Sunday, September 30, 2012

Belgium Beer Trip, Part I

This past August, Kelly and I took a vacation to Belgium and the Netherlands, a once in a lifetime trip. As a beer lover, there is no better place to find great beer than in Belgium. With eight days, three cities, and 59 beers sampled, we made the most of it.

It has taken a while to get this post up since I really didn't know where to begin. Ultimately, I opted for a top 10 list, not simply the 10 best beers of the trip, but the 10 best beer experiences of the trip. In a country where ambiance and glassware are as important as the quality of the beer, it only seemed right. Let's begin counting down with the first five:

10) 't IJ I.P.A., 9
't IJ was the best of the three brewpubs we visited in Amsterdam. Spectacular location with the outdoor patio's communal picnic tables spread out underneath a historic windmill. The brewery employs a seldom seen (but thoroughly practical) serve yourself counter, with heaping plates of local meats and cheeses available to nosh on. And as good as the beers were in Belgium, this hop head was definitely craving some IBU's. Hoppy nose, flavor, and very drinkable, this was the best IPA of the trip.

9) Jandrain-Jandrenouille IV, 8
Interestingly, my favorite of the ancient Saison-style came at Brussel's most modern beer bar, Moeder Lambic. Impressive bar and selection, and plenty of sidewalk seating (which is good since it was flipping hot inside...) We ordered the goat cheese plate which was one of the best appetizers of our trip. IV features a huge head with plenty of lacing, fresh nose, and the flavor of yeast and grassy hops.Very nice.

8) Timmermans Gueuze Lambic, 9
Perhaps the biggest surprise of our trip because we were stopping at La Becasse (hidden far down a Brussel's alleyway) more for the ambiance than anything else. And that didn't disappoint either as I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the bar hadn't changed a bit in the last couple of centuries. I imagine the beer was served just the same way too, in a pitcher called a "panache." This sweetened lambic was absolutely delicious: flavorful, quenching, and drinkable. A great total experience.

7) Evil Twin Russian Roulette, 9
I was going to skip Amsterdam's American beer bar, Beer Temple, since we didn't travel 3,500 miles for a Sierra Nevada. However, I am glad I didn't, because they even managed to get some American microbrews that I have not been able to find in Mass! Seating on the street was a wonderful spot for people watching. Kelly and I shared a bottle of Evil Twin from Denmark, thus named as the brewer is the brother of Mikkeller's head brewer. But here is the amazing part -- they actually copied the concept for my Naughty or Nice homebrew by making it either an IPA or Black IPA! We got the Black one, which is what we were hoping for. Burnt malt comes through first, then hops. Robust by BIPA standards with a medium body. Will buy another if I ever see it again in hopes of trying IPA counterpart.

6) Hanssens Oude Gueuze, 9
Maybe my favorite place of the trip was Brugge's Cafe Rose Red. It reminded me of Portland, Oregon in a way with a low-key, off-beat feel. We sat in a delightful enclosed patio, ensconced in ivy and classy Belgian beer memorabilia. The bottle list was very good, and the two nights we were there I focused on their lambic offerings, which were always served in the traditional basket. Gueuze itself comes in at 6%, with a sharp tang that conjures up images of Sweet Tarts. Keep an eye out for this at elite American bottle stores.