Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Belgium Day 2

I am now back home, but have decided to go ahead with a trip documentary of the rest of my visit to the land of beer.  I had hoped to have more along the way but jetlag and spotty internet availability nixed that plan.

On our second day in Brussels we started out early in the morning with Hassan and Chris for breakfast and very strong coffee at a French cafe just down the street from our hotel.  Incredible croissants and omelets.

Our next stop was the central square to ogle the old buildings and take some pictures before the crowds arrived.  We got there just in time for the opening of the brewing museum located in the basement of the ancient Brewer's Guild building...the only guild building on the square still occupied by an actual guild.  Go brewers!  The building is pretty cool, with hop vines and mash paddles hidden among the decorations on the facade.  The museum was fairly sad, taking up a room in the basement with some really ancient wooden brew kettles and mash paddles.  There was a second room taken up by modern brewing equipment like conicals and showing a weird multilingual film with James Bond-like and Euro-Dance-Party music.  But what makes the tour worth it is the miniature bar where you get your full glass of beer at the end of the "tour."  They have two beers on tap changed daily and randomly from the various guild member's beers.  In order to not play favorites they will not tell you what the beers are.  I'm pretty sure the lighter colored beer was Stella, but the dark was certainly a Trappist beer.  Beer at 10 AM?  No problem, we are in Belgium!

At this point the weather was starting to turn and clouds were looking ominous.  Not to be stopped from our explorations of Brussels we continued our walking and stopped off at the Musical Instrument Museum located in a really cool Horta building.  The museum was pretty neat, with headphones that played music from the various old instruments as you neared them.  Not much in English though, so I did get bored after a while.

By the time we finished at the museum, the rain was really going to town.  At my suggestion we decided to trek halfway across town to BeerMania, a beer store with a large selections of Belgian brews.  Streets are twisty and signs are attached at seeming random intervals to the sides of buildings, and with the rain we had a difficult time navigating without getting our map soaked.  Just when I felt that my party was about to lynch me for sending us on this wild goose chase, I noticed a minivan with pictures of beer bottles on it!  At last!  We stumbled inside, dripping and cold, to see rows upon rows of beautiful and baffling Belgian ales.  At the rear of the store is a small rustic bar at which the owner will serve you any beer from his shelves...try before you buy!  We dried ourselves out in this wonderfully homey bar, eating perfect frites (the ubiquitous Belgian double fried crispy French fries,) dipped in mayo, and a nice cheese and meat plate.  We tried 3 Fontainen Geuze, De Struisse Pannepot Reserve 2009, Rochefort 10, and Westvleteren 8 between the four of us.  The Westy was probably my favorite, followed by the Pannepot.  Hassan and I have fairly similar tastes in beer, and both bought an expensive Westy 8 and 12 to take home with us.  The owner was incredibly nice and even has his own beer, Mea Culpa, that is a fairly spice-laden blond.  He called us a cab to get us back home without soaking ourselves again.  This simple visit with friends and great beers was one of the high points of my trip.

Roaring through the twisty cobbled streets of Brussels on a white-knuckle death-ride in a cab driven by a mad-man, we narrowly avoided death and maiming and arrived at our hotel with just minutes to spare before our walking tour.  Our official tour starts now, getting to meet our tour director and other tour mates.  Our director was Mike Saxton of Beertrips.com, a 40 year old bald fellow with a dry wit and relaxed attitude.  This was a very small tour group, consisting of our four from Minnesota, as well as Rich (a hulking 6'7" guy) and his wife Candy, both from the East coast.  We had one other temporary member, Mike, who had just finished a beer trip with Mike S. to the Czech republic, and joined us for two days in Brussels.  Mike was even taller than Rich, more on that later...

Big Mike: good luck fitting in the Belgian bathrooms...

We met our local tour guide and walked about a block down from the hotel to Subite Mort, a bar serving their own Gueze, that Sj and I had tried out the previous night.  Gueze is the the beer of Brussels, though not enough locals drink it.  We got a bit of history as we sipped beer, learning that Brussels is about 85% French speaking and 15% Flemish.  From here, we walked about town looking at old buildings and the Grande Place.  We stopped at another tiny bar down a small alley that our large tour members had to literally crouch to get into.  More wandering, then to another more modern bar with a hoppy brew called called Zinnebier after the old river Zinne that used to run through town.  At that bar we also got to try Belgian chocolates made with Girardin kriek.  Yes I brought some home with me.  We also took pictures of Brussels' mascot the Mannekin Pis (the little pissing boy statue that you see plastered all over town.) Best walking (staggering) tour ever!

Kind of looks like that person is getting peed on...

Hmm, what to do when you have been stopping off every 10 feet for a beer?  Why a dinner at Restobiers, an old restaurant specializing in dishes using beer as an ingredient.  Pate made with Rochefort 10, rabbit braised in gueze, etc.  The food was fantastic, but the place was tiny, crowded and very hot.  Many beers were passed around.

Yummy Thumper in gueze sauce

And what to do when you can barely walk after a huge beer dinner?  The Bad-Idea Bears suggested a trip to the Delerium Cafe.  This is an entire block of buildings that are owned by one person and have several different bars and cafes all serving tons of beers, but most noted for Delerium Tremens (the pink elephant beer.)  We had a beer in the basement, where all the acoustically challenged youth of Brussels seemed to be rocking out to AC/DC and Black Sabbath.  Boybands and glowing pimp hats.  Fun, but not a place I'd hang out regularly.

What a day.  A great start to the official tour of Belgium.

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