After an excellent breakfast at The Plough in Chelmsford, we visited the Chelmsford Cathedral. Centuries old, the cathedral was beautiful and serene; an organist played during our visit as well. The cathedral grounds were well-manicured and featured some well-worn gravestones as well.
We then hopped on the train to London, where we decided to take in the British Museum (after a quick pint at the Museum Tavern across the road). The Museum is massive; no one could expect to do everything in one day, so we opted for the Egyptian, Mesopotamian and early European areas. Two particular highlights for me were seeing the Rosetta Stone and artifacts from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World.
Dinner followed at the Resting Hare, followed by pints at the Lord John Russell, Marquis Cornwallis, Friend at Hand and the Princess Louise.
The Princess Louise was interesting because it had been built with many two- or three-person compartments around the bar, closed off by doors; they were very similar to tiny opera boxes. This was apparently so the upper class could have a drink in the same bar as the lower class, but not have to interact with them. And at the Cornwallis, I particularly enjoyed a painting of a Revolutionary War battle, but with lightsabers and the Death Star in the sky. I had no idea we Americans were the Sith.
A nice finish to another fine Podge tour.
As always, the bus stopped at the incredible ‘Dranken Geers’ beer store in Oostakker so the English folk can avoid local taxes and load up on some of the beers from Dranken’s fabulous collection of Belgian and French beers. The prices are crazy – 1.5 euro on average for beers we would pay 8-10 dollars for in PA. Of course, Ryan and I are constraind by PA’s medieval import restrictions and luggage weight. Breaks a traveling man’s heart. Our friends, Shaun and Carol, show no mercy and load up to the max.
Our luck with the weather, until now, has been wonderful with blue skies and mild temps. Not so today as we got the full monty – rain, sun, hail, wind. Just like home!
Our last brewery tour was at the smallest producer in Belgium – the Microbrouwerij Urthel in Oostakker, a very rural farming community. No GPS here – they might not have electricity! Inspite of the nasty weather (rain, hail, gale force wind), we enjoy a tasting of Urthel’s micros and a tour of the brewery (mine might be bigger). Really cool, creative people who also run a restaurant in a nearby town where we share our final meal as a tour group.
Our drive to Calais and through the Chunnel were uneventful. We bid our traveling companions a fond farwell on arrival in Chelmsford and have a last pint with Shaun and Carol before our short walk to our lodging near the train depot. One of those trips you wish could never end.
Pics: Microbrouwerij Urthel, Vikings at Dranken Geers, Podge & Ryan & Siobhan, De Hoppeschuur
The last day of the Belgian tour started with a trip to Dranken Geers in Oostakker. The beer warehouse advertises itself as the best in Belgium, and I’m inclined to agree. The selection and prices were both incredible. I did not pick up anything, however; there are limits to what I can carry with me on the plane, and I would have been too overwhelmed with the selection to decide, most likely. Most others on the tour did not have the same issues, and many bought several cases to take back with them.
Our last brewery stop was to Microbrouwerij Urthel in Ruiselede, where Hildegard the brewer and her husband, Bas, ply their trade. Bas made sure to personally greet everyone as they came off the bus, and then made sure we all got a beer right away, which made for an intersting experience drinking a pint on a porch in a rainstorm.
The brewing space at Urthel is only about 120 square meters, but they accomplish a lot in that space. Bas even instructed us on how to make vinegar out of less-than-desired beer.
We then went to the couple’s restaurent, De Hoppeschuur in Knesselare, where Hildegard is also the chef. The food was excellent, as were the beers we sampled, with one beer being paired with our chosen dish. We also got to try some liqueur distilled from one of the stronger beers.
Due to time constraints, we were not able to have a final beer at Grote Markt in Veurne. We headed back through the Channel Tunnel and disembarked in Chelmsford. A couple more pints and a meal at The Woolpack and it was off to our hotel, where we ready ourselves for London tomorrow.
A myriad of weather Sunday: sunshine, clouds, rain and sleet all made an appearance during the third biennial Rondje Roodbruin, or Red-Brown Beer Tour. Four breweries known for their traditional Flemish Red-Brown beers opened their doors for tours.
The first stop was Brouwerij Rodenbach in Roeselare for a private tour. We got to see all phases of the process, and wandered through a small forest of oak barrels used to age the product.
Another private tour followed at De Brabandere Brouwerij in Harelbeke. The brewery is perhaps best known for Petrus, including Aged Pale, Aged Red and Oud Bruin. The tasting was unusual in that we were allowed to create our own blends of the three if we so chose.
After lunch at Track 75, an old railway station in Harelbeke, we visited the Verhaeghe brewery in Vichte, perhaps best known for the Flanders red ale Duchesse de Bourgogne, followed by the Omer Vander Ghinste brewery in Bellergem. Both tours were more open houses than guided affairs, but were still enjoyable.
After out return to Aalst, many of us went to the Ambarosa beer café, which the owner agreed to keep open to accommodate us. The beer selection was wonderful, as was the cheese and charcuterie plate we enjoyed before heading back for a good night’s sleep.
Oh yea! The biennial ‘Rondje Roodbruin’ or Red-Brown Tour. The tour is an open house at each of the four breweries in West Flanders who manufacture the Flanders Red and ‘Oud Brune’ beers. Rare and very special.
All the facilities are quite interesting. Rodenbach and Omer Vander Ghinste are large, modern operations. Verhaeghe and de Brabandere and smaller shops with fun, local character. Each of the breweries provided a tour, samples, food, and entertainment. All used what looked like forests of huge, oaken foeders (French oak) for aging. Many were over 100 years old. Amazing!
pics are: Verhaeghe foeders; Ryan, Shaun, & Mike at Omer; Omer band; food truck
Today is the Zythos beer festival. On the way we stop at the ‘Volkscafe’ in Gooik, pronounced ‘Hoyk’, a traditional cafe and cultural center in the heart of the beautiful Senne valley. The cafe is a favorite with cyclists and beer tourists alike. In the men’s room, a beer glass holder is conveniently located abive the urinals. A very civilized culture.
Across the yard from the cafe is one of the premier lambic blenders, de Cam. While there, another local brewer arrives, selling beer out of his trunk – gotta love it.
Zythos is Belgium’s premier beer festival, held in Leuven, a major university town. Very popular. Over 80 breweries and 500 beers. Nice.
I find Belgium very interesting, in that it reminds me a lot of where I grew up in northwest Indiana, with its generally flat land and smaller communities. I’m also taken by the ancient brick dwellings side-by-side with modern abodes. There are also a lot of Chinese restaurants, which may require further investigation on a future visit.
Saturday was the least structured day, but one of the busiest. We visited the Volkscafé De Cam in Gooik. Although none of their own beers were available at the time, the café did have several lambics for our perusal. The lambic blending is done across the yard, and the brewer appeared towards the end of our visit and sold some bottles out of his car, which several in the group bought.
Then it was on to Belgium’s national beer festival, Zythos. Held at the Brabanthal outside Leuven, the festival has more than 80 brewers and more than 500 beers. A modest sum gets one a glass and 5 tokens; most beers cost one token, although barleywines and other heavier products can cost two. Additional tokens can be bought at any time, and CAMRA members such as myself get an additinal two tokens for free.
I sampled many of the offerings and enjoyed everything I tried. The food, which for me was currywurst and frites, was quite good as well. This is a festival that absolutely drawfs my local events, and is definitely an opportunity not to be missed.
Friday started with a visit to the Lambic Visitors Centre in Beersel. The museum featured a film that explained lambic brewing and blending, followed by a guided tour with the director. The process is an absolutely fascinating one; it takes about four years for lambic to be ready. Afterwards, we sampled several lambics in the bar.
Our next stop was the nearby Den Herberg café and brewery in Buizingen to try their beers. The blonde, amber and tripel were all quite delicious.
Lunch was at the Café-Restaurant 3 Fonteinen in Beersel. In addition to an excellent Flemish beef stew, I was able to try the Beersel Blonde and the Oude Geuze, and enjoyed both very much.
Oud Beersel was our next stop, for a tour and tasting at the geuze blender. I found it interesting contrasting the aged look of the blending and barrel rooms with the modern design of both tap rooms.
The night finished with a visit to the biannual lambic festival known as The Night of the Great Thirst, held this year in Itterbeek. A large tent held Belgium’s lambic producers, as well as a few others such as Allahash Brewing in Maine offering similar products. The group was able to try several, thanks to bottle-sharing.
It was a late return, but we were able to find a restaurant and get something to eat before turning in.
A pretty full day in Payottenland, home of lambiek and guezue, in the Senne valley. This is beautiful country with rolling hills, orchards, and small farms.
Beersel is a short drive from our hotel in Aalst. Our first stop is at the Centre de Lambiek – a museum and visitor center dedicated to lambiek brewing and blending. Also in Beersel is the wonderful 3Fonteinen restaurant and brewery. Armand Debelder, the famous and legendary father of the modern lambiek renaissance is at his shop – very cool! We dined in the restaurant – rabbit stewed in guezue for me, Flemish stew for Ryan.
Just down the road is ‘Oud Beersel’ a guezue blender brought back to life and now considered one of the most respected of the ‘Geuzestekerij’.
We finish at the beer festival with the best name ever – ‘the Night of the Great Thirst’, the international geuze and kriek festival of the Payottenland. All the lambiek angd gueze blenders are represented. The festival quickly desends into a communal sharing of purchases – great fun!
pics: the ‘Great Thirst’, friends in a foeder, Oud Beersel tour, Armand
Early start to the Podge ‘Beer from the Woods’ tour with a 6:15 pickup at the Woolpack Pub in Chelmsford. First time going through the Chunnel – a very interesting process. ‘Richie’, our driver, asked the group to inhale as he threads the bus onto the carriage – a tight fit! We got a small view if one of the refugee camps outside Calais. This one, at least, was quite orderly.
Our route through West Flanders passed through a series of small villages with names familiar after years of beer label examination. We lunched at a very special cafe, the Malenhoff, in Oostveleren. After a short dive to Ichtegen, we visited the De Struise Barrel shop with its 600+ aging barrels, then on to the family-owned Strubbel Brewery. Marc Strubbel, the 7th generation owner, gave a nice presentation on the history of the brewery. Strubbel is one of only 5 brewers still brewing the Flanders Red style.
We are staying in Aalst for the next few evenings. Alst is a regional market town in East Flanders with a famous and bizarre festival. A statue in the town square commemorates one of the festival traditions where the men parade through town in high heels & fishnet stockings. The wikipedia entry on the story of the festival is amusing.
Pics: Malenhoff Cafe, Grote Markt in Aalst, Struise Barrel shop, good location.