Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Trappist Beer Trappings – A Belated Father’s Day in Belgium

Quick Belgian Brew Lesson:
It is important to note that a beer labeled as “Trappist” is one that is under the control of Trappist monks within a Trappist Monastery. In the world there are only seven breweries that are authorized to have the designation of Trappist (six are in Belgium and one is in the Netherlands). Furthermore, Trappist beers are sold only to financially support the operations of the Monastery and to fund other philanthropic causes. All Trappists, with the exception of the single Dutch brewery, are ales or rather top fermented. The six Belgian Trappists are Chimay, Orval, Westvleteren, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Achel.

All other Belgian beers are high-quality commercial operations, designated as Abbaye and typically license their name from an existing or retired Abbey. An Abbaye can range in style from blonde, amber, pale, white, or stout to varieties that are more unique to Belgium such as a Lambic. End of tutorial.

When my Dad and I were discussing what to do for his trip to London, a few of the usual ideas were tossed around, but we ultimately decided on a weekend excursion to Belgium for a belated Father’s Day outing and proper Belgian beer trip. He had been to London several times before and we both wanted this trip to be something a little different. It worked out perfectly as he was able to experience two very iconic London traditions; Wimbledon and the Cricket at Lord’s Cricket Ground (see Ode to Wimbledon and Enjoying the Cricket posts) in addition to the Belgium trip.

We boarded the 6:59 am Eurostar from St. Pancras International in London bound for Brussels, arriving to Brussels-Midi station just after 10:00 am Brussels time (1 hour ahead of London and only a 2 hour journey). After hopping on the Metro and taking it four stops over to de Brouckere station just across from our hotel, the NH Atlanta on Max Adolphe Boulevard, we washed up, headed out and got straight to business. We had set out with the intention of finding a nice place for lunch and headed towards the Grand Place before noticing an eye-catching Gothic-styled archway at the opening of a narrow stone corridor which eventually led us to a very old and traditional Trappist beer bar, Au Bons Vieux Temps (“The Good Old Times”) filled only with local Belgians (both the people and the beer). Three very strong Trappist beers later (two rounds of Westmalle and one round of Westvleteren), my Dad and I had become engulfed in conversation and banter with the locals as well as the owner herself, Madame Maria Triest who insisted on buying us another round and showing us to her favorite lunch spot nearby.

Madame Triest is a very outgoing, former teacher fluent in several European languages and the widow of a former officer in the armed forces. Simply walking around the city center she was greeted by and conversed with local shopkeepers, police officers, and restaurant owners, each of whom appeared to know her very well. She took a lot of personal interest and care in showing us the sights and explaining the history behind what we saw as well as what we drank. She later joined us for a coffee where she and my father enjoyed more laughter and conversation.

Unfortunately we only knew her for a few hours that day by wandering randomly into her bar, but we know that she is one of those people in this world that we were truly lucky to have met. Cheers to you Madame Triest and thank you for your warmth and hospitality!

After sleeping off the heavy and highly alcoholic beer, we went at it again, but this time a little farther afield in a neighborhood just north of Brussels Park to a great place called Le Bier Circus. Here we took it a little easier with a light dinner of scampi and pasta with only a couple of rounds of Rochefort. Afterward we wandered the alleyways surrounding the Grand Place and Hotel de Ville before retiring for the evening and resting up for our trip to Brugges the next morning.

Brugges was a nice day excursion outside of Brussels and there isn’t much to do besides strolling around the canals and the city center (the main areas of Markt and Burg), but you can pick up some nice chocolates and taste the local Abbayes while enjoying the slow pace. The only criticism I hear of Brugge and that I can relate to is that it’s a bit over the top on the “touristy” scale, however, that should not be a deterrent to miss out on this quintessentially Flemish town.

Overall, it was a fantastic belated Father’s Day excursion with my Dad and one that I’m certain neither of us will forget. We initially went for the trappings of beer, but found much more in the end; that sometimes the best experiences in life are the little details and people that just creep up on you at times and in places you might have never expected.

More photos of Brussels & Bruges.

From Brussels & Brugges, Belgium


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