Our First Trappist

YiB-12Friday we were finally ready to get down to the real reason for our visit to Belgium. Flogging Molly was headed back to the States and Ute back to Germany. So after burning the candles at both ends on the first two days, we finally had time for some serious beer work.

Leaving Amsterdam mid morning, we took the train to the Dutch/Belgian border and picked up a car. Once we had a vehicle, our destination was Kluis Achel, the newest of the Trappist breweries and also our first Trappist that we have ever visited.

It was actually somewhat hard to find. Merideth’s job as navigator is not always easy and this wasn’t the easiest job. By the way, it sucks being the driver, too. My idea is that we would skirt along the border, hang a right at Eindhoven and then we would be there. Well, the Eindhoven roads were a big construction zone and unlike Germany, the Netherlands didn’t list EVERY possible town that you could reach via each exit. But after some trial and a few errors, and through the constant drizzle of rain we did reach the abbey.

Haven been only around since 1999, the brewery and it’s adjoining tasting room/cafe has a quite a school cafeteria look and feel. You even pick up trays and go down a line of food to a cash register at the end. And being cold, rainy, early December, we were two of maybe ten people in this cavernous hall. And definitely the youngest.

But don’t let that fool you… there is still great Trappist beer to be had.

We tried both beers available, the Blonde and Bruin. They are really good beers; smooth, delicious and very good at disguising their ABV. But having them at the brewery gives them that transcendental quality. Add artisanal cheese and then the dessert that was basically a cinnamon bun on top of a custard tart… wow!

After two days of non-stop partying and the drive, we were pretty wiped out. Luckily, we were just staying a few kilometers down the road in Hamont. If you visit Achel and stay nearby, spend your night at Villa Christina in Hamont. The building is from the 1750s and has been transformed into a really nice Bed and Breakfast… probably the nicest we have ever stayed at. You do have to climb up an original set of steep stairs that I am sure would not pass any sort of safety inspection in this day and age.

To cap off our day, we found a local’s pub in Hamont right down the street from our B&B, the Hotel de Klok. And they had a great selection of Belgian beers plus good food. I don’t eat beef but they had a stew, Stoverij, that is made with beef marinaded in Belgian beer. I stepped outside my comfort zone and had it… it was amazingly delicious. There is nothing better than finishing off the day with great beer and food.


Quite a First Day!

YiB-12We arrived in Belgium early Wednesday morning after a somewhat bumpy ride over to Europe. Landing in the predawn darkness at Brussels airport, we quickly passed through passport control, collected our bags and were on a train to Antwerp.

The challenge of day was to simply stay awake, as we were seeing a Flogging Molly/Street Dogs show that night. Since we had time and wanted to conserve our energy, we had a leisurely day planned that included a good deal of walking and only two beer stops. Freshly showered, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we set out from our hotel to check out the old city center on our way to Antwerp’s only brewpub.

The first stop was ‘T Pakhuis. Located on a quiet street south of the old city center, we were the first customers of the day. They had three beers available, a Blonde, a Bruin and a 9.5% Tripel that I wasn’t remotely interested in drinking unless I wanted to go to sleep immediately. Merideth started with the Blonde, myself with the Bruin. And a good sign was that Merideth liked the beer. She is not a huge Belgian fan so to hear encouraging words bodes well for the trip.

Though we have been to Belgium before, it was always in the French-speaking regions. In Antwerp, they speak Flemish/Dutch and this was our first introduction to the language. It shares a lot of words with German so you would think we could pick it up quickly. But that was not the case. Since it was slow, we were able to enlist the help of the bartender with key phrases and pronunciations. It’s still a work in progress.

Our only other beer stop for the day was to visit the Kulminator, Antwerp’s most notable beer bar. Though they boast less than a dozen taps, the Kulminator is world famous for their aged beer selection.

The bar is cozy, rustic and quaint. The major decorating feature seems to be a who’s who of beer bottles, whether as a candle holder dripping with wax or a dusty bottle adorning a shelf. A couple of cats made appearances now and then from behind the bar. Besides being a beer geek destination, their clientele seems to be mainly older locals, which added to the quirky ambiance.

We were handed the rather thick binder that was their beer menu. To say it was overwhelming would be an understatement. While we perused the seemingly endless beer listings, I enjoyed a Kriek from Kasteel and Merideth had Belgian Pils. Trappists, Guezes, Krieks. You name it, the Kulminator had them going back to the 1990s. Some were expensive (20 euro+), others could be had for a price of a regular beer.

In the end, we couldn’t choose. Part of the problem was jet lag induced indecision, but the other issue was that most of the beers were in the 9%+ ABV range. We still had hours to go before the show and we wanted to be awake to see it. We left Kulminator with a heavy heart. We wanted to stay all day but we needed to move on.

We made it through the day and it was finally time for the Flogging Molly/Street Dogs show. We had a good time like always and I happily survived a partial collapse of the crowd barrier when I was at the front. Not my fault.

Being in Belgium, I had visions of watching Flogging Molly while quaffing a Chimay Blue or a La Chouffe. So you can imagine my disappointment when I saw the only beer they served at the venue was Stella Artois.

As many of you probably know, I am not a big fan of “wife beater”. For me it lacks any real flavor or depth and is just a gateway beer for any other non-descript macro lager. But we had an extra drink token and I decided to give it a try. Where else would Stella taste its best than in its home country? My opinion remains the same; even in Belgium, it tastes just like any other non-descript macro lager.

After the show, we met up with friends at a bar in Antwerp’s city center. Here, not having a bunch of beer at the show paid off as Bar Mondial sported a nice selection of beer including several Trappists. So, we finished up our first day in Europe staying up to the wee hours of the morning enjoying beers from Orval and Westmalle. As we got back to our hotel after 3am, we were pretty impressed with ourselves for making it through the whole day. It might be a while before we top it as a first day in Europe.

Year in Beer – Belgium & the Netherlands Preview

YiB-12It’s pretty hard to fathom that I’m writing the last preview for the Year in Beer. It seems like just yesterday we were making sure we had enough winter clothes for our first ever trip to Alaska.

Being the last month of this amazing journey, we decided to finish with a bang, a flourish and a lot of beer. And what’s a bigger bang than visiting the most distinctive beer brewing country, Belgium. With their 100+ breweries and unique styles, the Belgians are the mad geniuses of the brewing world. We will also manage to make our first ever visit to the Netherlands.

There will be no rest for the weary on this trip as we step off the plane in Brussels, head straight to Antwerp to meet up with our friend Ute, and see Flogging Molly and the Street Dogs perform that night. Prior to the show, we, of course, will be taking in Antwerp’s beer scene.

Day two, we are off to Amsterdam to see another Flogging Molly/Street Dogs show as well as sample the unique treat available in that liberal city, Dutch beer. There are two brewpubs plus two world famous beer bars to check out before we see the last show of the Antidote Tour.

With the Flogging Molly portion of the trip behind us, it will be time to concentrate on beer. We have two main goals for this portion of the trip:

  • Visit all seven Trappist breweries. Whether we will get to drink the beer is another question
  • Reach 450 breweries on the list which means we will need to visit 16 breweries on the trip

We will be concentrating on two areas, Namur and Luxembourg (the Belgian province) in the south and West Flanders in the northwest to reach 450. The non-Trappist brewery hit list includes:

  • Brasserie de Bouillon
  • Brouwerij ‘t IJ
  • Caracole
  • De Bekeerde Suster
  • de Bie
  • Fantome
  • Halve Maan
  • Kerkom
  • Pakhuis
  • Rodenbach

And if that hasn’t been enough, we will be finishing up our trip at the Kerstbierfestival, a Christmas beer festival in Essen, Belgium. In two days, approximately 100 Belgian holiday beers will be poured. And from what we have heard from friends, there isn’t a festival quite like this.

And then the Year in Beer will be behind us. But there is the book to look forward to and then maybe the ‘made-for-TV’ movie. I want David Boreanaz to play me.