Our final day in Ghent was a free day on the tour. We did spend much of it with our 5 tour mates and guide though. We explored the grounds of the 1180 AD Castle Gravensteen in the morning, checking out the decorative and utilitarian ancient weapons and the disturbing torture devices within its dark halls.
|I need this! Where is my blacksmith friend Marty when I need him!|
After our brief lives reliving the Crusades (OK it was built after that time period) we separated up for some individual wandering. Sj and I walked the canal and the back streets, also getting a better look at Mad Meg the enormous red cannon. There has to be a children's book in that somewhere…
We ended up at a street side café listening to a street busker play some sort of weird brass drum contraption. I enjoyed a complex and dark St. Bernardus 12, paired with a Belgian waffle for lunch. This light lunch was followed by more aimless wandering. While I enjoy having destinations and scheduled visits, there is certainly something exciting about stumbling upon something wonderful while walking about the streets of such a historic city.
At two in the afternoon we met up with our group at the only Ghent brewery, Gruut. I had seen this on line and been intrigued, so this was my contribution to the beer events in Ghent. The brewery is in a building right along one of the canals, but a bit off the beaten track. The building itself was a strange mix of the old (pictures, old tiles, antediluvian brew system,) and the new (an actual stream water feature running right through the building and along the floor tile, and urinals shaped like mouths.) Interestingly, the fermenters were sideways tanks and they had actually built a raised seating area over them to make better use of the building space.
We ordered some meat and cheese trays to go with our drinks. With the exception of the Inferno, all of their beers are brewed without hops, according to the medieval way of doing things--using a mixture of herbs to bitter instead. I've had several commercial and homebrewed versions of gruits in the past and only Tim Roets' version from Byggvir's Big Beer Cup a few years back was balanced well. Most tend to be somewhat disgusting and over spiced. The beers from Gruut were so drinkable that I would not have known they were unhopped beers!
|Gruit beers all in a row!|
The do offer samplers of the beers so I got to try them all without getting trashed. The Wit was pretty classic for the style with strong coriander and orange peel flavors--this was the most "gruity" of their beers. The Blonde was pale in color and had a slightly herbal note, but easy to drink. The brown was actually brewed with nuts and some of that nutty tannic character came across in the beer. The amber was a bit buttery and I did not love it. The Inferno was their version of a Duvel and did have some hops in it--very smooth but very high in alcohol. Not a bad place to visit at all!
|Thirsty trolls peer from all around you...|
After visiting a medieval castle, in a medieval city, and drinking medieval beer, we headed to another unusual beer destination looking for trolls: De Trollenkelder! This was yet another small and ancient pub in a land of such, but stands out for their décor and impressive beer list. They actually have a newspaper style beer list that includes history and taxonomy of trolls, beer reviews and interviews, something that I would love to see at our beer bars here in the states! We ended up sitting on the street, trading sips of many fine beers that afternoon, with frizzy haired trolls looking down upon us from the windows above. I first tried one of the few tap beers: the bright and somewhat hoppy Easter beer from Chouffe called Soleil. That one was pretty good, but I had to finish with a Cantillon Geueze...because it was there!
After all of this Sj and I split up from the group to do our own thing for dinner and ended up having a most awful experience at an Italian pizza place next to our hotel called Le Mystic. With terrible service, lost orders, burnt food and a serious resistance by the waitress to make it better, this was for sure the worst eating experience we had in Belgium. This is the last time I decide to go against the wishes of the group! With a poor end to the day we went to bed fairly early this evening, eager to start a new day.