Thursday, October 18, 2012

Belgium Day 4: Comics and Crypts

Day 4 of our trip continued in Brussels.  We woke for breakfast, which I had taken to actually eating since lunches had been difficult with our unusual tour schedule.  Strange cold cuts of odd but tasty meats, yogurts with watery consistency, good fresh breads, and lots of unusual toppings.

We headed out with Chris and Hassan again, having lost our counterparts after Cantillon on the previous day.  We looked at some very Gothic Catholic Churches and then headed to the Comic Strip Museum.  Apparently comics are a kind of a big deal to the Belgians, who created The Adventures of Tin Tin.  The museum was in a large funky building designed by the mad Belgian architect Horta.  Incredible metal work and crazy angles.  Interesting place, but with minimal English translations.  I discovered that the Smurfs were created in Belgium!  My childhood rushed back upon me seeing original Smurf comics.  "Are we there yet Papa Smurf??"  After the museum we wandered the streets some more, ogling the old and varied architecture.  Nothing here in the states can get you ready for the scope and age of these old buildings and churches.  To be sitting in an old cafe and realize that people have been drinking and socializing there since long before our own country even existed is mind-boggling.

Monument to the Martyrs
At this point I had my only real migraine on the entire trip.  Surprising since I can often get them from lack of sleep and alcohol, both of which I had had plenty of on this trip so far.  Not fun, but I rested and got my second wind for the coming evening.

We gathered as a group and Mike led us like lemmings through the cattle doors of the rail station.  We arrived at the other location of Moeder Lambic (an amazing beer bar.)  There we were ushered through a side entrance and down a dark, very tight stairwell into a dank and musty cellar.  But what a cellar!  A large wooden plank table with uncomfortable stools was arranged in the center, a low arched brick ceiling, encrusted with nitre above us.  The ancient crypt-like atmosphere was somewhat alleviated by the presence of shelves all along the walls containing hundreds of bottles of rare beers, including some Stone, Mikkeller and other oddities.  Jean, our host and owner of Moeder Lambic, tended to us personally for several hours, taking occasional breaks to gather us some food and to take a personal delivery of Cantillon beers from Jean Van Roy, (who stopped down briefly to say hi to us!)

Jean was an excellent host and gave us a great deal of background about the beer and brewing scene in Belgium.  I learned a lot about how the big brewers like In-Bev and Duvel/Mortgat have been gobbling up smaller breweries, often to the detriment of the beer itself.  He explained that the Belgian beer scene and the brewers are really looking to the American craft beer movement and taking cues from us.  He also gave a very passionate history of Cantillon that I wish I had heard prior to going there the previous day.

We tried about 12 different beers taken from the incredible stash that loomed around us.  Several from a newer brewery named Rulles were very tasty.  Stille Nacht from 2007 was really nice.  Oerbier, a flavorful brown, was served with a barrel aged 2007 version that was freaking fantastic!  And my favorite special beer of the night was the Cantillon 2009 Zwanze (a joke beer that they do each year.)  This version was the first time they used elderflowers and would eventually become the Mamouche beer.  This version had been deemed way too strong in elderflower flavor, but by now had faded to a very heady aroma and flavor.  Each year since, they have been cutting down the flowers to get it just right.  This was a special event not to be missed, and certainly wouldn't have been available to us without our tour leader's connections.

Our group, tasting foot-smelling cheese and drinking very special beers
Look at the dust and cobwebs on this old bottle!

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