Leuven Beer Festival 2011

Jemma and myself were stopping in Brussels as it was ideally placed to get to Lille to see the Paris-Roubaix cycle race and also to be able to pop to Leuven for their beer festival, organised by de Leuvense Biertherapeuten.

It was not the easiest festival to get to – a short train ride from Brussels, an extremely cramped bus ride with a dog licking my foot then a 15 minute walk through the park to the festival venue.

An outside table was soon commandeered overlooking the lake and park, resulting in what must have been one of the best beer festival venues I’ve ever attended.

The range of beers was okish, although a number of them were starting to sell out by mid afternoon. Another problem was that a number of the ones I wanted to try were only available in 750ml bottles!

Antwerp and Sint-Niklaas – day 2

Zythos Beer Festival 2011

Stadsfeestzaal, Sint-Niklaas

Big.

Belgium’s biggest beer festival, held for the last time this year at the Stadsfeestzaal is Belgium’s biggest. Featuring more than 60 brewers and 200 beers, there was plenty to go at! I joined a number of UK beer tickers and sampled a range of beers. I won’t go into all the beers I tried, but a couple were worthy of mentioning –

De Dolle Brouwers Verse Vis (Fresh Fish)
A most strange beer indeed! It was brewed with no hops, had a Belgian lactic sour flavour and was made with cider yeast! There’s a quite a bit more about it on the Belgian Beer Board.

Smisje Smiske R-Ale
A dry hopped version of the Smisje Blonde, except that the beer is pumped through a pile of hops, effectively dry hopping the beer on the fly. Again, more details on the Belgian Beer Board.

Roll on next year’s festival in Leuven!

Antwerp and Sint-Niklaas – day 1

It’s my plan to visit a few more Belgian beer festivals this year. First on the list – Zythos Bier Festival in Sint-Niklaas. I stopped overnight in Antwerp and visited a few places there.

Kulminator, Antwerpen

Vleminckveld 32, Antwerpen
Mon 20.15-24, Tue-Fri 12-24, Sat 17-24, Sun closed
03 – 232 4538

Kulminator is one of those must visit places. It’s like the Eiffel Tower or Louvre if you are a ‘normal’ tourist in Paris. Or at least, that’s what I thought…

I’ve visited quite a few times now and generally, it’s been ok. The beer choice is excellent and the range of aged beers (some going back 20 and 30 years) is the best you’ll ever see. We even celebrated Jemma’s 30th birthday there a few years ago with a 30 year old beer.

The thing letting Kulminator down though is the service. If there’s only a few people in, service is not a problem. Lena will amble from bar to table to take your order, pass it to Dirk who will go into the cellar, get the beer and pass it back to Lena. Not on ZBF weekend though! The place was rammed and the only place I could find to sit was out in the smoking area. After 10 minutes of not being served, I went back inside and queued at the bar. After something like another 10 minutes, Lena took my order. The best part of 10 minutes later I left.

Ok, bars can be busy, but you have to be on top of things you’re starting to get too busy! Dirk didn’t serve – he just visited the cellar and grumbled. Anyway – things might have been a bit smarter if it wasn’t for the people looking at, sniffing at and writing an essay about their beer! Yes, you might want to have a close inspect of what you’re going to drink, but don’t write a full page of text about it! Evidently, this is very common amongst Scandinavian beer fans…

On the subject of Dirk, on my last visit back in July 2010, the place wasn’t too busy and he seemed to be stumbling around – something that he’s rather good at. All of a sudden he had a go at a customer. This customer had made the mistake of sitting at the table with the piles of magazines, newspapers and general bits of piffle and Dirk thought this customer had taken something, so we were all treated to a tirade of “you have taken something”, “get out of my bar” for about 10 minutes, all the while the customer was protesting his innocence and offering to show the contents of his bag.

After looking on Google for the bar and chatting to other beery types, it appears that these episodes are not uncommon. It’s just a shame that I’ve had lots of good visits.

After giving up, I moved back towards the main square to a street just off it and visited

‘t Antwaerps Bierhuiske, Antwerp

Hoogstraat 14, 2000 Antwerpen
Mon-Sun 12-02

Antwaerps Bierhuiske is a new place, having been open for less than a year. I first visited just after they first opened last summer. It’s a pretty average sort of bar with around 150 beers, including a good selection of slightly rarer microbrewery beers.

It’s out of the way just enough to avoid being too touristy – well worth a visit!

A few doors up, I spotted a bar I’d not heard of before…

Cafe Den Billekletser

Hoogstraat 22, 2000 Antwerpen
+32 32 31 34 48

Sign outside advertising 280 beers, so entered to find a basic tiled floor with plain tables and chairs and around 60 empty bottles in the windows. The menu only contained around 30 beers so when I asked for the rest, the young lass said they didn’t have a printed list and she would bring me what I wanted. When I said that I wanted something that was a tick, she was confused… Further probing found out that they have around 280 beers, but with 100 available at anyone time.

Prices reasonable but once again, very smoky. Might be worth another look at if they actually tell folk what they sell!

And to finish up that evening…

Biercentral

de Keyserlei 25, 2018 Antwerpen

2 minutes from Centraal Station, providing you use the right door.

Large pub, seeming to cater for all sorts during the day and yoof at night. Loud dj wouldn’t be out of place on a UK high street pub at a weekend, but with several hundred beers. They at 20 draught and more than 300 bottles. Lots of bog standard beers, but lots of rarer ones too in the custom printed catalogue.

Good to see that it’s somewhere away from the normal darkened, smoky front rooms and might have a bit of appeal to the younger drinker.

Belgian smoking laws gone mad?

After the mammoth trip sourcing beer, we had a bit of time spare so we headed to a small cafe (that shall remain nameless) for a bite to eat.

Now, whereas I prefer to visit bars that are non smoking, some of them are not and that’s a fact of life. Some pubs in the UK get around their smoking ban by erecting shelters that often do little to keep cigarette smoke out of the bar area.

As I understand it, the law in Belgium now states that if you are a bar under a certain size then you can allow smoking. If you are over a certain size then you must have a separate area, but judging by some of these, the separate area just needs to be a different bit of the bar – there needs to be no partition or anything!

Anyway, when we arrived at the bar-that-is-unnamed, the menu on the wall had gone. I asked the lady if they did food, and she more or less said that they did it ‘on the side’ and we would have to eat it in a separate room otherwise if she was caught by the authorities, she would have to “pay an amount”!

We had our meal in the separate room, and it was still just as smoky as the main room…

Driving round Belgium looking for beer

Between October and April, P&O Ferries have a special price starting at £74 for a car + 2 people for the overnight sailing between Hull and Zeebrugge and return. As this gives a full day in Belgium, many beer places can be visited…

Drankencentraal Rotsaert, Zedelgem

Remi Claeysstraat 28, Zedelgem
Mon-Fri 9-12, 13-18; Sat 9-12, 13-17; Sun Closed
050 20 94 98

A well established beer warehouse in the area that I’d not visited before. With perhaps around 500 beers on offer (although there didn’t seem anywhere near that number in the warehouse), 50 or so of them were new for me. My excitement for being able to get a couple of crates of ‘winners’ soon waned when I saw that most of them were only available in 4 packs that they’d assembled themselves. Sorry Mr Rotsaert – that meant I bought less, not more.

Half an hour or so along the motorway is the tiny brewery of

Alvinne, Heule

 

Brewery and shop have relocated to Moen

Mellestraat 138, Heule
Open alternate Saturdays 10:30-16, or by appointment
0486 555314

Firstly, the opening hours may seem at first a bit sparse, but in reality, I’ve never found them closed! All it takes is a quick email to the address on their website or a message on Facebook and there’s someone there.

The brewery and beer shop are very easy to miss. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve screeched to a halt after I’ve gone past, only to reverse back to it!

Climbing into the upstairs part of the brewery reveals what is perhaps one of the regions best beer shops. They leave all the others in the area to stock the common (and not so common) beers – Alvinne stock the excellent and rare to find beers, not just from Belgium, but Denmark, Norway, Germany, France, USA and a few others as well as their own range of beers.

To be honest, their own range of beers are out of this world and range from the inky black (but not ‘burnt’) Balthazar to the hop fests of Gaspar and the Hoptrilogy range.

Give them a call and pop in – you won’t be disappointed.

Next on the list to visit were

Brasserie Vanuxeem

Rue d’Armentières 150, Ploegsteert
Mon-Sat 08-18:50; Sun closed
056 58 89 23

Firstly, Brasserie Vanuxeem is not a brewery – it’s a warehouse! It’s situated in an enclave of the Hainaut province. Even though it’s surrounded by Flemish speaking Belgium and the nearest part of Hainaut is miles away, this collection of 4 or 5 small towns speak French. The town name – Ploegsteert is a Flemish name, but don’t let that fool you. Speak Flemish and you’ll be treated like a weirdo.

Anyhow, Brasserie Vanuxeem have a house brand beer- ‘Queue de Charrue’. Until recently, they had 3 beers – Blonde (9%), Brune and Ambree. These were brewed by three different breweries (Van Steenberge, Verhaeghe-Vichte and Du Bocq respectively). Then, the Blonde was renamed ‘Triple’. More recently, in 2008, a new Blonde was launched at 6.6% and brewed by Du Bocq also. The three original beers came in 250ml bottles, but this new Blonde arrives in a 330ml bottle. Finally, the Ambree now is in a 330ml bottle with the new style label – I’m not sure if this is just part of their rebranding or if it’s brewed elsewhere. Phew!

To summarise –
Blonde 9% – brewed by Van Steenberge and now known as Triple in 250ml bottles
Brune – brewed by Verhaeghe-Vichte in 250ml bottles
Ambee – brewed by Du Bocq originally in 250ml bottles, but now in 330ml and probably still brewed by Du Bocq
Triple 6.6% – brewed by Du Bocq in 330ml bottles.

As well as this quartet, they have around 500 other beers to choose from, as well as spirits, wine, soft drinks and anything else you might want need to run a cafe in Belgium, ranging from cup a soups to little biscuity snacks. I’ve always enjoyed visiting but sadly now, most of their beers I’ve tried before. I’ll still keep going as prices are very competitive and the wife likes the Queue de Charrue Blonde. Or is it Triple?

Following a trip to the supermarket, we headed north along the motorway back in the direction of Zeebrugge and called in at …

Bierboom, Brugge

Langestraat 73, Brugge
Mon-Tue 10-19, Wed closed, Thu-Sat 10-19, Sun closed (although website says it’s open)
050 34 99 36

I’d heard a lot about this cafe / shop and to be honest, it’s interesting. There’s a good selection of beers – not the biggest but reasonable, and always a tick or two for me! You can take the bottles away or enjoy them with one or two Jupiler drinking locals at the rear of the shop for no extra charge! Probably the cheapest place in Brugge to drink beer.

Cask Corner, Doncaster

Cask Corner, Doncaster

Cleveland Street, Doncaster
01302 366277
Mon – Sun 11 – close (varies between 11 and 1ish)

Derby has them, so does Sheffield. Even Birmingham! Doncaster has never really had a bar that’s had more than 4 or 5 real ales, apart from the the three Wetherspoons branches in the town, until a few months ago, Cask Corner opened.

Admittedly, they got off to a bit of a shaky start with the beers – probably selling far more than they thought. Now there’s 10 beers, including three from Toad Brewery (owned by same people as Cask Corner) along with two draught ciders and another one or two ciders direct from the barrel, 5 ‘proper’ lagers, 2 draught fruit beers and around 100 bottled beers that would rival any Belgian bar.

They don’t stock anything ‘mainstream’ which is always amusing when the uneducated come in and ask for a “Carling or something like that”.

Cask Corner don’t mind you bringing in your own food and there’s free wifi too!

Update: Toad Brewery are no longer in existence, fewer ciders are sold and the foreign selection is much smaller. There’s also loud music on many evenings.

Getting hold of Westvletern

Article copied from my other blog

4 simple steps to buying Westvleteren beer:

1) Visit http://www.sintsixtus.be/eng/brouwerijactueel.htm and see when the beer is available. It’s now shown in a coloured chart! Call the (+32 (0)70/21.00.45 at the time shown on the chart, but be prepared to wait and be persistent – I often try probably 30 or 40 times over a 2 1/2 hour period.

2) Drive to Westvleteren at the allotted time (usually in the week after the reservation day).

3) Collect the beer, pay the man and jump with joy.

4) Go across the road to In de Vrede and sample a glass of the beer you have just bought (not the actual ones you’ve bought but one of theirs!). Watch how it’s poured and take note of the temperature for when you get yours home. You might also be able to get the other beers in the shop, but this is limited to 6 bottles per person and is not always available. Be sensible if you’re driving – the beers are quite strong so I wouldn’t suggest doing both. The cheese they sell is also rather nice.

Glasses – make sure you buy a couple of glasses. A standard trappist glass will do, but I’m sure that the beer tastes better still from the right glass. The monastery sell them in boxes of 6 and In de Vrede individually.

Old beer

Some beers are promoted to taste better ‘fresh’. These tend to be the bland, tasteless factory produced rubbish.

On the other hand, some beers are better with age. My stash of Westvleteren is aging well at the moment with a case of 8 being just over 3 years old now.

Some bars feature aged beers – Kulminator in Antwerp have a fantastic list. Not so well advertised is the famous Delirium Cafe in Bruxelles – they have a number of older beers on their menu but are not advertised so – you just have to pick a beer that isn’t that common and hope it’s an older one.

This leads me on to a ‘find’ that Filip Geerts from Belgian Beer Board discovered. He was visiting the abbey at Westvleteren to collect some beer and stumbled across a case of really old Westvleteren 12. He managed to procure a couple of bottles.

After drinking one, he presented the other to a Vintage Tasting Event at Brugge Bier Festival the other week – more details here.

I was at the festival – if only I’d seen the info on his blog in enough time! *cry*!

Euro beer trip day 8 – Back to Cantillon

Is 15 minutes enough time to get from Bruxelles Midi to the Cantillon Brewery, buy beer and get back to the station? Yes if you’re mad.

Cantillon, Bruxelles / Brussel

Rue Gheude / Gheudestraat 56, Bruxelles / Brussel
Mon-Fri 08:30-17; Sat 10-17
025 21 49 28

Having heard of two new brews – Fou’Foune – which is not really new, but just doesn’t get brewed very often and because of the availability of the particular variety of apricots used, only a small batch is made. As well as this, a one off ‘Zwanze’ had been bottled – Mamouche. I’d already got some of the earlier batch of white beer Zwanze, but this one was brewed with elderflowers – and according to the label, all picked by hand.

As well as being able to buy beer, you can take a tour of the brewery, or ‘Museum of Gueuze’ as it’s also known.

Euro beer trip day 7 – 4de Brugs Bier Festival and a few bars in Brugge

After lunch at Eetcafe Leopold in ‘t Zand, we headed back to the Festival for our second shift. Both of us were allocated to security duties, so the drinking had to wait! As soon as our stint was over though, we had a good selection of beers to try before the festival closed.

Once again, we both enjoyed working. The guys from BAB (Brugse Autonome Bierproevers) made us more than welcome and hopefully will be back next year (if they’ll have us).

There were three bars I wanted to try before we went back to the hotel – @the Pub, old favourite ‘t Brugse Beertje and the spanking new Comptoir des Arts.

@the Pub

Hallenstraat 4, Brugge
Daily 17-03 (or later!)
0477 26 07 40

It’s quite a nice bar, with a ‘lounge bar’ feel to it with comfy settees and leather sofas etc. The beer list numbers around 100, although everyone seemed to be persuaded to have Malheur! Looking by the amount of Malheur tat around the place (beer mats, beer mat holders, signs…), he must have had rather a large job lot of the stuff!

Last time I visited, I had what could be probably classed more or less as home brew – there wasn’t any other name given for it! The owner brewed the beer at home and brought it to sell at the bar. Sadly, he’s not brewing at the current time.

I’ve heard a few reports about the rudeness of the staff. Indeed, I’ve encountered it, but there were no problems this time.

‘t Brugs Beertje

Kemelstraat 5, Brugge
Mon-Tue 16-01, Wed closed, Thu-Sun 16-02
050 33 96 16

At the top of their website, it says ”t Brugs Beertje, een speciaal bierhuis in het hart van Brugge !’ – which translates as ‘t Brugs Beertje, a special beerhouse in the centre of Brugge !’ – and they’re not wrong.

I’ll go into more detail on their next visit, but the excellent customer service from Daisy and her staff, the superb beer choice and the general ambience make this a ‘must do’ if you’re in Brugge, or even just Belgium – make a special trip!

I find it a little strange though that every time I go into ‘tBB, I’m greeted by name! I think I’ve been there a few too many times!

Comptoir des Arts

Vlamingstraat 53, Brugge
Daily 18-03, closed Tuesday
0494 38 79 61

You won’t find this bar in any of the guidebooks yet as it’s only been open barely a month! Situated just over the road from Poatersgat, this underground bar seems to just have that little ‘something’ that makes it special.

As we entered, I was greeted with a friendly “hello Lee” and a handshake by Bram – formerly of ‘t Brugs Beertje. The bar was busy, but had a sort of a quiet ambiance about it – there was gentle chatter in the air, but not overpowering and not raucous! It was just the right atmosphere to enjoy a 3 year old (although I suspect it was more) St Bernadus 8.

Euro beer trip day 6 – 4de Brugs Bier Festival

Last year, Jerry and myself somehow ended up being volunteers at the rather very good Brugs Bier Festival. Keen to repeat the experience, we ended up there this year.

After ending up helping with the finishing touches to the festival, we both ended up working on a beer stand selling a the rather nice La DJean Triple from the Sainte Hélène brewery. This took us up ’till 2pm and we had the rest of the day to enjoy the festival.

It did get rather hot in the hall, but there was plenty of outside seating – it was just a bit of a trek running up and downstairs for the beer!

Euro beer trip day 5 – A few Flemish bars

Rembrandt, Zedeldgem

Tourhoutsesteenweg 164, Zedelgem
Mon-Wed Closed; Thu, Fri 11 – close; Sat, Sun 10 – close
050/200808

It’s not that easy to find this bar, unless you follow the directions correctly! Leave the station, crossing the line if you’ve arrived from the Brugge direction. Walk along Ruddervoordestraat until you get to the roundabout, then turn left along Tourhoutsesteenweg and you’ll the find the bar. Alternatively, turn left on Sint-Elooistraat, cut across the front of the church, and walk up to the main road, turning left when you do. Either way will take around 15 minutes.

Once inside, you’ll find a cosy bar, covered in knick-knacks, many of which are La Chouffe orientated or from the bar’s branch of Club Brugge KV supports club.

A beer list of 114 beers contains the usual suspects, the main surprise being the De Leeuw Blonde and Bruin. Draught la Chouffe is a speciality, as is Chouffe coffee.

De Zalm, Roeselare

Grote Markt, Roselare
Mon, Thu – Sat 07 – close; Tue 07 – afternoon; Wed closed; Sun 11 – close
051/200081

Situated on the corner of the main square in Roeselare is Rodenbach’s jewel in it’s crown. Normally, Rodenbach beer is a blend of ‘Foederbier’ – (their beer that has been matured in wooden fermenters) with younger beer and caramel for colour and sweetness. De Zalm on the other hand sell draught Rodenbach Foederbier – quite sour and a bit like a lambic. A few other websites say that this is served though British style handpumps, but when I popped my head round the door, I never noticed these. Perhaps they were removed during the refurbishment at the end of 2009. Also available is Palm ‘Ongefilterde’ (Unfiltered).

The other 30 or so beers aren’t particularly exciting, but the two ‘specials’ more than make up for it, especially if you can sit out in the sun and enjoy them like we did!

t Walhalla, Roeselare

Zuidstraat 30, Roeselare
Thu, Fri, Sat 16-2230; Sun 18-22
051/247543

Modern, open looking bar with soft lighting and candles on each table. Didn’t try the food but looks rather interesting. Average beer list numbering 51, although this included 5 De Dolle Brouwers beers and a house beer. It’s only listed on the menu as ‘Walkure’ and the only information they would divulge is that it’s from somewhere in the Ardennes region. Bit on the pricey side too. [Update: from the end of September, they claim to have over 100 beers]

Kroegske, Emelgem

Vijfwegenstraat 35, Emelgem (use Izegem railway station)
Thu-Sun

From the railway station, walk up the ramp to join the road bridge that goes over the railway. Follow the road to the roundabout and take the road facing you – Vijfwegenstraat. Kroegske is a little further along on your left hand side.

Now, this is one of those bars that needs a good few hours to do justice to a visit. Jerry didn’t fancy counting the number of beers in the list, but there’s over 400… Their website, along with other reports mention about the do’s and don’ts in the bar, but we found the owners, Danny and Nadine, to be perfectly agreeable, although service could have been a bit livelier.

Their house beers, brewed at Alvinne but by the Kroegske owners are available too.

It’s not as easy to get to as some other bars, but I just hope it’s far enough off the tourist trail…

Euro beer trip day 4 – Wuppertal / Koeln

9 Sep
Most of today was spent travelling from Prague, changing at Dresden, Lepzig and Hannover. After a quick look round Wuppertal, we headed for Köln. Köln’s main export (as far as beer is concerned!) is Kölsch.

Kölsch is a pale golden lager type beer with a bit of hoppiness and it’s all pretty much the same. I’m sure seasoned drinkers will be able to tell the difference between them and have their favourites, but they were all pretty similar to me. Generally, the beer is served in 200ml glasses known as ‘stange’ by be-apronned (is that a word?) Köbes. Depending on where you drink and how much of a local / how gullible you are, the Köbe will bring you another glass as soon as the one you’re drinking is empty.

Anyway – we did call at various bars serving Kölsch, namely

Brauhaus Sion
(Sion Kölsch)
Peters Brauhaus (Peter’s Kölsch)
Alter Markt Treff (Gilden Kölsch)
Kalisse (Suenner Kölsch)

Euro beer trip day 2 – Praha

After arriving in Praha, having a quick shower in the hotel, I was soon out with Jerry exploring the sites of Praha. Not the usual touristy sites (apart from a quick visit to Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí).

First port of call was

Ferdinanda

Opletavova 1597/24, Praha
Mon-Sat 11-23
222 244 302

Pleasant cellar bar with strange decoration. All the bit and bobs around the bar are made from old tools – the coat hooks are the heads from rakes, ash trays are trowels etc… Ferdinand beers available, including the excellent Sedm Kuli.

Lunch was at

Havelská Koruna

Havelská 501/23, Praha 1
Mon-Sat 09-18
224 239 310

The beer’s not particularly great – just Gambrinus and Pilsner Urquell, but the food is traditional Czech. When you enter, you are issued with a piece of paper. Don’t lose or or you’re fined something daft like the equivalent of £15. Next, queue up in the snake like queue, decide what you want and order. It’s slapped on your plate and the bit of paper scribbled on to show what you’ve ordered. Choose a beer and then find a table. Some of the staff do speak a little English, but if you learn to say “vepřové, knedlíky a zelí ” you’ll get the good old staple of pork, dumplings and sauerkraut.

On the way out, hand the stern lady behind the till your paper and she’ll work out your bill.

U dvou koček

Uhelný trh 415/10, Praha 1
Daily 11-23
224 229 982

I’ve walked past this place countless times – on this visit to Praha we went in as it now brews its own beers. They supposedly brew svetle, polotmavy and tmavy, although they only had the svetle when we were there, saying that the beer was too popular for them to keep up with demand!

As we were in the area, it would seem a shame not to visit

Potrefená husa, Anděl

Nádražní 23, Praha 5
Sun-Wed 1130-01, Thu-Sat 1130-02
257 941 669

Part of Staropramen’s ever growing chain of restaurant pubs, this branch is in the brewery buildings! Allegedly the only place to get the unfiltered (nefiltrovaný) Staropraman – I can’t dispute this as I’ve not seen it elsewhere! But on this occasion I decided to try the new Staropramen 11. The restaurant is actually really nice – I’ve eaten there before and the food is good and the decor is quite modern. The only downside is that they allow smoking, but that’s still pretty much par for the course anywhere in the Czech Republic.

Next port of call –

u klokočníka

Na Veselí 702/48 , Praha 4
Daily 10-22
261 224 717

A proper Czech boozer! Basic interior, plastic topped tables and a thick smoky fog that makes your eyes smart before you’ve even sat down! They served four beers from the Kacov brewery – Hubertus 10 and 12, both available in ‘normal’ and unfiltered varieties.

Zlý Časy

Čestmírova 5, Praha 4
Mon-Thu 11-2330, Fri 11-01, Sat 17-01, Sun 17-23

One of Prague’s best ‘ticker’ pubs with a selection of 12 beers on draught (including a Brew Dog beer while we were there!) but was just a touch on the busy side leaving us to squeeze in to tables with other folk. It soon thinned out, affording us a stool at the bar. A must visit.