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.    

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