Monday, May 12, 2014

Westy Ho! Day 6 Beertrip

Continuing the epic Beertrip across Belgium and the Netherlands!

Day 6 of our trip began with a slow moving breakfast in the hotel.  Trying to shake off the cobwebs from the previous night's festivities took much time and many cups of cappuccino.  The low pressure water from our shower was less than helpful with this process. 

All too soon we met up with our large motor coach for the first leg of our trip.  Our group of 8 travelers all piled into this enormous road boat, equipped with cooler and a gnome sized bathroom.  Our driver was Johann, a fun and talkative local whom some of us had met on our previous Beertrip to Belgium. 

After about 30 minutes of driving we arrived at our first destination: the Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren.  This is one of the fabled monk run Trappist breweries that Belgium is so famous for.  In fact, their Westvleteren 12 is renowned as one of the best beers in the world.  Despite its popularity, the brewery only makes a certain amount of the beer and sells it only at the brewery.  One can call and reserve a case to be picked up once a month, or one can often find 6 packs in the restaurant and shop just across the road from the Abbey.  Part of the beer's popularity is this mysterious and limited distribution.  We arrived at the restaurant fairly early and they were still selling some 6 packs of Westy 8, so both Hassan and I got in line and bought one each.  Prices were reasonable, and these same beers would sell for three times as much elsewhere in Belgium and up to 10 times as much in America. 

We were seated quickly and our group promptly ordered beers and continued to work on some lunch orders.  I ended up with a tasty pate made from mystery meat and Westy beer.  One of our traveling companions ended up with a texturally disturbing head cheese of some kind, but he was a trooper and ran with it.  It was a beautiful sight looking at all those Westvleteren beers lined up in front of us.  But how were they?  Did they stand up to the hype?  In a word: yes!

Heaven in a glass?  Three glasses?

The Westy blonde beer was lighter, crisp and dry.  There was a definite hop bitterness and flavor to the beer, but noble floral hops, not citrus hops.  This was refreshing and slightly fruity.  I would drink this any day and every day if I could.

The Westy 8 is a brown ale, more in line with a Belgian Dubbel.  There is some carmelized sugar character and some fruity aroma and flavor from the Belgian yeasts.  Very dry and easy to drink, with hints of dark fruit on the finish.

The Westy 12 is the big gun of the batch.  Higher in alcohol, and darker in color, this one has a depth of character that belies its simple recipe.  The combination of esters, dark sugar and alcohol warming seems to work in amazing harmony in this excellent beer.  I would love to try an aged version of this, since I can only imagine that the dark fruit flavors would intensify with some time.

Mike looking very pleased with himself!

After our light lunch and overdose of fine Trappist ales, we took some pictures in front of the Abbey entrance and headed back to the bus.  I would have loved an opportunity to see the Abbey itself but that is just not in the cards for tourists anymore.

Spoils of Westvleteren!

You too will feel happy after visiting this brewery...

A much more talkative coach ride later we ended up at De Dolles Brouers, in the small village of Esen.  They opened up in 1980, taking over an 1800's  brewery and distillery that had gone out of business.  Much like the early craft breweries in the USA, these guys were one of first new and craft oriented breweries to open in Belgium.  Starting with the Oerbier, they pioneered a hoppier version of blonde ale than had been popular, really taking some risks for the time.  This is still a small family run business and we were able to get a relaxed tour of the brewery and grounds for our group.  We sampled most of their beers during this trip, and like most of the breweries in Belgium, they do not like to give small samples.  It is full glass or nothing for these guys!  The Oerbier was mentioned above and was actually too hoppy for Kevin, Carol and Sj to really enjoy.  I really liked the Boskeun--a light colored, malty and strong alcohol Easter beer named after a rabbit.  The tap for this beer was hooked up to a battery operated drumming rabbit that went off loudly each time the beer was poured.  Pretty funny! 

Easter in Belgium!

Another of their popular beers is the Dulles Teve (or Mad Bitch in English) which is a strong tripel.  They mention not aging this beer on their website, but last trip to Belgium we had a 10 year old version that was amazing.  Hassan also managed to finagle a single bottle of the Reserva--an aged strong dark ale from 2012 that was one of my favorites from the trip.

We had a fantastic and relaxing visit to this brewery, taking a good amount of the afternoon to get through all those beers.  At one point while we were messing around trying to take pictures of the cool shadows from the beer glasses on the table top, we discovered that poor Sj had fallen asleep!  Perhaps we took too long and had too many beers...Nah!  It is a beer trip after all!  I was impressed with this newer brewery that respects the traditions of Belgian brewing (they still use a coolship!) while still pushing the boundaries of Belgian beer styles. 

Once we returned to Ghent, mostly all napping on the coach all the way home, we were in dire need of some sustenance.  We ended up venturing forth to possibly the world's slowest Thai restaurant where we were again placed upstairs away from the "normals".  Despite the endless wait and poor beer selection the food was incredible.  We shared many dishes including a spicy Ostrich laarb and Kangaroo in sweet sauce.  Not sure why there were so many unusual options but we ran with it!  That kangaroo was amazingly tender and flavorful.  At the end of this fairly expensive meal, we discovered that they did not take credit cards (common at many restaurants and pubs in Belgium) and had to pool our Euros to get out of there without having to wash dishes.

For a post dinner digestive Sj, Chris, Hassan and I ended up back at the tiny 't Galgen Huisje just across the square.  The inside was bustling and we ended up sitting outside at a table.  The weather was damp and had started to get chilly now that the sun was down, so we didn't tarry too long.  I tried a mellow but less than exciting Tangerlo brown ale there.  Strangely the streets were bustling with drunken young fellows garbed in poorly fitting super hero outfits.  We saw several groups of these masked vigilantes stagger by over the time we lingered, including a disturbingly furry Wonder Woman.  Yup, time to go to bed!

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