we had seen and Huy we had conquered. I would not discourage anyone from visiting Huy, it is a charming little town. Just make sure the beer bar is open when you go. (Rob, in the meantime, had taken his gang and the other beer fans off to Beersel to Drie Fonteinen for lunch.)
After returning to Brussels we went to the cathedral and then did some shopping. Denise headed off with our friend Peggy to shop and have dinner. I headed off to Zageman to drink some gueuze. I tried to go there twice on previous visits but both times it was closed when I thought it was supposed to be open. It was worth going back to. The beer selection is not huge but there are some good beers besides the collection of gueuze. And the bar is full of beer, particularly gueuze, memorabilia. But the surprise was finding Cantillon faro on draft. As expected, I ran into MatW and his friend Paul and we chatted. I also had a Girardin black label. We then took the Metro to Bier Circus.
There was a performance next door at the Cirque Royal and the Bier Circus was crowded. We started at the bar then moved to a table where we were joined by another friend of Mat and Paul's. Patrick was in a much better mood than during my last visit. And we did try to order in unison. I had a Boelen's Kerst, Mat and I split, from the vintage list, a Caracole Bier D'Essai from Nov 1997, an experimental beer made with DeDolle yeast. It smelled like sherry. I finished with Rochefort 6 and headed off in the rain to meet Denise and Peggy while Mat and Paul headed off to the train. We met at the charming Imaige de Nostre Dame which has a pretty good beer selection as well. I had a Malheur 10 on draft. We then wandered over to Poechenellekelder where Mat told me I could buy 1992 Belle Vue Selection Lambic! I got two bottles. We grabbed waffles and then grabbed a taxi with a talkative driver who loves San Diego, Las Vegas and all you can eat buffets.
Saturday I was off to Antwerp taking along a few people from the tour since they were on their way to the zoo. Denise was spending the day in Brussels and Rob was bringing his gang to Antwerp slightly later and planning to meet me at Kulminator around 5PM. I was hoping to go to Aux Armes de Tirlemont but it was very closed. I was also on a mission for Denise, she needed me to buy T-shirts for her niece and nephew. There are only four junk shops near the cathedral and grote markt. I checked them all and went back to one to buy. As soon as the owner realized that I was American he asked what I thought about the international situation. I said that it was old-fashioned power politics with France and Russia feeling the need to balance the power of the United States, hoping this was a relatively safe thing to say. He then went off on a 15 minute mostly-monologue "Do not buy French wine or Belgian chocolate, we do not deserve your money. After all America has done for us and we do this to you. Do not spend your money here." Of course he let me pay for the T-shirts. He went on to say that he had worked in Iraq in construction for 10 years and knew what Hussein was like how he lived in luxury and how he kept the people in poverty and fear and how he certainly has weapons and how Hussein must go. I thought about asking him about what the tour guide said about the Belgian oil company being acquired by the French but I realized if I did so I would not get out of there for another 30 minutes. As it was, I told him that I am a bit of a historian and he began telling me everything he knew about early American history. "Ponce de Leon. Hernando Cortez..." I heard as I bid adieu--oops pardon my French--as I said "see ya latah" and shuffled out the door T-shirts in hand.
The rest of my afternoon would be devoted to the Plantin-Moretus Museum. Part of my job responsibilities include being a rare book curator. The Plantin Museum is one of the best history of the book/history of printing museums in the world and I had only been there once before. Besides being a book museum it is also a great house museum since it preserves the 17th-century home and printing facilities of the Plantin-Moretus printing dynasty. So besides a lot of books there are restored rooms, Ruben's paintings, and old printing equipment. It is a little hard to find but well worth the effort if you are interested in anything historical.
I then went to Oud Arsenaal for one round before heading to Kulminator. Oud Arsenal was incredibly crowded and I wound up finishing my De Koninck brewed house beer on the chilly patio. I then went off to find frites. I was hoping to find something nearby since I was relatively close to Kulminator and didn't want to go back to the the frituur on Hoogstraat. But do you think I could find frites in Antwerp? So after walking around in circles for 20 minutes I finally gave up and went to Hoogstraat, which I should have done right away, and then headed to Kulminator where Rob had started drinking without me. The rest of his gang showed up shortly.
I redeemed my birthday card for a draft Gouden Carolus Christmas. Then Rob and I split bottles of De Cam 1999 gueuze and De Troch 1999 Cuvee Chapeau gueuze. I lost track of all the beers but I remember the following mostly between Rob and me. 1985 Stille Nacht, 1980-82 DeDolle Oerbier, 1991 Chimay Blue, a 1995 Kriek (Mort Subite?), 1982 Thomas Hardy, 1982 Fine Old London Christmas (brewed by Bosteels), and a 75cl 1985 Brunehaut 8 with a 25 Dec 1985 date stamped on the label. In the meantime we started chatting with other patrons and had a really great time.
We caught the train back to Brussels got up Sunday and flew home. However, we did have a bit of excitement. We were about a minute from landing in Newark when all of a sudden we were going back up fast. The pilot explained after we leveled off that there was a plane still on the runway and we didn't have enough runway for a safe landing. But my beer arrived safely, as did the beers I brought back from Jeremy. Next stop, Scotland in May (with Jeremy's party too)!
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