Brussels, Mussels and Frites: 7 weeks to go!
This week we celebrated the food, beer and culture of Brussels the capital of Belgium (well The City of Brussels is the actual capital). Mussels cooked in a garlic, dry white wine broth with frites (thin strips of potatoes deep fried) is the most popular dish in the country. During and after our meal, we enjoyed three beers brewed in Brussels or the surrounding area. Please meet: Girardin Gueze 1882, Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic and Hanssens Artisanaal Oude Gueuze.
The birth of Brussels is attributed to Duke Charles of Lower Lotharingia around 979. Damn that’s old! Charles went on to construct the first permanent fortification in the city. Originally, Brussels was a Dutch only speaking country. To date, the majority of residents speak French.
On to the next thing, our featured artist, surrealist Rene Magritte. Now, many amazing, prolific, talented, earth shattering artists are from Belgium. The majority of the most influential artists are from the Renaissance and Baroque periods (from 1300-1700). However, since Brussels is home to the largest collection of modern artist, Magritte’s artworks, this seemed quite fitting. His works frequently displays a juxtaposition of ordinary objects in an unusual context, giving new meanings to familiar things. His most popular work, The Treachery of Images, as seen above, is a picture of a pipe with a caption, in French which translates as “This pipe is not a pipe.” His point? It is not a pipe, it is a painting of a pipe.
Of course, we are all thrilled to be going to Belgium, to soak it all in and drink ALL of the beer. But tonight, tonight, we could barely sit still as we polished off 3 12oz beauties contained in green glass.
The Girardin Gueze 1882 was cracked first and accompanied our mussels and frites. Straight from the “cellar” this beer was served at approximately 50 degrees. In our opinion, the perfect temperature. The carbonation does not overpower the flavor, yet the sourness combined with the texture feels like pop rocks in your mouth. Smells like (not pop rocks) corn, hay and a sour, yet sweet fruit such as a pineapple. A sweet tartness greats your taste buds while an element of apple cider vinegar and pineapple leads the way to the back of your throat and the corners of your jaw line. This beer took a lot of tastes, independent thoughts and discussion to truly detect its qualities. An amazing beer that went perfectly with the wine based broth and saltiness of the mussels.
We decided to split up the two Guezes (although later to find they were distinctly different in smell and flavor) with a Lambic. Before we divulge the beer of choice, lets discuss the qualities of a Lambic styled beer. Lambics are traditionally brewed in the Pajottenland region of Belgium which is just southwest of Brussels. During the brewing process, Lambics are exposed to the wild yeasts and bacteria that are said to be native to the Senne valley. This exposure gives the beer its distinctive flavor which tends to be dry, cidery and sour. Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic is brewed with cherries (krieks). Blood red in color with a slight transparency, this beer did in fact smell of dried cherries. The physical impact of this beer was unprecedented. There is a sour punch upon first sip then the effect immediately stings the corner of your jaws and dries your throat. This of course, leaves us wanting more and more.
Lastly, Hanssens Artisanaal Oude Gueuze from a brewery with a lot of history. Originally this brewery brewed a brown ale and a lambic. However, once World War I began, production ceased and never began again. From that point on and currently, Hanssens is a blend only establishment (making only Gueuzes). What a job, blending the great beers of Belgium. Once the beers are blended, they are bottle fermented in the brewery’s “caves”. This Gueuze smells like cured meats, pepper and pears. Interesting….the taste has a distinctive funkiness with a combination of malts in the background. It so interesting how the color and carbonation of this beer looks like your average American macro brewery but inside, the smells and the flavors are unique and complex, belonging to this one bottle and this bottle only.
Next week, we plan on waffles for dinner, beers from West Flanders and the cinema experience of “In Bruges”. So check back every week as we wind down the days until our trip to Belgium, Germany, Amsterdam and France!