Flashback Friday: Day Drinking in Bruges, Belgium

DSCF1780In honor of our recent wedding anniversary (not really that recent but I needed an introduction) I would like to recount one of the best brewery/pub tour days from our honeymoon spent in France and Belgium.  On day five of our honeymoon we took the train from Lille, France to Bruges, Belgium. Bruges is an amazing little town near the North Sea in the Northwest corner of Belgium. It is known for its seemingly untouched medieval buildings, beautiful cathedrals, canals, and its historic Grote Markt.

As our train slowly rolled to a halt and we exited the station we were greeted by the long walk to the center of town. The roads were lined with picturesque homes that looked to be straight out of the 1500’s. The walk seemed to take forever as we stopped to snap so many pictures. Everything was intriguing from the doors and windows, to the street lamps, scooters and vintage European automobiles.  We wound our way through town towards the Markt with the spire of Onze-Lieve-Vrouw Brugge (The Church or Our Lady Bruges) acting as a beacon.

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This stunning gothic spire at first just barely peaked out over a row of small homes and slowly revealed itself as we drew closer. We finally reached the cathedral and took a short tour. The Brouwerij de Halve Maan was just a few block to our south but that would be the last stop of the day after we circled around town.

On our way to the Markt we found a cute little gift shop where we bought my daughter a small ballerina statue and a bottle shop with a stunning array of Belgian, French, and German beers unrivaled by anything we have seen in the States. It was a bit early in the morning for a beer (even for us), so we unfortunately had to wait. We finally made our way to the center of town which was lined with sidewalk cafes and fashionable shops too expensive for us to patronize. The restaurants were too expensive for us also but we didn’t let that stop us from getting lunch and our first pints. We drank a lot of Leffe while we were in France and Belgium. Just about every restaurant sold it like US bars sell Budweiser. Bethany almost always drank the Blonde and I had the Brown. Both are very tasty, packed with flavor, familiar Belgian hops, malts and spices, but are also more accessible for people who haven’t drank a lot of Belgian beers. Leffe is available around here but not very widely. If you see it, give it a try and I know you will not be disappointed.

DSCF1816After lunch we continued touring the Markt, following the canals and buying Belgian chocolates at Dumon Chocolatier. At regular intervals, we stopped at a few more bars and drank a few more Leffe’s and Bethany found one of her favorite beers of the trip – the Hoegaarden Rosee. Hoegaarden has a vast array of different flavors in Belgium – far more than we have in the States. We are not typically into fruit beers but this was a refreshing wheat beer with just a hint of raspberry that maybe tasted even better knowing that it is not available in the US.

That afternoon reaffirmed a lesson that we had unfortunately learned before and that we are doomed to learn again: drinking Belgian beers for an entire day inevitably results in stupid behavior. After the Hoegaarden Rosee we found ourselves a little drunker than we expected. Of course, it was our honeymoon, we were in a foreign country, and we really didn’t care all that much that we were stumbling around this timeless, pristine, historic town like stereotypical, obnoxious Americans.

 

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Chouffe, Duvel, and Maredsous – oh my!

We were having too much fun to care, and when we finally circled back to that bottle shop, we grabbed two cold Belgians, popped the tops and wobbled down the street arm in arm like drunken sailors on leave. As we finished the last sips of those bottles of whatever it was we were drinking (things get a little blurry at this point in the day) we finally found our way to the south side of town and the Brouwerij De Halve Maan  whose history dates back to 1564.

10348549_752773763701_748023680031603264_nAs we entered we were greeted by a garden patio filled with tables and gleeful patrons. I absolutely don’t remember what I drank but if I know me, I had the Straffe Hendrick Qaudrupel. The next morning, I blurrily read that name on a goblet that I found in my bag which confirms my suspicion. This is a big, dark, malty, spicy beer that finishes with hints of dark fruits as most quads do. You won’t find this beer around here so you have to go to Bruges if you want to try it, but I can assure you that it is well worth the trip.

Before we left we, of course, had to ask the bartender to take our picture. He kindly obliged and we were promptly photobombed by a couple of opportunistic Belgian waiters who seemed quite adept at the art. We walked away laughing and had to run for our train which we were almost certainly going to miss. When we finally boarded and found our seats we listened to The Avett Brothers with shared earbuds. We sang through most of the train ride with what we thought were respectful, quiet voices but I am pretty sure that the whole car absolutely hated us, our drunkenness, and our terrible voices.

Best day ever.

Cheers!
Mike

In Our Fridge: Ommegang Soothsayer  

You would be hard-pressed to find another craft brewery in the United States that better embraces the rich Belgian brewing tradition more than Brewery Ommegang located just outside of Cooperstown, NY. The brewery is nestled comfortably in the foothills of the Catskills Mountains on a 136 acre former hop farm with an impressive entryway styled after a Belgian farmhouse.

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Ommegang Brewery Entryway

I have long been a huge Ommegang fan for its Three Philosophers quadruple, the Hennepin Saison, and the Gnomegang Blonde ale. So, I was very excited to try more of the limited release beers that I have been seeing pop up at our local bottle shops.

This weekend I sampled the Soothsayer Belgian-style Dark Ale. This might quickly become a new favorite Ommagang beer for me, though it would be next to impossible to unseat the bourbon barrel-aged release of the Three Philosophers that we discovered at the brewery this spring. The Soothsayer definitely has all of the characteristics of a strong dark ale but the brewery omitted the spice for this particular offering.

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Soothsayer on the Deck

Although I love Belgian beers I find that the spice can sometimes be overdone, particularly when this style is attempted by American craft breweries. However, Ommegang has truly refined their art and the resulting Soothsayer is a very smooth, malty, and drinkable beer with all of those familiar, distinctive Belgian characteristics without the spice.

It pours very dark brown, almost black, and is brewed with a variety of malts, Spalter Select and Styrian Golding hops, and Ommegang’s signature house yeast. It packs a punch with an ABV of 8.9% but without the alcohol-forward taste. Ommegang advertises tasting notes of coffee and chocolate and suggests pairing with a rich cheese or dark fruit desserts.  I enjoyed mine with a deck, a cigar, and a quiet, sunny Saturday afternoon which I thought was the perfect pairing.

Check it out here: http://www.ommegang.com/blog/meet-soothsayer/

Cheers!
Mike and Bethany