Thursday, April 30, 2009

off the stem

The story of Paris in April (especially with global warming making it nice and sunny) is really a story of flowers, or fleurs, as I like to call them.  It's off the chain, or should I say off the stem?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Do you ever dream about going somewhere and then when you're there it's better than you could have possibly imagined?  I'm hoping that's how the Mermaid Bar is going to be, but until then the only time that has happened to me is visiting Cantillon, but I'm getting ahead of myself.  First: Drie Fonteinen.
 This is the Drie Fonteinen brewer's grandson, who we hung out with when we visited.  This kid had the personality of 12 regular kids.  I have no idea what language he was speaking, but it wasn't English.  He's the best.  We thought MD would get a kick out of the hat.
To visit Drie Fonteinin (it means three fountains) you have to get to Beersel, which is just outside of Brussels.  If you don't have a car, you have to take the train and it only runs on weekdays!  Anyhoo,  they make scintillating lambic and geuze that is super pricey in the US, and Beersel is quite cute (there's a castle!), so I definitely recommend a visit.  This was some vintage gueze (1997?) that we got at the Drie Fonteinen restaurant.  It's a little confusing, but there's kind of a formal restaurant, and then around the corner a tasting room and gift shop.  Oops, I somehow just erased that picture of the vintage gueze.  The one below is actually our brew from the tasting room.  They give you more cheese every time you order a brew.  I am also confused about the Beersel (the beer) and Drie Fonteinen connection.  Of course the shadowy, mysterious De Proef is involved.  Perhaps SM can explain?  
Here's the gift shop.  The brewer, Armand, is super nice.  It was sad because he seems kind of harried and overworked.  He loves to talk about German beer.  He just about has me convinced I want to go to Germany, but only in August, he insists.
Here's the train "station" at Beersel, better buy a two way ticket cuz there's no real station.
OK, Cantillon.  The best.  Here are some cobwebs.  They make a big deal out of cobwebs there because they don't like to change anything in the environment because it could damage the natural yeast.  It was founded in 1900 and they still do most things the way they did them back then.  They used to be just one of a ton of brewers making faro, lambic and geuze (actually, MD wrote something really informative about this, so just read it here if you're interested.)  
Here's the old bottle press thing.  They have modernized this part of it.
It's hard to capture this in a picture, but here's a giant copper tub where they leave the wort overnight and let the natural yeast settle on it.  Ha! I was about to say that this is like seeing the bed where Joseph and Mary made Jesus, which shows how well I know the bible.  
The smell in the barrel room of Cantillon is without a doubt the sweetest smell I've every smelled.  Lambic undergoes an initial violent fermentation, and Cantillon lets the frothy result foam out the top.  They lose a signficant amount of product this way (like 20%).  I wish I could volunteer to drink that 20%  Here's some precious lambic on the floor.  
Here's the cup and hammer that the brewer uses to taste the product and make decisions about aging and blending.
Here's some ooze from the barrel.  I took a bite of this.  J.K. Maybe.
Here's the brewer, Jean-Pierre Van Roy, another cool dude.  He was getting a drink of water when I asked to take his picture, and he insisted he couldn't be photographed with mere water!  He asked for a pour of the kriek.  At the end of the tour, they give you a pour of geuze and a pour of kriek.
Here's some nerding out on dusty bottles.
This "Z" brew is an experimental lambic made with vegetables!

You can buy bottles to drink in the tasting room so we got one and sat there for a while, smiling from ear to ear.
Here's the brewery cat, whose fur is innoculated with wild yeast.  He is an important part of the brewing process, and is allowed to swim in the wort.
Here's the wall of fame of Cantillon brewers.  The founder is on the left.
Cantillon is located in the Anderlecht neighborhood of Brussels, which my guide book described as "gritty", but like everywhere else in Europe seems safe.  It's just really racially mixed.  Here's shop, I think it might be on Rue Anderlecht, that had bomb-ass coffee.  It was the only place we found on our trip to get really strong coffee.
This place I think is also on Anderlecht (shop front picture below).  This was a Lebanese place that had the best, cheapest food I had on the whole trip.  I accidentally ordered an absurd amount of food (like a kibbeh "pizza) and they were so psyched on us that they gave us free baklava, too.  See that wood fired oven?  It was turning out tons of delicious breads.
Here's the place.  If you're ever there, seek it out.
Here's a picture of Moeder Lambic.  It's an insanely cool bar in Brussels. It's like the Spuyten Duyvel of Belgium, but with a better beer list.  

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Aah, jet lag! I fell asleep at 8:30 last night.

All right, so Ghent is an easy day trip outta Brugge.  This place (Bierhuis) was good to visit because they have their own house brew that is really hoppy and is made by De Proef.  Smiller will probably have more to say, and perhaps I got the details wrong.  The De Proef brewer is the secret genius behind a lot of beer (De Proef means "the prof") , but he keeps a very low profile.  Next time I go to Belgium I definitely want to visit their brewery.  Toronado has their Deux Brasseurs on draft right now (for a startling $9.50) and it's delicious. 

The Belgians are very proud of their "Belgian broojdes", which are sandwiches which seem basically just like French sandwiches.
After Brugge we left our charming hostel (sample dialogue from the flirting teens hanging out in the lobby: I love Weezer!) and made an absurd trek to the town of Watou.  We did things all wrong as far as getting there, but now we know.  We stayed at an amazing place way out in the country.  It's adjacent to the Saint Bernardus brewery.  It used to be the brewer's house (hence the name brouwerhuis), but now it's an elegant B and B.  Here's the view from our window.  This place has actual grounds.  And a tennis court.
Here's the room where we were served our delicious breakfast.
Best part?  Refrigerator full of FREE St. Bernardus brew!!!!!!!!!!!  All this for 75 motherfucking euros a night! Unbelievable. That's the same as we paid for the hostel in Brugge.
We were lucky to get a tour of the St. Bernardus brewery.  Brewery pictures are kinda boring so I'll keep it to a minimum.

The dude who gave us the brewery tour was taking a client to Watou for lunch and he invited us to come along.  We ate at t'hommelhof.  They were serving hop shoots, which is a delicacy that is only in season a few weeks a year.  Those are the shoots on top of a cut of locally-raised pork that had an intense rim of fat on it!  So good.
We rented bikes at the B and B and set out.  There are rad bike trails everywhere.  We rode to this nearby local pub.  Watou is near the French border, so suddenly everyone just speaks French instead of French, Flemish and English.  The local Watou beer besides St. Bernardus is hommelbier, and they are very proud of it.  There's also the Watou Wit.  You see all of these beers in SF stores.

Here's a mysterious cat we encountered on the ride.  Immediately after this it said "farewell" adn disappeared in a puff of smoke.  Weird.
Here's the countryside.  This area smelled more intensely of cowshit than any place I've ever encountered, and I grew up in a rural area.  
Lest our bike ride seem idyllic and perfect, I'll let you know that I hit a fat thorn about an hour in.  My tire instantly went flat and we were very sad.  We walked into this French village (it was cool to bike across a country border) and tried to find a bike shop with no luck.  We walked really far back to the B and B and never got to complete the 40 km bike ride which went past windmills and such.  Guess I'll just have to go back and do it!  Also in this area there is a mysterious abbey up on a mountain that I would like to bike to.  It's very pointy and ominous-looking.  Smiller, can you refresh my memory about that abbey?  They make brew, right?
Here's some hop-related art that was on a door in the B and B.
Artsy photo taken by smiller. Classic woodpile.
We had this fou foune brew in the room.  If you ever see this Cantillon brew, buy it and damn the cost.  It's a seasonal apricot lambic.  
Here's the outside of the B and B.  Nuts!  I felt like a queen for a day.