Taking inspiration from a blog I’d read by an English chap called James Beeson (Beeson on Beer) and upon recommendations from friends it was decided that Ghent would be our residence in Belgium for the four nights we had planned on being there with the intention to take in mini trips to Bruges and Brussels.
Once again our hotel was centrally located with a mini fridge for storing all the yeast I was accumulating along the way. This was to come in handy as Belgium had a lot of dregs (yeast at the bottom of the bottle) I planned on harvesting. Bags dropped off we set off to stroll around sunny Ghent with the intention of walking up a hunger after nearly four hours spent on the bus down from Amsterdam but that plan quickly went awry as within two minutes of setting off we spotted Waterhuis aan de Bierkant and decided the best way to work up a hunger would be through a few bottles of Gueuze which is a beer made from blended young and old lambics consisting of complex flavours which develop with time and a dry, musty and cider like taste from various wild yeasts.
I opted for a Gueuze Tilquin as it was my first time ever to see it on a menu and Carla opted for the Cantillon 100% Bio Lambic and once we took our heads out of the extensive beer menu we spotted an all you can eat rib house across the water and immediately knew where we were to dine.
We ate all we could for 19 euro each and washed it down with an Orval and Suzanne by Hedonis Ambachtsbier and walked it off around the sparsely populated streets in search of some tunes and a night cap which led us to where the students were living it up. Some music, Gulden Draak, Duchesse de Bourgogne and Rodenbach Grand Cru (all at student prices) later and we were looking forward to day five.
After applying my factor 50 we gathered early the next morning for a two hour walking tour of Ghent in what was to be 30c heat. Fuelled by waffles, ice cream and strawberries for breakfast and stocked up on water, we trekked around the tourist hot-spots and it has to be one of the most architecturally impressive cities I’ve ever visited. The buildings lean forward from the top which makes them look poorly designed but the purpose of which was to winch up heavy materials without them smashing into the walls on the way up!
Thirsty, hungry and scenically satiated for a few hours it I had a hankering for saison so we walked another 15 minutes down to De Planck which is essentially a massive barge which has been converted into a bar. Suitably shaded we opt for a Voisin by Kasteel and a De Dottignies from De Ranke with a side of charcuterie and watch the boats and canoes pass by.
Next up was a two minute walk to De Gues Van Gent which is located across the river from the barge and thus entailed more people watching and drinking what has fast become one of my favourite beers Bruxellensis from Brasserie De La Senne who are based in Brussels.
A stop for some chips covered in mayonnaise was followed by a trip to the Rock Circus. It was a welcome break from the extreme heat and when I saw the bottle of Fantome in the fridge we pulled up at the bar and had a nice chat with the Dutch bartender who kindly stored my harvested Fantome yeast dregs in the fridge. We took our time with the 750ml bottle and after hearing so much about the famous Fantome I found it quite under carbonated but still a very tasty saison.
After retrieving the yeast we moved on to a bar called Backdoor which is a relation of the Rock Circus and the barman kindly called ahead to let the next barman know I would be needing fridge space for my yeast! Strong De Ranke XX and L’Arrogante IPA were probably not the best choices given the heat but we soldiered through.
A final pit stop at Trollekelder which was very popular with students but also had a massive beer menu to suit all resulted in some Dupont on tap and a Gueuze Boon.
At this stage the gueuzes were finally cooked.
Having arrived in Ghent to taste spontaneously fermented beers we were also subjected to spontaneously starting fire alarms in the early hours of the morning in the hotel over the previous two nights so we were gifted a change of room over to a newer section of the hotel across the road and some free breakfast thrown in as a sweetener. We hastily packed and set off on our rambles around Ghent to climb some bell towers and ring some bells that we shouldn’t have (Carla?!). In fairness it did say DO NOT RING BELL so what else was going to happen!
This was followed by a pit stop in Dulle Griet for a Dupont Dry Hopped Cuvee and a De La Senne Zinnebier. A large group of tourists arrived in looking for Kwak and as per custom, had to put one shoe each into a basket as insurance which was hoisted up to the ceiling to prevent theft of the fancy Kwak glass and wooden handle.
The vol-au-vent is a popular main dish in Belgium and a dish I quite like so I paired mine with a Westmalle double and they went better together than expected. We then walked the quite empty midweek streets again until we found The Glengarry which is a Scottish/Scotch/Whiskey themed bar set in what at the time was an empty dungeon but the air was cool and we eased through some Orval and classic Rodenbach.
It must have been the inspirational Orval which got me thinking about yeast, which in turn sent me into a panic when I remembered I had left the Mud King yeast (which I had obtained in Amsterdam, see previous blog post) in the fridge in our previous hotel room which we moved from earlier in the day!
A frantic walk back to reception was followed by me trying to explain that I had left a vial of yeast in the fridge of our previous room and could I have it back please. It is effectively a sealed test tube so when she let me into the (thankfully empty) room and it was still in the fridge she gave me the ‘this dodgy f**ker’ eyeball and I was merrily on my way having saved a yeast that will be discussed in greater detail in a future blog post.
With the calm and panic subsided we headed for ‘t Einde in the square across from the castle for a pit stop of Vanderghinste Oud Bruin and some Super 8 blanche before moving to what proved to be Ghents hidden oddball gem ‘t Velootje.
‘t Velootje is comprised of what looks like an old bicycle shed just off one of the side streets. The cat from this bar even has her own facebook page! We were skeptical about stopping at this ramshackle set up and with no bar or fridge we could see, wondered how this place was classified as a bar. But when the owner who was blocking the entrance started talking to us we wilted within minutes to his charms and found ourselves splashing out 16 euro on a 750ml bottle of De Glazen Toren Lente Bier.
It turned out to be one of the most vibrant, citrusy, spicy saison I had ever tasted! The man had a hidden gem he was sitting on and I’m glad he talked us into staying. This place must be on the Lonely Planet because a few more tourists popped in to see the bikes and famous cat and also were persuaded into drinking the smashing saison. You should definitely pop into this place if you pass through Ghent.
Crying out for a night’s sleep with no alarms going off we popped back in to Dulle Griet for a Troubadour Maris Otter IPA Tripel and a Moinette Blonde then tipped back to Waterhuis aan de Bierkant to harvest some Tilquin dregs and try a Petrus Foeder Sour De Brabandere. Both went down a treat along with a massive plate of pate.
Day 7 In Bruges:
We got up early and hopped on the half hour train west to Bruges for some variety and soon enough found ourselves unable to move amongst the throngs of tourists. With that in mind we were at one of the most popular meeting places, the market square, which also has the famous belfry from the movie In Bruges.
Once again we joined up with a walking tour that took us around all the main attractions and it was easy to see that the tourists seem to skip Ghent and come straight to Bruges and whilst both are beautiful cities, I’ll quite happily take the one I’m comfortably able to move around the streets of first.
The main reason we were here was to have a tour of De Halve Maan brewery located centrally enough and was also part of the walking tour earlier on. You can smell the malt for hundreds of meters beforehand but then you hit the masses of tourists who have the same brewery tour idea as you!
The oversubscribed tour took us through the whole brewhouse and we missed most of what the guide had to say because we couldn’t get close enough to hear him. It was vertically up some tight stairwells on to the roof for a good view of the city and down through the coolship! They let us trample all over the bloody coolship (where beer gathers wild yeast over 12 odd hours) which is sacrilege in my books!
Starving, we headed for Jilles gourmet burger and beer bar. Beer sommelier Sophie Vanrafelghem has paired a beer with every burger on the menu but I decided I knew better as Orval goes with everything! The burgers were spot on and they also have their own beers produced by Fort Lapin. Supposedly there’s free beer in this place if one sports a ginger head of hair but we missed out.
I had heard great things from a lot of people about Café Red Rose and it did not disappoint. Some of the 2005 gueuze in here was topping the 150 euro mark but we opted for a Beau Monde saison and La Frontiere from De Dochter Van de Korenaar which was on tap. I have yet to have a bad beer from this brewery and the saison was exquisite in every way. It’s a crying shame we don’t have such diversity in Ireland when it comes to Belgian style beers, especially saisons.
We decided to hop on the train back to the tranquil streets of Ghent and sat by the canal with the students and had some take away La Chouffe and various hams and cheese watching the sun go down before one last gueuze tasting session in Waterhuis aan de Bierkant.
My yeast dregs bottle needed topping up so we had a Hanssens Oude Gueuze and a Girardin Gueuze and went for an early night as the next morning we dined in De La Senne and from there hopped on a train to Paris.
Day 8 Brussels & Paris:
Ghent is halfway between Brussels and Bruges so we had an easy trip to Brussels then dropped our bags to the storage department and headed out to the Sint-Jans-Molenbeek area of Brussels on the tram to Brasserie De La Senne. We found it easily enough and sauntered into the reception/bar area of the brewery which was in the middle of a working day.
We ordered a Black IPA and a Taras Boulba each and sat down with some of the staff who drifted in and out during the shift change over trying not to ask them too many questions as they rotated through their lunches. Brewery tours can be arranged for larger numbers on weekends but we were happy to watch them go about their routine and ordered up a bottle of Bruxellensis (my new personal favourite) and a Zinnebier.
Really glad we got to visit this brewery as they seem to be slowly making a bigger impact across Europe and I’ve even seen their bottles in Ireland recently. They will also be attending the Hagstravaganza hosted by The White Hag this weekend the 29th July so get to their stand and try the Zinnebier and Bruxellensis if you can.
Two 500ml cans of Leffe on the train and before you know it you’re in Paris! Luckily we had an apartment with some of Carla’s friends so we Ubered our way across to their apartment through the rain and were swiftly sent to the shop for what is the French staple, the baguette!
Amongst the baguettes I managed to pick up a little gem of an IPA from Brasserie de Vézelay, a bio brewery from the Burgundy region of France. It was a beer I returned to many times over the weeklong stay in Paris whilst sent for baguettes!
The next post will cover the week long events of Paris but hopefully in a more condensed fashion.
Thanks for reading,