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De Struise Brewery, Oosvleteren, Belgium

6 May

When I planned our Belgium itinerary, it included one West Flanders brewery tour day. Due to brewery logistics, we had one day where we could arrive in Poperinge, rent bikes and head up to Abbey Saint Sixtus in Westvleteren and De Struise Brewery in neighbouring Oosvleteren. The logistics appeared to be quite simple; as long as the weather held up (which is never a guarantee when in Belgium), we would have a few kilometers of biking to take us from one brewery to another.  Logistics, of course, don’t account for drinking a few chalices of strong beer, buying eight bottles of beer and glassware and storing it on the back of your bicycle.  The one thing working in our favour? Belgium is, for the most part, flat as hell.

Biking through Belgian countryside near Westvleteren

Using a hand-drawn tourist board map from the Poperigne tourism office and a series of street signs, we tipsily made our way down seven kilometers of back roads and hop fields to the sleepy town of Oostvleteren.  With some difficulty, we finally found a subtly-marked doorway that lead us to the promise land: De Struise Brewery.

De Struise Brewery, Oostvleteren, Belgium

Located down an alley and in a former school house, De Struise is a subtle brewery that makes not-so-subtle beer. They’ve quickly gained a cult following and have been named one of the world’s top brewers.  Being from Ontario, we never had the chance to try Struise’s beer before going to Oostvleteren and based our visit solely on adventure and reputation. Before we arrived, I emailed Carlo Grootaert, one of the brewers, to see if we can get a tour.

"The classroom" at De Struise Brewery

Before our tasting began, I had to make a bathroom pit stop.  The bathrooms are a (semi)converted old stable!

With my mind and my bladder liberated, I was ready to taste De Struise’s beer.

Carlo Grootaert pouring a beer at De Struise Brewery

Carlo met us upon our arrival and brought us to the classroom.  This wasn’t your typical tour; Carlo talked to us about his beer, gently opening bottle after bottle for us to taste, carefully eying, smelling and tasting his wares.  Behind him was a blackboard that explained (kind of) the brewing process. It was like an alcohol-inspired version of Einstein’s theory of relativity.

blackboard at De Struise Brewery, Oostvleteren, Belgium

The best part about our visit was how casual it was. Here we were, a brewmaster and two Canadian visitors, sitting in an empty classroom, sipping world-class beer and talking about beer.  Two locals popped into the room and, knowing Carlo, told him about a French Trappist brewery they just drove to across the border. Out came a bottle for all of us to taste, and our party of three briefly became a party of five.

Mont-Des-Cats trappist beer (from France)

They brought a bottle of a new trappist beer, Mont des Cats. We split it among the room and, while it wasn’t earth shattering, it was a nice, clean drink.

It was at this tasting that Robin was introduced to one of her favourite beer in the world; Pannepot.  Named after a traditional fishing boat from the De Panne area,  Pannepot was a beer made based on what the brewmaster imagined that his family had brewed in generations past. Its a Belgian strong ale that has the characteristics of a stout without any stouty bitterness.

Pannepot beer being poured

This beer is a real winner. It has nice, chocolately and fig flavours but is incredibly gentle and light on the palate. It has delicious herbal notes of cinnamon and coriander. Its smooth and not overly sweet, but is overly delicious.  If it was available in Toronto, it would be our go-to beer. Its best served slightly below room temperature so the flavours can pop in your mouth.

Pannepeut beer by De Struise Brewery

Next we tried Pannepeut and Roste Jean. Pannepeut is slightly higher in alcohol than Pannepot and is a traditional old monk’s ale. This was a 2007 vintage (yes, you can age some beer very well) and it was interesting to do a horizontal tasting versus Pannepot. Roste Jean (“Red Haired Jean”) is brewed with Westvleteren yeast, so the yeast is what represents the beer.  It has a delicious candy sugar taste to it and was another interesting offering from De Struise.

Roste Jean beer by De Struise brewery

Part of appreciating De Struise’s beer is looking at its beautiful appearance.  Hot damn…this picture’s making me thirsty.

Tasting table at De Struise Brewery

We ended our tasting session before our legs were too wobbly. After all, we still had a 15 km bike ride back to Poperinge and had to protect our backpack full of delicious beer. We weren’t sure what to expect when we arranged to visit De Struise. We ended up leaving there with a great appreciation for their beer and for their bathrooms.  Besides the excellent hospitality, we discovered that De Struise is one of our favourite breweries and look forward to the day when their beer will (somehow) make it into Ontario.

Carlo and the braintrusts at De Struise

Photos by Robin

Text by Richard


NoctuDINE in Paris, France.

19 Jul

It’s hard to eat for cheap in Paris. Heck, it’s hard to do anything for cheap in Paris. I’m about as cheap as they come, but I also love Paris and this leaves me in a bit of a bind. We managed to find super cheap accommodations on and we were staying in the trendy Marais, near Notre Dame. There were two amazing creperies in our neighbourhood, but I’m blogging about NoctuDINE first because they had some of the best cheap eats we found in the city.

When we spoke to the “madame”, she told us that they had only been open for 10 days! A Google search suggests that there must have been a miscommunication or they must have just re-opened after taking over another restaurant in this location because someone else blogged about this exact address with the same name in November 2009, but the food sounds completely different. Can anyone shed some light on this?

Exterior of Noctudine in Paris France

We stumbled across NoctuDINE on our way to check out Cafe des Musees and after some debate we decided to try NoctuDINE instead. It was quite early in the afternoon and while the menu at Cafe des Musees looked good, I wasn’t in the mood for something so heavy.

Galettes menu at Noctudine in Paris, France

Crepes sucrees at Noctudine in Paris, France

While the first thing that comes to my mind when someone says “crepes” is Nutella and bananas (I really do love that combo!), crepes in France are an even split between savoury and sweet. The savoury crepes are usually called “galettes” and the sweet ones are called “crepes sucrees”.

Gallette Complete at Noctudine in Paris France

My crepe was simple: I got the “complete”, which was ham, egg and emmental cheese. The egg was sunny side up and was nice and runny when I cut into it. There was a generous amount of cheese and ham and the crepe was perfectly done with just a tiny bit of crispness.

Galette Poularde at Noctudine in Paris France

Richard ordered the “poularde”, which was essentially the same as mine but with smoked chicken breast instead of ham. For some reason his yolk was still fully formed when it arrived while mine seemed to have been broken before arriving, but they both tasted the same in the end!

Digging in at Noctudine in Paris France

If you’ve only had crepes in North America, the first thing you’ll notice about many Parisian crepes is the colour. They’re dark brown because they’re made with “ble noir”, aka buckwheat flour, which is actually a style that originated in Breton and was brought to Paris by immigrants in the 20th century. The buckwheat flour gives them a sort of nutty heaviness to them that crepes made with regular flour don’t have. Most of the time if they’re made with buckwheat flour they’re actually called “galettes”. I love these dark brown Breton-style galettes so much more than their whiter, sweeter counterparts. Coincidentally, as I was writing this post Richard called me from home to tell me that he cracked and bought a proper crepe pan so that we could make our own galettes at home!

Crepe beurre demi-sel et sucre at Noctudine in Paris, France

For dessert we had a more familiar looking crepe. This one was a “crepe sucree”. We chose a classic one: The beurre demi-sel et sucre. It was a simple white-flour crepe with a generous amount of sugar and slightly salted butter folded into it. It was simple, but it was heavenly.

NoctuDINE is a very cute cafe with incredibly friendly staff who are happy to speak to you in English if you’re struggling with your French. There’s a Velib bike rental station just across the street too, so you can hop on a bike after lunch and peddle off some of that butter on the way to your next destination.

57 Rue de Turenne
75003 Paris

Visiting Abbey Sint Sixtus, producers of Trappist Westvleteren

15 Jul

On a cloudy morning in late June, we arrived by train Poperigne. In Poperigne we rented two bikes. With a cycling map of the area and anticipation in our hearts, we biked through the fields of West Flanders (where poppies do blow, by the way). Our destination? Abbey Saint Sixtus. Or, more specifically, the cafe beside the abbey where we would be able to buy and drink the coveted Trappist Westvleteren (pronounced west-vleer-ten against all the rules of the English language), named the best beer in the world.

Our route to the abbey was clearly marked on a cycling map that we picked up at the Poperigne tourist centre. The route that we were taking was called the “Hoppeland Route” and it took us through the fields where the hops that go into my beloved beer are grown.

The Hoppeland bike route

Hops growing along the Hoppeland bike route in West Flanders, Belgium

We were there during hop season so I’m not sure why these vines seem hop-less. The only explanation I can come up with is that they must have been freshly harvested. If you’re wondering what hops look like when they’re dried, you’ll find them posing as decor in just about every traditional bar in Belgium.

The abbey is about 4 kilometers (about 2.5 miles) from Poperigne. It’s an easy bike ride. Biking in Belgium is fabulous for a variety of reasons. For one, there are usually bike lanes in busy areas. In the country the roads are usually impeccably well paved! I also love the Dutch-style cruiser bikes with their high handlebars and wide, lady-hip friendly seats. The ride to Westvleteren was very tranquil, although anticipation had me wondering, “Are we there yet?” every couple of minutes. We only got lost once, which for us is really saying something. We tend to get lost EVERYWHERE. The signage for the bike route gets pretty sparse once you get out of Poperigne, but if you do find yourself lost, you can ask just about anyone on the road and they’ll point you in the right direction. If there’s no one around to ask, just follow the signs that say “Sint-Sixtusabdij” and they’ll get you there.

Abbey Saint Sixtus

This is the only part of the actual abbey that’s visible from the street. You can see the whole thing from above here, but it’s still a rather small and unassuming place. I guess that you would expect this of a monastery, but because I watch too many movies I was expecting to find a big castle with huge gardens.

Saint Sixtus beer pick-up sign.

Saint Sixtus Abbey beer pick-up area

The abbey is where you would go if you had a car and wanted to buy a case of beer. The prices of the cases are listed on their website and are incredibly reasonable. A case of 24 bottles of the most popular beer, the Westvleteren 12 is only 39,00 Euros with a case & bottle deposit of 12,00 Euros, and rest assured that you’d be able to get much more for the case on eBay. I won’t even suggest selling the bottles themselves on eBay because I think that the practice of buying beer for a reasonable price from monks who devote their lives to charity & then reselling it to make a profit is pretty awful.

If you’re interested in buying a case this way, you can find instructions on their website (yes, even monks have websites these days). You’ll need to call ahead to reserve a case and you need to have your car’s license plate number when you make your reservation, which might be troublesome to those who are renting cars.

In De Verde, where beer lovers' dreams come true!

If you are biking or you just don’t want to bring home 24 bottles of the same kind of beer, you still have options. You can visit In De Verde (Dutch for “In Peace”), the cafe beside the abbey. Here you can try the beer, have lunch and taste some ice cream made with the same yeast that’s used to brew the beer. They also have a little shop where you can buy the beer, but you don’t get to be as choosy.

Trappist Westvleteren Degustatie Box from In De Vrede.

If you buy your beer from the shop in In de Vrede, here’s what you get: A “Degustatiebox” with 2 bottles of blonde (green cap), 1 bottle of 8° (blue cap) and one bottle of 12° (yellow cap), plus a nice glass with the Trappist Westvleteren logo on it. Each box is around 20,00 Euros, and availability is limited so try to get there early.

Interior of In de Vrede

The cafe is surprisingly modern and not at all what I had expected. I’m not sure when it opened but I’m sure that it was sometime after 2005, which is the year that announced that Westvleteren 12° was the best beer in the world. Media got hold of the story and turned it into something of a sensation, and for some time after that, the beer pick-up area often had a line that stretched a couple of kilometers! I’m sure that In De Vrede was established as a way for people to taste the elusive beer and to allow the monks to get some peace.

Portie Paterskaas at In de Vrede

For lunch, I went for the Portie Abdijpaté, which is a slice of pâté made by the monks at the Saint Sixtus abbey. The presentation was nothing to be excited about, and I had expected a little more considering the modern atmosphere of the restaurant. But it was delicious! It was very firm, which is typical of Belgian monk-made pâté and something that took some getting used to after coming from Paris where pâté is usually spreadable.

Hennepot at In de Vrede

This was Richard’s lunch and he wasn’t too excited about it. The menu described it as being chicken in gelatin, but he thought that it might be a mistranslation. No, it wasn’t. It really was pieces of chicken suspended in gelatin and then cut into slices. I tried a bite but it was like eating rubber and I couldn’t enjoy it. In the end we shared my pâté and decide to treat ourselves to dessert.

Ice Cream at In de Vrede

We ordered the ice cream that was made with the Trappist Westvleteren beer. It was good, and a little tangy. My only complaint was that the whipped cream that they put on it must have been either too cold or left for a long time without use, because there were bits of hard, crunchy whipped cream below the fluffier whipped cream. It was a bit off-putting, although Richard liked it at first and thought that maybe it was toffee. Either way, it’s a neat idea and a nice treat.

The 8

The 12

And so we arrive at the moment of truth! I beg forgiveness in advance for being long-winded. As the blonde isn’t as highly rated and we also had more of it to take home, we skipped that and decided to taste the 8° and the 12°. I had tasted the 8° once before in Cafe Gollem in Amsterdam before I knew that the monks at Saint Sixtus are very opposed to having their beer resold for a profit. At the time we paid around 9 Euros for a bottle, which is nothing compared to the $25-$35 that Toronto bars will charge when they happen to have some to sell. The bottle had been cellared for about 6 months and to our palates, which at the time hadn’t tasted many abbey-style Triple beers, it tasted like a little bit of heaven. Since then we’ve expanded our palates a bit so I was interested to see what I’d think of this beer when I revisited it. The truth? The 8° was good, but not amazing. It lacked depth and character. The same was true of the 12°. I think that the reason for this is the fact that the cafe sells the beer so fresh that it doesn’t have time to properly age and gain the complexity that it’s capable of. We’re cellaring all of our 8° and 12° bottles and I hope to taste them next year and report that they do indeed taste like heaven when properly aged, but I get the feeling that part of the appeal of this beer is its scarcity.

While we were in Belgium we also learned that there’s an easier way to taste the essentials of Trappist Westvleteren without going all the way to their abbey in West Flanders. In short: St. Bernadus. To explain: St.Bernadus used to be called St Sixtus. Want to guess why? In the 40s, Abbey Saint Sixtus contracted the brewer at St.Bernadus to create beers that would mimic those of Trappist Westvleteren. In the 90s the contract ended and wasn’t renewed, but rather than quitting the brewing business, the brewer changed the name and improve the quality and started selling them as St.Bernadus. So if you can’t get your hands on any Westvleteren 12°, you could always try the St.Bernadus Abt 12. The recipe is probably exactly the same. I have both and I plan on doing a blind tasting after the Westvleteren 12° is properly aged. I promise to report back with my findings.

Richard on his bike, entering the town of Westvelteren

I’m glad that we went to Westvleteren to visit In de Vrede. It was a great experience to bike through the Belgian countryside and discover this highly acclaimed brewery for myself. We now have some bottles of very sought-after beer cellaring in our basement and I’ll have an opinion to give next time the topic of Trappist Westvleteren beer comes up in conversation with my beer-loving friends. It’s something that you really MUST do if you’re in the area, if only to say that you did it.

Abbey Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren
Donkerstraat 12
B -8640 Westvleteren

In de Vrede
Donkerstraat 13
8640 Westvleteren
Tel. 057/40.03.77

Visiting Brasserie Cantillon in Brussels, Belgium.

9 Jul

We only spent one day in Brussels, so we tried to make the most of it. Our first stop was at Brasserie Cantillon, the last traditional lambic brewery in Belgium.

The exterior of the Cantillon brewery in Brussells, Belgium.

Cantillon has been producing lambic beers for over 1,000 years, and it’s always been family-run and independent. Their attitude toward brewery tours is a little different from other breweries: They give you a brochure and let you take a self-guided tour!

Mashing tun at Cantillon

Our first stop on the tour is the mashing house where the mash up all of the wheat, barley and hops and mix it with warm water to convert the starch in the grains into fermentable sugars. This is the only sugar that’s present in Cantillon’s beers. They don’t add any refined sugars to their beers, which is what makes them unique.

The cooling tun at Cantillon

This is the other room that makes Cantillon such a special brewery: The cooling tun room. This is where the magic happens! After leaving the masher, the liquids (now called the “wort”) are boiled with hops and then pumped into this giant cooling vessel which is shallow but has a huge surface area. After that I don’t really understand what happens. The brochure that we got explained it, but not in clear enough terms. From what I understand, this is where the wort is “inoculated” with natural airborne wild yeasts that are present in the room where the cooling takes place. These yeasts are what cause the “spontaneous fermentation” that gives lambic beer its unique characteristics. Apparently this process can only happen in the Brussels region because of the air in the Senne valley. I’d love to see other brewers in other regions experiment with lambic brewing to see if this is actually true!

Oak barrels where spontaneous fermentation is occurring

These barrels are where the spontaneous fermentation actually takes place. They weren’t fermenting anything while we were there (their brewing season is October to April), but if they were, we might have seen white foam coming out of holes in the barrels. They can’t fully close them because the fermentation is so fast and violent that it could cause the barrels to explode within a few days of being filled!

Cobwebs act as natural pest control at Cantillon

Because insecticides are harmful to the brewing process, Cantillon does it old-school: Cobwebs and spiders. Over the years I’ve learned to love the spiders that creep around in my house because I know that they kill the other bugs, and Cantillon has the same sentiments. The brochure explains that “A lambic brewer never destroys a cobweb and killing spiders is considered ‘not done’.” That being said, I didn’t see any spiders while we were there, which is something that I’m very grateful for, regardless of their usefulness.

Antique corker with antique labels at Cantillon

Antique corker with antique labels at Cantillon

It’s not in use anymore, but I adored this antique bottling machine and the old labels on the bottles in it. I wish that their labels still looked like this!

Kriek bottles being cellared horizontally

Gueuze bottles being stored horizontally

Crates at Cantillon

The last leg of the tour showed us their cellars where the final stage of re-fermentation occurs for the fruit beers and the gueuze beers. Because re-fermentation takes 6 months and the beer cannot be sold before then, the cellar at Cantillon has space for 11,000 bottles!

With the tour complete, we were invited to stay and sample so of their products. We tried four kinds: The Gueuze, the Kriek, the Rose de Gambrinus, and the Faro. We paid extra to sample the Faro, but the others were free with our 6€ admission price.

Bar list at Cantillon

Tasting the gueuze from Cantillon

Lambic beer definitely has a unique taste, and it’s one that may need to be acquired. If you’re accustomed to drinking pilsners or lagers this beer is probably going to weird you out. It’s full-on sour. I don’t know if there’s a better way to describe it. It doesn’t have the sweetness or the bitterness that most other beers have. It’s the unsweetened lemonade of beers. I wasn’t a huge fan of the gueuze when I first had it in the cool tasting room at Cantillon, but after having another one later in the week on a canal-side patio on a sunny day in Brugges, I started to appreciate it more. It’s the ultimate summer beer!

Pouring the Kriek at Cantillon

Pouring rose at Cantillon

Tasting the rose and the kriek at Cantillon

Next we tried the Rose de Gambrinus and the Kriek. I cannot remember from the photo which one is which, although you can see that one is cloudier than the other. (Cantillon lovers, if you know which one is which, please let me know in the comments!) I liked both of these, although I think I preferred the Kriek. Both have a musky fruity smell and a really light crisp sour taste. I’ve tasted other fruit lambics in the past but they were nothing like these two! In comparison to the new-style lambics more common to Ontario that I’ve tasted (like Mort Subite Kriek and Belle-Vue Kriek) these are incredibly tart and very light tasting. I can see why the new-style fruit lambics are more popular because these traditional fruit lambics are very subtle on the fruit and very heavy on the sourness. That style isn’t for everyone, but I did appreciate them.

Tasting the Faro at Cantillon

Our last taster was the Faro, which is a lambic that’s had candy sugar and caramel added to it. The sweetness is still very subtle and allows the sourness of the lambic to shine. I wasn’t a fan of this one myself and preferred the Gueuze, which has more carbonation because of the re-fermentation, and which I also thought was a bit more complex in its flavours. Still, it was very special to be able to taste this beer since it can’t be kept more than 4 weeks in bottles because the addition of sugar causes such a strong fermentation that there’s a danger of the bottles exploding. Also… Don’t you love the glass?

Our visit to Cantillon was a truly special and unique brewery tour experience and one that I’d recommend to anyone with an interest in beer. The owners are genuinely passionate about preserving the traditional lambic brewing style and they’ll be more than happy to answer all your questions about the beer, the brewery, and the city, right down to where you should go for dinner and drinks after the tour.

If you don’t want to go all the way to Brussels to enjoy their beer, you can visit Brasserie Dieu du Ciel on Saturday, September 17th for Zwanze Day 2011!

Cantillon Brewery
56 rue Gheude
1070 Brussels

Open Monday to Friday from 9 AM till 5 PM
Saturday from 10 AM to 5 PM
Closed on Sundays and public holidays
Add them on Facebook

Belgium: The Goods

8 Jul

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:

The Goods: All of the beer we brought home from Belgium

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.

3 bottles of Westvleteren

The caps of the 3 varieties of Trappist Westveteren beer

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 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.

Pannepot 2009 by De Struisse

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.

N'Ice Chouffe

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!

Cantillon Gueuze

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!

La Rulles Triple by Brasserie Artisanale de Rulles

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.

Black Damnation V by De Struisse

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.

Curry Ketchup and Speculoos spread

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.

Pralines from Chocolate Line in Antwerp

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.