Visiting Belgium: Cantillon, Hoegaarden and a night in Brussels

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To celebrate turning 30 this year, my family and I decided to take a vacation to see some breweries in Belgium.  Now, traveling with the family to visit breweries can be a bit challenging, since neither of my folks are “beer drinkers”.  They aren’t allergic, but the wonder of beerdom have yet to find its way into my parent’s life, so a week in Belgium might have been a bit much for them to take on.  My girl also came along, but she is well versed in awesomeness and has already taken a liking to Belgian beers.

C’est bon

We flew into Brussels and we were at our first brewery within hours. Cantillon is a brewery that is only about a mile out of the city center and located in a more industrial side of town.  Cantillon is known for using spontaneous fermentation to make their world renown lambic and gueuze beers. The brewery is set up like a museum with and some very old tools set up for display right alongside oak barrels that are aging beer in them.

nice barrels

I’ve done a good amount of reading on this brewery and being able to see this place in person was a real treat, but the tasting was really the best part.

time does not respect that which is done without him

After the tour, everyone gets to taste some unblended lambic, followed by a choice of 1 blended lambic beer.  Luckily being 4 people, we were able to try all the styles.

here are the tastings we tried:

left to right
Faro, Rose Gambrinus, Gueuze, Kriek

unblended lambic: served warm and flat, this is a tough one to drink.  A sharp flavor hits the tongue and lasts for awhile. This was the second time I’ve tried one of these and honestly, I am done with it.

Gueuze (blended lambic): Through combine different years of lambic, this style has more depth and a smoother experience.  Signs of the spontaneous fermentation are still present, but muted compared to the unblended version.  This beer was also carbonated, which helped with the body significantly.

Faro:  This is a lambic back sweetened with brown sugar. This style surprised me with its drinkablity. Very good beer that I plan on replicating in the future

Kriek: A lambic with sour cherries. A style done commonly around the world, and in many ways, I feel done better.  Still the most drinkable beer of the tasting, mom actually got through it

Rose Gambrinus: Lambic and Raspberry.  don’t really remember it.

St. Lambicus: a lambic aged on wine grapes, this was by far the best beer that we tasted. They only sold it by the bottle and it needed to be consumed on premise.  This approach beyond baffles me, but my cranial implosions won’t sway tradition.

The following day we took a 45 min train ride to visit the brewery/museum at Hoegaarden.  This was meant to be an easy day for the rest of the group, since Cantillon was a bit of a nose dive into Belgian beers.  A quick cab from the train station allowed us to see the country side and make it to the brewery/restaurant/museum within 5 minutes.

a great place for the afternoon

The museum was a pretty straight forward walk-through media experience, obviously InBev put a few bucks into it, but nothing outstanding.  I did learn that Hoegaarden is the name of the town that made wits, not just an individual brewery. In the courtyard, there is a lovely restaurant that serves all the varietals of Hoegaarden, including the raspberry infused Rose, which was an instant success with my mother.

Grand Cru, Rose, Julius Cesar, Wit

This visit was meant to be easy and relaxing for everyone involved, and it met expectations.  Hoegarden was a fun day trip that went very smoothly. The beer was good, the museum was thoughtful, and the restaurant  owned pretty hard.

That evening my lady and I went out on our own to discover some of the finer parts of Brussels.  A great dinner conversation slowly evolved into a local walking to one of the best beer bars that he knew of in town.  “Au Bon Vieux Temps” has a great atmosphere, but the walk down the scary alley was kind of tough to pull off.  For the second time in my life, I was able to try a Westvleteren 12, which was ranked the best beer in the world a few years ago.  The night ended with us making some new friends and enjoying Brussels, next up was the Trappists and Bruge

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