So, one Friday early in March, the Lambic Monster took the Cambridge beer festival organiser King Prawn on a brewery trip. To London first, where we were due to meet Weatherman. For those of you who don't know, St Peters Brewery in Suffolk have a pub in London, a few minutes walk from Farringdon Tube, called the Jerusalem Tavern, which sells a large range of their beers on tap. [See the review in ALE 300.] The building itself dates from 1720, although it has only been a pub for the last few years. It can get very crowded as it is small, but well worth a visit - or two! Weatherman walks in just as we finish the first one, so it must be his round!
After a few ales, we headed off for the Eurostar to Brussels. Tip here, do your travelling before or after the rush hour if you have bags or rucksacks: we only just made it. We were waved through the check-in by a helpful young lady who reckoned we didn't look dangerous, which we found highly amusing! We weren't laughing when we found the seats, though: they were facing the wrong way for King Prawn, who can't travel backwards! Aside from that, though, Eurostar was up to its usual good standard, even if it did deposit us in Brussels a few minutes late, so we had a quick route march to the hotel to dump bags before heading out for a beer.
At this point the only bar I know that is open for sure is the Poechenellekelder (which translates as Mannequin Cellar), some ten minutes' walk away, so off we head. I had expected it to be heaving, but it wasn't. So we quaffed a couple of beers before returning to the hotel as we were all very tired, it being by now 2.00 a.m. Belgian time.
The next morning we'd intended be down at Cantillon brewery for the opening, but unfortunately either I got the setting on the alarm wrong or we all slept through it, so we decided to have breakfast before setting off. When we arrived we found that we hadn't missed much. I was delighted to be greeted by Jean-Pierre (the owner and brewer) and his good lady who remembered me. I introduced my companions and we had our own tour with Louis, who wanted to practise his English. He made a very good guide and we had a long laugh early in the tour when Louis tried to explain about the small nature of Cantillon. He mentioned Interbrew, at which point the three of us in unison pretended to turn away and spit. Louis comment was "Ah, I see you have heard of Interbrew!"
I won't describe the tour itself, you'll just have to get over and look around the place for yourself, as it is a working museum as well. It is usually open from 8.30 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. Saturday, usually closed Sunday and Belgian Bank Holidays.
After the tour, we had a couple of Gueuzes (yum! yum!), and then decided to have a wander around Brussels, intending to return later as I wanted to get some pictures of the start of fermenting. So to the town centre and our first stop, the Paon Royal, for lunch and a beer. This initially very posh café is enjoyable, the service is excellent and the beer range not too bad. The place has a relaxing feel to it.
After lunch we moved on to Toone, which can be difficult to find, as it is down a blind alley off the Rue Marche aux Herbes. The bar itself also doubles up as a puppet theatre; otherwise it is a traditional brown café with a nice little selection of beers. After quaffing some Pawels Kwak from draught (I know it is a gimmick but I love those glasses and although it is not "real" the beer is still very enjoyable!) and others we headed back to Cantillon Brewery, where we met up with some old friends of mine from the Deal, Dover, and Sandwich Branch, and also an Italian friend of mine.
After giving the Cantillon range a full workout, we had a little ride out to Ixelles and L'Ultime Atome, which has a good range of beers and some excellent food, although it was very busy. We quaffed and ate at a very good price, then headed off to one of the ultimate beer cafés in Belgium, Le Bier Circus (Rue de l'Enseignement, about ten minutes' walk from Brussels Centraal station). It has a range of over 200 quality Belgian beers, and service can be slow because it takes time to find beers, especially if you ask for the rarer ones, so please be patient. However, you are guaranteed some excellent beers. Also, look out for the beer of the month "van t'vat" (on draught), because these can be very unusual. On this visit, they had Saison Dupont! (Mmm! Yum! Yum!) After quite a few beers from the selection, we realised that time had mugged us once again, and Weatherman was beginning to pace, so we called a taxi and headed back to the hotel. (The fare was surprisingly cheap for a capital city, about £2 each if I remember correctly!)
Next day, as our Eurostar home was not until late in the afternoon, we dumped our bags at the terminal and headed out on the tram to Wezembeek-oppem, to a bar which sells five German beers from the Scherdel Brewery in Hof (Upper Bavaria). The bar is called Schinderhannes, and it also does some excellent food. Unfortunately, the opening hours had just changed and it is not open Sundays now, as we found out to our cost - grrr! However, it was worth the tram ride out there as eastern Brussels is beautiful, and you can get off and have a look at the Brussels tram museum which is on tram route 39. It may take longer than the metro, but as you still have to get the tram anyway... [See the Footote]
So after this disappointment, we headed straight back into town and the brew pub just off Grand Place, where we enjoyed the beers and had some food. The brewery does three beers which are all quite good. The food is also reasonably priced, and is useful to remember if you are in central Brussels. Be warned though, the place gets very busy in the evenings. We then ran off to get the Eurostar home. Guess what, we slowed down in the tunnel and were then informed that the Eurostar in front had failed and that we where having to stop at Ashford to pick up all the passengers from that one. It made for a very crowded hour into London. Welcome back to England. Grrrrrrr! However, the Prawn and I made it back to Cambridge for a last few beers, so all was not lost. Once again, a very enjoyable and educational research trip.