One of the best parts about travel – especially travel that involves drinking and dining well – is coming back and sharing what you found with friends. Stories of amazing meals and beautiful sights, photos that capture it all in vivid color…it’s like reliving the trip. But the real joy comes in sharing the goodies you bring back with you.
After a recent trip to Belgium, our friends Itty Bitty Betty and the Bacon Terrorist offered us plenty of all three. We asked I.B.B. to share with you, too.
Sorry…we finished all the beer.
-Elizabeth and Mike
While we all reap the benefits of D.C.’s growing love affair with Belgian beer, actually visiting Belgium last year gave me new appreciation for my favorite decadent, boozy brews. I am lucky that my boyfriend, the Bacon Terrorist, and I share a fascination with triples, doubles, lambics, and all of their delectable contemporaries. After talking about going to Belgium for years to enjoy them in their natural habitat, I was thrilled when we finally booked the trip.
Arriving in Brussels, our mission was simple: seek and imbibe every beer we had never seen in the States, and if we knocked back a few old favorites along the way, even better. This was actually harder than it sounds. While we think of Belgium as a brewtopia, where every bar contains magical brews you’ve never heard of before, most bars carry a similar selection of drafts (e.g. Leffe, Stella Artois, and Maes Pils – think Belgian Heineken). Still, we didn’t have to go too far off the beaten path to find unique bars with local brews that don’t frequently journey over the Atlantic.
For “must-visit” bars in Brussels, we recommend Toone, a bar and puppet theater in one. Unlike other bars in the area, Toone is not nearly as touristy. They have a modest selection of beers, including Oud Beersel Oude Kriek, an earthy cherry lambic with all the essence of cherry, but without the added sugar of more popular DeTroch and Lindemans brands. Beware though, for those used to these brands, or the Huyghe Floris beers, the Oude Kriek will be acidic and sharp in comparison. While you can get Oude Kriek in the D.C. area (Brickskeller and Rustico carry it), my better half just couldn’t help himself after Toone’s proprietor gushed about how it contained “Four kilograms of ze cherries…per gallon!”
Another bar worth grabbing a drink (or four) in is Delirium Café, which offers a full draft selection of the entire Huyghe catalogue, and a rowdy dive-bar atmosphere. The Cantillon brewery is another fun stop in the neighborhood, complete with self-guided tour and a tasty pour of lambics at the end.
Other standout beers were Ciney Brown, Mort Subite (“the sudden death”), and Grottenbier, a modern version of a Belgian “Grotto” or “cave” beer. [picture of ciney brown and mort subit in glasses] We also procured a few bottles of the infamous Westvleteren, a beer so famous it requires no label, and a favorite of beer snobs worldwide. We brought a bottle of all three styles (Blonde, 8, and 12) home to share with good friends, including some of our favorite drinking buddies, Mike and Elizabeth. We didn’t think Westvleteren fully lived up to the hype (for some, Westvleteren is akin to the holy grail), but they were definitely delicious.
While Brussels is a necessary stop on any beer lover’s journey, a day trip to Bruges was our favorite part of the trip (only an hour by train, and $48 round trip—a steal considering Bruges is one of the most breathtaking places we’ve ever seen). The Brugse Zot brewery was one of the more memorable stops on our tour de beer. Sure, it’s a standard tourist stop, but sometimes you should follow the wisdom of the crowds. This small operation is the only active brewery in Bruges, and you can view the entire city from its rooftop. After a tour around the facilities, you are rewarded with a hearty pour of the Brugse Zot Blonde, and a seat in the romantic garden outside the brewery. The temperature the day we visited was 92° F, so the refreshing coriander and orange finish of this beer was a welcome treat.
Overall, the trip reminded us that while Blue Moon tastes better than Bud, at the end of the day it really can’t compare to a freshly poured glass of Sterkens White, or a Cantillon Gueuze straight from the brewer’s hands.