The article reviews Belgium as an educational trip abut beer. A place where you can sample endless styles, visit age old breweries and settle down at some of the best beer bars in the world. Its true. Its totally true. I have done quite a bit of travelling especially around Europe and even beer aside, Belgium stole my heart.
The article touches on the key places you should go in this tiny country. Of course, there are so many amazing places, the article couldn’t mention all of them.
IF YOU GO
In de Vrede (Donkerstraat 13, Westvleteren; 32-57-40-03-77; indevrede.be)
Moeder Lambic (Place Fontainas 8, Brussels; 32-25-03-60-68)
Cantillon (Rue Gheude Straat 56, Brussels; 32-25-21-49-28; cantillon.be)
’t Brugs Beerje (Kemelstraat 5, Bruges; 32-50-33-96-16; brugsbeertje.be)
De Dolle Brouwers (Roeselarestraat 12B, Esen; 32-51-50-27-81; dedollebrouwers.be)
Brouwershuis (Trappistenweg 23A, Watou; 32-57-38-88-60; brouwershuis.com)
We were fortunate enough to visit the top four places listed. De Dolle is one of my favorite breweries in Belgium and the 1998 Stille Nacht at the Kulminator (another amazing beer bar in Antwerp). Next time, that will be at the top of my list!
Other honorable mentions from our trip include:
Pater’s Vaetje ( Blauwmoezelstraat 1, Antwerp, http://www.patersvaetje.be/)
Kulminator (Vleminckveld 32, Antwerp)
Eetcafé de Gans (Diephuisstraat 6 (zijstraat Korreweg, bij het Noorderbad),Groningen, http://www.degans.nl/index.php?page=contact-locatie)
Brasserie Thiriez (22 rue de Wormhout, Esquelbecq, France) Although not in Belgium, it is a mere 4 miles from the boarder of Belgium and if you are in West Flanders, it is worth the trip!
For the full NY Times article, click here.
52 Weeks: De Zon, Woesten-Vleteren, Belgium
No other place in Belgium to find a fresher Antiek or Struise.
Week 9 of 52 (We are through Week 12 – this one is late)
057 42 20 62
Rank: #2 of 12 (uniqueness gets the boost)
Neighborhood Pub/Time Portal
BEERS ON TAP (at time of visit) —>
De Zon, in a surprisingly not all that uncommon European business practice, has zero beers on tap.
BOTTLE OPTIONS: I don’t know for certain, but experience tells me that neither Brouwerij Deca, nor Struise Brouwers keg their beers. This pub is one block from Deca, and is therefore the unofficial brewery pub. Struise is a brewery with no brewery. They make a large percentage of their brews at Deca. De Zon carries many of each brewery’s offerings in the bottle.
FOOD OPTIONS: Well this is quite humorous, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Read on.
Though visiting In De Vrede and sampling the beers of the legendary Wesvleteren Abbey was without a doubt a top highlight of West Flanders Day, Beer Botter’s experience at De Zon was quite possibly the most hilarious and notable destination of the entire trip. Our experience here will forever live on in infamy.
Woesten is, at most, 8 km from Westvleteren. Struise is, without a doubt, one of Beer Blotter’s favorite breweries of all time. You can do the math, we were REQUIRED to go to De Zon. We knew, however, that the chances it would be open at the time of our attempted visit were very small. In De Vrede, in a stunning display of oddity, opens at the early hour of 10am, and you better believe that we were there when the doors opened. This meant that our foray into West Flanders would, for the most part, be confined to the daylight hours. As we had already discovered earlier in the tip, this is bad news when you are in Belgium and trying to drink beer.
Generally, beer bar owners in Belgium open and close their establishments at will. One could easily go to a bar at 10pm one night, have a great time, attempt to go to the same bar the very next night at the very same time and find that they are closed, completely randomly. This was a subject of much frustration on our trip, but 10pm is a reasonable hour of imbibing, mid-day on a Thursday, not so much.
Our attempts to view both the Saint Bernardus brewery and the Van Eeche brewery in Watou had already failed due to timing, so we were prepared for disappointment when we pulled up to the unassuming bar front in the tiny town of Woesten. Before even trying the door, quite possibly in a move to circumvent potential rejection, we trotted down the street to take a gander at the brewery. It looked much more like a beer distributor than a brewery from the outside. Various unrecognizable beers were stacked up to extreme heights all about the outdoor lot. It was like nothing I’d seen before at a brewery.
We figured we should get a closer look, but simultaneously, as curiosity grew within us, so did bravery, and an attempt at the De Zon door was made. For the love of Black Albert, the door opened and a bright heavenly light led us into the promised-land (promised-land, maybe, but that light thing…I just made that up!)
A rare moment of humor was found in Tim Webb’s guide when he described De Zon as a “Seventies time warp”. Humorous as it is, its god damn true. The inside of this place is small, smoke stained, old as all hell, and full of dog…
Most likely, many dogs have come and gone since this place last had a makeover, but the latest little yapper to frolic amidst De Zon was the first to greet us, after quite a few awkward moments sitting at the bar completely alone. We felt as though we had “broke and entered” into someone’s home and an uncomfortable feeling of not belonging washed over us.
We soon came to realize that we actually were in someone’s home! De Zon, as you can see above, looks like a pub in every way from the outside, once you enter, suspicions arise, and then by the time you leave you wonder how you ever were fooled into any thought to the contrary.
We were finally greeted in Dutch by the pub owner/inhabitant/dog whisperer, a woman in her 70s (or so) that was very kind, but as we came to find out, spoke no English what so ever. Now those of you reading who have never been to Belgium may not think that odd, and believe me, I’m not making note of it because I have expectations that everyone should be able to speak my language, but we were a good handful of days into our trip at this point and this was our very first encounter with someone that spoke absolutely no English. It was weird. I had expected it from the beginning of the trip, but it was still weird.
We fumbled a bit through the ordering process (and actually learned how to accurately pronounce De Struise in Dutch in the process), but we were eventually served beer, and that was an accomplishment of great ecstasy. I really wish you could hear our conversation with this woman in your head like I can. The words “De Struise” were said aloud at least…oh I don’t know…like 10 times each by all parties present. That was about the extent of our communication. We understood “De Struise”, the end. Could be worse things to bond over.
We were kindly served a bowl of nuts to snack on, a bowl full of nuts and…dog hair. I present the food options of De Zon. Yum!
At least we drank well. Bottles enjoyed: Brouwerij Verstraete’s (of Diksmuide, one of our favorite town names, pronounced like male genitalia and wet dirt all smashed together) Papegaei, a Belgian strong pale ale brewed at Deca, Deca’s Vleteren Dark Old Strong Ale, Struise Tsjeeses, a Belgian strong pale ale, and Struise Black Damnation, a Russian imperial stout. All were amazing.
Amidst our beer drinking, two joyous events transpired. First, a trip to the bathroom.
There was one hallway that split off from the bar area that was clearly the only possible home for the bathrooms. After a few steps down the hall it became apparent that the men’s room was behind the door straight ahead. A bit of confusion struck me as I opened the door and found daylight…an outdoor courtyard of sorts was behind the door. Had I misinterpreted the foreign markings for men’s room? Not unlikely, but a quick second glance at the door supported my initial decision.
I allowed the door to close behind me, and it immediately was evident, I was in the “men’s room” after all. Two urinals were fastened to the wall that marked the right hand side border of the patio. Quite possibly the greatest bathroom ever!
Next up, a visit from the perma-smoking co-owner/co-inhabitor/co-whisperer. This was clear not only due to the fact that he was in just as many photos tacked to the walls of the bar as our female host (who was so rudely interrupted from her sit and magazine read at the table directly next to us [awkward!]), but also due to the fact that he was greeted much less jarringly from the shedding dog at our feet.
Soon after his arrival, both hosts slipped through the non-bathroom door in the hallway that let into the house portion of the building. Smoking was soon accompanied by a lover’s quarrel, quite visible and audible through the door that was left wide open for our pleasure. At this point, we tried our very best to make a quick exit, which wasn’t easy, but we escaped relatively unscathed.
Thanks De Zon, you were…a…ma…zing!
That closer look at the brewery that we were earlier distracted from came directly after our departure from De Zon, and after our loss of a single tear out of pure respect for De Zon’s epicness.
The Deca brewery visit was very much worth it. We ended up acquiring some very rare versions of Black Damnation; III (Black Mes) and IV (Coffee Club). These were successfully transported back to The States for future enjoyment. Woesten = Great Success!
We thought we would start out our bevy of reporting on our trip to Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands with a short set of our “Top 3” in Belgium and beyond.
There were three members of BeerBlotter.com on this trip, so its impossible to come to a verdict about the ranking of the Top 3 at this point. Perhaps by the close of our two weeks of stories on the journey, we will have formed a consensus. For now we are simply providing what we believe to be the best 3 places to visit in a particular category.
Please note: we did not visit everything, we couldn’t. Though Belgium is only about 90 miles across, there are so many places to visit. Those venues are not bunched in any easily manageable way, especially the breweries of West Flanders. Thus, we will expose our limitations – we can only rank those places that we visited. Later in the week, we will be providing reviews on each establishment visited, so you will be able to get a better idea of what was visited.
Also, we are stating the names of these places in Flemish or French so that you can find them on a map/online easier.
So, here we go:
Top 3 Breweries to Visit:
1) Picobrouwerij Alvinne, Heule, Belgium
2) Brasserie Cantillon, Brussels, Belgium
3) Brouwerij De Molen, Bodegraven, Holland (Ok Ok its not in Belgium – its in the Netherlands. But its so amazing!)
***Brasserie Thiriez in Escambeq, France – very cool too, if you speak French***
Top 3 Beer Bars to Visit in Belgium:
1) Paters Vaetje, Antwerp, Belgium (Amazing atmosphere and great bartender)
2) Poatersgat, Bruges, Belgium
3) Moeder Lambic, Brussels, Belgium (new, incredible)
Top 3 Beer Bars to Visit in Holland:
1) Cafe Gollem, Amsterdam, Holland
2) ‘t Arendsnest, Amsterdam, Holland
3) Beer Temple, Amsterdam, Holland (for the variety – and if you miss the USA)
Top 3 Places to Enjoy a Beer in Belgium:
1) ‘t Waterhuis Aan De Bierkant, Ghent, Belgium
2) Picobrouwerij Alvinne’s Loft, Heune, Belgium
3) ‘t Poatersgat, Bruges, Belgium (cmon, its in a medieval cellar)
Top 3 Beer Lists in Belgium:
1) Kulminator, Antwerp, Belgium (vintages really help)
2) Cafe Cambrinus, Bruges, Belgium
3) Bier Circus, Brussels, Belgium
Top 3 Bottleshops
1) Willems, Grobbendonk, Belgium (ridiculous, go here)
2) Picobrouwerij Alvinne, Heune, Belgium (worldwide selection)
3) De Bier Temple, Bruges, Belgium
Top 3 Beer Experiences in Belgium:
1) Drinking Nuclear Penguin & Sink the Bismark with owner Davy Spiessens at Picobrouwerij Alvinne
2) Enjoying Westvleteren 12 at In De Vrede Cafe on the St. Sixtus Abbij
3) Tasting young gueuzes and special lambics at Brasserie Cantillon
***Checking out the cooling cellar at Moeder Lambic was cool too***
Top 3 Places for a Meal in Belgium (Beer Involved Venues)
1) De Gans, Huise, Belgium
2) Bier Circus, Brussels, Belgium
3)Brouwerij De Molen (Holland) & Brauerei zum Fuchschen (Germany) (again neither in Belgium, but damn good)
***We didn’t make it to Den Djiver in Bruges – we dont have 100.00 for a meal***
Top 3 Belgian Food to Eat
1) Toast Cannibale (raw beef across bread)
2) Witloof Casserole (Belgian Endive with Ham and Cheese)
3) Stoemf (potatoes, sausage, herbs and vegetables all mashed together)
Top 3 Issues with the Current State of Belgium
1) Construction in Ghent! (the entire city is under construction – kind of killing the ambience)
2) non-uniformity of business days
3) unknown/spontaneously selected opening and closing hours (its always a guessing game)
***Note: We were there during off-season, and we knew that, so the hours/days issue is partly our fault***
There is more to come. I’m sure I forgot to rank many things. We will try and wrap it together soon.