Friday, August 03, 2007

We had a day visit from J shortly after returning from France (I know, I know, I'm still 1.5 months behind). He greeted us with bountiful supply of Cincinnati chili mix packets. Just add meat and tomato paste (and cheese and hot sauce and sour cream and spaghetti and beans...) mmmm! He had been touring the countryside (he was adopted by a contingent from the New Belgium Brewery at one point) and sampling some of Belgium's finest beers, and was interested in exploring some breweries near the capital. The place he was targeting was just outside of town, in Beersel, far enough so the Brussels transit system didn't go there but too close to get there by train without having to take one out and then a second one to get closer in. So we took a tram to the end of the line and then hoofed it the remaining way. It was a beautiful day, perfect for this sort of thing.

...Until about five minutes after we hit the pavement, at which point it started pouring rain. We hid in a bus shelter until it tapered off, then went on our way again, tailed a few minutes later by another bout of rain. By this time we had arrived at the town and so we ducked into someone's recessed doorway. We must've made too much noise because it wasn't long before a light came on and we heard some voices on the other side of the door, so we got out of there before they could call the cops. Thankfully that was the end of the rain for the time being.

Oud Beersel Brewery is only open to the public on weekends, as it is run by people who have full-time jobs. There was a guy from Annapolis there, although we both claimed to be from Washington, D.C. when asked. Small world. We noted on our brief tour that the brewery was full of musty old charm, since it's been around a while. The previous owner retired a few years ago and shut the place down, only to have it restarted by two younger men passionate about beer. The retiree lives in the adjoining building, so he is there frequently to offer his good counsel.

After seeing the place, they offered us a taste of their three beers. The Old Gueuze really hit the spot, but after the samples we were all beginning to feel the effects due to our empty stomachs. Fortunately, the small town contains not one but two breweries, and the second had a restaurant, so we bought some beer and made our way back to the Drie Fonteinen for some grub. We got a pitcher of on-tap lambic to share. The pitchers were in a traditional style, grey with blue patterns, that beer has been served in since time immemorial. While the rain again let loose, J ordered a dessert with Schaerbeek cherries, which were used to make kriek beer before Schaerbeek became built up and they began importing them from Poland, and told us about his hopes of opening a brewpub in Cincinnati someday.

Once the rain let up we hit the store, bought some more beer, and went to see the castle after which the city was named. In contrast to the French piles of rocks we were accustomed to seeing, this one appeared to be in relatively decent shape. We picked up another dog on the way there, a shaggy golden retriever, who we declined to name in the hopes that he wouldn't latch onto us. He did, and after paying the admission fee we had to deny to the gatekeeper that we knew anything about him.

The castle was totally cool and afforded tons of stair climbing opportunities. Also you could pretend you were bombing the tourists with flaming tar waaay down below. The only off-note was that the moat was empty. One could hardly be expected to keep the angry hordes at bay when all they had to do was step through a couple feet of icky muckiness.

After tramping all through the castle and looking in all the nooks and crannies, we decided it was time to head back into town. We took the Flemish region bus line this time, paying more but walking much less. We took a brief breather at our house, then headed out to sample more beer. Michael Jackson directed us to this hole in the wall right off the Grand Place for lambic that they still sweeten in the old fashioned manner. We shared a pitcher of it over dinner.

For a digestive, we went to another bar that's hard to find and contains a strange combination of locals and those who seek it out. We had a beer, reminisced about all our good times together, and then went to aNOTHer, more popular spot, Delirium Tremens, which is a place that everyone who ever visited Belgium is always telling us to go to, but we had never braved the tourist throngs before. There we found the New Belgium crew that J had met up with earlier in his trip. They seemed like a nice bunch, and I'm glad that (a) the company supports their staff to the extent that they send 5-year employees to Europe and (b) they're making Belgian-style beer with a good reputation in the U.S.

After sharing a beer with Jack and noting that, for whatever reason, the Jennekin Pis was actually turned on for once, we took J back to his hotel. Sadly, we missed the last metro by that point (the cops who were standing at the entrance to the station flapping their jaws didn't point this out and let us go down there, validate our tickets, then figure it out), so we walked back home with our super-full bladders.

You may be under the impression at this point that the three of us are raging drunks for all the beer we consumed, but I'd like to point out that it was over a period of 12 or 13 hours and we studiously avoided driving any vehicles. Also, most of them were lighter lambic-based beers.

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