A Fantastic Beer Day in Western Belgium
Trip Start Jun 17, 2010
11Trip End Jun 28, 2010
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We enjoy nice conversation with Elke our hostess at the B&B over breakfast of fresh breads, eggs, sliced meats and coffee. We are in no hurry this morning. Elke and her mate have been able to accomplish what I have tried for weeks and not been able to do, score us some Westvleteren 12 in the bottle. Her father and mate even drove to Westvleteren to pick it up. She says her father has also sent over some special beers for us to look over as he is a beer collector and has some things we might be interested in. I delight in watching Marshall’s eyes get all glittery with glee
We leave for our 11am appointment for a brewery tour of Alvinnes in plenty of time as Elke has warned us it is tricky to find for the first time visitor. Good thing, as it did take a couple pass bys to find it. Though located on a main drag, its entrance is down an alley way. Once there, you find plenty of off street parking. We make our way to the entrance and meet up with Mark (who says his last name is too difficult) of Alvinnes. He is one of three employees there and his specialty is yeast. He explained his journey into yeast cultivation from gathering air born yeast samples (micro flora) from France and cultivating them over a two year period to get just what he wanted. He now has his own strain of yeast that is used exclusively at Alvinnes. We are upstairs in their tasting room which is accomplished rather precariously up temporary metal stairs that lead to narrow, short width stairs at a 75% angle up into the attic tasting room and bottle sales room. In the latter we find all kinds of specialty beers for sale. We study them for some time and realize we are better off to order them from their online service and pay shipping rather than add to our luggage situation. We enjoy tasting and talking with Mark for several hours
We leave there and stop in a neighboring city for lunch at Het Smulhuis in Gullegem BE. This is a busy little bakery on the main drag that specializes in sandwiches. We enjoy a freshly baked French bread sandwich filled with sliced meats and vegetables including julienned carrots. Unusual but extremely delicious.
We head off to the National Hop Museum in Poperinge BE. The ride is peaceful through the flatlands. It is funny to see vegetable gardens right up next to villages. Every bit of space is utilized. We go through the 3 story museum and learn of how hops was the major crop of this town and how it was harvested, dried, and packaged in 75kg bales. As we leave we spot hop vines towering over 10 feet high and snap a few pictures.
Not too far away we head to one of the big destinations for a true beer lover, Westvleteren Sint Sixtus Brewery. I had tried calling for weeks to get an appointment to purchase beer (www.sintsixtus.be) but never got through. Thanks Elke for trying over 300 hundred times and scoring for us! We hop in to visit En De Vredes to taste Westvleteren 8 and Westvleteren 12 in side by side tastes in their cafe/beer garden across the street from the abbey. The place is huge, it must seat 300 in its indoor and outdoor seating areas. They serve light food but we pass on that and wait patiently to be served the nectar of the Gods. Westvleteren 8 was a dry, crisp, dark beer with malt subdued. It was somewhat light bodied and thirst quenching. The World's Best Beer accordining to ratings, Westvleteren 12, was an amazingly complex dark beer with heavy malt and hops and varying degrees of all flavors as it passes over the tongue and settles with a decidely warm finish in your belly. It was outstanding and I am glad to experience. Strangely though I am still recalling the McChouffe I had a few days ago and think it is still my new favorite.
We continue on the coast of Belgium bordering the North Sea. We find a bustling touristy beach area. As with many areas across Europe, this area is dotted with relics from the wars
It is rather chilly with the wind coming off the ocean, but everyone is in bathing suits or sundresses and doesn’t seem to mind a bit. There are high rises and more modern looking buildings, busy train stations with trains packed like sardines full of people. We continue northerly up the coast towards our destination, Oostende. Mark at Alvinnes told us of De Bistronoom and we must visit while on the coast. We arrive at the tail end of some kind of festival which we later learn from our restaurant hosts is one giant frat party that business owners can’t wait till is over. We luckily find a parking spot within one block of our destination and take off on foot with Gertie in hand so we can find it on more one way streets and people crowded avenues. We arrive as the first ones in to De Bistronoom (debistronoom.be) right off the main road in the center of Oostende. What a fantastic recommendation this turned out to be. We realize this will be good when we walk inside and in the center of the room is a large round table with two tiers of Belgian beers spotlighted on display
We decide to go with his suggestions and start with a bottle of Omer Belgian Strong Blonde Ale. This beer just won first place in its category at the Antwerp Beer Passie festival. The beer was golden blonde with lasting creamy head. It tasted smooth, silky and full of subtle flavors of malt and hops without being overpowering in any direction with a slightly dry finish. Gustaf brings out our appetizer course of three selections. A pate made with Duvel IPA reduction over balsamic greens. Fresh herring marinated in a Belgian blonde over sun dried tomatoes and a fresh gazpacho soup made with peach beer. Each was so unique and exquisite it was delightful and paired very well with the Omer.
Our main course was served with Gustaf’s own special creation of beer made with champagne yeast, cardamom, with hop sachets left in the bottle for extra flavor. It was a delightful almost Witte looking beer with hints of the cardamom, subtle champagne bubbles on the tongue, and a delightful crisp dry finish. Served with our cod was the excellent choice as we were served a lovely slice of butter pan seared cod, finished in the oven with fresh sautéed vegetables and the most wonderful buttery goodness mashed potatoes with green chives I have ever tasted finished with a beurre blanc sauce using witte beer in lieu of lemon
We walk around Oostende and find everyone has left and the trash strewn streets are now free of party goers. We make our way to the North Sea and find a trash laden beach, relics of party goers like empty beer bottles, wine, and cigarette butts. It is sad to see. We enjoy a walk down to the water which is still very cold. Having walked off dinner, we return to our car for the 40 minute ride back to Het Bintjeshof for a sound night’s sleep. A most excellent day indeed. Bon Soire!