Monday, May 26, 2014

Kerkom, Jandrain-Jandrenouille, Brussels! Beertrip Day 11

Day 11 of our epic beer filled journey across The Netherlands and Belgium:

We awoke early in the morning after a long night of debauchery the evening prior.  We were on the motorcoach by 10 AM and on our way out of Maastricht and back to Belgium. 

Our first stop this morning was the Brouwerij Kerkom.  This is one of the few places that we visited this trip and our visit two years ago.  It was a high point of both trips!  The brewery itself is located in an old coaching inn, and the stone watering troughs for horses still hug the walls of the inner courtyard.  The site used to be a brewery in the past, but because it has not been continually run, it does not qualify for grandfathering out of modern brewery specifications.  Some old family run breweries like Cantillon and Vapeur are able to continue functioning without upgrading all of their equipment.  Mark at Kerkom has been in a battle to get clearance to run a brewery out of this building complex for many years.  He has an unused stainless steel brew system and fermentation tanks sitting in his ancient brick building, just waiting for the go-ahead to get fired up.  For now he has his beers brewed at another nearby brewery under contract. 

Brand new brewhouse gathering dust...

This visit we met with Mark and his wonderful wife in the cozy tasting room.  A large group of bikers arrived around the same time so things were a little busy for the couple.  The bikers stayed out in the courtyard and mostly drank Cokes (really?) so they didn't interfere with our beer enjoyment!  We started with a large stemware glass of Bink Blonde: and amazingly balanced hoppy Belgian pale ale.  This is one of my all time favorite Belgian ales and I sincerely wish we could get it in Minnesota.  We moved on with smaller glasses of all their other Bink beers: Bink Brown, the Spring seasonal Bink Blossom (made with honey and pear syrup), Kerkomse Tripel.  All were fantastic!  They also brew the dry and slightly herbal Adelardus Double, an Abbey style beer brewed with hops, candi sugar and gruit spice mixture.  The Adelardus Tripel was the overall fan favorite from our group, also made with gruit.  We also discovered a new Hop Verdomme (hops be damned!) a hoppy Belgian IPA, made as a better balanced response to American IPA's.  We finished with a wonderfully strong and flavorful "Christmas" beer the Winterkoninkske Grand Cru.  I  have a bottle of this at home waiting for a special occasion! 

Such a great tour group!

For an early lunch we were served gargantuan slices of soft dark bread, cheeses and pates all made with Kerkom beers.  Simple fare but so fulfilling!  Having learned our lessons last trip, we paced ourselves better this visit and did not leave the place reeling drunk!  I love the hospitality, rustic feel and amazing beers at Kerkom.

Can you say "really old farm?"

Our next visit via coach was another farm house brewery, but a much more recent arrival on the scene: Brasserie de Jandrain-Jandrenouille.  This was a walled defensible farmhouse, surrounded by fields and pastures.  Alexandre the brewer was kind enough to meet with us and take us on an extensive tour of his 2006 modern brewhouse.  He actually is an importer of hops into Belgium from the US as his day job, so this jump to brewing on his own wasn't a surprising one!  He does use a fair amount of American hops in his beer, but also uses traditional European varieties.  He was very engaging and full of technical knowledge that made me very happy (and perhaps some of my tour mates to glaze over).

Farmhouse dog looking over his domain
A great brewer shows us around his brewery!

We finished the tour with a tasting of several of his bottled beers in a second story room overlooking the courtyard.  Most of the beers are named after Roman numerals and have very artistic labels from a local painter.  Unsurprisingly all are variations on the Saison/Farmhouse styles.  The wit was much hoppier than I expected, but still quite good.  The others were also all bright, refreshing and very dry.  I was a happy camper after visiting this little gem of a brewery.  I know they are just hitting their stride as a brewery, but I think once the American market catches on to them, they will be very popular...if anyone here can figure out how to pronounce the name…

After the amazing hospitality of two farmhouse breweries in the hinterlands of Belgium we were off the bustling city of Brussels.  We booked into our NH hotel and quickly hit the busy streets to find sustenance.  The hotel is very close to the city center and most of the touristy sites are an easy walk from there.  Some of our group ended up at a streetside mediteranean place for quick pitas.  We met back up shortly after disbanding and headed ended up catching two cabs to our post-dinner appointment with Jean at Moeder Lambic in another region of the city.

Moeder Lambic has been a beer bar for 25 years, changing hands a few times over the years.  Currently it is owned by Jean Hummler and since 2006 has been increasingly devoted to craft beers and lambics in particular.  Jean has close ties with many of the local craft and small brewers, even with some brewers in Italy, Spain and the US.  Last time we were there, Jean Van Roy from Cantillon stopped by with a hand delivered shipment.  This is THE place to be for serious beer geeks in Brussels.  They have a newer separate location near the city center as well.  We ended up in the brick and old wood lined basement for this tasting.  There is a large oaken table and bench style chairs in the center of this dimly lit cave.  The walls around you are lined with hundreds of well organized bottles of mostly Belgian beers.  No Stella here my friends!  The dripping of distant water, the flap of cobwebs in the limited breeze, all added to the ambiance of something unique and special we were to embark upon.

This evening we had possibly the most epic and impressive sour beer tasting I have ever taken part in (except for Quintessence at Cantillon last time we were in Brussels.)  Our group was adventurous but many had never really had much experience with sours and this was a serious "throw them into the deep end and see if they sink or swim" type of experience.  For me this was a true Beer Nirvana.  Jean is incredibly passionate about beer, and especially the local lambics and sour beers.  In between beers he was able to lecture and discuss the history and mechanics of sour beer production, local politics, brewer anecdotes, and much more.  He is a treasure trove of knowledge. 

We had some stinky cheeses and meats to pair with our beers, but I am very glad we had wolfed down some real food prior to coming--something we learned the hard way last time we did this!  Our tasting started around 7 PM and I think we left the place after midnight. Epic!

We started out with Biere Darbyste from Brasserie de Blaugies.  This is a lower alcohol beer brewed with figs.  We first tried the 1 year old version that was bright and saison-like with a distinct mild fig flavor to it.   Then we tried the 20 year old bottle that Jean had discovered, making us guinea pigs of sorts.  The first beer was one of the best I had tried so far this trip, but the 1994 version was insane!  It had definite brettanomyces funk to it, and the fruit had faded quite a bit, but the complexity in such a light beer was astounding!  This was similar to trying young and old Orval, but much more impressive.  That and trying a beer from before I was legal to drink was a feat in itself!

We tried a couple of Oud Bruins and Flanders reds to ease us into the more sour beers to come.  The Brouwers Verzet is a newer brewery putting out that style of beer and the taste was great, but much of our bottles foamed all over the place!  The Rodenbach Caractere Rouge Batch 1 was a crazy sour Flanders Red with cherry and cranberries and well worth a try.  I was excited to try the Rodenbach Vin de Cereal 2004 but it was like a sour barleywine with way too hot of an alcohol burn.  We all dumped that it.  To give Jean credit, he didn't want to serve that one to us, but we wanted to try it anyway! 

We moved to Tilquin Geueze for a newer classic style Brussels sour, and that was very pleasant.  I will be looking for this one! 

Next we did an amazing side by side tasting of three Krieks.  The 3 Fontainen Intense Red from 2012 was (as expected) intense with the cherry flavor, but sweeter and not as tart as some.  This is actually made with regular cherries, but in massive amounts.  The 3 Fontainen Shaerbeekse Kriek is made with only the rare tart cherries from Belgium and was very tart and well rounded with a strong sourness.  To finish this trio was the Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek from 2008.  This is also made with the Shaerbeekse cherries and is one of the most sought after sour beers in the world.  And rightly so!  This one blew our minds, taking the sourness and incredible cherry flavor to new levels.  The undisputed winner by far.  Prior to our tasting Jean had already done two other beer events and wasn't really drinking along with us, just making sure the beer was good before serving to us.  The Lou Pepe, however, he served to himself as well.  No one is going miss tasting that beer!  One of my top 5 beers of all time for sure.

Kriek Trifecta!

By this time my cohorts were starting to get soured out.  And sleepy.  But Jean had pulled out a couple other rare beers and I was NOT going to home without tasting those crazy treats!  We tried herbal and tart wonder that is elderflower infused Cantillion Mamouche.  We marched boldy on and sampled the remarkable Cantillion Zwanze 2012 which is fermented with rhubarb.  And our final beer on this forced march to sour beer Mecca was Cantillon 50 Degrees N - 4 Degrees E.  This is a very unusual beer from Cantillon in that it is aged in a cognac barrel.  There is a lemony note to it up front, and pretty mellow compared to some of the sours they do, but has an interesting boozy finish that is subtle.  We actually took this bottle upstairs to the main bar with us to wait for cabs home.  Hassan and I finished it off while the rest of our crew took naps.  We ran into the young brewer for Tilquin at that point and knowing he would appreciate it I made sure he got a sample of our beer.

We were back at our hotel by 1 AM.  This was an amazing night that shall remain in my memory for years to come.  And if I forget I can read this post again!

Up Next:  Cantillon and the Night of Great Thirst!

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