I had never visited Belgium, Ive driven through it a few times en route to Germany, but Belgium doesnt exactly conjure up inspiratational thoughts. As the old joke goes, “can you name five famous Belgians?”
Unless youre a beer lover.
Belgium, as any beer afficianado will tell you, is home to Trappist and Lambic Ales, some of the most complex and challenging flavours ever atributed to a mixture of Barley, Hops, Yeast and Water. So while the conference subject might have been dry, I was confident my evenings wouldnt be.
A little online research directed me to a couple of bars, A La Mort Subite and Cafe Delirium, both affiliated to brews I have enjoyed of old. Cafe Delirium is mentioned in the Guinness Book of World records for having the largest selection of beers (over 2000) while its located opposite the Floris bar which stocks more than 300 varieties of Absinthe!
Our first evening in Brussels was spent exploring. My first beer was a large (500ml) Leffe Dark at about 6%, at a pavement café in the gras market. From there we located “A la Mort Subite” – a veritable temple to beer. While their range of beers is not vast, there were some interesting Lambic beers on draught. Lambic beers are brewed with wild yeasts and have a distinctive, slightly sour flavour. Later in the evening we found “Café Delirium” which is also named after a beer – in this case Delirium Tremens which comes in at a very respectable 9% abv. To be honest DT is a brewed for strength rather than flavour, but the cafe, which stocks over 2,000 beers is a must visit for any afficianado of beer. (Although maybe just for one or two beers.
The bar attached to my hotel, most hotels in fact, stocks Leffe as its house beer, so it was a pleasant stop for a nightcap. While its nice to have a local like The Curlew that serves Shepherd Neame beers, a local that serves Leffe on draught takes it to a whole new level.
We returned to Cafe Delirium a few evenings later and explored their extensive list of bottled beers. I had spotted Duchess du Burgogne in one of the many beer shops and decided it was time to revisit that particular duchess. I wasnt disappointed, and resolved to take a bottle home for a more disciplined tasting for The Brew Club an American website Ive started writing for.
The Belgians are well known for adding exotic flavours to their beers and when I spotted someone drinking a beer from a coconut shell I thought “Ill have some of that!” and yes, the beer “Mongozo” was light, refreshing and had a full coconut nose – imagine a Pina Colada shandy! And it was a fairtrade beer from Kenya so everybody wins.
The conference itself was really interesting, and Val amused herself during the days by exploring the Belgian chocolate shops, all in all we had a very pleasant break.
And as for five famous Belgians – umm – well how about Audrey Hepburn, Jean Claude Van Damme, Jacques Brel, Tin Tin and Hercule Poirot (and two of those were fictional!)