Day 9 of our trip began with a short motorcoach ride from our hotel in the Ardennes to the small town brewery of La Rulles. At around 10:30 AM our tour group met with Olivier at the brewery and he gave us an extensive tour. We started with the new expanded brewery, a more modern brewhouse and packaging facility that has only been open for a short time. This looked pretty much like any modern stainless steel brewhouse, and several employees were working on bottling up a batch while we were there. Interestingly, the brewery only uses American hops, and we saw boxes upon boxes of them in the cold room.
After our tour of the new brewhouse we entered the old brewery building (and I do mean old!) where we all settled down at a rough picnic table for some tasting. It was a bit damp and chilly there and also fairly early in the morning to be drinking strong Belgian ales, but hey we were troopers!
|Modern brewhouse at La Rulles|
We began with the La Rulles Blonde, a 7% ABV beer with a notable hoppy citrus nose and flavor. This one reminded me a lot of the Bink Blonde. I would love to find more of these hoppy blonde Belgian ales in the states but most don't make to our shores. I guess I'm going to have to brew on myself! The 6.5% ABV La Rulles Brune was up next and had a pleasant slightly chocolate character and enough hop to keep this interesting. A lot different from the other browns I had in Belgium. The Tripel was next and also somewhat hoppy for the style, but sweeter than the previous beers. We finished with the Estivale--a lower gravity hoppy beer that was very bright and refreshing. I would love to drink that beer on my deck in the summertime!
|Lovely beers, tasted in a cold dark room!|
This was a great tour and I really enjoyed all of the beers. These guys are certainly taking some risks with using American hops in a noble hop growing region of the world, but I think they are making fantastic beer. A few of our tour group were hop haters (Carol, Kevin and Sj) and were not as thrilled as I with these beers.
Now that it was getting toward lunch time and we had all been drinking for the past hour, we stopped in Bastogne for some food. This area is notorious for being the site of the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge in World War 2. The city has several monuments to the soldiers who died here including a full sized tank in the central square and the 101st Airborne Museum. My Grampy Ted was infantry in WW2, stationed not far from there in the Ardennes, and seeing these things really brought a swell of pride and sadness to me. He never talked much about the war, but in later life he had reconnected with some of his old collegues from The Pathfinders. I miss him greatly. I think we in America have moved on, but being in a city like this, where monuments have been built to commemorate being liberated from Nazi control, you realize how recent and frightening that really was.
We ended up in La Brasseries Lamborelle, a very small pub boasting over 100 beers. They have a special beer contract brewed for them called Airborne that is served in a ceramic mug shaped like an upside down combat helmet. Our traveling companion Arthur was the brave soul who ordered this specialty--the beer wasn't great but the presentation was excellent. We had a very nice lunch of Italian specialties and a few great beers. I had the always pleasant Chimay Blue since I had tried all the other Trappist beers by this time in our trip. I was again blown away by the fact that so many of these tiny pubs had unexpectedly good kitchens putting out fancy restaurant quality meals. The treacherous stairs down to the bathrooms in this place were so narrow and twisting that it was almost a spiral ladder rather than a stairway. I figured this was just the bar's way of weeding out the drunk or overly large patrons.
After brief stop in Bostogne, we headed for Val-Dieu. This is a brewery that is located in an old Cistercian Abbey founded in 1216. Yeah, 1216. Pretty mind boggling how old things are over in Europe! Apparently the valley was called The Valley of the Devil by locals, but was renamed the Valley of God (or Val-Dieu) by the monks. This was the only Belgian abbey that wasn't sacked during the French revolution. The beer is not brewed by monks and this is not considered a Trappist brewery, but the beer is really brewed on the grounds of the abbey. Supposedly the beers are based off of old recipes from when the monks really did brew their own beer. The brewing water used comes from springs that supply many of the bottled water companies in Belgium, and we drank plenty of that on our trip!
We stopped for some gratuitous lamb photography out in front of the Abbey, then wandered around the grounds of the Basilica, park and courtyard. Unfortunatly the weather was getting overcast and spitting rain off and on so pictures turned out a bit dark. We were able to get a few peeks into active brewing areas. It was quite odd to see a modern stainless steel fermentation tank sitting right next to or within a building that was hundreds of years old.
|The enormous gears in the mill building|
We eventually found ourselves in an old mill building that has been converted into a taproom/restaurant and were able to try all of the beers. The mill equipment and the external water wheel have all been preserved and this was a cool space to drink! There was also an outdoor patio out back for nicer weather drinking. In short succession we shared the Val-Dieu beers amongst our group. The Blonde, Bruin and Tripel were all very clean and ended dry and refreshing for increasingly higher alcohol content. The overwhelming winner was the Grand Cru though, with deep complexity but still maintaining a dry finish. This was actually one of the overall best breweries we visited for overall beer quality.
|Wish my luggage was bigger...|
Once we had our fix of fine Abbey beers, we rolled back into the motorcoach for a short jaunt to our final destination of Maastricht. Right as we were being dropped off from the coach, the rains really pounded us, drenching all of us on our mad dash to the hotel a block away. We eventually finished the checking in process and split up to find our rooms. The hotel was actually several larger suites of rooms scattered over a few different buildings, and our room was quite large, more like a one room apartment. The rain had stopped by now and we headed back outside to find dinner. Most of our group ended up right next door at the Grand Café d'Artagnon, a small pub with a Dutch or German feel to it's aged wood and décor. They didn't have a great beer list but had a couple of decent local Hertog Jan lagers on tap that were lower in alcohol and went well with our dinners. I had another excellent and upscale meal that one would never expect to be served in such a place. We need to step up our game in the States--no more sliders and fries in our shady bars!
|I want the Smurf flavored Gelato!|
With many of our group separated out to eat or sleep, Mike, Chris, Hassan, Sj and I all ended up at another local beer bar for a nightcap. The Café 't Pothuiske was close to our hotel and had about 50-100 different beers to choose from. I ended up with a Boon Oude Geueze for a little sour finish to the day. Sj won that round by getting the paper wrapped Flanders red Liefman's Guodenband. What a day! Off to bed for now.
Coming Up: Maastricht by day and more beers!