ALE Spring 2002 No. 305

Lambic Monster in the Low Countries

[Editor's note: Unfortunately there is no Continental Beer Styles article this issue; this is because Lambic Monster keeps going on holiday - sorry, research trips.]

Part 1: The 24-Hour Trip

There we were (me, Malcolm and a few other friends) in early November, at a freezing cold Dover at silly o'clock for another research trip - a 5 o'clock boat, then a drive to Amsterdam to visit a couple of Dutch friends of mine (and a beer festival). Arriving at midday Dutch time, we headed off to the centre to find some food, handily enough just as the Brouwerij `T IJ opened.

This is Amsterdam's first brew pub, and has an excellent range of beers. Interestingly, all their beers apart from the Plzen (a pilsen-style beer) are top fermented, which makes them ales. The tasting house is only open from 3 to 9 Wed to Sun, as it is not a proper bar and does not have a full licence, and it only sells the `T IJ beers. Don't miss it though; it is about the best (and cheapest!) place to drink in Amsterdam. After a few Plzens and a couple of Bocks, we were treated to a tour around the brewery by one of the brewers. This naturally involved sampling the Zatte (golden tripel 8%), Natte (amber bitter 6.5%), Struis (8.5% dark barley wine, head busting) and Colombus (9% amber supertripel, hold on to your socks!) so pretty soon we decided that more food was called for!

Unfortunately, the De Groene Olifant (Leeuw beers plus specials) was full, so we tried the Boulevard. This was full as well, but at least we managed to get in the door and have one of their marvellous guest bock beers!

(Note: Bock was prevalent in the city at the time because the annual Bock Beer Festival had been on the week before. Organised by PINT, the Dutch drinkers organisation, this festival is usually held in early November. See the PINT web site for more information.)

From there we rejoined our Dutch hosts at `T Arendsnest, which specialises in Dutch small and microbrewery beers - and what a fantastic selection! I remember the place when it used to be one of three Beiaard's in the city, and was sad to hear of its demise. It is now back, with a lovely wood panel refurbishment and is cosy. Amongst the large quantity of Dutch microbrewery beers that were consumed, the one that particularly sticks in the mind was the Jopen Hopenbier on tap, Yum! However, as we needed to get a reasonable start to Antwerp the next day, we retired early (for us!) at just after midnight.

So, next morning, the Magnificent 7 struck out for Antwerp - only we nearly didn't make it: Dutch Railways strikes again! (And you reckon trains from Cambridge are bad!) We had to change in Rotterdam (although it was supposed to be direct), our train was late and they didn't hold the connection, so we had to wait an extra hour in Rotterdam. And of course all the good bars were too far from the station to drop in for a beer. Grrrr!

Fortunately, we got there in the end, dumped our bags at our hotel, and arrived at the 24-hour beer festival just after 3 p.m. And it was heaving! I have never seen it so busy. (Possibly this is because it had moved to a slightly smaller, but just as architecturally impressive, venue this year.) The beer range was excellent, so I set out to do some serious tasting (if I can get them, I've identified a couple of surprises for the Cambridge Beer Festival foreign bar).

When food was called for, we headed for `T Pakhuis, a brewpub a little way from the centre, which does three excellent beers. The food is also excellent, and I would recommend the place wholeheartedly.

After a mellow dinner, we returned to the festival, where we bumped into a lot of old friends from the UK and other places. And then all of a sudden it was 1.30 a.m. `Eh? I thought you were open till 2 a.m.' `Sorry, we have to clear the hall.' Grrrr!

However, all was not lost: I know a lovely little bar just near the cathedral that is open till it closes. (By this time we were down to the Magnificent 3, as both the Dutch boys and two of the English boys had flaked out!) So then followed a couple or three beers in The Paters Vatje - and almost a punch up, as I managed to knock my beer over the balcony and onto a Belgian couple. Luckily they were OK about it.

Sunday (and yes, I did get up for breakfast!) saw us heading back to Amsterdam, as most of the other bars we wanted to visit in Antwerp didn't open until the afternoon, and the Dutch lads had to get back anyway. Dutch Railways notwithstanding, we made it back eventually, and set off for more beers in Amsterdam. [Editor's note: Readers will be glad to know that I have omitted Lambic Monster's lengthy fulminations about Dutch Railways in the interests of brevity and world peace.]

Without a second thought it was straight out to the `T IJ for some more fabulous beers before seeking out food. Again, the Olifant was full, but we managed to force our way into the Maximilian. Amsterdam's second brewpub, this is possibly the only pub in the world where the brewing actually takes place in the bar. Much more upmarket (and expensive) than the `T IJ, it just sells its own beers, plus a pilsner and food.

Next stop (via a kebab house which had been recommended to us) was the DeBeiaard for a round of Christoffel Blond, a lovely little Dutch pilsner. Then to Gollem, the classic original beer café in Amsterdam. This place has had its ups and downs, but is currently thriving. We enjoyed all sorts of beers here, both Belgian and Dutch.

As time was now getting on, and we had all had enough, we headed back to our friends' place for a well-earned rest. We made a couple of stops on the trip back to Blighty. The first was in St Sixtus (Westvleteren): the bar across from the monastery has had a massive refurbishment and you can buy the beer at a very reasonable price from the shop-cum-visitors centre. The second quick stop was at Noel Cuvaliers beershop just outside Poperinge.

Part 2: The Belgium Weekend

A Thursday afternoon later in November found the Munich Two at Stansted for a Ryanair flight to Brussels South (Charleroi). The bar at Carleroi airport sells Duvel, if you are desperate for a beer when you arrive. (The Airport also has its own web site, with the bus times, taxis etc. shown on it. If you need to stay in Charleroi, hotels are limited, but see for more information.)

Guided by Tim Webb's Good Beer Guide to Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg, we headed off on our `research' campaign. First stop, after an accidental diversion, was Aux Millie Collones. Their range of 40 beers included some classics such as Orval and Rochfort 8 and 10. The food looked good and reasonably priced. The bar itself is rather old, but is cosy, and the staff were quite helpful. The beers were too cold, though.

Next stop, the Charlemagne. Unless we got the wrong address, it is closed and is now a shop! Likewise Puit D'Orleans, which now seems to apartments or an office. Oh dear! Our next planned stop, Cuve a Biere, was closed for some unknown reason. Looks like it had a reasonable beer range though. Grrrrr! OK then, back across the square to Templiers. This looked like a nice little bar, with what promised to be a reasonable little beer range; unfortunately, it was hosting a private party for the arrival of the Beaujolais Noveau, of all things. Grrrrr (again).

Right, last go, L'indus. A lovely little locals bar, but only about six special beers and they don't speak English, so make sure your French is adequate. I got by with pidgin French and sign language. Right then, give up on the plan, we will do our own exploration. We found a small bar with a Bruges Witbier sign on it (I forgot to jot down the name) on the Place Charles II. It had a nice little range including Chimay Blue, Barbar and Kasteel beers, Gordon's Scotch Amber and Blonde. The barman was very helpful and even bought us a beer. The music was a bit loud, though.

We then decided to try one closer to the hotel. The Prince of Liege, just across the square at Buisset was our next and last port of call. It was open late and the barman/owner knows how to pour. The range included Chimay Blue, Westmalle, Rochfort, and Dentergems Witbier. Although the bar is nothing special, it was good for a late evening stop before an early night in preparation for the next day's research trip.

We were hoping to find some Wallonian beers in Charleroi, but found none. Still, it was lambic day, and the Lambic Monster was on the loose. First up was a tour of Cantillion Brewery (5 mins walk from Brussels South/midi/zuid). The tour includes two free samples of a gueuze and a kriek, and you can buy other beers to taste as well. Excellent value for money.

Unfortunately, it was so good that we stopped there longer than intended. This meant that, after dropping our bags off at the hotel and getting the train out to Beersel (just over half an hour), we were too late to eat in De Drie Fonteinen. So we headed out to Oud Beersel brewery (also known as Vandervelden). The brewery was closed for tours when we got there (you are supposed to ring in advance and book), so we went into the bar next door, which is an excellent little locals bar called In 'T Bierhuis. It offered Oud Beersel Lambic (on draught), Gueuze and Kriek, and a couple of other interesting beers.

After a few in here, we walked back to the main square, to find that In DeDrie Bronnen was closed due to illness. However, Hotel Centrum was open, and included Frank Boon Maraige Parfit Gueuze and Kriek in its range, so we had a couple of beers here. The staff were helpful and there is a lovely old Golden Labrador in residence. By this time, De Drie Fonteinen was serving food, so a fantastic beef carbonarde was soon washed down with Drie Fontainen Lambic and Gueuze - this place is a must.

Right then, back into Brussels. The Bier Circus has without doubt the best beer range in the city: over 200 and well selected. The staff are very helpful, and we sampled such delights as Saison Dupont on draught and the new Trappist from the Achel monastery.

Then we headed into the centre. Unfortunately, the Poechenellekelder was full,so we went for Le Cirio. A lovely little bar, but the beer range is poor (only around 40 and not very inspiring). And so finally to a new brew house just off the Grand Place called Les Brasseurs/DeBrouwers. Nicely refurbishment, and the brew plant is just inside the door. The beers were Grand Place Ale, Special Blonde and Noel. There is usually a Wit bier as well, but it was currently displaced by the Noel. The Ale was good, the Blonde didn't impress, but the Noel was excellent. Another places not to miss.

An early start on the Saturday morning saw us heading for West Flanders. First stop was Ieper (Ypres), and the Ter Posterie. I would have no hesitation in recommending this excellent and very friendly bar. It is largely run by the owner's daughter; she knows her beers and is a CAMRA member - and has five cats! The range of over 200 beers was very well selected: we were only supposed to be here for an hour, but this turned into two!

Next stop was the Palace, Poperinge, which was lovely, although quiet, and had a nice little beer range. Unfortunately by now we were running out of time, so we had to move on to Oostende. At `T Ostens Bierhuis we had a chat with Tim Smith, the English owner. Tim makes you welcome and is pleased to help if you are looking for special beers. Over the road is the Hotel Marion/Bottletje, which has a better range than the Bierhuis, and is also welcoming. Tim and Jean-Pierre (who runs Bottletje) get on well!

With time still against us, we headed for our final destination, Brugge (Bruges), a beautiful city, appropriately called the Venice of the North. As well as appealing to the general tourist, there is much here for the beer lover too: plenty of well-stocked bars, and two breweries (a brewpub and the Straffe Hendrick). Once we'd checked in to our hotel, dumped our bags and had some food, we set off for Staminée De Garre. This classic beer bar gets very busy these days, and the light classical music in the background is very soothing. Try the house tripel, but take care, it's strong! Other classics such as de Troch Fond Gueuze are also available here.

Then to one of the best bars in Belgium, the classic 't Brugs Beertje. Over 220 Belgian beers in this inspired range, including Cantillion and Westvleteren! Talk and good times a really important; as in the Garre, the bar staff are very knowledgeable about the beers, and skilled in serving and pouring them. The Beertje also does light food. We crawled out at silly o'clock, and headed off to bed!

The last day saw us nip back to Garre for a last drink after a late breakfast, then a run for the train so as not to miss the flight home. Fortunately, everything worked as it should, and the flight was early into Stansted. Well done Ryanair! We managed to do a fair bit of research, and I hope to have some very nice surprises at the Foreign Beer Bar at the Cambridge Beer Festival this year.

Just one question: When can I go back on another trip?

Further reading

Lambic Monster - on tour

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