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Amsterdam/Belgium Part 3 of 3

Posted by Jim Keaveney on 10/15/2004 10:17:38 AM

Probably should have gone straight to bed after a day and night like that. But with a fridge full of St. Bernardus on our last night in Watou, we had to have an Abt 12 for a nightcap. Breakfast was served in the beautiful glass encased garden at the B&B. Soft boiled egg, ham, cheese, warm French bread and fresh OJ. And lots of water. Recovery in progress and completed an hour later when I enjoyed a tripel in the parlor as we waited for the Bellbus. I should mention that we toured the brewery on the first day with brewer Bert Van Hecke as our friendly tour guide. He started out as a homebrewer like most and so we had a nice conversation during the tour. He gave me his card and asked that I report any issues concerning their beer in the U.S. I guess I am now on the quality control team. I asked why they brew 2 tripels (the St. Bernardus and the Watou) and the simple answer is that is what the customers want. Ok. Should have done a side by side comparison for fun. I forget which of the two he said was slightly sweeter.

We took the train to Izegem and searched for our room at the brand spanking new (in fact not quite complete) Park Hotel. Michele had received some atrocious directions from the hotel which had us crossing the bridge from the train station and heading to a roundabout, then making a right. Although I am familiar with that area because of Kroegske, I had no idea where this just - built hotel was. We finally asked for directions. Back to the round about, back over the bridge, down about 4 blocks, left for about 2-3 blocks. Having indulged so much on this vacation, I suppose the exercise was needed. Right. The Park Hotel is very modern and comfortable. Michele said it was too modern, we could not figure out how to turn the shower on! I believe the rates there are reasonable though we got the travel agent discount and so it was very reasonable for us. It would certainly seem to be the best choice for a hotel if you are to visit Kroegske.

The Kroegske opens at 7 pm on Fridays so that is what time we left our hotel (give them a few minutes to open). Kroegske is the finest beer bar I have had the pleasure of visiting. It was recommended to me emphatically by Bill Coleman at a Heavyweight open house and we gave it a try last year. We loved it and told Danny and Nadine that we would make it back some day. At the time we had no idea we would be there exactly one year later. The place is loaded with beer paraphernalia from top to bottom. Yet it still has a classy yet quaint appearance. Word to the wise though, they keep a stove burning in the dining area which I imagine makes the place even more cozy in the winter but I have never been there in the winter. It is very warm in the fall. I had learned my lesson from the prior visit and wore a short sleeve shirt but I was still happy every time someone came or went and I got a breeze from outside. (They do have outdoor tables in the summer). The music is mostly Celtic classic and very nice. The beer list tops 500 and the beer bible has labels and descriptions of many of the beers from the breweries. Of course, if you want more detail, Danny is happy to provide. There is also a separate vintage beer list upon request.

Nadine does the cooking and specializes in beer dishes and Danny handles the Beer. When you order a dish made with a particular beer, a bottle of the beer is brought with your dish. I had pork chops made with a Westmalle Dubbel glaze which came with tasty potato logs, broccoli and a carved out tomato filled with sliced juicy pears which went perfectly with the pork (not to mention the Westmalle). Michele had Flemish stew made with Piro bruin which came with fries and a salad. Even though I was full, I helped her finish the stew. Just too good and very reasonable prices. The place is fairly small with about 8 - 10 tables and they filled up after awhile and we gave ours away to some diners and moved to the small but cozy bar. Danny had been working late at his other job that evening and poor Nadine was running around handling everything until her son showed up and eventually, Danny. At Danny’s recommendation we tried two relatively new beers: Valeir Blond for Michele and Alvinne Blond Extra for me. I thought they were both very good. The Alvinne is dry-hopped and had a wonderful aroma and good bitterness-balance. Danny has a real passion for beer and enjoys talking with knowledgeable beer people. Of course we closed the place (1 am) with 2 vintage Westvleterens. A 1995 8 for me and a 1996 6 for Michele. I had the 1996 6 last year and thought it was the best beer I ever had. It was brown back then (until 1999 I think) and IMO should never have been changed. I thoroughly enjoyed my beer but a little taste of the wife’s made me a bit jealous. Both outstanding and of course, perfectly kept.

Izegem is a small town but seems to be growing. We noticed quite a bit of construction, many more people on the street than our last visit and of course, the new hotel. Danny told us that he is working on a book about the history of the many breweries that once existed there. If you are in West Flanders or Brussels, I highly recommend the short train ride to Izegem and the Kroegske for dinner and beer. It is only open on Thursday and Friday Nights and on Saturdays and Sundays.

The next morning we headed to Brussels which is about an hour by train. We stayed at the Marriott, an excellent hotel in an excellent location but with a hefty price tag for those not getting a (major) discount. Last year we did a bit of sightseeing but were really too exhausted to do much. We checked in and then headed for Cantillion for a self-guided tour. They have organized tours but I enjoyed walking around myself. The highlight for me (aside from the gueze I enjoyed while taking the tour) was the old fashioned wagon filled with hops. I’ll post pix at some point. There was an employee wearing a “Monk’s” shirt which is a popular Belgian- style bar in my hometown of Philadelphia. He had never been to the bar but said that they sometimes sell casks to Monks. Now that I am a fan of gueze beer, I will have to keep an eye open for that.

We wanted to visit a bar mention in TW’s guide called the “Lop Lop”. The impression TW gives from reading his description sounds like a cross between a typical biker bar in the U.S. and Belgian beer geek bar. Sorry to report it was closed. Permanently??? Instead we went around the corner to the Delerium Café. The Delerium café boasts some 2500 beers with a guarantee of 2004 at all times. I would like to be the person in charge of making sure they had all 2004. (a beer auditor?) They had 3 Fonteinen Lambic on hand pump which was very sharp and biting. I definitely prefer the oude gueze but was not unhappy. Delerium Nocturnum was on draught. We had some Maredsous cheese and bread which was good. There were many more Americans than I expected Overall, I thought it was a pretty cool bar. They have several sections including one that is open air and another that uses barrels for tables. There are dangling pink elephants everywhere. The female version of manniken pis is down the alley and quite amusing.

Around the Grand Place there are more eateries and pubs than you can count – probably more than Delerium has beers. At night many of the places have very aggressive salesmen trying to pull you in for dinner. We just wanted to have some mussels in Brussels so we settled on a place where the salesman promised that they had “every kind of sauce possible”. Er, eh, not quite. She settled on a standard garlic butter sauce (which was very good actually) and I had a mushroom cream sauce which was also nice. They also claimed to have every kind of beer. We gave them an easy assignment and ordered Duvel after the guy rattled off about a half dozen Interbrew beers.

Brussels is a big city, packed with tourists and a very diverse population. It is a totally different experience than any of the other cities in Belgium that we have visited. There certainly are plenty of things to do and see.

The next morning we walked to the train station lugging our backpacks and a lot more things then we came with. Michele just had to have a pair of boots she saw while window-shopping in Brugge and of course, the beer, glasses, chocolates, etc. It was a long journey home totaling nearly 16 hours from start to finish. (Trains, planes and automobiles). But I must say, it was well worth it and it likely won’t be long (1-2 years) before we return.

Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed it.

Amsterdam/Belgium Part 3 of 3 - Jim Keaveney, 10/15/04 10:17:38 AM
        Brussels cafes - Jeremy Gray, 10/17/04 06:19:44 AM
                Re: Brussels cafes - JimKeaveney, 10/17/04 09:55:37 AM
                        2004 at all times - JimKeaveney, 10/17/04 10:00:13 AM
                                Re: 2004 at all times - Jeremy Gray, 10/17/04 11:58:21 AM
        Re: Amsterdam/Belgium Part 3 of 3 - Glenn, 10/15/04 06:07:40 PM
                Re: Amsterdam/Belgium Part 3 of 3 - Jim Keaveney, 10/15/04 06:38:17 PM
        Re: Amsterdam/Belgium Part 3 of 3 - Bill Coleman, 10/15/04 04:01:44 PM
        Kroegske - Ian, 10/15/04 02:19:53 PM
        Re: Amsterdam/Belgium Part 3 of 3 - Warren Becker, 10/15/04 01:41:19 PM
        Jim, your story is a little long... - Bob Johnston, 10/15/04 10:40:10 AM

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Around Bruges in 80 Beers: 2nd Edition

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Around Brussels in 80 Beers

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