Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Belgium Beer Tour

Ana and I braved the cold and devoted time into exploring a coupe of  breweries in Flanders via bicycle. Some were large while others are about the size of a 3-car garage. All the owners we met love what they do and do it well. Björn from Gulden Spoor Brewery and Bruno and Gruden from 'T Gaverhopke took the time and opened the doors to their operations and were very generous in letting us sample their creations. We can't thank them enough for their hospitality.

A "pinch" is a normal beer and what you would order at a bar if your plan is to go through a couple packs of cigarettes, dance, and chat with your friends all evening. Expect to pay 1.50 Euro for a pour. A couple examples of a "pinch" would be Primus, Juplier, and Stella Aartois. 
I tried a couple of Bio beers. Bio equates to organic. 
For those of you new or unfamiliar with beers from Belgium or parts of Germany, the glass matters and is the end all. It would be uncouth to consume from the bottle. One needs to let the aromas escape properly while sipping. 
Another bio brew in a Hoegarden glass. Shame. 
If there was a beer that has caused a lot fuss during our trip, it was Duvel Tripel Hop. Most people simply said it wasn't a Duvel and were shocked by large amount of hops. Living in beer revolution/innovation San Diego, California home to the west coast IPA, I have developed a palate for this style of beer. Most people I talked with didn't like the strong citrus notes. I'm curious to see how well one of the Stone or Green Flash IPAs would be received. At 9% ABV it was hoppy but more sweet than bitter. My thoughts on the DTH was that there are two distinct styles or maybe even continents in the bottle competing for attention, think Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.     
The innards to Gulden Spoor Brewery located about 5 KM from Kortrijk. 

Björn poured us his flagship brew Netebuk. Björn's wife is the chemist in the family and they make their own yeast recipes. The best story he told me was when he started brewing at the age of 16, his family wasn't too keen oh his hobby being that he comes from a family that prefers wine and looks down on beer drinkers. He and his wife would work "normal" day jobs and brew on the weekends until they quit their jobs went for it. I admire that. Netebuk has that subtle bottle conditioned taste yet ends with a nice crisp bite.   
In addition to brewing his own creations, Björn also brews other people's recipes. That seems to be typical with people who have the equipment and knowledge.  

Was a short 10 km ride to 'T Gaverhopke. Although the brewery/tasting room was closed Bruno and Gruden opened it us for us. 
We sampled 5 of their craft beers including Den12.  
The Bitter Sweet Symphony is a very tasty IPA, almost too American IPA in Flanders? I believe Bruno mentioned that the recipe is from a guy in Philly. Although it is billed as an IIPA, it tastes more along the lines of a single one. 
Bruno and Gruden. Gruden is the brew master and they have quite an operation going on between the beer and their popular tasting room. 
Deca and Struise Brewery is near Poperinge and they are pretty innovative in their output. Sadly we missed tasting more of their products. I would love to have a shirt of their double ostrich crest logo. 
 Often noted as the holy gail of beer; the Westvleteren 12 (dark one) is one of the most sought after beers in the world. It is made by the monks of the abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren. Until recently (due to the financial needs of the abbey, there was a limited release in the states) it has been only available one place. We rode our bikes from Poperinge for this one. This history of this beer was that it was once made at the Sint Bernardus brewery on the other side of Poperinge (Watou) until the license ran out and monks moved to their Abby in Westvleteren in 1992. 
You can taste the beer in Westvleteren but you can't get in past the doors. Actually, you can stay in silence with the monks for spiritual clarity, check their website for details. 
Sint Bernardus Brewery in Watou. During the tour there was a lot of talk about Westvleteren 12 and St. Bernardus Abt 12. Sint Bernardus says that the recipe between the two is the same and the only difference is the label, the water, and the yeast in the air. Some people claim they can taste the difference. I don't see what the fuss is all about. 
Back in the day, the monk on the St. Bernardus label wore a skullcap, thus making it seem like a Trappist ale. Since St. Bernardus isn't a monastery it cannot belong International Trappist Association and thus the monk cap was removed. 
Boxing up the beer.
There is an bottle exchange agreement between breweries. When bottles are gathered for recycling they are shipped off to the brewery, labels taken off and bottles sanitized. If you get someone else's bottle you set it aside and do a prisoner exchange down the line. 
On the tour there was a roar of laughter form the people who speak Dutch. The English speakers asked what was so funny. The guide replied "in order to ship their beer to the United States, they have to put a warning/health label on it" True, it is the law in the states.  
They broke out the good stuff. Aged 2 years! Not only that, we got a 4-pack with a nice goblet for taking the tour. 12.50 euros well spent. Another story Björn from  Gulden Spoor mentioned that will surely bum out some folks. He uses Westvleteren 12 for his Stoofvlees (Flemish beef stew) recipe. I about cried. In fact living in Egypt would make anyone cry using a dark ale on beef.  
Where Duvel raised my hopes for an hoppy Belgium IIPA, Achouffe Brewery hits a home run with their double IPA. It was perfectly balanced with hops (think: Challenger, Simcoe). I tried this on tap at the Bierhaus in Gent. Delicious.    

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Kortrijk, Belgium

Why Kortrijk? The little town in west Flanders seemed a like a good point for riding bikes, jumping on over to Lille, France and visiting some of the smaller breweries in the region (coming soon). A common sight you'll see around town are golden spurs in reference to The Battle of Golden Spurs in 1302. Kortrijk was also a battleground during both world wars and nearly bombed out of existence by the allies in 1944 though a few medieval structures remain. Our accommodations were at someone's home turned bed and breakfast. As an added bonus, the carnival was in town. 

A Tour of Flanders racing team camping out in front of Kortrijk's train station.
Old apartments coming down.
Memorial near our house.
Your guess is as good as mine.
A different kind of trampoline at  Groeningebridge and Albertpark. There is even a skate bowl if you want to bring your board and do so some shredding.
Catching some air.
The strangest carnival attraction we didn't take a photo of was where you can climb into a giant bubble and bump into others while in a pool of water. 
The carnival artwork was pretty sweet, like this mural that has people breaking into the apartment and a woman's lover (or a John skipping on his bill) leaving via a fire escape. 
Parrots and boobs.
Frolicking in the water and the unhappy banana vendor.
Fun House
The city on the Leie.
Lille, France was a short 30-minute train ride and seeing the Depeche Mode poster was Ana's favorite part.
French artist Jean-François Fourtou's installation Tombée du Ciel (Fallen from the sky) might be the best sight in Lille
Lille center.
Paul's Boutique is Kortrijk's punk rock burger stop. Yes, that is a vegan burger with real bacon on it.
Gravenkapel (The Court's Chapel)
St. Elisabeth Beguinage
Jack'it Seriously Hot Potatoes. Just jack it! seriously. 

Monday, April 22, 2013


Spring break usually means escaping the cold and finding a warm beach somewhere at any costs even if you live near the beach you seek a warmer one. I suppose we all need to thaw out after a cold winter. In our case we did the opposite, we went searching for cold and found it. The warmness we sought was the company of old and newly made friends.

True, we spent most of our time in Flanders, but did venture to the French side for a couple of days to cautiously explore Belgium's other half. Maybe the former industrial town of Charleroi wasn't the best example, but it was an adventure and that is we seek out here at Camels and Tacos.

Need a quick fix of frites (fries) or fried shaped processed meats? There are plenty of establishments that will cater to your appetite.
How to clog the arteries 101.
James and Harry enjoying a pinch (normal beer).
Harry surprised us with this breakfast item. I didn't think I'd ever eat head cheese. Let this be a lesson in the never say never category.
Is it a bar or an antique shop? Enjoy your favorite beer and buy an old tube radio for 40 euros.
Another Bar/Antique shop that serves soup and quiche.
Museum of Industrial Archeology and Textile in Gent is a great way to spend a couple of hours. We weren't allowed to take photos of the exhibits, so a view of the city is all you get.
Canal shot.
Curtis (Joy Division tribute band) drummer Stephane finds the love of his life in a painting at Chantal's.
Hatched egg Easter cake (say that 5 times fast-bet you can't.)
Each bakery we passed sold their own handmade Chocolate bunnies.
Bunny patrol on the herb garden.
Why stop at head cheese...quail eggs and goose liver pâté was also on our menu... was a sorbet made from cava.
Jab forks in a grilled mackerel and garnish with a side of baked tomatoes-let your dinner guests dig in.
End dinner with cheese, dates, nuts, chocolate eggs, or whatever you want.
Els aka 100% was responsible for our 8-hour Easter feast.
The funeral
Goedroen and Els making a mess.
I learned something new about digestives. After a heavy meal, an after meal sip of a little somethin'-somethin' will put your intestines back in order. Els dad makes a pear liqueur.

A wood stove in action.
House of  the artist.
A night stroll through Gent
Belgium's Angry Birds.
The 5 Euro Turkish pizza is always hearty.
James is a painter
He was commissioned to make a Botero-esque painting. A nod to Goya and Velázquez in the background.
Els textile interpretations of paintings by James. 
Then there was Charleroi, more importantly Shanty. We found Shanty on airbnb and by his photos we knew we had to stay at his place.
Shanty acquired his decor on his travels to India and the far east.
His office/kitchen
You're thinking restaurant, we were thinking restaurant. More importantly we were thinking Belgium-French nachos. Nope. Dance club. Charleroi has a lot of them.
Instead of nachos we tried something new. It was a cold day, so why not have a cold mystery meal for lunch. Unlike the Dutch side where some English is understood, an hour away no English is understood. We concluded the cold meal ended up being some sort of fish. Later we found out it was eel. Glad eel is off the bucket list.
Ana was more cautious and ordered les boulettes (meatballs in tomato sauce).
Around town
We did find our Mexican restaurant in Charleroi, it might have been called Chi Chi's. We also found a very wasted Mexican lady from Acapulco wanting to be Ana's best friend. She had the attention of the whole establishment. We did sit next to a nice lady and her kids...she asked why in the world would we came to Charleroi. The other table next to us had birthday party and the restaurant busted out the champagne and sombreros.
Shanty decided we should have a wig party at 10 in the morning. He brought out his box of wigs and fun was had by all.
I see a new hair style in the future.
Ana as a blonde.