Saturday, December 31, 2005


Hoppy New Year!

It is the big night again! It is time to celebrate the coming of a new year with the best drinks and the best guests available.

For this New Year's Eve I have teamed up with Bush Prestige. No, it is not Republicans Abroad that are my guests- 2005 may have seen much of the Prestige disappearing from the presidential team, anyway.

And the Bush part is not supposed to be associated with anything American at all. To the extent that Bush is renamed Scaldis (the name is derived from the river Schelde, which flows from Northern France into Belgium passing by the cities of Tournai (where it is called Escaut), Gent and Antwerpen on its way to the North Sea) for the American market. One giant adjunct-lager producer with a similar-sounding name seems to be afraid that people would confuse their mass-produced beer with the craft brews from the Belgian brewer Dubuisson, based in Pipaix near Tournai. Or maybe it is the comparison they fear?

Supposedly only available at the brewery's tasting café and its two brew-pubs in Mons and Louvain-la-Neuve, but in all honesty I picked up my two bottles at a well-stocked Delhaize supermarket branch in Antwerpen for the price of 14 Euro each.

The Prestige is "the ordinary" Bush Ambrée aged in oak-barrels (an old method turned the latest fad in Belgian brewing) for 5 months, and it is stronger than your ordinary New Year's Eve champagne with its 13% alcohol, warming nicely on a cold night. With its complex vanilla, nutty and port flavours and a decent hoppiness it might be rather more inspiring as well.

My wish for the coming year is also to develop complexity and depth, but without spending time inside a wooden container. Santé!

Friday, December 30, 2005


Elaborating on Essen

I have already presented what is essentially just the essence of the Essen Kerstbierfestival. With so many beer enthusiasts present I thought I would share some of their links with you, just in case my report did not entice you to consider Essen for next December.

The picture on the left is not my own; it is from the appetizing picture report on the festival by Filip Geerts- Belgian beer enthusiast par excellence- published on the Zythos homepage.

For a detailed review of the festival and everything around it few can beat John White's account of the event. His homepage is a treasure house of knowledge about Belgian beer. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Essential Essen

With an almost complete selection of current Belgian Christmas (or winter) beers, the 2-day Christmas beer festival (or Kerstbierfestival) in Essen certainly moves up as a clear no 2 beer festival in Belgium, second only to the annual 24-Hour Beer Festival, now renamed the Zythos Bier Festival.

As with all Belgian beer festivals I have been to there is a friendly reception, and the organizers seem genuinely happy to see international guests. Being virtually on the border with the Netherlands (my mobile phone even tuned into a Dutch network) there were of course many Dutch beer lovers, but American and British accents were heard as well.

For many people it might just as well be the Kerstbierfestival that puts Essen on the map. There is not much to say about the place except that that is commonly confused with the hamlet of Esen in Westvlaanderen, the home of De Dolle Brouwers.

As at all Belgian beer festivals people are encouraged to sit down and enjoy their beer in a civilised way- this is the Burgundian lifestyle that the Belgians so endorse. You may even feel that you have deserved it making the 20+ minute walk to the venue - De Heuvelhal- from the station, which is on the Antwerpen - Roosendaal line. The local train takes about double that time to bring you from Antwerpen, but then you get to see many small stations on the way.

117 different beers, some draught, but mostly from bottles, all served in the appropriate 15 cl "proefglas", with convenient glass washing facilities next to the bar. The organizers - OBER (Objectieve Bierproevers Essense Regio)- the local branch of Zythos, still keeping the name of the old Belgian beer consumer organisation- have certainly done their bit to ensure objective beer tasting.

Objectively speaking, heading for Essen in December is almost essential for beer tourists in Christmas mood.

Sunday, December 25, 2005


Merry Trappistmas!

It is Christmas Day and time to celebrate! What better way than with De Drie Wijzen - the Three Wise Men beer- the Christmas beer from the trappist brewers at Achelse Kluis.

As far as I know this is the one and only Christmas trappist beer available, please bring me wisdom if I am wrong. A wise decision, if you ask me, from the youngest trappist brewer, and the sort of inventiveness you might only have expected from the brothers at Koningshoeven, who introduced the first trappist witbier.

But then again celebration may be a somewhat alien concept for the trappist order, following faithfully Saint Benedict's prescription for a life filled with "Ora et Labora"- prayer and work. So alien in fact that it seemed to have escaped the attention even of the Essen Christmas Beer Festival organizers, who aim to offer all Belgian Christmas beer available.

The beer is certainly one that the wise men would have enjoyed on the cold desert nights. It is a heavily spiced version of the Bruin Extra; aroma and flavour cries out orange scent, but underneath hides a well-balanced quadruppel. It hides the 10 percent alcohol well, and the finish is also refreshingly dry.

So a merry Christmas to all of you and not least to Achel and all the craft brewers that are our leading stars!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


A Bavarian Bierstube in Britain

Bavarians have got a new meeting point in London. Just a few weeks ago Bavarian Beerhouse opened in 190 City Road, just a stone's throw from Old Street tube station (and en route to The Wenlock Arms). Opening hours are good, from 11 to 11 all days of the week, and they also serve Bavarian food.

Now just before Christmas you are greeted by a big plastic Santa at the entrance. Downstairs in the basement is the bierstube with appropriate long tables covered by light-blue and white plastic tablecloths; the same pattern is found again on the small skirts and blouses of the waitresses. Did I mention the oompah music in the background?

Now, this may sound like a Disneyland version of a bierstube, but the place is actually run by Germans and seemed to be visited mostly by Germans. No surprise then that thirty seconds after 2 pm the whole staff moved in to remove the brunch buffet- it is only served until 2. Ordnung muss sein.

Bavarian it may be, but the Beerhouse did not quite live up to expectations. Only seven different, rather easily available German beers, is not exactly overwhelming, if you ask me. After a hearty serving of Leberknödelsuppe- liver dumplings soup- and just one beer I therefore hit the City road again.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


Base for Beer in London

Old Street tube station (or rather a hotel not far from it) may not be an obvious base for your London trip. But it is very convenient for many beery excursions in the capital. Of course, there is the Pitfield Beer Shop, and not having to carry the heavy beers around town is definitely an advantage. If you, on the hand, decide to do the bulk of your beer shopping at Utobeer, you are only three tube stops away on the Northern Line.

Then there are the bars. One of the best in the entire city, The Wenlock Arms, is a mere fifteen minute walk away. Similar distance, but westwards Belgophiles can indulge at The Dovetail, which boasts the widest selection of Belgian beers in the capital. Yesterday the area got another beery draw- the opening of the Bavarian Beerhouse at 190, City Road next to the Moorfields Eye Hospital. I will visit it next weekend and let you know if it is worth seeing. If you get hungry, cool restaurants are popping up all over the area.

As mentioned, the Northern Line conveniently brings you to London Bridge (should you wish to make a trip to The Beer Circus in Croydon) and to Clapham for The Microbar and a Bierodrome.
Liverpool Street Station with connections to Stansted airport is not far away. (Flying into and out of that airport in the weekend is NOT recommended as there is no train service due to works, the queue for the replacement bus service is endless, the bus may get stuck in the traffic and you end up missing your flight!)

What you should not miss is some of these great beer oases on your next trip to London.

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