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Honeymoon beers, part 4: Brussels, A La Mort Subite, Chez Moeder Lambic

We spent one night in Brussels, so we only had time to check out two beer bars. However, we also made sure to hit what many people call the best beer destination in the city, if not the country: the Cantillon brewery. I’ll get to that visit in the next post.

The first bar we visited was A La Mort Subite, a 1920s beer hall a few blocks from the town square. It has long wooden benches all along the walls and really high ceilings, giving the impression that it could be a raucous good time when there are a lot of people there (that’s what the reviews say, too). We were there in the middle of the workday, however, and it was nearly empty.

Their selection is limited but relatively impressive, and they also brew their own traditional lambic. I originally intended to try that, but a sign advertising their seasonal tap caught my eye:  De Dolle Brouwers Bos Keun Biere de Paques. It’s De Dolle’s spring seasonal (“Paques” means Easter), a bright, fruity pale Belgian ale. I enjoyed it, although I must admit that it was relatively unremarkable, and without taking notes I’m struggling to remember much else about it.

De Dolle Bos Keun

The other Brussels beer bar we visited couldn’t have been much more different: Chez Moeder Lambic, a newish, modern bar on a small square next to one of the main streets in town. What it lacked in historic charm, however, it more than made up for with great beer.

The long list of draft beer, displayed on chalkboards along the walls, was very impressive. After much deliberation, I opted for a Val-Dieu Grand Cru, a big, delicious quad. The waiter also helped us pick a beer for Mrs. Beernerds, as I told him that she liked sweet lambics as opposed to sour ones. That meant we didn’t try any of their extensive list of Cantillon beers, but she was happy with his selection.

Our first round came with a small bowl of tasty malted barley to chew on, which I slowly enjoyed over the course of a couple of hours. A really nice touch, I thought.

Val-Dieu Grand Cru & some malt to snack on

I hadn’t drunk any cask beers on the trip thus far, so I went with a Cuvee de Ranke on cask for my next one. Yep, another sour. I’m not nearly at the point where I can fully appreciate nuances in sours, but I think it’s a good sign that I’m knowingly ordering them and, most importantly, enjoying them more and more.

Cuvee De Ranke

When I ordered, the waiter made sure to ask if I knew what it was like, and I assured him I knew what I was in for. It was a nice touch – the crew at Anvil often does the same thing when you order a sour there – and I think non-nerds would appreciate the warning if they haven’t had a sour before.

I hadn’t even looked at the bottle menu yet, and once I finally did I was very impressed. There was no Westvleteren, but there were dozens and dozens of interesting options, including plenty of aged beers and some really tempting Mikkeller beers (standard and barrel-aged 1000 IBU, plus standard Beer Geek Brunch Weasel and two barrel-aged versions, each featuring a different scotch). There was even a page for, loosely translated, “Beers that the Gods drink”, a handful of aged bottles priced at 150-200 euros.

The Mikkeller offerings

The waiter must have noticed I was having a hard time deciding, so he struck up a conversation. He asked me what I liked and I responded that I was willing to try anything good. So he rephrased the question, asking me what style I would pick if I had to drink just one, and I told him I love dark Belgians, dubbels and quads especially. He suggested De Ranke Noir de Dottignies on draft, and he hit the nail on the head. It wasn’t a huge abbey-style ale, just a really tasty dark Belgian with a lot of fruity malt and a surprising amount of non-bitter coffee flavors.

De Ranke Noir de Dottignies

Before we left, the waiter asked how long we were in Brussels, and we told him just the one day. He said we absolutely had to hit Cantillon, which echoed what we had heard from many sources. That definitely sealed the deal, and we made Cantillon our main target for the next morning.


Honeymoon beers, part 3: Bruges, Erasmus, ‘t Brugs Beertje

A handful of the good beer establishments we visited had impressive lineups of cellared/vintage beers. One such place was Erasmus, a modern, sleek hotel/restaurant that doesn’t necessarily fit with Bruges’ medieval vibe. It looked and felt like it would fit better in a place like Paris, but the beer list was very worthy.

I walked past Erasmus on the way to a generic Irish pub to watch a soccer game, while Mrs. Beernerds took a nap in the hotel. When I saw the cellar menu I just had to stop in, and I luckily had about 40 minutes before kickoff.

My timing – it was the middle of the afternoon – was perfect, and when I walked in I was the only customer in the place. I asked the waiter if it was OK to sit down for a beer, and he gave me the green light and their beer menu. One bottle immediately jumped out at me: De Dolle Stille Nacht 1986. I had read about Stille Nacht (Silent Night) before, and since this was the first time I had ever seen a 25-year-old beer for sale, I quickly ordered it.

The waiter pointed out that the beer was in their cellar, meaning it would not be cold. I appreciated the warning, but was obviously even more excited about this beer, especially as I had never before been to a place with a true cellar.

De Dolle Stille Nacht 1986

Since I was drinking alone, I took full tasting notes. Here they are, mostly unedited:

Reddish caramel, bright and clear. No head on the pour, tiny bubbly ring. Body is fizzier than it looks, but still quite smooth and somewhat full. Smells of sweet port, prune juice, some leather and booze. Candied sugar, hint of spice. Fruity, dry, a touch of sneaky sour in the back, finishes somewhat ashy/dirty. Surprisingly smooth despite the obvious heft (12%). I like the smell slightly better than the taste, if only because I don’t love the sour touch in the back. But I don’t mind it either. Really interesting, certainly enjoyable too.  A sipper for sure. Could smell it for days too. Careful pour from waiter left 1/5th of the bottle behind. I poured that into the empty glass, predictably sludgy with lots of floaters.

I would have loved to savor it for a while longer, but kickoff was fast approaching. I paid (9.50 euros, which I thought was a very good deal), and rushed off to the pub, where a bottle of Duvel and a pint of Guinness kept me company through the game.

Later that night, we went to another truly great beer bar, ‘t brugs Beertje. It’s small (with room for ~20 people in the front room, maybe 10 people at the bar, and another 15 in the back room), meaning it’s one of those European places where you and your neighbors are pretty cozy. It wasn’t far removed from the main square, and even though our immediate neighbors were Italian and Scandinavian, and the loud conversation at the bar was in English, it felt like a locals place. The walls and ceiling were covered in a wide range of beer signs and nostalgic paraphernalia, which was very cool.

From the extensive menu, I quickly picked out a Rodenbach Grand Cru, a classic Flanders red. Many of you know I’m not a huge fan of sour beers, but they’ve been growing on me. Plus, I was dead-set on taking advantage of the opportunity to try beers such as this one, even though I knew I probably wouldn’t love it.

Rodenbach Grand Cru

The Rodenbach Grand Cru reminded me somewhat of my “gateway” sour, Petrus Aged Pale (a Flanders Oud Bruin), although there are some key differences since they’re slightly different styles. The Grand Cru is darker, with vinegar and cherries at the forefront. Sour is the name of the game, though. I enjoyed it, and would love to drink it again.

While I was working on that, Mrs. Beernerds had ordered her first sour, Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus. We didn’t expect her to love it, but she wanted to at least try some traditional lambics, if only to compare them to the sweetened lambics that she enjoys. As expected, this wasn’t up her alley, or mine for that matter. But I was thrilled to finally taste a Cantillon brew, and it certainly wouldn’t be our last. You’ll hear all about Cantillon and traditional lambics in a couple of days.

Rodenbach Grand Cru (left) & Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus

Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus

For my last beer in Bruges, I opted for another vintage selection, this time of a beer I’ve had before: a 2008 De Struise Pannepot Reserva. I’m a huge fan of De Struise, and this is one of my favorites. It’s a big, dark, oak-aged old ale with plenty of character, and it’s one of those old ales that really feels and tastes “old”, and I mean that in a good way.

2008 De Struise Pannepot Reserva

2008 De Struise Pannepot Reserva

I didn’t have access to my notes, so I couldn’t compare my impressions with the fresher bottle I drank previously. But it was a very good beer, and a worthy finale after two great days in Bruges.

Honeymoon beers, part 2: Bruges, 2be, Staminee de Garre

The majority of the beers I drank on the trip were at places I had mapped out and hoped to visit. I did a bunch of research online, most of it on the forums and travel sections. The recommendations there were priceless, and almost unfailingly accurate.

This was not one of those places. 2be is a tiny bar overlooking one of the canals in Bruges, and we found it somewhat by accident. It’s at the end of a small alley, one side of which is lined with beer and beer paraphernalia. Across from that “Wall of Beer”, a couple of steps lead down to a curious, dark room, empty save for lighted beer displays along the walls. At the end of the alley is a small bar – big enough to hold maybe 20 people – with a handful of taps and an impressive bottle selection on the shelves.

"Wall of Beer"

Basement beer display #1

Basement beer display #2

Basement beer display #3

To the right of the bar is a cool wraparound balcony overlooking the water, with plenty of seating space and a lovely view of the town. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hang out there, so we got drinks.

The bottles behind the bar were very tempting, but most of those beers are readily available in Texas. The others, sadly, were 750ml bottles, far too much for me to drink solo. I asked the bartender for a recommendation, and she suggested Anker-Bok on draft. It was OK, decent but unremarkable. The setting, though, more than made up for it, and we enjoyed the 30 minutes or so we spent there.

Our next stop was probably my favorite bar of the entire trip: Staminee de Garre. It’s a tiny place, with room for maybe 30 people split between the downstairs bar area and a room upstairs. It’s relatively hidden, down a really narrow alleyway just off a heavily trafficked pedestrian street near the main square. You simply wouldn’t find it if you weren’t looking for it. We were looking for it, and we had very detailed directions/descriptions thanks to the nerds at BA, but we still managed to walk past both the alley and the bar itself, before climbing the stone steps into the bar.

The tiny alley that leads to Staminee de Garre

The stone steps leading up to Staminee de Garre

It oozes old-world charm, and when you walk in you just know people have been drinking great beer there since well before you were born. It’s quaint and dark, yet still somewhat lively. Simply put, it’s an awesome place to drink a beer.

The bar at Staminee de Garre

Staminee de Garre

Speaking of beer, they have about 6 taps and a bottle menu that I didn’t really examine. That was because the must-drink beer here is the house tripel, Tripel van der Garre, on draft. It’s not really called that, at least not in practice – you simply order the “house beer”. It lived up to the hype. It’s delicious, a complex yet refreshing tripel, dangerously drinkable given the 10.5% abv. You could say all of those same exact things about Duvel (8.5%), of course, and that’s some great company for this beer. It would make a really interesting side-by-side, but the Van Der Garre Tripel stands up very well on its own.

Lindemans Pecheresse (left), Tripel Van De Garre

Mrs. Beernerds had her favorite beer of the trip here, Lindemans Pecheresse (their peach lambic) on draft. She dislikes most beer, but loves sweet lambics such as this one, and she said it tasted even better (sweeter and less “beery”) than it does back home. Unsurprisingly, she would drink more of it throughout the trip.

Honeymoon beers, part 1: Bruges, Cambrinus & Westvleteren

Mrs. Beernerds and I just wrapped up a wonderful 12-day trip to Europe for our belated honeymoon. We spent nights in Bruges, Brussels, Amsterdam and Paris, and also took a day-trip to Normandy.

This obviously wasn’t a beer trip per se – that whole “honeymoon” thing – but I couldn’t travel to Europe without tracking down some great beer.

So, instead of clogging up Twitter timelines with a couple hundred (or more) posts on the trip, I’m bringing the blog out of retirement. Over the next few days, I’ll post recaps of the beery parts of the trip.

Of the 35 or so beers that I sampled, I only took full tasting notes of two. I didn’t want Mrs. Beernerds to spend chunks of the trip watching me type into my phone. Still, I jotted down what I drank and where I drank it, and took pictures of just about every brew.

Whenever possible, I made a point to drink beers that we can’t get in Texas. I was armed with a couple of lists of breweries/beers/vintages to look out for, and I happily found a few of my top targets. I think I only ordered “blindly” (meaning, without any prior research/knowledge of the brewery and/or the beer) a handful of times.

There were also couple of times that, after drinking something new but underwhelming, I fell back to an old favorite, and I made sure those occasions were worthy (a great beer from the region) and rare.

I also drank a half-dozen pints of Guinness. Man United played three times during the trip and, inevitably, the places I tracked down to watch the games were Irish-style pubs with limited beer selection. No complaints, though; Guinness was my first favorite beer and, when short of good alternatives, I’m happy to have it as my fall-back beer.

Without further ado, here’s the first installment. We flew from Houston to Paris, but that same morning we took a series of trains to the beautiful medieval town of Bruges.

Cambrinus was our first bar of the trip, and even our first real meal of the trip. It’s a modern gastropub-style establishment, apparently named after Gambrinus, “a legendary king of Flanders, and an unofficial patron saint of beer”. It was surprisingly quiet when we walked in on a Friday afternoon. It’s no more than 1.5 blocks off Bruges’ famous main square, which seems to be swarmed with tourists at all hours, but even that slight distance made Cambrinus a perfect place to sit down for a quiet, hearty meal, and for two truly great beers.

The beer menu was more of a beer book, with a wooden cover and over a dozen pages of beers sorted somewhat by style: general Belgian ales, lambics, Trappists, and a couple of other sections. I would have loved to study it more closely, but my advance research gave me no choice but to go straight to the Trappist beers, where I was thrilled to see a section for Westvleteren, listing the 12 (quad), 8 (dubbel) and blonde.

The beer menu at Cambrinus

An aside on Westvleteren: It’s a traditional Trappist brewery (brewing began in 1838), and to this day the monks brew the beer themselves, onsite. Despite the acclaim that continually comes their way – Westy 12 is BeerAdvocate’s top-rated beer in the world, with the 8 ranked 15th on the same list, and the blonde ranked 39th among Belgian beers – the monks have resisted any efforts to commercialize their beer. As a result, they brew very limited quantities (only enough to pay the bills) and the beer is extremely hard to find.

This would not be my first taste of Westvleteren, as I had managed to score 4 bottles of the 12 on the De Struise web store early last year. Until recently, the only way to buy any Westy online was from people reselling it, for top dollar naturally. That changed a bit when Westvleteren partnered with the online De Struise store to sell very limited quantities of the former’s beer. I managed to get my hands on four bottles of Westy 12 last year. I drank one immediately, traded a second, and am aging the last 2 bottles.

I tweeted my reactions to that bottle of 12, and to sum up, it was a letdown.

Undaunted by that initial disappointment, at Cambrinus I didn’t hesitate to order the 12 right off the bat (the ~9 euro price tag didn’t put me off either). This fresh bottle of Westvleteren 12 (the cap read 11.02.14) was very good. I love quads, and this was pretty close to how I imagine the perfect quad – dark and sweet, fruity and malty, a bit spicy, with a kick from the alcohol and the yeast, and full-bodied with just a touch of Belgian-style fizz.  My only complaint was that this bottle was still hot, and tasted boozier than I expected. If nothing else, that makes me even more excited to age my 2 remaining bottles for a while longer.

Westvleteren 12

Westvleteren 12 cap

By starting the trip with what many people consider the best beer on the planet, I knew there was nowhere to go but down. I didn’t go too far down, though, as I stuck with the same brewery and ordered the 8, a dubbel. I briefly considered going with something different, but I didn’t want to risk missing out on something so rare. My research said a couple of other places on our itinerary might have Westy, but this was the only sure thing. As it turned out, I didn’t see it advertised anywhere else, so I made the right call.

The 8 was, unsurprisingly, also very good. Dubbels and quads tend to be very similar – I sort of see dubbels as turned-down quads, or quads as amped-up dubbels. This was the case here, with the two beers a lot more similar than they were different. That went for the booziness too – the two bottles were about the same age (the cap on the 8 read 21.01.14), and like the 12 before it, the 8 was a bit hot. It was still a great beer, though, and I would love to get my hands on a bottle or 4 to age.

Westvleteren 8

Westvleteren 8 cap

I would have loved to spend a few more hours at Cambrinus to fully explore their menu, or simply to stare at the hundreds of bottles behind the bar. But with the meal finished and the two bottles of high-octane beer in me, it was time to explore Bruges.

A week of Stone at Flying Saucer & Petrol Station

By now you’ve probably heard. If you haven’t, you’re not reading the right blogs or following the right Twitter feeds.

For six straight nights starting tomorrow (Monday, Feb. 15), Houston beer nerds will be in for an awesome vertical tasting. Two of the city’s best beer bars (Flying Saucer and Petrol Station) have teamed up with Stone Brewing for an event they’ve dubbed “Stone’d for Six Days.”

Each night, one of the bars will tap a keg of Stone Imperial Russian Stout, beginning Monday at the Saucer and alternating locations until the finale on Saturday (Feb. 20) at Petrol.

Each night will feature a different vintage of the IRS, beginning with the 2009 and ending with the 2005. Wednesday night will feature a bonus: a bourbon-barrel-aged version of the 2008. Here’s the full lineup, courtesy of the preview post on Beer, TX:

-Monday, Feb. 15: 2009 IRS at the Flying Saucer
-Tuesday, Feb. 16: 2008 IRS at Petrol Station
-Wednesday, Feb. 17: bourbon-barrel-aged 2008 IRS at FS
-Thursday, Feb. 18: 2007 IRS at PS
-Friday, Feb. 19: 2006 IRS at FS
-Saturday, Feb. 20: 2005 IRS at PS

This is a big deal. Stone opened up their stash of aged and rare awesomeness for this event, and word is that Stone head honcho Greg Koch will be down here for at least part of the time.

One last note — Stone Imperial Russian Stout is damn good beer. I reviewed the 2007 IRS last December (when it was nearly three years old) and loved it. And just a few days ago, 29-95 posted a review of a vertical tasting of the IRS, with the 2009, 2007 and 2005 vintages.

I can’t wait to get this thing started tomorrow. I hope to see a lot of Houston beer lovers at some point during the week. And I’ll make sure to post updates on our Twitter feed, @beernerds.

Miller High Life

Miller High Life is a beer with roots in the land of Laverne and Shirley, but many a Beer Nerd instinctively frowns upon this fine brew, the way nerds genetically hate jocks, popular music and wedgies.

Here’s the thing, though: There isn’t a Beer Nerd alive who wouldn’t bake a batch of cookies in his pants if a big-breasted bartender in a bikini jerked a High Life from a tub of ice, popped the cap off under her cleavage and slid it down the bar until it crashed into his giant basket of bbq ribs. This is how High Life is to be served.

And it is good.

It tastes like the air at a tailgate. There are subtle notes of those panties you stole from the drier that belong to the girl across the hall — and of bowling. The finish is as smooth as champagne. (That’s right. I said it.) Not everything should taste like it was toasted with hints of chocolate and honey and flowers and grapefruit. Sometimes, simple is best. There is no taste-bud riddle to solve, no way to impress your friends with your sudsy insight. This beer only complements what you forked off the grill, but it does so in a way that gets you wasted and makes you fall asleep on a folding lawn chair. There is nothing more pleasurable in life.

Miller High Life probably has a fantastic pour. I bet the head is crazytimes! But no beer expert in the world knows what the pour is like, and never will. Pouring this beer disqualifies you from expertdom. It is only to be quaffed from its ice-cold, classic bottle, which is an epic nod to the power of packaging. The tapered neck is as seductive as the woman riding sidesaddle on the label’s crescent moon. That’s right, take a good look. This beer-goggler is double-fisting in the stars, Beer Nerds. And she likes you. She likes you a whole lot. She’s just waiting for you to make a wish.

The a-holes at Beer Advocate give it a C, but fuck that — this beer isn’t for them, anyway.

New contributor: Robb

I’m really excited to welcome another nerd to the blog.

Robb is not your typical beer nerd. Don’t get me wrong — he appreciates the difference between good beer and crap. The last time I visited him in NYC, he had a big bottle of Chimay Red waiting for us. We drank that, then headed to a very cool Belgian beer bar near Times Square. This was before I was a full-fledged nerd, so I don’t even remember what I drank, but I know the place was worthy.

Anyway, back to Robb. He’s one of the best writers I know, and he has been a blogger for years. He currently runs his own personal site, KiSS THE FiST, and also writes for the Sling Blog. And don’t be surprised if you run into his stuff elsewhere — he’s nothing if not prolific.

On this site, he’ll add a totally different voice and point of view. He’ll write about beer, but it won’t sound anything like what we’ve posted so far.

His first post is almost ready to go, so you should see it soon.

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