Feeling Fine in 2009

Four years I waited, dreaming of my next trip to Belgium. So many breweries, so little time. Shortly after my 2005 trip, my friends who had been living in Germany moved back to the States, so I no longer had a base from which to travel. A few years later my friends Lucie and Rick announced that they would be moving to Belgium. I got instant wood.

What is it about Belgian beer that would make a cheapskate like me pay airfare, car rental fees, etc in order to drink it? I suppose it’s the fact that, unlike typical American swill, it doesn’t taste like bodily waste. Even so, one does not have to fly across the globe for Belgian beer, because much of it is available over here. The real allure is the breweries themselves: old, dirty stone/brick buildings wherein artisans make craft brews using traditional and often ancient equipment and procedures.

First I had to plan the trip. I used a great site called mappy.com to print maps and directions to the various places I would be visiting. I also selected most of these places from the Belgian beerhunting bible: The Good Beer Guide to Belgium by Tim Webb (hereafter referred to as “The Guide”).

I packed two large, old suitcases that I paid a dollar each for at a yard sale with a knapsack, some bubble wrap, and several homebrews wrapped in old clothing. Much more beer would be inside them on the return trip. I put all my personal items in one bag, so I left stuff that I wouldn’t need behind. For example, deodorant. After all, I was going to Europe.

My traveling companions were fellow homebrewer Don and long-time friend Tony, who does not brew but loves good beer. They brought digital cameras, and I brought a small audio recording device for taking notes because without it I wouldn’t have remembered a thing and this trip report would not have been possible. Tony obtained a Belgian road map to augment the online maps I had printed. This would prove to be a good move.

No Sleep Til Belgium

At the airport I got patted down by the TSA because my sweatshirt was “bulky”. It wasn’t the frisking I minded; it was the cavity search that bothered me. Anyway, the three of us waited for an hour and a half, which pretty much describes my life: waiting around to get drunk.

On the BWI-JFK leg we had a lovely stewardess (yes, I said “stewardess”, not “flight attendant”) who looked a lot like Halle Berry. I know what it feels like to look like a celebrity. For example, I’ve been told that I look like Mister Ed. The other end.

There were a number of orthodox Jews at JFK. I saw one gentleman dovening in a corner. This is not as dirty as it sounds. “Dovening” means praying and bowing.

We boarded for the JFK-Brussels leg and waited an hour before the plane took off. I spent a major portion of the flight going over my maps and notes. The dinner they served wasn’t bad for airline food, but after the stewardesses took our trays, the line for the bathroom looked like B-52s tickets were on sale.

I could not sleep at all. Gee, I wonder why. I mean, my seat offered all the comforts of home, as long as your home is a glove compartment.


We landed early in the morning, Belgium time, on April 20. We got our luggage and rental car, and drove to Lucie and Rick’s house in Waterloo. This was no easy task, even with a detailed map, because in Waterloo the street signs have the street names only on one side, so you often have to drive past a street in order to read the sign, which of course causes you to miss your turn. Also the foot-long signs have letters that are about three millimeters tall, thereby using approximately two percent of the available space.

After dropping off our stuff in the basement where we would be sleeping, Rick and his teenage son Robb took the three of us to the local Carrefour, which is the Belgian equivalent of a super Walmart. It had a pretty good beer selection, including a few in cans. It had an egg display with six-egg egg cartons where you make your own half-dozen. I got some eggs, bread, water and grapefruits for between-meal snacks. I also bought some canned beer because I found canned Belgian beer to be so cool. Then we all grabbed a quick lunch.


The five of us took the train into Brussels. The train system is more expensive but nicer than U.S. subways. During the ride we saw lots of graffiti, which is apparently a popular thing in Belgium. Many of the areas are run-down.

We walked to the Grand Place, which is the heart of Brussels. It is surrounded by several baroque-style buildings, cafés, and of course tourists.

We went into the Bier Tempel, a beer store with more than 500 kinds of beer, including the Westvleteren beers (which the monks who brew and sell it prefer that stores not resell).


We traversed an alley with outdoor cafés on either side to the Delirium Café, which reportedly serves more kinds of beer than any other bar in Brussels. We went downstairs because the upstairs part wouldn’t open until 4 PM. On the left side of the staircase hundreds of Delirium Tremens and La Guillotine bottles (which are painted white) are plastered into the wall.

Like many Belgian bars, it has a nice wood interior with dim lighting. There is paraphernalia all over the walls and ceiling. Several wooden barrels are used as tables. There are about a dozen taps. The inch-thick menu lists about 1700 Belgian beers, many of which aren’t made anymore.

We all ordered beers, including Robb, because the legal drinking age in Belgium is 16 or thereabouts. My beer foamed out of the bottle, so I asked the bartender for a napkin. He gave me toilet paper. I shit you not.

Authentique Triple (Authentique; 9.5%) had a moussy head, a malty aroma, and a good malty flavor, but it could use more hops. Delirium Tremens (Huyghe), on draught, was nice. Kempi Ch Vuur (Proef; 7.5%) had a pretty good fruity/malty/winy aroma and a good plummy, fruity, cidery flavor. Urthel Hop It (Leyerth; 9.5%) had a nice estery, hoppy aroma and a nice hoppy, estery, smooth flavor with light body. Delirium Nocturnum (Huyghe), on draught, had a pretty good malty aroma and flavor with adequate hop balance and a fairly light body. Hopus (Lefebvre), on draught, had a moussy head; a nice clean, semi-hoppy aroma; and a good estery, somewhat sweet, slightly bitter, clean, crisp, refreshing flavor. This beer was served in a glass, with the yeast in a shot glass, on a rectangular coaster with a large and a small circle for the two vessels. Neat gimmick.

Mort Subite

We walked to the Mort Subite, a well-lit place with about a dozen taps and a modest beer selection. I ordered Oude Gueuze (Mort Subite; 7%), the only one of our beers that was in a bottle. It was also served at room temperature. It had a nice sour, Bretty* aroma and a nice sour (lactic) flavor. Palm (Palm) was a dark lager with a typical light lager aroma and flavor, though it was certainly better than Bud. Grimbergen Dubbel (Alken-Maes) had a good fairly sweet, malty, slightly roasty, slightly estery flavor. Raspberry Lambic (Mort Subite) had a great fruity aroma and a nice fruity, earthy, semi-tart flavor.

* “Bretty” is a term we brewers use to describe the ”barnyard”, “wet horse” aroma and flavor produced by yeast of the genus Brettanomyces.

Delirium (again)

We went back to the Delirium, this time upstairs. At the back is a small “museum” in a glass enclosure. There are a few booths in the center of the room with copper kettle tops over them. Lots of paraphernalia decorates the walls. They play 1980s American music, just like many other Belgian bars do. The long bar has about 20 taps, behind which the kegs and beer lines are in plain view. The lines go under the floor, up through the bar and pillars to the taps, which hang from above so the bar is unobstructed.

Only draught beers are served upstairs; one must walk downstairs to order bottles. We got four draught beers. Bersalis Triple (Huyghe) had a good hoppy, estery aroma and a nice hoppy, estery flavor. Chouffe Houblon (Achouffe) had a nice hoppy, estery flavor. Gouden Carolus Easter Beer (Het Anker; 6.5%) had a nice sweet, malty aroma and a good sweet flavor with good hop balance. Saison IV (Jandrain, which started in 2007; 6.5%) had a nice crisp, somewhat hoppy aroma and a pretty good light, clean, slightly hoppy flavor. We also got Delirium Tremens (Huyghe). By the way, most bars now wash glasses just before serving beer in them, and they often use a knife to “cut” the foam off the top. I went downstairs to order a bottle. A young man was at the bar drinking a beer called Mongozo Coconut out of a coconut shell. I could smell the nice coconut aroma from two feet away. I ordered Smisje Tripel (Regenboog; 9%), which had a good somewhat estery, slightly earthy aroma and a nice estery, bitter, somewhat sweet flavor.

That evening we returned to Waterloo (water-loo! Har!). I hadn’t slept in a day and a half, so I got some much-needed rest. By the way, if you ever travel with Don, bring ear plugs. Not that they’ll help. The man snores louder than a McCulloch chainsaw. Good thing we had separate rooms.


Tuesday April 21. A nice sunny day. We drove to the southeastern part of the country to visit Artisanale de Rulles, one of my favorite breweries because the guys who work there are very friendly and they make a nice triple. We exited the highway with maps and directions in hand, and lo and behold, there were no street signs. Not one. Our maps and directions were effectively useless. We forged blindly onward, and it’s a good thing I had been to this brewery three times before (when my friend Marty, whose sense of direction would make a homing pigeon jealous, drove) because as we approached the village I was able to navigate from memory. The town of Rulles is picturesque, peaceful and quiet. I have considered retiring to a place like this. What could be better than peace, quiet and beer?

Brewing assistant Olivier met us. The brewing equipment was moved to a larger, garage-like building next door in 2006, and the old brewing space is now used for storage, sales, and beer tastings. The old tasting house across the street is no longer used. I asked Olivier to open it so I could show Tony and Don. Old homebrew bottles of mine, with labels I made from pictures taken at my first trip there, were still on the mantle.

They normally do one 30-hectoliter (792-gallon) batch per week, but two per week in January and February. They ferment in open, elongated oval tanks, and use the same yeast for all their beers. They get their yeast from Orval and get a new culture about every two months. They have a bottling machine and a labeling machine (they used to bottle by hand). Bottled beers are aged at 77°F for three weeks before distribution. They also put beer in 20-liter kegs that are shorter, wider versions of the soda kegs used by American homebrewers. They’ve been in business since 1999.

We then tasted Estival, their 41-IBU* summer beer made with Warrior and Amarillo hops. It had a good light, estery aroma and a good light, estery, earthy, somewhat bitter flavor. The bitterness lingered in the aftertaste. We bought some of this beer and their Triple, then continued on our journey.

* IBU stands for “international bittering unit”, a brewing term used only by beer geeks like me.


We arrived at Abbey de Notre-Dame d’Orval, but before going in we had lunch at Auberge de L’Ange Gardien just down the street. It was a gorgeous day and we ate outside. This is the only place that serves the monks’ beer Petit Orval (3.5%). The bottle has no label because it is not for sale in stores. The beer had a good light aroma and a good light, slightly Bretty flavor. Orval (6.2%), the only commercial beer produced at the abbey, had a nice Bretty aroma and nice quite Bretty flavor. It was a little maltier than the first beer. We also had some bread that was made at the abbey; it was good but nothing special.

After lunch we walked among the ruins, which was interesting and fun. Parts of the abbey, which has been sacked many times in its millennium-long history, still stand. Plaques gave us information as we explored the grounds. A small well called Mathilde Fountain is fed by a spring that supplies the water used to make the abbey’s beer and cheese. Iron was forged at the abbey hundreds of years ago.

There is a tunnel that leads to a museum, which we perused. We walked upstairs to the top of a very large chapel with huge organ pipes. It was extremely quiet up there.

After that excursion I bought $135 worth of cheese. They make three kinds: two young cheeses, one of which contains some of their beer; and an aged cheese. The young ones had a good, though fairly light, flavor. The one with beer tasted cleaner and less cheesy than the other young one. The aged cheese had a nice sharp, earthy flavor.


We drove past beautiful countryside with lots of green grass, trees, flowers, and stone houses. Cattle grazed freely. Many fields were newly plowed for spring planting. Late in the afternoon we arrived at Louvain-la-Neuve, a small “walking” city where you park on the outskirts. It’s kind of like a very large outdoor mall, with lots of shops, restaurants and apartments. It is really a campus for some Catholic college, with 20,000 students.


We had beers at Brasse-Temps. It was happy hour, and they were serving three draft beers made there. La Blanc Neuve (4.5%) had a good fruity aroma and a good fruity, somewhat sweet flavor. Cuveé des Trolls (7%) had a good spicy aroma and a good interesting, spicy, slightly fruity flavor. La Ambrasse-Temps (5.5%) had a pretty good malty aroma and flavor with no hops apparent. Our waiter showed us the brewery. There are copper-covered mash and boil kettles in front, while the fermenters and lagering tanks are downstairs. He informed us that while they brew the Cuveé des Trolls, it is bottled at the Dubuisson brewery. (Dubuisson opened Brasse-Temps in 2002.)

Crêperie Bretonne

Next door is the Crêperie Bretonne, which has a good beer selection. They don’t allow smoking. (Anti-smoking sentiment is catching on in Belgium at this time, and there are laws prohibiting smoking where food is served. Maybe someday all Belgian establishments will be smoke-free.) Almost everything on the menu is a crêpe. None of the people working there spoke any English, and it was a bit painful to get information from the waiter regarding the items on the French menu, but somehow we managed. Ultra Brune (Ecaussines; 10%) had a nice plummy, fruity aroma and a good plummy, fruity flavor. Oud Zottegems Bier (Crombe; 6.5%) had a good somewhat funky aroma and a good funky, fruity flavor. Our crêpes were good. In fact, all the food we got in Belgium was either good or great.

After dinner we walked around the city. While most people walked or biked, we saw at least two people getting around on unicycles. It was fairly quiet as the sun set.

Brussels (again)

Wednesday April 22. We took the train into Brussels to spend more time there. Many parts of it are not pretty. There is a lot of dirt, traffic and pollution.


Our first stop was Cantillon, the only Brussels brewery* since the 1980s. This is a classic sour ale brewery. A woman gave us some information before we took the self-guided tour. She said that they brew once or twice a week only during the cold weather (November-March) because there is not enough yeast and too much bacteria when it gets warm out. I asked her what they do during the warm weather. She said, “We drink and we sleep.” Then she told us that there is plenty to do when they’re not brewing, such as fix equipment, clean barrels, add fruit to their fruit beers, and bottle their products. Their beers contain Brettanomyces bruxellensis, B. lambicus, Lactobacillus, and other organisms. It takes 1-3 years to produce a good lambic; before then the beer is “sick”. Lambics are typically flat while gueuzes (mixtures of lambics of different ages) are effervescent. They never add sugar; gueuzes get their carbonation from unfermented sugars in young lambic, which ferment in the bottles.

* Another brewery, Brasserie de la Senne (formerly Sint-Pieters) was scheduled to move to Brussels from Sint-Pieters-Leeuw by the end of 2009.

The brewery is, as I had hoped, dirty and musty. Spider webs are never messed with; since they don’t use insecticides, spiders are necessary for insect control. They use their barrels over and over, cleaning them between fillings. A barrel will typically last about 20 years. The mash tun is iron with a wooden exterior and toothed gears that move metal bars that mix the mash. (By the way, Cantillon has been using organic malts since 1999.)

The boil kettles contain copper coils through which steam is pumped to heat the wort. They boil for 3-4 hours with aged hops in order to get preservative qualities without bitterness. The boiled wort is pumped into a wide, shallow copper vessel called a koelschip (pronounced “cool ship”), where the wort cools and gets inoculated by 86 strains of wild yeasts and bacteria from the air in the partially open attic. It then flows down a pipe into a rectangular stainless steel tun, from which the barrels are filled.

The dark, dank fermentation room contains about 200 barrels. It smelled woody, fruity, and a lot like Lemon Pledge. Each barrel holds 225-500 liters (60 to 132 gallons). The barrels are not topped up in order to compensate for evaporation loss, so that after three years, about 20% of wort volume is lost. There was plenty of stuff that one could trip over; apparently Belgians aren’t as litigious as Americans. Adjacent to the fermentation area is a party room, with chairs and round tables.

After fermentation the beer is coarsely filtered through five cellulose plates in order to remove dead yeast, then bottled.

Another room had more than 100 more barrels waiting to be cleaned or filled. The insides are cleaned with brushes, steam, and chains (the chains scrape the wood), and sanitized with sulfur to inhibit fungi. We then walked through the storage room that contains thousands of bottles of beer, all on their sides. When filled, the room can hold 11,000 bottles.

An old bottle corker we found upstairs.

After the tour we tasted two of their beers. The gueuze had a wonderful lactic sourness. The kriek, served by master brewer Jean-Pierre Van Roy, had a nice fruity, sour aroma and a nice sour, fruity, dry flavor. I bought three big bottles of different beers and put them in my knapsack.


We walked to the Spinnekopke, which has about 100 beers on the menu but many were not available. Betchard Blonde (Brasserie de Tubize, which started in 2007), on draught, had a pretty good slightly estery aroma and a clean, pils-like flavor. Hoegaarden White (Hoegaarden) had a nice fruity, spicy aroma and a nice spicy, fruity flavor. Achel Blonde (Achelse Kluis) had a pretty good light, estery aroma and flavor.

Paon Royal

Next we stopped at the Paon Royal, which has fewer than 100 beers on the menu. The place seemed touristy and the waiter was a bit stuffy. Kasteel Brune (Van Honsebrouck; 11%) had a good sweet aroma and flavor. Westmalle Dubbel (Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle; 7%) had a good light, somewhat malty/hoppy aroma and a good hoppy, somewhat malty flavor. Chimay Cinq Cents (Abbey de Notre-Dame de Scourmont; 8%), on draught, had a great estery aroma and a nice estery, somewhat hoppy flavor.


Around the corner is the Monk, a rough, down-to-earth place that would make a great biker bar. It was smoky and it played rock music. Somewhere between 50 and 100 beers were listed on the chalkboard. Waterloo Triple (Bocq; 7.5%), served in a ceramic chalice with “Waterloo Anno 1815” etched into it, had a nice estery aroma and a nice estery, refreshing flavor with good hop balance and a light body. Grimbergen Dubbel, on draught, had a pretty good malty, caramelly aroma and flavor but was cloying with no hops apparent.

Some local characters befriended us. Jemel, a Moroccan, was amazed that we had flown to Belgium just for beer. He convinced the bartender to give me the Waterloo chalice. Luc was a long-haired leather-wearing hooligan. Andrew was a retired Englishman who sounded like Sean Connery. They bought us beers. XX Bitter (Ranke; 6.2%) was nice and hoppy.

After a while Jemel left, and the rest of us walked to...

Porte Noir

“Porte Noir” is French for “Black Door”. This tavern has about 120 beers on its menu. It is a nice dark, musty, all-brick place that dates from the 16th century. The bartender was extremely friendly and helpful. Jessenhofke (Proef*; 8%) had a pretty good somewhat sweet aroma and a fairly good somewhat sweet/estery flavor. Witkap Triple (Slaghmuylder; 7.5%) had little aroma and a pretty good light, somewhat estery, clean, refreshing flavor. Troubadour Obscura (Musketiers; 8.2%) had a good malty, plummy aroma and a good fruity, plummy, winy flavor. Stouterik (Brasserie de la Senne; 4.5%) had a fairly good light, somewhat roasty aroma and flavor. Although this was perhaps the oldest place we visited during our entire trip, it had the cleanest, most modern bathrooms I’ve seen anywhere in Europe.

* Proef leases its facilities for others to brew beers there, so Jessenhofke and some of the other Proef beers listed in this work are probably not brewed by Proef, even though they are brewed at Proef.


We took the train down to Uccle to have dinner at a brewpub called L’Imprimerie. We walked about two miles from the station to the restaurant. There was a lot of traffic and it was a 40-minute walk, but it was for the greater purpose of seeking out new beer places.

L’Imprimerie has a nice, open, two-level interior. The brewing equipment sits behind the bar. The urinals and sinks have pull-levers similar to beer taps. A jazz band warmed up in the background for a gig they were going to do later. A moderate crowd of young people gathered at the bar, obviously waiting for the show. Live music often plays here.

All they had for beer was the two beers they made. The pils had a light aroma and flavor. The white beer had a pretty good light, somewhat witty aroma and flavor. The food was good, but the beers were marginal. Also, we paid $10 for a liter of the worst bottled water I’ve ever had. It was the most difficult place to get to the entire trip, and one of the most disappointing.

Waterloo Memorial

Thursday April 23. We stopped by the Battle of Waterloo memorial, a statue of a lion on a 226-stair hill. It’s called La Butte du Lion. (Ha ha! Lion ass!)

We drove down to Annevoie to a beer store called Drink d’Annevoie, which has about 400 different beers. It was supposed to be open Wednesday-Saturday, but they were closed that morning. On the schedule they had put a piece of paper over the Thursday morning hours. It’s as if they knew we were coming.


A little further south we stopped at Brasserie du Bocq, a fairly large operation by Belgian standards. They give tours only on weekends, so we walked around to see what we could see. Thousands of cases, both full and empty, were stacked outside. There were also hundreds of kegs. The bottling equipment looked rather old, and there were broken bottles all over the floor.

Across the street is the brewery tap, Café de la Place. It’s open every day except Thursday. Can you freakin’ believe it? What were the odds? A lot of places in Belgium are like that: they are closed one or two arbitrary days a week. It adds a level of difficulty when planning a beerhunting trip.


We drove down to Dinant, a scenic river town. We went to Taverne les Brasseurs, a nice, fairly modern establishment with about 35 beers on the menu. They played 1970s and 1980s American music, as well as some French remakes. Cuvée Li Crochon (Bocq; 6.8%) had a pretty good light, estery aroma and flavor. Leffe Brune (InBev; 6.5%) had a pretty good malty, caramelly aroma and flavor.

We then walked around. Dinant has a vertical rock face with a castle at the top. There are a lot of stores and restaurants, and a lot of traffic.

We stopped at a small café to have a few. Belle-Vue Extra Framboise (InBev; 2.9%) had a good light, fruity aroma and a good light, sweet, fruity flavor. St. Louis Kriek (Van Honsebrouck), on draught, had a nice fruity aroma and a good sour, fruity, light flavor.


We drove a little further south to Falmignoul to visit Brasserie Caracole. No one greeted us so we walked in. The building and equipment are old.

In a cold box were many bottles of the four beers they make, plus a few bottles of two kinds I had never seen before. I took one out to read the label. Just then the owner, François Tonglet, appeared. He was a bit miffed at our intrusion, but hey, if we had been polite, we might not have gotten to see the place. He was very cordial to us though. He said that Caracole is “the only wood-fired brewery left in the civilized world”. It started in 1766 as Brasserie Moussoux. They get a lot of visitors, often in large groups. Small groups are welcome on Saturday afternoons, but large groups can visit almost any day. They brew once or twice a week. The mash tun is from the 19th century. We bought some beer and left.

Saint Monon

We went to Ambly to visit the Saint Monon brewery. Ambly is a beautiful little town. (Of course, the beautiful weather helped.) Saint Monon is a small, dirty brewery – my kind of place! Brewer Pierre Jacob was very accommodating, even though he was busy. He’s been in business since 1996. He brews three times every other week and makes about 600 hectoliters (16,000 gallons) per year. Steam is used for heating. He has a small bottling line. He stores stuff next door in an old cow barn. We bought his three regular beers, plus a six-pack of Saison de Mai, which he had brewed a few weeks earlier. I had had it on my 2004 Belgium trip so I asked him for it. He brews it specially for a certain client, but he let me buy some.

We drove past beautiful countryside...

Moulin d'Arenberg

..to the town of Rebecq to go to the Moulin d'Arenberg because the Guide said it served all the Brasserie Lefèbvre beers. It is in an old, pretty, brick building with very thick wooden beams across the ceiling and beautiful paintings on the walls. The beer list numbers about 20. We ordered two Lefèbvre beers. Barbar Bok (8%) had a good malty, slightly roasty aroma and a pretty good sweet, slightly roasty flavor. Abbaye de Bonne-Espérance (7.8%) smelled like a pils and had a decent, slightly sweet flavor.

We went back to Lucie and Rick’s and had some beers with them. Taras Boulba (Brasserie de la Senne; 4.5%) had a good hoppy, slightly estery aroma and a pretty good hoppy, citrusy, bitter, slightly estery flavor. Budweiser Budvar (Budweiser Budvar [Czech]; 5%) had a good clean, light, interesting, almost spicy/fruity aroma and a pretty good light, smooth flavor with no hops apparent. Leffe Brune (InBev; 6.5%) had a good malty, estery, slightly roasty aroma and a good estery, slightly bitter flavor. (Note that I perceived it differently from the one I had in Dinant. Was my palate different this day? Did the beer differ from batch to batch?) Chimay Blue (Abbey de Notre-Dame de Scourmont; 9%) had a pretty good malty, slightly alcoholic aroma and a pretty good somewhat malty/hoppy, slightly estery flavor.


Friday April 24. Another beautiful day. We drove past beautiful farmland to the small town of Tourpes, where Brasserie Dupont is located. This was my fourth time there. I saw some of the brewing equipment, which was behind a glass enclosure that I didn’t remember seeing before. I asked the woman in the front office if we could walk through the brewery. She said no. This is why I usually just walk in: it’s much easier to get forgiveness than permission.

They make bread and cheese in an adjacent building. You can buy cheese anytime, but bread, which is available only on Fridays, must be reserved in advance. I had done so. I bought several loaves of bread, which were black on the bottom (fire cooked?) and still a bit warm. They let us taste their four kinds of cheese, each made with some of their beer. The one made with Saison Dupont was a soft cheese with a nice strong, cheesy, sharp aroma and a good somewhat mild flavor. The one made with Moinette was good and salty. The one made with Moinette, hops and malt was less salty and better. The aged cheese, made with Moinette, was harder with a stronger aroma and a nice flavor. I bought all but the soft one because I didn’t want it getting all gooshy and runny. After buying some beer the three of us went back to the car and ate bread and cheese. The bread was good, soft and fresh.

Les Caves Dupont

Across the street is the brewery tap, Les Caves Dupont, which serves draught versions of several Dupont beers but no food. The bartendress spoke not a word of English. Moinette Blonde had a good estery aroma and a pretty good earthy, estery, somewhat phenolic, somewhat bitter flavor. In previous years I had had bottles of this beer that were considerably better. Saison Dupont had a nice estery aroma and a good hoppy, earthy flavor. Bio Fruits (4.5%), a fruit beer, had a good semi-fruity aroma and a good smooth, fruity, estery flavor.

La Forge

We walked down the street to La Forge, which also serves Dupont beer, plus food. The bar, where smoking was allowed, was separated from the non-smoking dining room by glass. There was no menu, and nobody who worked there spoke English. The waitress tried fruitlessly to tell us what they had for lunch, but luckily a bilingual patron stepped in to help. The two dishes they served were beef and pork. (Rabbit was available if ordered in advance.) We each ordered a bottle of Dupont beer. Moinette Blonde (8.5%) had a nice estery aroma and a good somewhat bitter/estery flavor. Certainly better than what we had gotten on tap. Moinette Brune (8.5%) had a good sweet, caramelly aroma and a pretty good malty, caramelly flavor. Saison Dupont (6.5%) had a good smooth, semi-estery aroma and a good semi-bitter, earthy, crisp flavor. Don and I ate smoked pig knuckle, which might not sound appetizing but was truly delicious. Tony reported that his steak was great too. It’s one of those little-known but great places to dine. Even the Guide doesn’t mention it.

Caulier Frères

We then went to Brasserie Caulier Frères in nearby Péruwelz. Like the other three times I had been there, the bar was empty because it is no longer used except for occasional parties. Too bad, because it’s big and beautiful, with an indoor waterfall and a goldfish pond. The semi-circular bar has a kettle top hanging over it, and the side is made from a copper kettle cut in half. It has an all-copper tap tower.

Vincent, a young man who is one of the owner’s sons, gave us a tour and shared several of the brewery’s beers with us. Bon Secours Framboise (7%) had a good fruity, gentle aroma and a pretty good fruity, dry, tart flavor. Bon Secours Amber (8%) had a good somewhat estery aroma and a good estery, smooth flavor. Bon Secours Blonde (8%) had a nice estery, somewhat fruity aroma and a good fairly sweet, estery, smooth flavor.

This was Vincent’s first time giving a tour in English. It’s a family business. They use the same house strain of yeast for all their beers. They started exporting to the U.S. in February 2009. They make 5000 hectoliters (132,000 gallons) per year. They got their equipment from a Brussels brewery that went under. They’ve had the same grain mill since they started in 1996. The grain is mixed with water in a special vessel, then the mash is pumped to the mash tun. They brew in stainless steel because legally they’re not allowed to use copper. There are copper coverings over the boil kettle and mash tun for display purposes; underneath are the real vessels. Spent grain is pumped out to a farmer’s truck. After the wort is chilled to 75°F, it is whirlpooled in a special vessel, which causes solids to go to the center while the wort is drawn from the side into one of their two fermenters. They have their own bottling line. Most of their beer goes to Belgian beer shops and supermarkets, and some is shipped to nearby countries. He told us that the reason there are so many breweries in that area of the country is that the water is very good for brewing (this has to do with mineral content).

After the tour we drank a few more beers. Bon Secours Brune (8%) had a good somewhat roasty, slightly caramelly aroma and a good somewhat fruity, slightly roasty flavor. We also had another Bon Secours Blonde because if there’s anything better than a blonde, it’s two blondes.

Underneath the place is a drive-thru beer store with hundreds of kinds of beers. I found some in cans that I had not seen in cans previously: three kinds of Hoegaarden (White, Citron and Rosé), Belle-Vue Kriek, and Leffe Blonde. Since we could not bring many beers home with us we had a difficult time choosing just a few of the many options.

Back at Lucie and Rick’s we had dinner and shared some of our booty. Tournée Beaurinoise (7%), one of the new beers I found at Caracole, had a pretty good light aroma and a smooth, slightly sweet flavor. Waterloo Triple (Bocq; 7%) had a good estery aroma and a good light, estery, smooth flavor. Judas (Alken-Maes, 8.5%), in a can, had a good slightly estery aroma and a pretty good smooth, somewhat estery, somewhat alcoholic flavor with light body and light carbonation. Forestinne Primoria (7.5%), the other new beer I found at Caracole and which seems to be brewed there by a brewing company without a brewery (see http://www.forestinne.be/lang2/home.html), had a good piney, semi-sweet aroma and a good quite piney flavor (Mr. Tonglet had told us it was brewed with pine). Rulles Triple (Artisanale de Rulles; 8.4%) had a good malty/hoppy/estery aroma and a quite good hoppy, malty, estery, slightly alcoholic, clean flavor. Rulles Brune (Artisanale de Rulles; 6.5%) had a pretty good malty, caramelly aroma and a pretty good caramelly, slightly roasty flavor with good hop balance. My homebrewed Belgian blonde ale, made with yeast from a bottle of Malheur 10, had a nice estery, earthy aroma and a good earthy, estery, somewhat phenolic, slightly hoppy flavor. We also had some of the cheese I had bought, and I liked Dupont’s better than Orval’s.

Saturday April 25. I hate the road signs in this country. They never, ever tell you whether you’re headed north, south, east or west. All they tell you is which town you’re headed toward, so you’ll see something like “Koningshooikt 15 km”, which is fine if you know which direction Koningshooikt is in. That’s not the worst of it. Many roads don’t even have signs. As we neared our destination, we had trouble finding a particular road. We saw an unmarked one-lane road with a tractor driving on it, so one might have thought it was a private road belonging to a farm. After the tractor exited we took it, and it turned out to be the right one.

A Vapeur

Brasserie A Vapeur brews on the last Saturday of every month. They turn it into a social event, inviting people to observe and also to eat and drink there. No brewery that I’ve visited is more rustic than this one. It is old, dirty, dark and dank – the quintessential Belgian brewery. Their claim to fame is that theirs is the only steam-powered brewery in the world. An oil-powered steam engine pumps a piston that powers a gear that is connected via belts and gears to the mash “arms” that rotate and that have “fingers” that turn end over end, thereby mixing the mash well. This equipment dates back to 1895. 1000 kilos (2200 pounds) of grain, which is milled upstairs the night before in an electric mill (the only non-steam powered part of the brewing process), comes down from a hopper and is mixed with hot water. The mash schedule starts at 113°F and is stepped up to 131°F, 144°F, 154°F, and finally 165°F. At each step they add very hot water from above and steam from below, which thins the mash, and boy does the room get steamy. 50 hectoliters (1320 gallons) are brewed at a time, and the brewing day lasts from 9 AM to 8 PM. The brewery has been in almost continual operation since 1785.

During lautering, the wort splashes into a small reservoir (they don’t worry about hot side aeration) before being pumped upstairs to a steam-heated boil kettle. On this day they were using Goldings pellets for bittering and Hallertau pellets for aroma. After chilling, the wort goes into one of the fermentation tanks where it is inoculated with fresh dry yeast and fermented at 77°F-86°F.

There were about 15 or 20 people in there. Several were filming or taking pictures. Across the street, in another old brick building, the brewery’s beers, all of which I believe were spiced, were available. On draught was the pumpkin beer (8%), made with ginger. It had a good somewhat spicy aroma and a strange flavor. The other beers were in bottles. Saison de Pipaix (9%), made with anise, coriander, ginger and lichen, had a pretty good spicy/herbal aroma and flavor. Cochonne (9%), made with curaçao orange peel, lichen, chicory and coriander, had a good somewhat spicy aroma and a pretty good flavor. La Folie (8%), made with cumin and curaçao orange peel, had a good interesting, spicy aroma and a pretty good interesting, spicy flavor.

Brewer Jean-Louis Dits and several helpers made lunch for the roughly 30 guests. It consisted of fresh baked rolls, smoked salmon (which was great with the spice mixture he made), many cheeses, soup, and a ham that had been cooked for eight hours. Dessert was an organic apple flambé.

We wanted to stay for the rest of the day, but we had to leave for a tour at...


Brasserie Dubuisson Frères is a five-minute ride from A Vapeur. Just follow the unmarked farm road, drive onto the field to let the tractor by, and voilà!

Tours are given every Saturday at 3 PM. You enter this place through a smoke-free restaurant in the same building as the brewery. There is a smoking bar separated by glass.

Dubuisson is the oldest brewery in Wallonia*. It has been in business since 1769 and there have been eight generations of brewers. It is one of only two Wallonian breweries in the Belgian Family of Breweries (BFB). In order to be part of the BFB, a brewery must be in business in the same place under the same family for at least 50 years. There are about 12 BFB breweries in all.

* Wallonia is the southern, French-speaking part of Belgium; Flanders is the northern, Flemish-speaking part.

About 50 French-speaking visitors were there, and the tour was given in French, but our tour guide spoke English to us whenever he could, and he first had us watch an informational video in English.

The brewery is pretty large and modern. Brewing water comes from a local well. The mash schedule is 122°F, then 145°F, and finally 162°F. They add sugar to raise the alcohol, and they use their own yeast. Most of their beers are more than 10% ABV. The strongest is their Bush Prestige (13%), which is aged for six months in used oak wine barrels that they use just once. They make 30,000 hectoliters (792,000 gallons) per year. They brew in copper (the tour guide told us that the law allows them to use copper because they were already using it before the anti-copper law was passed). In the barrel room we tasted some of the aging Bush Prestige, which I was not impressed with. The mash tun does not have a false bottom; the mash is pumped through a many-layered filter press. Boiled wort goes through a centrifuge and then a chiller before going to a fermenter. We saw many large fermenters and lagering tanks. The bottling line is large and has many parts (filling, washing, inspecting, etc). Its capacity is 15,000 25-centiliter or 1000 75-centiliter bottles per hour.

After the tour we sampled three of their beers. Cuveé des Trolls (7%) had little aroma and a decent light, mild flavor. It was less flavorful than the one brewed at Brasse-Temps. Bush Blonde (10.5%) had a good slightly estery aroma and a pretty good slightly sweet, slightly alcoholic flavor with light body. Bush Amber (12%) had a good somewhat malty aroma and a decent alcoholic, slightly malty flavor. It had a light flavor and thin body for such a strong beer. All of their beers are filtered, which makes sense because I was not very impressed with any of them. There’s not much to them other than the alcohol.

Back at Lucie and Rick’s we had another fun evening of beer sampling. Ramee Blonde (Brunehaut; 7.5%) had a good hoppy/estery aroma and a good estery flavor with good hop balance. Leffe Vieille Cuvée (InBev; 8.2%) had a pretty good slightly fruity aroma and a fairly good dry, slightly sweet/fruity flavor. Caulier Blonde Nöel (Caulier; 10%) had a pretty good sweet aroma and a fairly good sweet, cidery, alcoholic flavor with strong carbonation. Mort Subite Xtreme Framboise (Mort Subite; 4.3%) had a good fruity, sweet aroma and a quite good fruity flavor. Saint Monon Brune (Saint Monon; 7.5%) had a pretty good hoppy, fruity, slightly roasty aroma and a decent slightly roasty flavor. Saint Monon Amber (Saint Monon; 6.5%) had a pretty good slightly hoppy/roasty/malty aroma and a pretty good somewhat hoppy, dry, slightly roasty, crisp, refreshing flavor. Mongozo Coconut (Huyghe; 3.5%) had a nice coconut aroma and a very nice coconut, sweet flavor. A beer cooler rather than a beer. Saint Monon au Miel (Saint Monon; 8%) had a pretty good honey-ish, slightly roasty aroma and flavor. Kasteel Brune (Van Honsebrouck; 11%) had a pretty good sweet, fruity aroma and a pretty good very sweet, caramelly, slightly alcoholic flavor.

Toer de Geuze

Sunday April 26. Our first day of rain. It didn’t matter, since we would be riding a bus to five – count ’em, five – lambic breweries. It was the biannual Toer de Geuze, in which all nine members of HORAL (High Council for Artisanal Lambik Style Beers) – Drie Fonteinen, Boon, Cam, Troch, Hanssens, Lindemans, Mort Subite, Oud Beersel and Timmermans – open their doors to the public. It was the locus around which I had scheduled our entire trip. Eight buses left from the Halle train station and each went to a different combination of five breweries.

Stop 1: Drie Fonteinen. The first thing we did was sample some of their beers. Oude Gueuze had a great sour aroma and flavor. The Kriek, on draught, had a nice cherry aroma and a good cherry, tart flavor with almost no carbonation. I believe we also tried their Faro but I failed to record it.

Most of the lambic is brewed elsewhere; most of what is done here is aging and blending. The same goes for some of the other lambic breweries.

Drie Fonteinen’s barrel room was dank and musty, and smelled oaky and fruity. There are about 100 barrels in there. Several of them had drinking glasses covering the bung holes, which seemed like accidents waiting to happen. I was told that they have another barrel room somewhere nearby and a third in Holland. We sampled a one-year-old lambic from a barrel. It had a good sour aroma and a good quite sour flavor with almost no carbonation.

As we rode the bus to our next destination, I shared some of my homemade sour ale with the other riders. Many people drank out of the same few bottles, so apparently they aren’t as germ-conscious over there as Americans are.

Stop 2: Hanssens, another blender. The barrel room has about 100 barrels. We sampled a mixture of one-, two- and three-year-old lambics. It had a good somewhat sour, somewhat woody aroma and a good sour, somewhat vinegary flavor with no carbonation. We also sampled some HORAL Oude Gueuze Megablend (7%), which had a quite good sour aroma and flavor. Equal parts of this beer were contributed by eight of the nine HORAL members. (Mort Subite refused. Whether its being owned by Scottish Courage had anything to do with this I don’t know, but if so, it’s yet another reason to hate the big beer conglomerates.)

Stop 3: Oud Beersel. It started in 1882 but closed in 2002 or 2003 and reopened in November 2005. Normally you can visit on Saturdays from 11 AM to 1 PM. The beer is brewed at Boon, cooled, and transported here for fermentation, aging and blending. (It has to do with cleanliness laws, which I didn’t know Belgium had.) We sampled their lambic, which had a good somewhat musty, sour aroma and a good sour, musty flavor.

Oud Beersel has a few non-sour beers under the trade name Bersalis, which are brewed by Huyghe and are used to help fund the brewery. Bersalis Kadet (4%) was a basic pilsner. Bersalis Triple had a good sweet, somewhat estery aroma and a pretty good somewhat estery flavor with good hop balance. We also tried their Oude Gueuze, which had a nice musty, sour aroma and flavor.

An old musty, brick building houses about 100 barrels in a very musty, dusty room. The barrels are chestnut rather than oak because chestnut is inert and cheaper. Barrels are cleaned with water, chains and sulfur.

Stop 4: Boon. There is a big cast iron mash tun with churning arms similar to those at A Vapeur, and a wide, shallow, stainless steel koelschip. A very large room houses several very large metal containers whose purpose I was not sure of; and 86 humongous oak barrels, each holding anywhere from 7000 to 11,000 liters (1850 to 2900 gallons). Each barrel was 30 to 100 years old. They were made from the wood of 200-year-old trees, so the wood was up to 300 years old. Each barrel has a little door on the bottom for people to climb in with a lamp and power wash the inside with water. The insides were originally charred but are never re-charred. Boon brews for several blenders, and also bottles for some of them.

We sampled a 14-month-old lambic from one of the barrels. It had a good somewhat sour aroma and a good tart, alcoholic, somewhat winy flavor with some carbonation. Later we tried the Kriek, which had a nice fruity aroma and a fairly good fruity, somewhat dry flavor. Oude Lambiek had a good sour, slightly vinegary aroma and a good tart, tannic, somewhat woody flavor with no carbonation. It was a festive occasion with live music and lots of happy people.

Stop 5: Mort Subite. They also had live music. Oude Gueuze had a good sour aroma and flavor. Xtreme Kriek had a nice cherry aroma and a good fruity, cinnamonny flavor.

There are several large copper-domed boil kettles with some sort of blades in them and a copper mash tun with a false bottom. One room has eight lagering tanks; and another room has even larger stainless steel tanks, some cylindroconical and some cylindrical. They also have 20 very large lagering tanks that are rounded on the ends, like giant capsules. They have about 20 or 25 barrels that are at least as large as the ones at Boon, and each has the same type of cleaning port as the Boon barrels. Several have “1889” (the year they were made) carved on the ends.

Outside we sampled more beers. Pêche, on draught, had a nice peach aroma and a nice peachy, sweet, tart flavor. Oude Kriek had a quite good fruity aroma and a pretty good dry, sour, somewhat fruity flavor. Faro, on draught, had a good semi-sweet, slightly tart aroma and a fairly good dry, sour flavor.

On the trip back to Lucie and Rick’s we got lost again. Have I mentioned that I hate the Belgian road signs? They deliberately screw you by giving you just enough information to get you going in the wrong direction. They don’t even tell you which highway you’re about to get on. Three adults with college educations and a map could not navigate this diabolical trap. I swear that they hate tourists, because the only way to not get lost is to get lost 18 times before learning, purely by trial and error, which path will not cause you to wind up in Cairo. You know, it would be better if there were no road signs at all, because at least then you’d have a 50-50 chance of going the right way.

The Long Supper

We took Lucie, Rick and Robb to a local restaurant called La Chine Impérial. The food was good but they took forever to bring it. We were there for almost three hours. I think they had to go out and hunt down a chicken, a cow, a pig and a duck while we waited. Apparently a lot of good restaurants are very slow like that, so if you want to eat something before you go into a diabetic coma, you should eat at home.


Monday April 27. The roads screwed us again. Eventually we made it to a beer store called BVS (Brasserie Vallée de la Senne). It has hundreds of beers including many gueuzes. In back is a tiny bar with one table. We bought several beers.

On the way to our next destination the Belgian Highway Administration got us again. A sign with our exit number clearly pointed to the right. We turned off and it was the wrong exit. The sign meant the exit after this one (i.e., two exits after the sign). In town there were no street signs. We stopped and asked a street worker what street we were on. Even he didn’t know.

Glazen Toren

Kleinbrouwerij Glazen Toren is tucked away in a residential area whose streets look more like bike paths. I had phoned owner Jef Vandensteen a month ahead of time. He said that he lived next door and I should ring the bell. I did and there was no answer. Lesson: phone a few days in advance.

The brewery seemed to have a new addition in back, the door to which was unlocked, with the keys still in the lock on the inside. Naturally we went in and snooped around. Lots of narrow tanks are packed into the gutted house. There is a tiny bottling line in the kitchen. There were many cases of beer and sacks of Dingemans malt. Out back was a cement foundation, meaning that another building was to be added.

Heeren van Liedekercke

We drove to Denderleeuw to have lunch at Heeren van Liedekercke. It has a nice wood interior and a nice downstairs area. The list of about 300 beers includes about 80 gueuzes (half straight, half fruit).

A few minutes after we walked in, beer writer and fellow BURPer Chuck Cook came in and sat near us. What were the odds of running into someone from our area? He had been to the Toer de Geuze the day before. He took many pictures of the beers and food, and gave me a hot beer tip: order the Geuze Cuvée J&J, which was made by Drie Fonteinen for our servers’ 2003 wedding. There were two versions, and I ordered the more robust one. This 6.5% beer had a nice sour aroma and a very nice quite sour flavor. Bock Leroy (Leroy; 2.25%) had a good slightly hoppy aroma and a good light, slightly hoppy/sweet flavor. It had that little bit of malt sweetness you find in non-alcoholic beers. Vlas Kop (Strubbe; 5.5%) was a witbier with a quite good “witty” aroma and a good light, “witty” flavor with light body. A nice summer beer. My spaghetti dish, served with a raw egg in a half shell on top, was the best I’d ever had.


We went over the same bridge five times as we tried like rats in a maze to navigate our way out of town. Actually rats tend to fare a lot better than we did. Eventually we made it to Ghent and checked into the Hotel Eden. It’s an old place but good by Belgian standards and a bit pricey (about $180 per night for a triple). The woman at the front desk instructed me to take the elevator up to the room. I try to avoid elevators because I’m phobic about getting stuck. Sure enough, the elevator got stuck between floors. This was a bit disconcerting, inasmuch as it was about a foot and a half square and I had to pee. Eventually she got it unstuck using a key, and from then on I used the stairs. Tony and Don took their chances despite my incident. We put our stuff in the room, placed the beers in the fridge, and headed out.

Ghent, like other Belgian cities, has a number of plazas. There are also many churches. Jesus Christ there are lots of them! There are canals and you can take boat rides. Lots of motor and bicycle traffic makes it a hustle-bustle place. It’s not the prettiest city, but it’s not bad.

Het Waterhuis de Bierkant

On a tip from Chuck we went to the Het Waterhuis de Bierkant, which has about 150 beers on the menu, including many gueuzes and lambics. It’s a small place in a nice old brick building. A bunch of very dusty old bottles were on a shelf above the bar. Mammelokker (Van Steenberge; 6%), on draught, had a pretty good caramelly aroma and a fairly good caramelly, slightly tart flavor with light body. Gandavum Dry Hopping (Proef; 7.5%) had a good somewhat hoppy, slightly estery aroma and a good hoppy, refreshing flavor with a good malt base.

Hot Club de Gand

We found a neat-looking alley so I just had to walk down it. Hey, what could happen to a person in a city alley? It led to a tiny jazz bar called Hot Club de Gand. There are drums, a piano and a xylophone in back, and old instruments hang on the walls and ceiling. Upstairs is an even smaller area with the most beaten-up loveseat I’ve ever seen. Valeir Blond (Contreras; 6.5%) had a pretty good light aroma and a good smooth, somewhat malty flavor with just enough hops that lingered in the aftertaste.

Dulle Griet

We walked past many stores and cafés to the Dulle Griet. The décor includes tapestries, a boar’s head, beer posters, license plates and neon signs. A few nice rooms in back are also decorated with paraphernalia. Lots of mugs hang from the ceiling. Several people were drinking half-yards. The menu includes labels from more than 300 beers, many of which don’t exist anymore. Braven Apostel (Proef; 8%) had a pretty good somewhat estery aroma and a pretty good slightly estery/alcoholic/bitter flavor. As it warmed the aroma and flavor got more grainy. The aroma was similar to the one produced when brewing. Ambiorix (Slaghmuylder; 7.5%) smelled like soap or Pine Sol and had a somewhat roasty, soapy flavor.

We walked down an alley that was completely graffitied. Even the fence’s iron bars were spray painted different colors.

We arrived at the Oud Cambridge, which was closed even though the sign said it was open on Mondays, so we sallied to...


From outside, the Hopduvel looks like a hole in the wall. Inside it’s nice and cozy. In back is a pretty dining room and an adjacent lounge with nice old furniture. Out back is a beautiful patio with a water garden and greenery. There was bamboo off to the side. The menu lists about 180 beers. Brugse Babbelaar* Blonde (brewed at Proef by Regnier de Muynck; 6.5%) had a fairly light, somewhat estery, slightly alcoholic aroma and a pretty good light, somewhat hoppy flavor with a pretty good malt backbone. Serafijn Dubbel (Achilles; 8%) had a fairly good caramelly, somewhat sweet aroma and a pretty good sweet, caramelly flavor.

* Babbelaar means “talk too much”.


Onward to Deus, a non-smoking place with about 150 beers on the menu. Our first beer, whose name I failed to record, was filtered, with a good fairly estery aroma and a pretty good light, fairly estery flavor and good hop balance. Gentse Tripel (Van Steenberge), on draught, had little aroma and a fairly good light flavor. Piraat (Van Steenberge; 10.5%) had a good fairly sweet, slightly alcoholic aroma and a good alcoholic, somewhat sweet flavor.


Next was Trappistenhuis, which has a nice woody interior with good décor and a wood stove. The menu includes about 140 beers. Triverius (Graal; 6.8%) had a good semi-sweet, slightly estery aroma and a pretty good slightly perfumy flavor. La Trappe Tripel (Koningshoeven [Netherlands]; 8%) had little aroma and a good somewhat malty, slightly alcoholic flavor. Buffalo (Van Den Bossche; 6.5%), a dark beer, had a pretty good slightly plummy aroma that improved as the beer warmed, and a good somewhat plummy flavor. Ne Flierefluiter (Smedt; 8.5%) had a fairly good light aroma and flavor. Zatte Bie (Bie; 9%), another dark one, had a pretty good plummy, sweet, caramelly aroma and a pretty good plummy, slightly tart flavor.

Back at the room we had Leffe 9° (InBev; 9%), which had a good estery aroma and a good estery, sweet flavor with a full palate. I didn’t sleep too well because my earplugs were no match for Don’s snoring.


Tuesday April 28. The hotel offered a nice breakfast spread (they should for what they charge). Bellies full, we made it to the outskirts of Bruges and drove around hopelessly trying to find the Hotel Ensor. Many of the things they call “streets” are basically driveways: narrow one-way alleys that were originally made for a horse and buggy, only without the buggy.

We arrived before check-in time, so we parked on the outskirts of town and walked along the cobblestone streets. It’s the prettiest of the largest Belgian cities (the other ones being Brussels, Ghent and Antwerp), although the traffic, noise and diesel fumes put a damper on things. Lots of people get around on bicycles. In fact, there are many bicycle lanes, and be careful when you’re walking not to block them! There are several plazas and beautiful, old, large churches. There are lots of restaurants and shops, including 49 chocolate shops. One chocolatier told me that the three best chocolate places in Bruges are Neuhaus, Chocolate Line, and one with a seemingly German name that I could not pronounce even though I had her repeat it twice (Swertvrager? The closest I could find on the Web was Sukerbuyc.) I bought chocolate at about 9 places.


We stopped at Hotel Erasmus for a beer. It’s an elegant, classy establishment. You know, the kind of place I normally wouldn’t be caught dead in. It really has no character. The menu has about 60 beers. Slaapmutske Tripel (Proef), on draught, had a pretty good slightly hoppy, slightly estery aroma and a fairly light, somewhat hoppy, slightly bitter/malty flavor. Before my trip I had a bottled version in the States that was better. I know that a lot of people prefer draught beer but I prefer it in a bottle because with a bottle I can be sure I’m getting what I ordered, and draughts are often poured such that they lose some carbonation.


Although rain was in the forecast, it was pleasant out so we took a canal ride. The driver spoke to us in English, French and Flemish (or maybe Dutch) as we went past old buildings, churches, ducks, swans and greenery. He said that the water (which is fresh, not salty) is only 2-3 meters deep, and you can skate on it during cold winters. The Vikings created Bruges in the year 980.

We checked into our hotel, and we lucked out: they gave us a double and a single instead of a triple, so Don got his own room and I didn’t have to kill him in his sleep. Our beers were still semi-cold from the fridge in Ghent. Zottegemse Grand Cru (Crombe; 8.4%) had a pretty good somewhat cidery aroma and a good smooth, somewhat cidery/malty flavor with good body.

We hit the streets and went inside a large musty church with paintings, sculptures, and stained glass.

We went to the Halve Maan brewery but just missed the last tour of the day. I’ve heard that they merged with Liefman’s and don’t brew here anymore. We walked to the south side of town, which is prettier. The Guide mentions a good out-of-the-way beer place, and we walked quite a while to get there. We got lost on the way, so apparently we don’t navigate on foot any better than we do in a car. Eventually we got there.

De Barge

We went into an old barge that had been made into a restaurant. It sits in one of the canals just outside town and the windows are just above water level. The inside looks like the inside of a ship. It has a glass-enclosed lounge. It is also a hotel, with 22 rooms.

The menu of only 7 beers puzzled us. It turned out that we were in the wrong place. We were looking for a place called Het Bargehuis, which the bartender told us wasn’t in business anymore. De Barge is normally open at 6 PM for drinks and 7 PM for dinner. It was 5 PM, but the bartender didn’t mind, so we had the place to ourselves. Brugse Zot (Halve Maan; 6%) had a fairly good somewhat estery, slightly fruity, slightly hoppy aroma and a good smooth, slightly estery, slightly hoppy, refreshing flavor with good malt balance. Hoegaarden Grand Cru (Hoegaarden; 8.5%) had a quite good estery aroma and a quite good estery, somewhat sweet flavor with lots of body.

We went by the now defunct Het Bargehuis. Around the side is a bar called Het Visioen, which has a nice interior with a partly bamboo bar. Unfortunately they are closed on Tuesdays, keeping in line with our uncanny ability to arrive at places on exactly the wrong day. We walked down a beautiful path to a beautiful, quiet park with flowers.

Then we walked up the eastern part of town to...

Nieuw Museum

I had been to the Nieuw Museum five years earlier and enjoyed it very much. They were cooking over a wood-fired stove in the dining room and it smelled wonderful. The beer list barely reaches 30 but it is a great place to eat. It’s a bit pricey, but the food and ambience are worth it. We ordered all three Rochefort beers (made by Abbaye Notre Dame St Remy). Rochefort 6 (7.5%) had a good somewhat sweet aroma and a pretty good semi-sweet flavor. Rochefort 8 (9.2%) had a pretty good somewhat caramelly aroma and a pretty good caramelly flavor with ample hop balance. Rochefort 10 (11.3%) had a good caramelly, plummy aroma and a good alcoholic, somewhat plummy, somewhat caramelly flavor with fairly thick body. I’m not crazy about the Rochefort beers because they’re malty without being estery.

Tony and I ate eel in green sauce, Don ate shrimp scampi, and we got a big bowl of fries. Dessert was dame blanche (vanilla ice cream with heavenly chocolate sauce). Everything was very good.


On our way back to the hotel we found a bar called the Poatersgat. You have to watch your head as you descend the steps. (You’d never see such a low doorway in the States because it would be a lawsuit waiting to happen.) It has a nice interior with archways, hop vines, old instruments, and a foosball table. The place opened in late 2007. Smoking is allowed because they don’t serve food. The menu lists about 100 beers. Pilaarbijter Bruin (Bavik; 6.5%) had a pretty good sweet, malty aroma and a fairly good somewhat malty, semi-bitter flavor. La Trappe Quadrupel (Koningshoeven; 10%) had a good sweet aroma and a good sweet, somewhat alcoholic flavor with medium body.

When we got back to the hotel it started raining, so our timing was perfect. Tony went to bed while Don and I drank in his room. Oud Zottegems Bier (Crombe; 6.2%) had a good fruity, somewhat spicy aroma and a good balanced, somewhat cidery, slightly bitter flavor. Jacobins Gueuze (Bockor; 5.5%) had a good slightly sour, slightly sweet aroma and a good somewhat sour, somewhat sweet flavor. This filtered beer was a good fake gueuze. Val Dieu Brune (Val-Dieu; 8%) had a good raisiny, plummy, slightly roasty aroma and a pretty good interesting, plummy, slightly roasty flavor. Chapeau Banana Lambic (Troch) had a good banana, slightly sour aroma and flavor. Kriek Max (Bockor; 3.2%) had a quite good artificial cherry aroma and a pretty good Kool-Aid-like, somewhat sweet, somewhat dry flavor.

Wednesday April 29. A gorgeous sunny day. Tony and I walked around while Don slept. Vendors sold vegetables in the main square. This is a morning thing only; they pack up and leave by lunchtime.

North Sea

We drove southward and made a detour to the North Sea, just to have seen it. We landed in a town with an unpronounceable name, which pretty much describes half of Belgium (and most of the Flemish part). It has lots of restaurants and rental places like any beach town. There was a cool breeze and almost all of the roughly 50 people we saw on the beach wore street clothes. Someone was riding a horse down by the water.

Nevejan Drankcentrale

We drove to a beer warehouse in Krombeke called Nevejan Drankcentrale and bought about a dozen beers, some of which we had never seen before.


In nearby Beveren-Kalsijde there is a restaurant/bar called Rohardushof that I learned about not from the Guide but from a book I had accidentally bought at the 2005 Zythos festival. (I was so drunk that I did not realize it was written in Flemish.) The Rohardushof has a quaint interior. The beer menu lists about 120 beers. The draught house beer was ’n Blauwer (Proef; 10.5%). It had a good estery aroma and a pretty good estery flavor with fairly light body. Vlaamsche Leeuw* Tripel (brewed at Proef by Brouwerij van Vlaanderen; 8.5%) had a good somewhat estery aroma and a pretty good hoppy, slightly estery flavor. My spaghetti bolognaise was very good.

* Try saying that twice. Or even once.

The Rohardushof has a beer store attached. We bought a few beers from our waitress. When we told her we were heading to Westvleteren (whose beers are difficult to find), she told us that if we couldn’t buy some at Westvleteren she would sell us some.

Much of western Belgium smells like shit in the spring when they’re fertilizing with manure. I just thought I’d throw that in.


We found Abdij St-Sixtus (Westvleteren) only because of the directions and maps I had printed from mappy.com, because there wasn’t a single road sign letting us know where the hell we were. For instance, if the directions said to go 1.79 km and turn right on Zwijnlandstraat, we’d go 1.79 km and see a narrow, unlabeled farm road on the right, so we’d take it. Otherwise we’d still be out there, living in the rental car and eating cow manure. Somehow a lot of people managed to find the place, as evidenced by the more than 100 motorists and bicyclists we saw at the abbey’s café, In de Vrede (“At Peace”). Most of the older people sat inside and most of the younger folks sat outside.

We ordered all three of their beers, which are served in unlabeled bottles; the beers are discernible only by the color of the lettering on the caps. Blonde (5.8%) had a good semi-estery aroma and a good hoppy, semi-estery flavor. It was refreshing. 8 (8%) had a quite good grapey, fruity aroma (like Manischewitz) and a good smooth, fruity, somewhat grapey flavor with good hop balance. 12 (10.2%) had a good plummy aroma and a good smooth, malty, plummy, somewhat alcoholic flavor with good hop balance. The 12 was Tony’s favorite beer of the entire trip. In fact, he liked it so much that he had us order three more. This beer is ranked the best beer in the world on ratebeer.com, but it’s not my favorite, and I think its rating is inflated due to the difficulty in obtaining it. No beer was available for take-home sale (this is how it usually is), so we went back to the Rohardushof and bought some 8 and 12 (they didn’t have the Blonde).

Back at Lucie and Rick’s we had a few beers. BioBen (Proef; 6.5%), which I had gotten because of the name and the Nevejan Drankcentrale had given me for free because it was 1½ years past its expiration date, had a good sweet, malty aroma and a pretty good semi-sweet, clean flavor with good hop balance. Troublette (Caracole; 5.5%) had a good “witty” aroma and a pretty good “witty” flavor with light body. We had my homebrewed wit and saison, which were, shall we say, not as good as some of the Belgian beers. Saxo (Caracole; 7.5%) had a good honey aroma and a pretty good somewhat honey flavor. Leffe Triple (InBev; 8.5%) had a good estery, perfumy aroma and a good perfumy, estery, sweet flavor without being cloying. Caracole (Caracole; 7.5%) had very little aroma and a pretty good slightly sweet, slightly bitter flavor. Hoegaarden Rosé (Hoegaarden; 4.5%) had a pretty good fruity aroma and flavor. St. Bernardus Abt 12 (St. Bernard; 10%) had a pretty good plummy, alcoholic aroma and a pretty good plummy, sweet, slightly cloying flavor with an alcoholic aftertaste.

Thursday April 30. Another cool, sunny day. We went in search of Picobrouwerij Alvinne, buying a few cans of beer along the way. We could not for the life of us find the place. I called the brewers on my rented global cell phone, and it turns out that they weren’t at the brewery that day anyway. We hit a local beer store called Dranken Pauwels and bought beer. Then we went to nearby Gullegem to...


The Rusteel is a nice restaurant/bar whose house beers are made by a very small brewery located two doors down called Brouwkot, which started in 2007. The bartender told us that no one was at the brewery that day, but we walked to it anyway. There was no sign anywhere that said Brouwkot, so we were not sure which building housed the brewery. We walked a little further to see some of the town, then headed back. I saw someone coming out of a gate carrying some beer, so I asked him if this was the Brouwkot. It was. He was busy but I asked if he could let us in for a few minutes, and he graciously agreed. His name is Peter, and he is the Rusteel’s restaurateur.

The Brouwkot is the smallest brewery we saw on our trip. They were doing three year-round beers, with a 4th one planned, plus about seven seasonals. One of the three proprietors, who is an engineer of some sort, built the system from used equipment. There were two brew kettles, the closed one being used for bitter beers and the open one for others. They had a 700-liter (185-gallon) mash tun with a slotted false bottom. One fermenter was for primary, and it was on wheels so they could move it next to the cool room so the wort could be transferred to one of the secondary fermenters without a long hose. They used a counterflow wort chiller, and they bottled by hand. They had plans to get rid of this equipment and brew in the building in front of the Rusteel on a used, 10-hectoliter (264-gallon) system using green energy.

We went back to the Rusteel, which has a nice interior with brick archways and a fireplace. We sat outside. It was a gorgeous day, and everyone was sitting outside. There were chickens across the street and alpacas behind us. There is a kids’ play area with a wooden play thing that looks like a ship. There are about 150 beers on the menu, but we were there to try a few of the Brouwkot beers. Netebuk (6.5%), a draught saison, had a good somewhat hoppy, slightly sweet aroma and a good smooth, well-balanced, semi-malty, semi-hoppy flavor. Mantin (6%), which was “made for men” according to Peter, had a pretty good light aroma and a fairly good, fairly light, slightly bitter flavor. There was also Kalle, a triple made with coriander, which Peter said was “made for ladies”. I found this odd because it was the strongest of the three. Maybe this is how they get women drunk on ladies night. We didn’t order it because their bottles are 750-ml.


Brouwerij Rodenbach in Roeselare gives tours only to large groups, but I had called ahead weeks in advance. There was a tour group scheduled for 2 PM that day, and we were allowed to join it. The ride from Rusteel to Rodenbach was supposedly 20 minutes, but we left at 1:30 in order to allow time for getting lost. This turned out to be a good idea. We drove around blindly and just happened, by the will of the beer gods, to wind up on the brewery’s street. We walked in at exactly 2 PM.

Peter Bouckaert, formerly Rodenbach’s brewmaster until 1996 and now the brewmaster at New Belgium Brewing in Colorado, gave the tour. The tour group consisted of New Belgium employees and some of their distributors. After one has worked at New Belgium for five years, they get an all-expense-paid trip to visit breweries in Belgium, with pay, so several of the people on the tour were having a week similar to ours, except that Peter was leading them so they probably weren’t getting lost.

Rodenbach mills their grain under water in order to eliminate oxygen. The old and the new brew houses are next to each other, and we toured the old one. Cooled wort is transferred to very large outdoor conical fermenters. The brewery started in 1820 outside of town, and moved into town in 1836. They used to have a maltery, and stopped malting in 1970. We saw the old maltery. There is a funnel-shaped brick kiln with stoves underneath. The funnel shape (small at the bottom and wide at the top) was necessary for proper heat distribution. It is the only one of its kind. It is housed in a cylindrical structure and attached at the top. The cylinder was filled with sand while the kiln was being built in order to support the bricks while the cement dried, then the sand was dug out. We went through the 4-foot-high doorway to the inside of the funnel. There is a two-level iron grate overhead. Grain used to start on the top, then drop through holes to the lower level.

The old brew house was established in 1864. The old fermentation tanks have copper pipes and ladders in them. The pipes were for water to cool the wort, and the ladders were for workers to climb down and clean the tanks. They still have 24 of the 56 old tanks.

In the early 1900s the brewer drank too much, so his wife ran the brewery. She was the first person to bring a steam generator into town. Palm bought Rodenbach in 1998. (Palm also owns 50% of Boon.) During WWII the Germans dismantled many breweries for their copper but left some alone to make beer for the troops. Rodenbach was one of those lucky breweries.

They have 294 oak barrels that are as old as the old brew house. The barrels are cylindrical (i.e., straight-sided, unlike most barrels, which have curved sides). Each one holds 12,000-65,000 liters (3170-17,000 gallons) and sits upright on concrete platforms. The beer is aged in them for about two years. They have 11 cellars, and walking through them made me feel like I was in a forest. Beer is fermented for 4-6 weeks (one week in the outdoor conicals, then about four weeks in horizontal tanks) before being transferred via underground pipes to the barrels.

They have their own cooperage. They scrape the inside of the barrels every 4-5 fillings in order to remove the beer stone that blocks the wood’s pores; they need oxygen to penetrate in order to feed the Acetobacter. After about 20 years of use, a barrel is taken apart, scraped, and reassembled. No nails or screws are used. They put reeds between staves to fill gaps. Iron hoops keep them together. A barrel gets a bit smaller each time due to shaving, so every so often a new stave must be added.

Rodenbach’s beers develop their fruity bouquet in the barrels. Bacteria convert organic acids to fruity esters. Each barrel makes its own unique flavor. Workers taste and blend them. Each barrel is numbered for obvious reasons.

Rodenbach does their own kegging but Palm does their bottling.

We were treated to a few glasses of beer. Rodenbach had a nice fruity aroma and a pretty good somewhat fruity, somewhat tart flavor with light body and low carbonation. Rodenbach Grand Cru had a nice strong, fruity, plummy, somewhat tart aroma and a quite good strong, sour, fruity flavor. The sourness was acetic (vinegary) from the Acetobacter, and it accumulated as I drank it, but this doesn’t happen with gueuzes, which have very little acetic acid. Next to us was a big room that they use for weddings and other parties.

After the tour we walked a few blocks to a beer store called Streekbieren Yves and bought a few beers. Then we drove to a Guide-recommended place called Pado in the very trafficky town of Tielt. (For a country with such expensive gas, there sure are a lot of cars.) Unfortunately it was closed, even though the hours listed in the window said it should have been open.

Back to Lucie and Rick’s for a beer fest. Ename Blond (Roman; 6.5%) had a good somewhat estery, somewhat hoppy aroma and a good somewhat estery, slightly bitter, refreshing flavor. Saison de Mai (Saint Monon; 8.3%) had a pretty good somewhat malty/nutty aroma and a fairly good somewhat nutty, slightly bitter flavor. (It was just a few weeks old so maybe some age would improve it.) Grimbergen Triple (Alken-Maes; 9%) had a good estery aroma and a good somewhat estery flavor with fairly light body. Lupulus (Trois Fourquets; 8.5%) had a good estery aroma and flavor with fairly light body. Helleketelbier (Bie; 7%) had a good somewhat sweet, honeyish aroma and a bad phenolic flavor. Op Ale (Affligem; 5%), which was two years past its expiration date, had a fairly good sweet, oxidized aroma and a dry, unpleasant flavor. Bourgogne de Flandres (Timmermans; 5%) had a fairly good somewhat plummy aroma and a decent tart, slightly fruity/raisiny flavor. Bacchus (Van Honsebrouck; 4.5%) had a good sweet, fruity aroma and a good sweet, sour flavor. Houten Kop (Strubbe; 6.5%) had a good somewhat spicy aroma and a fairly good semi-dry flavor. Plokkersbier (Bie; 7%), which had expired a year earlier, was bad. Boeteling (Bavik; 6.6%) smelled and tasted like puke. According to Rick, “Apparently ‘Boeteling’ is Dutch for ‘shit’.” Gordon Finest Gold (Timmermans; 10%), in a can, had a good alcoholic, whisky-like aroma and a fairly good alcoholic, slightly sweet flavor. Ename Dubbel (Roman; 6.5%) had a pretty good fruity aroma and a fairly good slightly roasty flavor. Grimbergen Dubbel (Alken-Maes; 6.5%) had a fairly good malty, fruity aroma and a decent fruity, slightly tart flavor.

Friday May 1. Another nice, sunny day. It was a national holiday – the Belgian equivalent of Labor Day – so the traffic on the Brussels beltway didn’t suck like usual. Once again we ran into problems because the signs don’t tell you which highway you’re about to get on; they only tell you after you’re on it.


We arrived at Abdij der Trappisten van Westmalle and drove around to the side on a narrow road / bike path / walking path. An old monk let me in and I bought some cheese from him. They make a young and an aged cheese; I bought the latter because I like the sharp stuff.

There are miles of paths around the abbey, some dirt and some paved, and all lined with trees. We walked around. It was beautiful and quiet. A good number of people were walking, biking and driving. There were many tree-bordered fields, some used for farming but most were just grass. Around the back of the abbey we saw thousands of plastic Westmalle case boxes, and also a cylindroconical silo or fermenter.

Café Trappisten

Across the street is Café Trappisten, which serves the two Westmalle beers, plus a few others. It was a little after 11 AM and already there were dozens of people sitting outside. Most of them were older, but there were several younger folks with kids. There is a sand playground. I had been to the café four years earlier, at which time the interior was old and woody. It has been redone into a typical modern-looking place with no character.

We sat outside and enjoyed the weather and the Westmalle beers. The Triple (9.5%) had a nice estery aroma and a nice hoppy, estery, clean, refreshing flavor. The Dubbel, on draught, had a good caramelly but not too sweet aroma and a pretty good somewhat dry, slightly caramelly flavor.


In nearby Zoersel is the Boshuisje, a nice place tucked in the woods. There are walking/biking trails all around the area. The urinals are bolted to the outside brick wall with PVC drainage pipes underneath. We sat outside. In fact, when the weather is good, the only place they will let you sit is outside. When you dine outside you are on grass in a beautiful secluded area surrounded by trees and bushes. There is a covered bar. Lots of bikes were parked. The gorgeous 70°F weather with no wind made it spectacular.

They carry about 70 beers. Loteling Tripel (Huyghe), on draught, had a good estery aroma and a pretty good light, estery, slightly tart flavor. Loteling Donker (Huyghe), also on draught, had a good somewhat fruity aroma and a pretty good somewhat plummy flavor. The food was great.

We walked down the dirt road to the Wandeling, another place in the woods. The brick floor, walls and fireplace are pretty. All the customers were out in the beer garden, which is semi-covered with bamboo and leaves. There is a playground too. We didn’t eat or drink there but we walked around. A lot of other people were walking and biking. Several bike routes converge on the area. Many bikes were parked.

We drove to the Toerist in nearby Wechelderzande. Unfortunately they were in the middle of remodeling so they were closed, so it was off to...


We made it to Antwerp fairly easily, which made me suspicious given our past luck with the road system. Sure enough, we got lost looking for our hotel. Eventually we found it. The Rubenshof is an old hotel where the only plumbing in your room is a sink. You share a toilet and a shower with the six other rooms on your floor. The price was right, though – just over half what we had paid in Ghent.

We walked around the city, which is not very pretty. There was lots of traffic as expected, and we couldn’t even relax on the sidewalks because of all the bicyclists. There are lots of outdoor cafés and historic buildings.


We stopped at a small brewpub called the Pakhuis, which has been in business since 1996. The interior is old and brick. The brewing equipment includes a panel of buttons, indicating an automated system. The undersides of the mash and brew kettles are visible, revealing pipes and what look like motors. The kettles appear to be copper (whether the copper is for show I don’t know). The serving tanks are on the other side of the pub.

We tried all three of their house beers. Antwerp’s Blond (5.1%) had a pretty good somewhat estery aroma and a fairly good light, slightly estery flavor with thin body. Antwerp’s Bruin (5.5%) had a fairly good caramelly aroma and a fairly good tart, slightly fruity flavor with fairly light body. Nen Bangelijke (9.5%) had a good estery aroma and flavor with medium body. The food is expensive, and there is no bread or rolls.

We walked along the Schelde River and passed a carnival that had a bungee jump where you sit in a Smart Car. The center of town has many shops and outdoor cafés. The Grote Markt is a big plaza with a statue squirting water.


We walked north to the Waagstuk because we had met one of the owners, a Polish immigrant named Lucy, at the Toer de Geuze. She wasn’t due to arrive for a few hours. The menu has 70+ beers, including many gueuzes and krieks. Petrus Aged Pale (Bavik; 7.3%) had a pretty good somewhat cidery aroma and a quite good sour flavor. Zeppelin (Van Steenberge [brewed exclusively for the Waagstuk]; 8%) had a pretty good somewhat fruity/caramelly aroma and a pretty good sweet, fruity, slightly tart flavor. Something from De Koninck (I didn’t get the name), on draught, had a good somewhat fruity aroma and a decent semi-dry, slightly bitter flavor.

We headed for a bar called Camargue. We seemed to be in a red light district. At the address where the Camargue should have been is a strip club called Studio Sixty-9. I guess some people like sex more than beer. Go figure.

Instead of “walk” and “don’t walk” lights at crosswalks, they have a green person and a red person. People tended to not cross the street when the sign told them not to, even when no traffic was coming. Someone told me that there are cameras all over the city, and the authorities can use them to find jaywalkers. How do you like that? Now they have red light cameras for pedestrians! I wonder whether they track people down by their clothing or by facial recognition software. Anyway, I wasn’t afraid of being caught, inasmuch as I was only in town for a day.

We walked by the Oud Arsenaal, which is very small with a small outdoor seating area. All the outdoor tables were full and we didn’t want to deal with the smoke inside, so we forged onward to...


The Kulminator has a nice cozy interior and a sort of covered alley outside. Most of the roughly 200 beers on the list are old vintages. They have several vintages of many beers, especially Chimay, which goes back to 1982. I wondered whether any of these beers were still good. Curious, I got the 2004 Dendermonde Tripel (Block; 8%), which had expired three years earlier. It had a fairly good sweet, slightly oxidized aroma and an unpleasant oxidized, somewhat phenolic, slightly sweet flavor. Ename Cuvée 974 (Roman; 7%), which hadn’t expired, had a pretty good slightly estery aroma and a fairly good light, slightly estery flavor. Kasteel Brune (Van Honsebrouck), on draught, had a fairly good somewhat dry, slightly fruity aroma and a fairly good very sweet flavor.

I asked the old couple behind the bar to show me a bottle of beer that I was thinking of ordering, in order to make sure it hadn’t expired. Sure enough, it had expired the previous year. I asked for a fresh bottle. They told me that expiration dates mean nothing, that all Belgian beers improve with age, like wine. I told them that the Dendermonde Tripel was bad. They insisted that it was not. They told me that if I wanted anything fresh I’d have to order a draught. They have the attitude that old beer = good beer. Maybe they actually like the cardboardy taste of stale beer. Maybe there is no Flemish word for “oxidized” or “phenolic” or “undrinkable”. Maybe they’re covering up the fact that they’re too lazy and/or cheap to bring in fresh beer, and they’re just getting rid of the old crap.

We walked down to the Pelgrim (the De Koninck brewery tap across the street from the brewery). It appeared to be closed. The inside looked sort of gutted, like they were remodeling. We walked back to the hotel, stopping at a snack shop for some tasty and inexpensive wraps. I was very tired. We must have walked 5-10 miles that day.

Afspanning de Hand

Saturday May 2. We fumbled our way to the De Koninck brewery in the car. It seemed to be closed. Across the road was a bar called Afspanning de Hand. It was closed. I saw people inside so I went to the back door, where the bartender met me. He told me that the Pelgrim was being renovated and it was scheduled to reopen in December. He would open the Hand in less than half an hour, so we walked around a nearby park for a while. The brewery gives tours on Saturdays at 3 PM, but we didn’t want to wait four hours.

The Hand has been open since September 2004 and is another official De Koninck brewery tap. Our bartender, Mustafa (his friends call him “Musty”), was very informative about the city. He told us that Camargue is on the other side of the building from Studio Sixty-9.


Five De Koninck beers were on draught, and they were served in round glasses called bollekes. The first one, simply called De Koninck (5%), had a good somewhat estery aroma and a decent slightly tart, somewhat estery flavor with light body. Blonde (6%) had a pretty good slightly tart, slightly estery aroma and a pretty good somewhat tart, slightly estery, refreshing flavor with light body and a slightly bitter aftertaste. The aroma and flavor improved as the beer warmed. Triple (8%) had a good somewhat estery aroma and a good estery, somewhat sweet, slightly earthy flavor. Winterkoninck (6.5%) had a pretty good somewhat estery/malty aroma and an unpleasant somewhat phenolic, slightly bitter flavor. Cuvée 175, brewed in 2008 on the brewery’s 175th anniversary, had a pretty good somewhat cidery, slightly estery aroma and a decent somewhat cidery, somewhat phenolic flavor with adequate hop balance. All the beers are filtered.

There is a big non-smoking room upstairs with many tables. Smoking is allowed downstairs even though they serve food. Even one of the employees was smoking. There is an outdoor patio. They have many kinds of glasses, including a three-liter bolleke. Mustafa gave us each a shot of the brewery’s yeast slurry.

Different glasses.
Ben drinking yeast.

We left the city and stopped in Sint Katelijne Waver at Café 206, which was closed, probably because of the holiday weekend. That’s the thing about mom-and-pop establishments: when the owners take off, there is no one to run the place.

Back in Waterloo I went jogging, and let me tell you, after two weeks of eating and drinking without cardiovascular exercise, my legs were like spaghetti. The neighborhood has a nice network of very narrow roads surrounded by greenery. Every house is made of brick, as in most of the country.

It was our last night in Belgium, so we drank beer all evening. Lulle Schuddel (Verhaeghe; 6.5%) had a good estery aroma and a pretty good light, refreshing, slightly estery flavor. Kerelsbier (Leroy; 6.4%) had a good somewhat sweet, slightly honeyish aroma and a fairly good slightly bitter flavor. Forte Brune (the old-looking label said Brasserie d’Ancre, which as far as I know doesn’t exist; 5.8%) had a pretty good somewhat caramelly, slightly oxidized aroma and a pretty good sweet, fruity, slightly tart flavor. Petrus Gouden Tripel (Bavik; 7.5%) had a pretty good somewhat tart aroma and a good somewhat estery, slightly bitter, light, refreshing flavor with fairly light body and strong carbonation. La Biére de Boloeil (Dupont; 8.5%) had a pretty good somewhat sweet aroma and a good earthy, hoppy, somewhat sweet flavor. Kalle (Brouwkot; 8%) had a good fruity aroma and a pretty good somewhat sweet/hoppy/alcoholic flavor. Slaapmutske Tripel (Proef; 8.1%) had a pretty good somewhat sweet, slightly cidery aroma and a good smooth, slightly malty flavor with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Rulles Estival (Rulles; 5.2%) had a good hoppy, very slightly sweet aroma and a good hoppy, slightly bitter flavor with good malt balance and a somewhat bitter aftertaste. A canned pils from the local Carrefour (the can said Delhaize Group, which is an international food retailer; 4.7%) had a pretty good slightly sweet aroma and a typical pils flavor. Guinness Special Export Stout (Guinness [Ireland]; 8%) had a good roasty, sweet aroma and a good smooth, somewhat roasty flavor. We ended with a homebrew of mine that I made with yeast cultured from a bottle of Dulle Teve (made by Dolle Brouwers).

Sunday May 3 at 7 AM. Time to leave. Waah. We returned the rental car at the airport and carried all our stuff to the check-in area. My suitcases, knapsack and bag full of beer, cheese, chocolate and clothing totaled about 140 pounds. My concerns about my luggage being over the allowed limit were allayed when they didn’t even weigh it. A bottle of water, which I had accidentally left in my bag, was picked up on X-ray, so they went through my bag and I got wanded. I guess you could say I’m a wanded man.

We made it safely back to the States. It had been a great trip. Our luck, overall, was good, even though some of the places we went to were closed. We had no mishaps (car trouble, illness, etc). The weather was beautiful for the most part, which we were told is unusual for Belgium. Many of the roughly 180 beers we tried were ones that we had never even seen before.

My favorite beers of the trip? The gueuzes from Drie Fonteinen, Cantillon, Mort Subite and Oud Beersel; Cantillon Kriek; Mort Subite Pêche; Mort Subite Raspberry Lambic; Drie Fonteinen Geuze Cuvée J&J; Orval; Westmalle Tripel; Rodenbach Grand Cru; Mongozo Coconut (okay, so it’s not a real beer); Chimay Cinq Cents; Hoegaarden White; Urthel Hop It; and Delirium Tremens.