Friday, May 12, 2006


Aarschot Appreciated!

Easter is a time filled with traditions. In the Philippines the dedicated whip themselves or get crucified.

A rather more pleasant tradition is the beer festival arranged by the Aarschotse Bierwegers- the beer weighers of Aarschot. It is the local branch of Zythos in this historic town in the Hageland ("Garden Land") part of Vlaams-Brabant- half an hour by train from both Antwerpen and Hasselt, 12 minutes north-east of Leuven.

This small beer festival, or Bierfestijn, was held for the 13th time this year on Easter Saturday and Easter Sunday. The venue is the rather hard-to-find Zaal Bekaf, a good 20 minutes walk from the railway station. Prepare well, because there are no signs. Finding the narrow path was never easy, but it does bring rewards.

This year the beer list boasted 69 items, all nicely presented with knowledgable comments in a nice Easter-yellow leaflet. Many are real gems, most are rare even by Belgian standards. Even in great Belgian beer cafés Girardin Lambic on draft is not everyday fare. If you are aiming at the super-gems, the Saturday session is your best bet since the venue attracts both locals and foreign beer tourists with a nose for good beer. They know what to order!

One extraordinary beer was the Bink Tripel from the Kerkom brewery. It is quite a hoppy beer, normally not seen on this continent as it is brewed for export to the US. Luckily, it was halted in Aarschot before managing to leave the country. Unfortunately, being a small festival, the beers are sold by the bottle, some like the Bink Tripel in 75 cl, and not in small size tasting glasses, which is problematic for beer tourists travelling on their own (or with a not-so-enthusiastic spouses).

Still, it continues to impress me that a town of less than 30,000 souls can come up with such a great little beer festival, where the organisers have put a lot of effort into finding the unusual. It is the perfect Easter pilgrimage for believers in craft beer. Certainly no brewer represented here deserves crucifiction (though the two biggest might need a little whipping).

I've been to this festival every year for the last three years, and intend to do so every year hence! It falls so conveniently when there are two bank holidays either side of the weekend. Great beer, great food, great atmosphere, friendly staff... I couldn't recommend it more.
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