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ALE Winter 2003/04 No. 312 : Next section

ALE Winter 2003/04 No. 312

Earlier this year, some startling news reached my ears: Ryanair were to start a route from Stansted to Ostend. Must try this out, I thought! So, for £40 return (all in) Malcolm and the Lambic Monster were on their way to Stansted Airport on the afternoon of 11 July for a 25-minute flight to Ostend.

[Previous article: A Weekend in Bruges]

On arrival at Ostend airport we found that there were three ways to leave: Ryanair operate a direct bus to Brugge for 5 euros; there is a bus every 10 minutes to Ostend Railway station and town centre (1 euro); or there is the coastal tram that appeared to be about a 10 minute walk away. We chose the bus. (We later found that a single train fare from Ostend to Brugge is 3 euros, saves you a euro over Ryanair!)

A quick hello to Tim in the Ostens Bier house (150 beers) before heading into Café Botteltje (part of the Hotel Marion). This bar does between 250 and 300 beers, very strong on ales and Lambics, but can be a little pricy. The Lambic Monster plumped for De Troch X-Mas Chapeau Geuze, which was sweet and sour more like a faro, whereas Malcolm started with a Tripel Karmelit, 8%, sweet, very nice. These were followed by a Bavik Ezelbier IA (a wheat beer, nothing special, but refreshing) and a Zatte Bie - a dark, strong ale, full of flavour.

We had to move on then to get a train into Brugge, find our hotel and head out for some food. We had decided to try a new find called Striderhuis, just off the main square in Hallestraat. Both food and beer are not bad. If its beer range gets a little more exciting it might make the next Tim Webb guide. Although only recently opened, it is welcoming and is settling itself down. Here we had VlasKop and Ichtegems Old Bruin from draught (lovely), and Houten Kop and Oerbier from bottle.

We then headed for arguably the most civilised bar in Belgium, Staminee De Garre, and we were lucky enough to get a table. Nearly not so lucky was the gentleman waiting in the doorway for the rest of the party, who said we had to try the house "lager", it was apparently fantastic. (Now the only so-called "lager" sold in the Garre is Carlsberg in bottles - and they don't advertise it, for some reason!) We let the man live only because he was so enthusiastic. So two house Tripels later, we continued with Rochefort 8, Monette Blond, De Troch Fond Geuze, Gulden Drakk and a Sloebier. Then the Bolero started indicating that it was time to move to the Bertje.

Disaster! The Bertje is closed for holidays! Noooooo!! So after a quick think we headed to Den Zolder ("the attic"), which was open. This is a dark bar in a cellar which is into music, although there was none on while we were there. To finish the evening we had an Echte Kriek from draught, Rochefort 10 and Zatte bie.

Saturday morning after breakfast we headed back to Ostend for a little bier festival organised by the Bierjutterij section/branch of the new beer group in Belgium called Zythos, which has risen from the ashes of the Objective Bier Provers (OBP). Held in a gazebo-style tent on a square just off the seafront, it had 32 beers from nine breweries to try. Sitting in the sun, supping good beer - what a way to spend a Saturday afternoon! We also bumped into some old friends, including Stephen D'Arcy of Brussels CAMRA.

However, we had also decided to have a good look around Gent, which unfortunately meant leaving the festival. Our first stop, De Hopduvel, is a little off the beaten track between Gent St Pieters Station and the main area. It had a lovely beer garden, as well as being a lovely little brown café, so enjoyed a Westmalle Dubbel from draught, an Uitzet, Witkap Dubbel and Stimulo. We then pushed on into Gent for a walk around. This place is as lovely as Brugge for old buildings, etc, and the canals are used more and are bigger. We must go back here again for a couple of days to explore properly, although as Stephen D'Arcy says in his guide, "Drinking in Gent can seriously damage your wealth!" Just watch what you are ordering and you should be OK.

We pushed on then through the town to a bar on Vrijdagmarkt called Dulle Griet. This is an old brown café with a large terrace area and had about 140 beers. The service was OK, and we enjoyed a Triple Karmelit and a Grottenbier before pushing on.

As luck would have it, there was also a beer festival on in Gent. Having looked at it, though, we decided not to bother because it was organised by big breweries and we couldn't see anything we wanted to drink. Instead we pushed on to a bar called Trappistenhuis. It was along walk but worth it as they had Rochefort 6 on the menu. Again a bar recently done up, specialising in Trappist beers, but with a good range of others. Well worth finding.

Back in Brugge, we had dinner in a little restaurant we know called Vlammsche Pot, which specialises in Flemish cooking, has a good wine menu and a great little beer list, with about 20 well-selected beers. It is just off Noordzandstraat, which is the north of the two roads that run between Zand and the main square.

With little time remaining we unfortunately gave Dickies a miss and headed back to the Garre, where after two long days, two house beers, a Moinette and a Duchess we were flagging so we headed back to the hotel.

Sunday saw us catching the train to Knokke Heist on the northern end of the coast. As it was a lovely day we walked along the seafront, although this was a little longer than we intended, as Knokke Heist is divided into Knokke, Duisberg and Heist, and we should have got off at Heist. We finally found the bar on the sea front called Schildia, which is a modern upmarket-looking bar. We sat just inside the door to take advantage of what little breeze there was. The bar has over 180 beers, is very strong on Abbey beers, though extremely poor on good lambics, but even so it is very good, reasonably priced, and the service is excellent. It also has a restaurant. Here we had Rochefort 8, Corsendonk Blond from draught and a Delirium Nocturnam.

We then hopped on the tram to De Haan and a fantastic bar called De Torre. You literally get off the tram and walk into the bar. It's a bit art deco, and music rules after 9pm, but the beer range of 150+ is inspired and very reasonably priced. The service is good and the place is child-friendly. Here we had Cantilion Geuze, Drie Fonatinen Geuze, Saison De Pipaix and Westvletern 8!

We left it a little late getting the tram and we didn't have time for any more in Ostend, but one last little surprise awaited us: at the airport the bar/restaurant turned out to have reasonably priced food and a couple of drinkable beers, so our last Belgian beer of the weekend was a Brugse tripel!

A quick note here on the Coastal Tram. It runs from almost the French border in De Panne, along the coastal towns and villages through Ostend and up to Knokke Heist in the North almost as far as the Dutch border. It is efficient and cheap: a seven-day card for this tram and all the De Lijn buses in West and East Flanders is 10 euros. Anyone would think the Belgians wanted you to use public transport! Check out any of the little kiosks along the route for more information.

The Lambic Monster

ALE Winter 2003/04 No. 312 : Next section
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