On this day we headed out via a full sized motor coach bus for the seven of us, driven by a strange fellow named Johann who wore a Wile E. Coyote tie...should I be nervous? We drove for about an hour to reach a small town in the middle of no-where. Keep in mind Belgium is about the size of Connecticut. We pulled up in front of an old brewery building, that looked like it been used for centuries, and was in some disrepair. The main gate was shut and we knocked a few times...I half expected Frau Blucher from Young Frankenstein to answer, (cue horse whinny here). After about 10 minutes of milling about, Mark, the owner of the Kerkom Brewery arrived and let us into the courtyard. This place looked like half brewery, half fortified castle. All along the walls were old stone watering troughs for horses that had been turned into planters. Apparently at one time the building was used as a stopping place for messengers.
It was chilly outside, with a hint of winter to come. We were taken to a small bar room off the courtyard that was homey, warm and comfortable. Around 10 AM we were served glasses of the flagship beer Bink Blond, which surprised me by how hoppy it was. We had a few more of the great variety of beers before getting a tour of the brewery grounds. The brewery had been in use for a long time, but about 7 years ago the local laws had changed, making all of the old equipment no longer "safe" for brewing. The old wooden belt-fed grain mill still worked fine, but because it was made of wood and couldn't be sanitized it was not usable. The lawmakers knew nothing of brewing, nor the fact that grinding grain was well before the boil which would kill any bugs that might hide in the wood. So for the last several years Mark has been brewing at another brewery site while saving up to re-open the brewery on the old grounds. He had all his new conicals and modern equipment set up, but has been in red-tape hell for the last year trying to get everything approved. Apparently Belgium has several governments, and many of these overlap and contradict each other. Makes our government sound better all the time.
Mark gave us a lot of information about the Belgian beer scene and his thoughts about beers. He really hates coriander, viewing that as a way to mask flaws in improperly made beers! As with most of the brewers and beer people we talked to on this trip he really views balance between hop and malt as the the keystone of what makes good Belgian beer. He shamefully makes a sweet Kriek that he didn't even let us try since he really only makes that for the local market that craves overly sweet beers. Gotta pay the bills.
We returned from our eye-opening tour to try more beers, the best of which was a holiday dark strong ale aged in the bottle for a year before serving. I brought one home for this Christmas! We were brought a spread of House-made meats and pate made with Bink beer, along with these enormous pieces of bread that dwarfed even our very tall tour-mate Rich. I kept trying to get him to hold up a piece for a picture until I think he was getting sick of me. Between the excellent hosts, 8 different beers and a huge rustic farmhouse lunch, I think this was one of best parts of the trip.
Back on the bus, our tour leader had purchased a bunch of Kerkom beers and Bink glasses for all of us. Our coach had a beer fridge and a bathroom. We made good use of both on the next leg of our trip as we cracked more beers. Time flew by and we may have been a bit rowdy...
After and unknown length of time we arrived in the resort town of Bouillon, near the border of France. We stopped first at the Kasteel De Bouillon, a fortified castle from the middle ages. This place was awesome! Huge parapets, fortified walls,and dungeons with torture equipment. The castle also had an Oubliette: basically a hole in the ground with only a small barred opening at the top, they would drop prisoners into these and forget about them, as there really was no way to get out. There was a large group of school children rampaging around the grounds, and I was quite jealous that they got to wear old-style tunics. Where is my outfit? Around 4:30 they had a birds of prey show in the main courtyard that was very cool. Seeing falcons swooping from old castle walls to land on your friend's outstretched arm is amazing! It had started to rain lightly by this time and the school children left, making it much more calm and quiet around the castle.
It was a short drive down the hill to our hotel, an antiquated old hunting lodge with lots of dead animal heads on the walls. Our bed was tiny with and annoying foot board and small pillows made of plastic lined concrete. Not the best place we stayed at, but not a lot of other options in this town. Our shower was a small bathtub with no curtain, one of those odd sit-down and spray yourself down Euro-baths. Not cool! Because it was off-season, the entire town was pretty much closed. The only people around were several octogenarians who probably have been coming here since its heyday.
Our dinner was at the hotel and featured 7 courses, paired with local and other Belgian beers. After our long day, we kept losing members as the meal went on. The food was good overall, but the timing slow, and the meal ended up like the Bataan Death March of eating. Sj, Mike, Hassan and our driver managed to stick it out to the bitter end.
What a day!