Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Met de auto door België (or Roadtrip through Belgium)

Just got back from a 9-day trip to Belgium.

We rented a car and drove to Brussels, which took about 6 hours from Hamburg. After Jim's EuroIA Conference and my short trip to Antwerp (see previous posting), we spent Sunday Oct 16 together in Brussels. We were out to dinner with Eric and introduced him to geuze, the Belgium specialty beer, at the Delirium Cafe. Eric was really brave: he drunk the whole glass (though he said it tasted like mouse pee).

On Monday we started on our way to Brugge. We first stopped at Drie Fonteinen in Beersel shortly to buy...more GEUZE.

It was 10 am and they weren't open. But the brewer's brother came and opened the brewery shop for us. He sold us a few bottles, and, after realizing how interested we were, he even showed us around the brewery. Free, private tour at 10 am. He showed us where they open the roof to let in the special yeast in the Payottenland for spontaneous fermentation. The result is lambic beer, which is stored in wooden barrels. To make a geuze, the brewer takes an old lambic and adds it to young lambic. To taste which ones are compatible is an art of its own.

Afterwards we drove to Ellezelles, where the Ellezelloise brewery is. It's an old farm house out in the sticks. We were having a tough time communicating since in this region they do not speak much English or German - only French. But we managed to fill our trunk with their Stout and tasted a nice refreshing Saison 2000

Then, we stopped at Oudenaard and had something to eat. We bought some Kriek at the Liefmans brewery for Circe (yeah, Babe - we thought of you) before hitting the road to Brugge.

Brugge is a fairy tale city! The houses are mostly from the 16th and 17th centuries. The city also has a lot of canals. They call it the Venice of North. Funny - Hamburg is also referred to as the Venice of North and they say the same about Amsterdam. Guess there are lots of Venices of the North.

View from our hotel:

Walking around:

and resting:

Bike Cam!!

Mini Houses:

We had a good time in Brugge, including great food and beers. The chocolate was also very good - sometimes with an interesting form. We changed our minds about getting each of you these chocolate lovelies for Christmas. Sorry, you'll just have to do with something else.

On Wednesday we drove to Ghent - also beautiful city - but more lively due to the university in town. We spent a couple of hours there.

Karen, Bill: Don't you still think that the Jacket is BLUE? (Looks pretty black to me - Jim)

Old warehouses all over:

...and meanwhile filling the trunk as we went along:

We then drove to Ursel to visit Joris and Lut. We stayed in a very nice bed & breakfast only 5 minutes from their hosue. It was a great evening, though it was very sad that Lut had to work later. Joris' beer cellar is just incredible:

Joris treated us with some unbelievable treasures: A Saison de Voisin 1987, Nat's favorite of this evening (Rated 4.7), a Moriau (St.Pieters-Leeuw) from 1989, a Geuze Heyvaert Kriek 1981 which tasted unbelieveable smokey (Rated 4.1), a Cnudde Kriek (something really special) and another favorite and special one: 3 Fonteinen Pinoit Noir 1997 (Rated 4.6). To all the treasures Joris could tell us their history and stories about the brewers - you should really write them down, they are awesome! Thank you so much Joris for treating us soooo good!

On Thursday we went way down south near the French border to Orval, a wonderful little area in the sticks where the Trappist beer Orval is brewed. You can't visit the abbey itself, but here is a pub nearby and a the ruins of the abbey are open to the public. Wonderful nature and a wonderful place to hike (though we really didn't do any hiking). We enjoyed great food: beer, bread and cheese all made by the monks - Delicious!

That night (Thursday) we stayed in Courtil near the German and Luxembourg border, about 1.5 hours north of Orval. Yet another place that was difficult for us because of the French. Weird thing, though: ten kilometers from there, still in Belgium, all the street signs are German and they presumably speak German as well.

On Friday we drove to Wuppertal to visit Aunt Margot, Aunt Waltraud and Uncle Walter. It was a wonderful evening. We went had coffee and cake, talked a lot, and looked at old pictures of Nat's great grand parents. The three of them told us their life stories - what a real treasure that they did! We had a nice dinner together later on.

Aunt Waltraud and Uncle Walter

Aunt Margot and Nat

It was wonderful - I love you three! - Nat

The fun began when we came home on Saturday. Only after dragging all those new Belgian treasures up to the fifth floor did we get to take a break (about 9 cases of beer in total). But hey, for a couple of beer geeks it was well worth it:

YES - Joe and Shell, you are very welcome to share those with us for Christmas!!!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

LowCountriesRatebeerGathering - for BeerGeeks only

We are back from Belgium where we had a lot of fun - this will be an extra posting.

Jim had to go Brussels for the EuroIA while I decided to go to Antwerp to join the LCRBM (Ratebeer-Gathering).

The Gathering was real fun - I went to Antwerp by train and the weather was just gorgeous. Only downside, I have had "a few" strong Belgium Beers the evening before so I had a terrible hangover and thinking of drinking any alcoholic liquid wasn't a wonderful thinking. Jim had booked me a great hotel near the Kulminator where we were going to meet for the tasting.

I met some of the people before at the Groensplaats in Antwerp and we went for Lunch.

Joris and Robert:

Robert, Joritt and John:

Jonas and Tim:

After lunch we went to the Kulminator which is run by Leen and Dirk, a wonderful and great couple which shows their love for beer in their absolutley amazing BeerBar. Joe - we definetly have to go there!!! The menue is unbelievable and the Vintages in their Cellar blow you away. They made it possible for us to sit outside their beergarden, where they sat up a table and glasses and everything! - and we started tasting from 2 pm to 5 pm. Mind you it was the beer we brought, so that is how generous Leen and Dirk were!!!!

My favorite or most interesting beers were Mikkeller Big Bad Barley Wine, brewed by Mikkeller (?), Jeppes' brother, Great Divide Old Ruffian , Panil Barriquèe (Sour), Drie Fonteinen J&J Oude Geuze Roze and my first Mead Apis Półtorak Jadwiga Mead

Well at least one picture of me:

The crowd with the bottles:

Carlo (Belgium) and Jeppe (Denmark) - as well as Phil (UK) and John (USA) in the back:

Jeppe and his brother Mikkeller:

Anthony, his girlfriend, duff and Tim:

After the tasting I was sick, I wasn't able to stay there longer and went to the hotel to lay down for a while. That was a great idea and after eating a huge portion of Asian food I was able to show up again. There they were - mostly all of them in an already funny condition ;-)

We went all nuts and ordered a lot of Vintage Beers - my favorites here were: De Neve Geuze from 1995, Malheur Dark Brut (Noir), Rodenbach Alexander (I don't think I will rate this as my palate was ruined anyway), Loteling Bruin from 1984

Too bad I haven't taken more pictures, but talking, tasting, eating and reading the menue were multitasking enough for me!

I had the pleasure meeting

- The Three Danish Musketeers, I totally enjoyed your company,
- The Dutch crowd (man, you guys were all so funny) including Alitha, who should really start rating beer and my rating neighbor Jorrit,
- The Belgiums, who are the nicest people in the world (Tim, Carlo, Joris!!!),
- Robert and Jonas from Germany (yeah Jim and I are not the only German weirdos!),
- Savad, whom I asked around twenty times about his name - I'm soooo sorry for this, - John from Colorado, whom I hopefully meet again,
- Fred Waltman (my new source for beer questions from Franconia) and of course
- Marcus and his great wife, yep, we will definetly visit you in Luxembourg some day!,
- Anthony and his girlfriend - too bad you weren*t there later,
- Duff and Phil, Ship Up! - well I forgive you that you both were rude and nasty - that is what beer can do to youngsters, right? :-),
- MagicDave, his beautiful girlfriend and Gareth!

Hopefully I haven't forgotten anybody.

All in all it was a great event and I would love to repeat this - hopefull next time with Jim.