Sunday, February 24, 2013

Staminee De Garre (Bruges, Belgium)

First round and a small bowl of gouda cheese

Only spending a day in Bruges, we had a full schedule of sightseeing.  Being fans of In Bruges, we walked to the top of the tower and then did a canal boat ride.  Walking along the canal to the brewery, we tried but failed to make the tour at De Halve Maan; we still had a great time sampling their beers in their outdoor cafe.

My plan for the evening was to visit 't Brugs Beertje; however, I missed in my research that the bar is closed on Wednesdays, our only day in town.  Not knowing where to go, since the day was also a holiday, Assumption Day, we headed back to our room.  After some research on BeerAdvocate with the hotel WiFi, the desk clerk helped us make a call to confirm that Staminee de Garre was open.  With success finding a good beer bar, we headed back to the heart of Bruges.

A beautiful brick bar down an alley, hidden from the main road, we wiggled our way through the full bar, hawking a table near the bar.  The first round included the house tripel in their own glass, a bittersweet souvenir story in its own right.  Each draft comes with a small bowl of Gouda cheese.

In addition to a good draft list, the bottle selection is outstanding as well, and, more importantly, it was all served with exceptional detail and care.  They have an immense respect for beer.  The only drawback is that we should have eaten dinner beforehand since they didn't offer much besides appetizers.  However, sitting and chatting through great beers until we headed out into the dark to witness the fairy tale lighting of Bruges.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ward 6 Food & Drink Eastside (St. Paul, MN)

Sierra Nevada Hoptimum and
Steel Toe Douglas
From several sources, including a speechie friend, I've heard good reports about Ward 6, beer and food.  I'm happy to confirm that the positive rumors are true.

Because I love the name, I started with a Pour Decisions brew out of the range of strong choices. Last week, I had a bottle of Maroon & Gold, an IPA of a sorts. Good in a bottle but better on draft. Nice start. G tried Third Street's Sugar Shack, which was good enough on tap that I bought a six pack to replenish the beer fridge this week.

Started dinner off with a order of herbed fries with beer cheese and harissa hollondaise dips. Solidly entertaining food with both sauces, but I want to try the lemon gastrique next time.  We shared a grilled camembert on sourdough with pears, walnut butter and arugula.  Really amazing.  Chatting with my friend at a tournament after our visit, I think I will try the vegetarian Cicero Stew next time.

Tuckered out on a Friday night during speech season, I ended with the session ale by Pour Decisions: Pubstitute.  More than adequate, but I had my expectations higher than the beer could live up to.

Overall, a great night at a local pub in St. Paul. The place is small and the biggest table is for about five. We tried earlier for a larger group, but they don't take reservations. More of a place for date night or two couples out for a chat for well served beer and inspired food. Plus, the service was spectacular.  If I lived in St. Paul, I would be happy to walk home from Ward 6 as my local.

Update 5/17/13

Cicero Stew
We were able to return to Ward 6 tonight with some friends.  Because the pub has a habit of filling fast, we picked a night that I could leave right after school and got there before 5 pm to have a draft at the bar and put my name on a list for a table for four.  Worked out perfectly and they even seated one group before us since our friends weren't coming for another half hour while keeping us at the top of the list.  

The staff was working very hard to get everyone seating as soon as possible.  Almost too hard later in the night—we felt a bit rushed when we wanted to sit and chat over beers, even though there wasn't a line after paying the bill. Sitting in the back booth, I had a view of the door. The line formed quickly on a Friday night just after 5 pm until 6 pm, but the line went up and down, very hit and miss as the night lingered. Just a matter of luck after the dinner rush to get a table.

I was able to try the Cicero stew this trip and, in spite of the simple appearance, it's amazingly flavorful.  The waitress warned me it was hot, which was true.  The spice went very well in the Sierra Nevada Hoptimum, so I'd recommend having the stew with the hoppiest IPA on tap.  With three new beers for the list on tap tonight plus a great dinner with friends, I see us returning more and more to Ward 6.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

De Halve Maan (Bruges, Belgium)

Quadruple on a summer day

We didn't spend a lot of time in Bruges, but did everything that we wanted after seeing the movie In Bruges, including climbing the tower and taking a canal tour.  Easily could have spent another day there to take advantage of the museums more, but still a fun, touristy visit.

As they were rolling up the streets (we accidentally hit a holiday, but I didn't understand what), we headed to attempt an unplanned brewery tour at De Halve Maan.  Unfortunately, when we arrived, the tours were long done and we had less than an hour to sample their beers.  Not too disappointed missing the tour since my guess is that the on-the-hour tours would tell us beer is made of four ingredients.

Bruges Zot Blonde and Dubbel beers were very good, but the Straffe Hendrick beers, Tripel and Quad, were a clear notch above.  Very Dutch/Flemish style of beers that have a strong balance with an assertive yeast influence, especially the Quad which tasted like Hertog Jan that we brought back from Amsterdam on our first trip there in 2003.  Talking to the bartender and complimenting the beer while running out of time before bar close at 6 pm, I asked if I could buy more than one beer.  With a slightly astonished look, he said yes.  I explained that in the US that a beer in hand had to be more than half finished before buying another.  Again, astonished look.  I bought our Straffe Hendrick beers to close the bar, turning in our empty glasses to the waitress as we were the last ones to stroll out of the patio.

Brouwerij Straffe Hendrik
A relaxing stop at the end of a touristy day.  The historic nature of the brewery alone might be worth another stop in the future, especially since the beer is a good enough to warrant it.
View from outside garden towards restaurant door.
Tour sign up inside

Friday, February 8, 2013

Boon Brewery (Lembeek, Belgium)

W on cask for this past year's brew

My guide Annie picked me up for the Boon Brewery tour at Cafe de Kring.  She is a professional local tour guide who has really done her research.  Like Oud Beersel, I ended up being the only person on the tour in August.  I didn't pay anything, so the tour must be covered by Boon.  Because it looked like rain when we returned and she declined a beer at the time, I tipped Annie the equivalent, which seemed appreciated.

Annie was bursting with Boon knowledge, occasionally consulting her notes on details.  The information on the casks was a highlight, including the lettering systema letter per year since the brewery opened.  Also, each big cask costs 20,000 Euro, but a portion were donated as war reparations from Germany.  Entertaining me with stories for two hours, the tour was full of local color.

Tour guide Annie by the bottling line
One of my favorites was about the founder and the other about my guide.  First, Frank Boon learned his trade by working at a local brewery across town.  With this knowledge, he started Boon in 1975, reviving a Lembeek brewing tradition.  In spite of being a rags to riches cynic,  I found the tale of Frank Boon inspirational, especially his respect for learning the authentic trade and his hard work growing his lambic brewery into the recognized name that it is today.

Coolship--where the magic happens!
Second, Annie told me of when she would walk with her grandfather as a preschooler: he would stop for a gueuze and she would drink faro.  A different time that's hard to imagine today.  She remembers being introduced to Coca-Cola by a yellow truck at her elementary school that would let them drink as much as they wanted for a day in May.  From these and other stories on this trip, lambic seems to be the Belgian counterpart of Saison, a refreshment for the working class whether young or old.

New production facility being built
Instead of the normal sampling at the end of the tour, we drank from a couple of flasks that I think Annie brought from home and filled on site.  I started with refreshing straight lambic that was two years old.  Then, we sampled an unsweetened Kriek that bursted with cherry flavor.  Both pours were still and at room temperature, and it was a real treat to drink full-flavored authentic lambic without pomp while chatting inside a world class brewery.  Annie told me how area farmers used to put a container of lambic in the ground while working and come back to drink it at cellar temperature as a break.  Being a former Iowa farm boy and a beer lover, this in-the-black-dirt tradition made me feel connected and proud of my blue collar roots.

As a famous large production brewery, I went to Lembeek without starry eyed expectations because I didn't want to be disappointed.  However, Boon is one of my most worthwhile and easy expeditions from Brussels.  Only available to individuals not on a group tour on Wednesday afternoons in July and August, take an early train to partake of Cafe de Kring offerings and then enjoy the tour. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Cafe De Kring (Lembeek, Belgium)


The train to Lembeek from Brussels was easy and I finally didn't show up too early for fear of getting lost. Walked to the brewery and a worker showed up when I rang a bell in the office; I was directed to walk down the lane past the church to a bar known as Cafe de Kring on the left. The guide starts the tour at the pub at 3 pm on Wednesdays.

The bartender, who looked a lot like my father had he lived to be more than middle aged, poured me a draft Boom Kriek and immediately asked if I was here for the brewery tour.  Lembeek is a small village and blending in is impossible, even if I look Flemish.

The Boon Kriek is maroon to bright red depending on the light.  The Boon glass has the shape of a traditional Lambic glass but not the weight or etching on the side. Cherry predominates in this one, lacking much sour from cherry or lambic. While not a challenging kriek, it's sweet, fruity tang is refreshing on a warm day.

A draft of Rodenbach is next, but, sadly, it was disappointing; however, for 2 euros a glass, it's hard to be too upset.  So, I decided to stay with bottles and tried a 2008 Geuze Marriage Parfait.  Almost a Purdue old gold in the glass with a thin white head. Spiciness is pronounced in the nose and follows through to a puckering taste that's quite dry. Blended, layered spiciness and a peach fruitiness that's light without being thin. Werner from the Lambic Discovery Center said his favorite Lambic, regardless of brewery or blender, was a three year old bottle.  I'm close to that range and can say I beginning to see his reasoning.  I'm going to start aging some favored lambics to test this theory.  My guide for the brewery is here, so I'm having to rush a bit through this fine bottle.

After the tour, we returned to the pub for the guide to get her bike.  On her advice, I delved into a bottle of Halse Duivel (as listed on the menu; Donker Duivels Bier 8 on the bottle).  Translates as "The Halle Devil".  Made previously by a local brewery in the nearby town of Halle, Boon resurrected this favorite. Very hazy dark brown beer with a dirty light brown head.  Almost a sour brown with a clear funk but light with fig, chocolate and black licorice embedded within a laborious malt base.  It's somewhere between a trappist Dubbel and a Flemish bruin, but neither.  Dark cherry comes out as it warms.  I would love to return in winter and drink this on a cold day to let it warm slowly.  Boon brews in through the summer when lambic can't be produced.  Really an outstanding beer and a treat to drink this local some local history.  Because I will probably never repeat it and the train is half an hour yet, I'm having one more for the roadthe only beer I've had twice in Belgium except Westveleteren.

While drinking my second Halse Duivel, I told the bar keep that he looked my father.  He laughed and show me a picture. It looked a lot like him but a bit younger. It was the President of Brazil. I asked if he had traveled to Brazil to pretend to be famous, and he laughed and said no.  This broke the ice, and he handed me a guest book that went back to 1996 and had signatures of brewers, many I recognized, from New Belgium, Squatters, Magic Hat, Appalachian, Bell's, Firestone plus a few Euro pubs I haven't heard of.  Evidently I'm at a beer pilgrimage site that has informed pioneers on their beer quest.  Glad I was able to join in spirit with so many other brewers on this stop on the beer trail.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Moeder Lambic Fontainas (Brussels, Belgium)

Real men eat quiche
7/30/12, 7/31/12

I found Moeder Lambic during my planned walk listed on Cantillon's website.  If heading to the Cantillon tour, a stop at Moeder Lambic is a great before or after combination.  I thought I had my return down pat when I noted in the morning that the bar is near the Anneessens metro stop.  However, when exiting at Anneessens, it's important to follow the signs to Fontainasplein. Underground walkways lead to several separate "pleins" (open places) and they are two blocks from each other.   I was hoping for a easy up and getting a beer, and got a walk through an interesting immigrant neighborhood instead.

Zwarte Piet by Brasserie de la Senne here in Brussels is the first beer of the night. Zwarte Piet means "black Pete" and is a helper of Santa Claus in the Netherlands, but I understand little about Pete beyond that.  In this case, I got a robust, dark beer that is a nice contrast to the lambics and golden Belgians I've been drinking this week.  Flowing brown lace on the glass leads to a deep ruby ale that's opaque, and smooth without being light.  Dark cherry and chocolate mix with a spice in the nose and taste that seems to be from theyeast but could also be hops—probably a blend.

Zwarte Piete and my view at a table just inside the door
Second beer of the night is Bitter Sorachi Ace from a French brewery, Brasserie du Mont Saleve.  From my trip, I've noticed that bitter styles are starting to make inroads into Belgium, but my impression is that they still shy away from hops compared to Americans.  This is a hazy, pale yellow ale with a giant head in a small footed glass. Very pretty but the taste disappoints.  I love Sorachi Ace as a hop when placed front and center in a beer by Brooklyn Brewery, simply called Sorachi Ace. This use is less than masterful, and while I understand the critique of over-hopped American beers, American brewers have really pushed the limits of hop science and know how to use them.  This is a nice attempt by Mont Saleve, but it falls a little short.

For dinner, I expanded my horizons and ordered the salmon quiche, which was excellent. Those shocked reading this fact, I added fish back into my ovo-lacto diet recently and this is the first I've tested it overseas. The Bitter Sorachi Ace complimented the quiche fairly well.

Moved on to Noir de Dottignies by Brouwerij de Ranke.  A Belgian strong dark ale with a clean tan lace and dark brown to ruby in the glass.  A very light nose of dark fruits and alcohol spice on top of a smooth maltiness.  Body is a bit light with a slickness letting the same fruits and spice slide right off the back. The beer came with a small amount of malt, but not sure why and the waiter left so quickly that I couldn't ask. Nothing on BA either.  This is listed as a "dark and bitter" beer, so my guess is that the sweet malt is supposed to compliment or reduce the Challenger and Saaz hops dosing.  Can't say the combination does much for me besides leaving chunky grain in my mouth instead of slightly hoppy dark beer. Confirmed the next night that the malted barley is meant to be a "chip" to snack ona sweet to counteract the bitterness.

After a month in Belgium and France, I came home and gain only two pounds, drinking and eating as I wished.  I love the smaller portions of food and beer in Belgium, maybe Europe in general.  Delve into the full list of 2012 Belgium and 2012 France posts; the reader will note that I've had a fairly large number of beersall glasses of 25 centiliters.  Food is served in manageable portions as well, so a meal ordered for one doesn't make me feel like a glutton.  A very safe and sane way to to eat and drink.  Moeder Lambic is the epitome of this idea.  This, I think, the US could learn a lesson on how to do.

Finished the night with Rose de Gambrinus, the framboise from Cantillon that I visited this morning.  I didn't have it on-site since I planned to get here later to try several lambics.  Amazing pink head that lingers fluffily on top of a dark red lambic.  My info from Cantillon says 150 kg of raspberries are macerated and placed in the kegs per 500 liters of beer and left to soak for five to six months.  Incredible raspberry in the nose with a light twang from the lambic pushes its way in from the background.  Take a sip andwowwhat sour: vinegar-like kick with the fruit just barely keeping up, almost achieving a balance.  This is a framboise for lambic lovers instead of an introductory lambic like Lindeman's with the fruit leading the sour by a ways.

In spite of the weird, techno backbeat from the bar's music, Moeder Lambic is a great beer adventure.  Besides, the music isn't loud and the focus of the place is light conversation.  I'm pretty sure that one of the workers I saw today at Cantillon is sitting at the bar, so others seem to think that it's a good stop as well. Also, the bar has an especially strong WiFi signal, so I'm catching up on emails while digging deep into the beer list.

Finding Moeder Lambic on my second attempt went much better.  After my adventure at the Atomium (giant model of an atom for the 1958 World Expo that attracts loads of tourists), I emerged from the subway looking right at the bar.

Started tonight with Dupont's Monk's Stout. Black and opaque, even in the mini-imperial pint glass.  Roasted malt and chocolate in the nose that smells like a standard good stout except for a light Belgian yeast funk underneath. More spice appears in the taste to compliment the Guinness-like quality of this beer.

Kerkomese Tripel from Brouwerij Kerkom is a hazy yellow with a stark white head in a glass.  A triple with an amazing spice and fruitiness on top of a light body. The 9% is completely hidden in this smooth drinking beer.  Next, when in Belgium, drink Norway.  Nogne O Imperial Stout is on tap as a special beer, so it's hard to resist this absolute black ale with a creamy tan head. Nose is light for the style, but the taste is fairly spectacular: full bodied, roast, chocolate, slight cherry and an alcohol slickness that makes it smooth. Opens up well as it warms.

My last beer at Moeder Lambic was Tilquin Gueuze on tap.  This was one of my favorites at the Lambic Vistor Center and is just as good on tap. Stark white, fluffy head over a hazy straw gold beer. This is one of my favorites of the trip: a pleasantly sour beer that's not overwhelming. A very perfectly balanced lambic blend.

So I lied. When I said the Tilquin Gueuze was very good, the bartender said the Lambic Blend on tap was better.  Had to give it a try.   Bracingly tart without being overwhelming and a light malt sweetness underneath, probably from a younger lambic in the blend that hasn't dried out yet.  Looks identical to the gueuze, understandably, since both are a blend of the same base lambic.  Tilquin is fast becoming my favorite lambic brewer/blender along with Oud Beersel.

Time spent is my recommendationcheck out Moeder Lambic.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Brasserie Cantillon (Brussels, Belgium)


To do the tour of Cantillon, I followed the walking directions to the brewery, starting at the Grand Place (Grote Markt).  Nice walk that took me longer than expected to do, but fun to have landmarks pointed and explained on sheets included with the map.  Otherwise, there are metro stops close by the brewery for a faster, less touristy trip to Cantillon.

I walked right by the building until I saw the Cantillon wrapped vehicle that got me to turn around.  After being welcomed, and paying, a brief history of Lambic is explained and the self paced walking tour starts at the end of the hallway.  A booklet explains everything by the numbers.  Not as personable format, but it does allow visitors to show up and learn on a tourists timetable. It seems that they move a lot more people through here as a result, so I'm fine with the solo tour.

I think the best thing about the tour is that the equipment is largely original, according to the booklet, and it feels like a working museum.  Some of the workers seem to have tired of being a tour prop, but that's understandable. The vertical brewing process started with the mash tun on the bottom floor and ended at the coolship on the top floor is worth the price of admission.

Mash tun
Tasting room. With the 6 euro fee for the tour comes two samples. My first sample is 18 month old straight Lambic.   At the beginning of the tour, I was warned that Lambic beer is sour. I suspect tourists must come here and not know what they are getting themselves in for.  In this case, it's less sour than I imagined it would be. Light orange beer with golden highlights in a small tulip glass to focus the nose. Earthy sourness in the nose is light but strengthens in the taste. Not completely dry yet, there is a small amount of sugar left to sweeten the taste.

For the second sample, I chose the gueuze.  Kriek and the framboise Rose de Gambrinus were also options. The gueuze was similar in color to the lambic but a distinctly darker shade. The blending of one, two and three year lambic is apparent in the depth and complexity of the beer. Still sour, but the blended layers make it more drinkable and refreshing.

I ended by paying for a glass of the Faro, which is lambic sweetened with caramel and candied sugar. The sour fights to rise above the caramel sweetness, but loses. The dark caramel color of the beer forecasts its very sweet character. The finish of the beer is both dry and sweet because of the addition of sugar.  Authentic faro is hard to acquire because bottling it is dangerous with the high addition of sugarexcessive carbonation will explode faro bottles if left too long.  Also, person pouring the samples also said the high carbonation will ruin the flavor over time as well.

Glass of Faro in tasting room
Overall, Cantillon is a slightly touristy but interesting tour of a working lambic brewery, cobwebs and all.  I took about 90 minutes for the tour, samples and writing, but most people went through much faster and left quickly after their two samples.  The only brewery tour within the heart of Brussels, Cantillon is well worth the effort.
Coolship for getting those Belgian bugs

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A la Mort Subite (Brussels, Belgium)

7/31/12, 8/1/12

Found myself near enough Mort Subite to stop in for lunch after a morning of Flemish art at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts. Amazing how looking at Breughel and Rubens can work up a thirst.

I must look American in enough that I was warned that the Mort Subite Gueuze was served warm and that it was sour. The color of an overripe peach, there's a slight film of an off white head on the beer. Yeasty nose that's focused in spite of spontaneous fermentation. Slightly sour and fruity on the tongue. Very good and goes well gouda cheese.

I came here for lunch, in part, because another BA mentioned cheese sandwiches; I ordered the Hollande sandwich: gouda cheese on a traditional bread, just like at A la Becasse. Mustard placed on the table ahead of the sandwich arrivingto my surprise, mustard on bread with gouda cheese is pretty darn good.  I may return for more lambic and to order the omelet because it looks very good at the next table.

The bar itself is a wonderful old place that makes the stop worthwhile in and of itself, especially compared to just buying a sandwich at a street shop or frites on the street.   In addition to the range of Mort Subite beers, there's a nice selection of abbey and Trappists ales in bottles and draft.

For dessert, I had a Mort Subite Kriek.  Barlely pink head is falling quickly on a Cool-Aid red beer. Light sour cherry and yeasty nose belies the stronger fruit flavor in the mouth that's barely counterpointed by the more mellow sour of Mort Subite's base lambic. Tastes a bit like cherry sour candy in liquid form. Body is light but the flavor more than compensates. This would be a great introduction to lambic and fruit beers. It reminds me a little of New Glarus Belgian Red, but not quite as good.

Decided to end the trip with a draft or two at Mort Subite because it's easy to find in the touristy district and I think I've spent enough time at Delirium for one trip. The quieter, period bar without the thumping techno seemed like the right way to go. I had a sample of the Mort Subite Framboise at the 2005 Festival of Beer in Toronto. It rated high then and doesn't disappoint now. Strong fruit flavor without being overly sweet as the sour lambic swells up underneath to meet the challenge.  An excellent framboise for beer geek and neophyte alike.

Omelette on second visit

I tried to finish with Orval, but they were out until the next day.  On the recommendation of a new tap by the waitress, I'm ending my stay in Belgium as I started: La Trappe Quadruple.  I could live here just for La Trappe this fresh. When I get home, the top of my brewing priority is to learn how to brew a clone of this beer.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Blue Palms Brewhouse (Hollywood, CA)


Not far from our hotel on this trip, the Blue Palms Brew House was at the top of our list to try.  Near Hollywood and Vine, down the street from Mann's Chinese Theater, it's easy to be a tourist and drink great beer.  Perfect.  We liked it so much that we returned a second time during a long weekend trip.  Hopefully, that's enough of a recommendation.

Lessons learned at Blue Palms:

First, I think the entire beer world should switch to web integrated, electronic beer boards.  Check out the picture below.  The beer board is synced to the website: always up to date, always accurate and full of beery knowledge.  Can't wait until my local pubs all do this.

Second, re-drinking a brewery can be necessary to be fair.  On a tasting trip led by my sister to the wineries of the Santa Ynez Valley, including a stop at the Los Olivos Cafe before it become famous in the movie Sideways, we made a stop at the newly opened Firestone brewery and had a very disappointing stop.  This was so early in my beer journey that the tasting isn't even on the database.  Since then, I've read of Firestone Walker's rise to beer glory but I resisted.  We tried FW's 14th Anniversary Ale at the Blue Palms and it was simply spectacular.

Finally, hoppy beer and spicy food is my new favorite combo.  Being Los Angeles, we stumbled upon vegetarian food everywhere we turned, including here.  We ordered three varieties of vegan sausages on sauerkraut and I happened to have a Russian River Blind Pig in front of me when they arrived.  The Mexican Chipotle sausage blended so amazingly well with the fruity bite of the Blind Pig that we were in hog heaven.  My wife, who isn't a hop head, liked the combination so much that I lost my beer to her.  I have been in pursuit of hot and hoppy ever since.