Richard and I went to Belgium for a week at the end of June. We love beer and I’d by lying if I said that we went for any reason other than to taste all of the trappist, lambic and microbrewery beers that we can’t get here in Ontario. Don’t believe that we love beer? This might convince you: We lugged about 17kg of beer home. Here’s what we got:
From left to right: A pile of coasters that I collected from various bars, a really cute bottle opener from a store called “Broes” in Bruges, 2 Trappist Westvelteren “Degustatieboxes”, 3 bottles of Pannepot 2009, 2 bottles of N’Ice Chouffe, 2 bottles of Cantillon gueuze, one bottle of Les Rulles Triple and the bottle with the gold foil top is Black Damnation V.
Might as well talk about the most interesting and elusive one first: The two tasting packs of Trappist Westvleteren beer. Each pack came with 2 bottles of blonde (green cap), 1 bottle of 8° (blue cap) and one bottle of 12° (yellow cap), plus a cool chalice (see above). I’ll refrain from saying too much about these now because I’ve got a whole post lined up about our trip to Abby Saint Sixtus to buy them and have a bottle with some ice cream made with the yeast used to brew the beer… But these are among the most coveted and hard-to-buy beers in the world. Have a look on eBay and see what a single bottle is selling for. It’s crazy. And it’s all because in 2005, Westvleteren 12° was rated the best beer in the world by RateBeer.com and it got some press in Belgium and abroad. Suddenly everyone wanted to try it, but the monks continued to brew only small batches and distribute them only directly from the abbey on certain days. To buy this beer you either have to go to the abbey with a car and buy a case (after reserving one many days in advance) or you can do what we did and go to the cafe next door and try your luck with their little shop. I’ll reserve my opinions about the taste for the full post about our visit to the abbey.
This little guy was my favourite beer in Belgium and thus probably my favourite beer in the whole world: Pannepot by De Struisse. This beer is everything I love in a beer: For a start, it’s dark, dark, dark. It’s almost completely opaque. It’s full of flavour. You can taste chocolate, malt sugar, molasses and dried fruit. It’s sweet, slightly bitter and full of alcohol. It’s a perfectly well rounded beer. This is the kind of beer I dream about at night.
This is another beer that’s very much my style: Dark, spicy and 10% alcohol. I tried this at Cafe Gollem in Amsterdam in 2009 and I fell in love. I haven’t had it since because, like so many Christmas beers, it’s hard to find in Belgium and basically impossible to find in Ontario. I can’t wait to taste this again!
Here’s one that’s totally different from everything else we bought: Cantillon Gueuze. It’s a sour lambic beer, and when I say sour I mean it! If you’ve ever had a gueuze then you know that they can be sour, but Cantillon is even more sour because they use absolutely no sugar in their brewing process. We visited the brewery in Brussels, so once again I’ll save most of my descriptions for the full post. When I first tasted this I wasn’t sure what to think, but then we ordered a bottle on a sunny day and drank it on an outdoor patio on the water and then it all made sense. This is a wonderful summer beer and I wish that we could have brought back more than just 2!
This is a beer that I know absolutely nothing about. It’s an abbey-style triple and the guy at a fabulous store called The Beer Temple in Brugges recommended it to us when we asked for something that we wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. Sometimes you just have to take a chance.
This one, Black Damnation V, is 26% alcohol. Yes, 26%. Ours doesn’t have a label because we bought it directly from the brewery (De Struisse again) and they didn’t have any left. They promised to mail one to us, and for the price tag on this thing I think that’s the least we could ask. I don’t want to tell you what we paid for it, but let’s just say that it was more than 40 euros and I don’t regret it for a second. We met more than one enthusiastic Belgian beer lover who heard that we’d bought a bottle and started to rant about how impossible it was to get. It sold out in a few hours! The brewmaster, Carlos, is active on Facebook and when we told him that we were coming to the brewery he kindly put a bottle aside for us. I haven’t tasted it yet, but when we open it we’ll have to have a party because there’s no way that 2 people (or even 4 for that matter) could drink a 750ml bottle of 26% beer alone.
We didn’t JUST buy beer. We also brought home some Belgian oddities: Curry ketchup and speculoos spread. Curry ketchup is exactly what you’d expect. It’s ketchup that has a curry bite to it. We had it on frites early in our trip and when we saw in the grocery store we had to get some to bring home. Speculoos is just wierd. It’s a spread that tastes like those Arrowroot digestive biscuits that parents give to toddlers when they’re teething. But it’s strangely delicious! The first time I tasted it was on our first morning in Belgium. We were staying at a bed & breakfast in Brussels and it was on the table with the jam. I thought that it was peanut butter so I spread some on my toast and when I took a bite I thought, “Ew, the peanut butter here is so sweet!” After taking another look at the jar and seeing the cookie I understood what I was eating and after the 3rd bite I was in love. Imagine a crepe with this stuff and nutella in it! Oh, heavenly.
We didn’t eat much chocolate while we were in Belgium. You have to pick your vices, and we chose beer. But we did bring a lot of it home to give to our families as gifts since we weren’t about to share the limited amount of beer that we were able to legally bring back! We did buy one tiny box of chocolates for ourselves from Chocolate Line, which has stores in both Brugges and Antwerp. The chocolatier is known for doing ground-breaking things with his chocolates. When we were at the store we tried one that had soy sauce in it! In our little sample box, the one on the top is a Buddha that had ginger inside of it, and hidden on the bottom is one that’s flavoured like Earl Gray tea. The little ball on the left is currently unidentified, but we’ll soon eat it and change that.