Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Day Three in Belgium

I have to say that on the beer tour with Ale Street News, I always feel like royalty. We have stayed in beautiful ­hotels and have consumed incredible meals. This year was no exception. Wednesday night we stayed at the peaceful Priorij Corsendonk . The dinner was served in a beautiful room in the cellar. I was very happy with the scallop appetizer and of course, plenty of beer from the Brasserie du Bocq. In the morning It was sunny with a chill in the air, but I took a little stroll around the beautiful grounds anyway. It would have been very easy to stay there for a few quiet days in the countryside. 

 But alas, the group had to depart for Westmalle, our fourth stop at a Trappist brewery. The current monastery was built starting in 1836. They have a special well for the pure water they use, a secret of many of the breweies. Since the basis for beer is water, the water does have an influence on the final product. The modern cafe across the street served us generously. The dark double was surprising hoppy and not as malty as I had expected. The triple served at room temperature has a full rich flavor.  What a wonderful way to start the day! As with the other Trappist breweries, they closely guard their special strain of yeast, the magic which makes the beer sing! The monastery is sadly off limits.  We have been very lucky to have a peek inside of the others this year.

The happy beer adventurers next arrived in Lembeek at the Brouwerij Boon for a tour and tasting. Boon uses the ancient lambic  method of using wild yeast to ferment the ales. Owner Frank Boon gave a us an informative history of the brewery during his wonderful tour. They use 40% wheat in their beer and aged hops which is unusual for Belgium. The beers are aged in oak casks, the oldest of which dates back to 1883. Boon is fastidious about cleaning the casks between batches, not an easy task. The brewery is also in the middle of a total reneovation, it will be interesting to go back in serveral years to see the new brewing equipment. The question is, will the beer be the same?

The bus next headed for Sint-Pieters-Leeuw to the new Brouwerij De La Senne for a tour and tasting. We departed the bus and strolled down a long drive behind an industrial building. So may breweries in Belgium are in old buildings. It was a bit of a shock to find the brewery inside a largely empty industrial hangar type space. We were greeted by Ivan, the brewer, who was generous with delicious samples while he explained their operations. They chose the volume of space because it gives them room to grow the brewery, and expand the equipment as their business grows. Their signature beer is hoppy by Belgian standards, which is not so hoppy by the west coast scale. Ivan has been able to translate his passion for beer into liquid gold. 

There is still time to join the Ale Street news beer pilgrims for the 2012 trip, you can read about it here!

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