Monday, October 22, 2012

Belgium Day 8: Rodenbach and Gluttony

Meeting up early for breakfast our group discovered that the female contingent was not going to be joining us on our day trip to Roselare.  Sj was still feeling sick, and Candy and Chris were both overly tired.  No problem, we would make this a guy's trip to see a manly brewery!  We hopped a cab with a singularly cantankerous driver to the rail station.  There, we hopped a train for the small Belgian town of Roselare. 

The Rodenbach brewery is the origin of the Flanders Red style of beer, and as such is a keystone to understanding that style of beer.  Having brewed three versions of this beer myself, I was very excited to see how this is really done.  The brewery itself is located in a huge sprawling complex, that includes a lot of old buildings that are no longer in use, such as the malting house.  The place was very quiet and nearly empty of workers, resulting in a strange post-apocalyptic deserted feel.  We were greated upon entering the grounds by a very friendly lady who ushered us into a room to watch a movie about the Rodenbach family and brewery.  The film was iffy, but she served us all hot coffee which made up for it.  Two very nice hipster guys from the states managed to get into the tour with us and they apparently had been at a lot of the same places we had been, including Cantillon Quintessence.  We then got an extensive tour of the brewery.  We were able to actually enter the kiln and the malting tower as well as several other museum-piece areas.  Watching our 6'7" tour-mate Rich try to fit into the kiln brought up vivid mental images of Winny the Pooh getting stuck in the tree.

We were able to walk through one of the old copper lined open fermentation tanks, which was fairly unusual.  The next stop was the coolest part of the trip:  The foedors.  These hare huge oak vessels that tower above you and seem to extend forever.  As I understand it the fermentation is a mixed ferment with acetobacter bacteria (for the sourness) and brewer's yeast.  They do an initial ferment, then a secondary, then transfer to these enormous wooden tanks to age.  They keep 2 coopers on staff to do repairs on the foedors as needed, and each year they take them apart and steam clean the staves.  No other breweries use this technique.  We watched another short film that featured an animated yeast cell, and all of us had a hard time maintaining our cool and not laughing outright.  A few years back Rodenbach was bought out by Palm Brewery and now the bottling is done elsewhere.  While there has been some backlash about the selling, the company would not have stayed in business if not for that.  Interestingly we found out that the local Flanders Red brewers (mostly in Roselare area) are trying to get a special label with goals similar to that of the Trappists or the Champagne area of France.

They use several areas of the brewery as lecture halls, student housing and rented out for weddings.  They are booked out 2 years ahead for weekend weddings, so get on the list now!  Our final stop was the cavernous tasting room.  We got to try the regular Rodenbach which is made with 1/3 aged sour beer and 2/3 fresh beer, resulting in a nice tart and refreshing red ale.  Then we tried the Grand Cru which is made of 2/3 aged and 1/3 fresh beer.  That one was much more complex and rounded with some subtle cherry notes.  We were fortunate enough to get a sample of the aging beer right out of the foedors and that was very sharp and tar.  I think I was the only one who really liked it.     We also tried the Grand Cru from the bottle which seemed more mellow than on tap, probably due to the natural bottle fermentation for carbonation.  Last, but not least, we talked them into parting with a bottle of the Vintage 2010 Rodenbach that is made entirely of the aged beer.  This was the stand-out winner for everyone and I would highly recommend trying it if you can search one out.  Tasting all these beers took us a while and we chatted for a bit with our hipster friends.  So far our guys only tour had been a great success. 

Walking into Roselare, we found a cafe that had a good selection of beers and food.  More beer pates and beers were had.  Things were taking a bit longer than Hassan and I had expected and both of us were feeling that we had left our womenfolk behind for too long.  Discovering that we might be able to catch the early train home we bolted our beers and took off.  We were late, but Hassan's luck held out and so was out train!  We ended up back home in time to track down our wives and get back to exploring Bruges.  Sj and I headed back to Half Moon Brewery to try the other beers we hadn't tried previously.  We also bought a large quantity of Belgian chocolates to take home to our loved ones.

Courtyard of Halve Maan Brewery

Belgian Chocolates

What else could we possibly do for our last night in Bruges?  Why not have a beer pairing dinner at the Erasmus Restaurant?  Luckily this was just off the lobby to our hotel, so we did not have far to go.  The restaurant owner greated us and sat us in a quiet corner (quiet for now, but beer dinner to follow!)  We started with a set of cute and tasty appetizers paired with De Struise single hop Montueka beer.  The beer was light and hoppy, but with that Belgian balanced nature.  Second course was scallops paired with a secondand more hoppy De Struise beer, Catso.  This one had a firm grapefruit flavor that was mirrored by use of grapefruit in the puree below the scallops.  Yummy pairing!  Third course was Veal and sweetbreads cooked to perfection, served with De Struise Rose (a mediocre brown ale.)  Not the best beer, but the sweetbreads were decadent!  Desert was a huge mouse cake served with Alvinus Kriek.  Both were gut-wrenchingly good.  Just as we were getting up to hobble/roll to our rooms, a fellow from another table brought over a half full bomber bottle of barleywine to share with us.  Going to need a diet when this is over...

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