We Reached Our Goals… almost…

YiB-12We had two main goals for this trip; to visit all seven Trappist breweries and to both reach 450 on our list of breweries. Well, I am happy to report that we reached 75% of our goals.

The part we fell short on was that while I reached 450 breweries, it looks like we will return to the States on Monday with Merideth stuck on 448. Some conspiracy theorists will think I did this on purpose, but the blame all rests on the shoulders of Brasseries Caracole and Bouillion for having messed up winter hours. It was always in the master plan for both of us to reach 450.

We left Bruges Friday mid-morning driving east across foggy Belgium headed to the largest of the Trappist breweries, Westmalle. They are famous for having developed the Dubbel and Tripel styles of beer. Merideth successfully navigated us around Antwerp and to the door of Westmalle’s very fancy brewery tap, Cafe Trappisten, only 12 minutes behind schedule. We would have been only nine minutes behind schedule if we hadn’t wasted those precious three minutes driving around the Abbey even though we had read that the Trappisten was across the street.

Westmalle was my #450 so I was pretty excited. We quickly found a seat in the massive dining area and ordered two beers, Dubbels.  They also have a weaker beer called Extra that is brewed for the brothers. Only rarely does it make an appearance in the brewery tap and today was not one of those times. So we stuck with the Dubbel and Tripel and resisted the temptation of adding grenadine for an extra 30 euro cents.

The Trappist breweries also usually make cheese so on each occasion when there was an opportunity to try the cheese, we took advantage. The Westmalle cheese came with mustard that was super hot, just the way we like it. Unfortunately, it didn’t come with celery salt, also how we like it.

Having had our fill of monk beer and cheese for the moment, it was time to move on. I was concerned about the time as we had only a small window of time visit the seventh and final Trappist, Koenigshoeven. Their winter tasting hours were a scant three hours in the afternoon.  So leaving Westmalle, we drove the 50 or so kilometers across the Dutch border and easily found the Abbey Koenigshoeven in the outskirts of Tilburg.

Unexpectedly, we saw the biggest crowds at the Trappist breweries that we had seen on the whole trip. Two different tour groups of 20 or so arrived and battled with our peace and quiet for supremacy. We also had some filming to do so the din of a tour group is never good.

Known as La Trappe in Europe, they had six beers beers to try. I noticed that the one loud group was getting taster sets, which was perfect for us. So, I asked for one. And the beers came in these cute little 25cl glasses.

We tried their Witte, Blonde, Dubbel, Tripel, Bock and Quadrupel. And of course we got an assortment of their cheese, too. While their beer cheese might have been our favorite Trappist cheese of the trip, their beers were my least favorite of the Trappists. They were good, but I guess I am just a Belgo-phile now. If it isn’t Orval, it is crap!

So, that was it… we visited all seven Trappists and added six of them to the “the list”. Now, we return the car and get ready for the last phase of our trip, the Kerstbierfest.


A Nice Winter Day Beer Tour

YiB-12Going to bed at 3am is not something we’re used to and getting up at 8:30am on Thursday morning was a real struggle, but we had places to go. So, Chris, Ute, and I hopped on a train and headed for Amsterdam. Luckily, it was a 2 hour ride, so I got in some more sleep. We seemed to adjust to the time fairly quickly on this trip because, as Ute said, we haven’t had time for jet lag.

One afternoon in Amsterdam is really not enough time and I don’t necessarily recommend it, but it was all we had. So, of course Chris and I did what we do best: a whirlwind beer tour of the city. I would say that we dragged Ute around with us, but I’m pretty sure she was a willing participant and a real trooper.

YiB-12Our first stop was In De Wildeman, a great beer bar. One of the things I have found interesting about the Netherlands (and the Dutch speaking area of Belgium) is that you primarily hear English being spoken in a variety of accents. At Wildeman, we heard English, Australian, and of course Dutch accents, in addition to our trio’s American and German accents. It was a bit quiet inside and we naturally started whispering as we considered the beer list. A friendly sort, the bartender gently reminded us that there was no need to whisper. Then he continued his task of sorting and boxing glassware. It’s always a good sign when your beer bar has a whole wall of mixed glasses. After all, every beer does have its proper drinking vessel. We had a few different beers and watched outside as snow started to fall. It was all quite cool and cozy until we realized that the snow was very wet. With a few beers in our bellies and spirits unaffected by the wet weather, we pressed onward to get something to eat.

Along our walk, the snow fell harder (and therefore, wetter) and the wind was blowing. By the time we reached our lunchtime destination, we were all soaked. The place was nothing special, mostly a tourist spot, but it did the job and we were off again. There was this cat, though, that sat at our table begging like a dog. Now isn’t that cute.

YiB-12Brouwerij’t Ij was our next stop. A bit further away, we decided to take a cab to the old windmill where the brewery was located. Chris thought that on a summer day, the walk would have been nice. Even though I like to walk and get exercise on our trips, I still thought it was a bit far. In any case, it isn’t summer and Ij was almost as cold inside as it was outside. A funky place, the walls had peeling paint and the brewer had no shirt on. In his defense, he was cleaning the brew kettle, but Chris still thought it strange. Plus, you really don’t want to see most brewers with their shirt off anyway. Except maybe Sam Calagione…or Shaun O’Sullivan.

I had what they called a Pils, but it tasted more like a Belgian single. At first I didn’t like it. Probably because I was expecting a Pils, but it grew on me. I think I would have enjoyed it more if the weather (and pub) was warmer and my teeth weren’t chattering in between sips. Chris and Ute had the seasonal IJndejaars, flavored with licorice among other things. I think they had the same reaction as my “Pils”. The beer grew on them, as well.

Sufficiently chilled, we hopped in another cab and went to De Bekeerde Suster, a microbrewery. We think the bartender was the owner, or at least he acted like it and he was friendly and helpful. He even showed Chris the brewery, which consisted of two copper kettles in the corner. Small, but shiny and beautiful. Chris told the guy that he wanted a set up like that in our house. The reply was simple, “No you don’t”. I’m still not sure why he said that.

Chris did have his favorite beer in Amsterdam, their Tripel.

Earlier in the day, we all said that we would need some time to rest before the Flogging Molly/Street Dogs show. Ute requested 2 hours. However, at this point, the 2 hour rest period was down to one hour before we were supposed to meet Ute’s friends across town. Oh well, we all went to the final destination of the day, ‘t Arendsnest. THE bar for Dutch beer.

YiB-12Many people have listed ‘t Arendsnest as one of the beer places you should go before you die. And there is a reason for it. The place was awesome and the owner was very hospitable. Except when Chris decided to ask him what his favorite beer was.  The question was deftly avoided with, “What is a favorite to me may not be a favorite to you”. Chris was persistent and asked which was the best Dutch beer he had. Getting a bit more annoyed, the bartender told us that he would not answer the question and went on to tell us that Michael Jackson attended the opening of ‘t Arendsnest. Michael apparently said that if he was to find the best beer in the world, he would no longer be the beer hunter. Chris was sufficiently satisfied with that. Never question the wisdom of the beer God himself.

We ended our day with a quick stop at our hotel room and then off to the venue for the concert. We had a few beers at the nearby Irish pub with some of Ute’s friends. I even had Guinness, which Chris stedfastly refused to do. “I only have Guinness in Ireland”, was his douchey explanation. We did the same after the show, but by that time, we were all tired and decided to call it a night. It was 2am. Time to get to bed and start drinking beer again the next day. Such is the life of a beer traveler.


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.