Friday, February 26, 2010

Where You Thirsty Types Might Want to Stay in Normandy.

We heard about the Ferme du Pressoir from a friend, who read about it in Rick Steves. That Rick Steves, he tends to be good for business. He also tends to be dead-on right. This was a great place.

It wasn't just Odile, the jolly matron who kept us well plied with chocolate croissants, coffee, and omelets made with eggs fresh from her farm. Neither was it the typically rustic decor, comfy beds, or fire-hydrant-strong water pressure in the showers. Nor the handy proximity to Bayeux and its tapestry, the D-Day beaches, or stunning Mont St-Michel.

No, my favorite part, naturally, was the unlabeled bottles of cider, made right there on the farm, that kept reappearing in the fridge night after night. We were there three evenings, and only on the first did we make the mistake of eating out. Why go to a restaurant when you can cover your B&B table in funky local cheeses — Livarot, Pont-L'Évêque, Camembert and Neufchâtel — slather them across some crusty bread and wash it down with all that dry, floral cider? (Self-catering is an underrated art, by the way.)

We didn't want to leave. But Odile made it slightly easier by handing me another unlabeled bottle on the way out.

Pictured: Grandpa Willard and a bounty of pain au chocolat study up on their WWII history.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Me and You and Pieds de Dieu.

Cider, Calvados, Band of Brothers, and the stinky cheese they call the "feet of God." We're off to Normandy for a few days. Hope to have a report or two for you afterward. Meanwhile, if you have any suggestions, do tell.

Also some other news and announcements on the way. Sorry for being coy. Juggling baby and grandparents at the moment. And packing. And such. Thirsty work. But fun.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Eating Like a Gentleman From Liedekercke.

Since one of the world's most legendary restaurants for beer lovers is only a half-hour away, we're ashamed we've only been there a few times. Our lunch there on Saturday helped a bit. With luck and planning we'll get back there again soon.

I'm talking about the Heeren van Liedekercke, which despite the name is just barely in Denderleeuw. (Liedekercke is on the other side of the creek.) The specialty here is hearty and traditional Belgian cuisine, creatively done, and cooked in beer often as not. Then there's the standard list of 300+ bottles with an emphasis on smaller breweries.

Those facts alone would be enough to make the place great. What makes it legendary is the cellar. A multi-page list printed on A4 computer paper tells a long story of vintage lambics, Trappists and other gems. There are still a few Rodenbach Alexanders down there. Old Rocheforts and Westvleterens. The sought-after Drie Fonteinen J&J geuzes. And plenty more.

I settle on a 5-year-old Orval next to my "Orvaliflette." It is what it sounds like: tartiflette made with the ale. The Orval is floral as always, subtly tart, but naturally the bitterness and carbonation have softened. In my view this makes the pairing less than ideal, since that zip can help scrub the cheese and fat off the palate. But like any beer, it was compatible enough with a mish-mash of potatoes, cheese and bacon. Nothing can go wrong there, so it's only a question of how right. And this was very, very right.

Atonement can be damned tasty sometimes.

*Obligatory head nod to Tim Webb's Good Beer Guide Belgium, which brought us there for the first time nearly three years ago.

Friday, February 12, 2010

At That Price You Can't Afford NOT to Drink It.

Read it and weep. One and a half eurobucks for a glass of Saison Dupont, fresh on tap. What's a short bottle of that stuff going for in New York these days?

(Answer: $8 to $12, apparently.)

That poster is on the wall of the Caves Dupont, the pub just across the road from the brewery in Tourpes. Keep an eye out for this and more in an upcoming issue of DRAFT, featuring a piece on something we call Saison Road. Should be useful for anyone considering, planning or even just fantasizing about a tour of Belgium's farmhouse breweries.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

ZBF Weekend is Growing Into a Liver-Eating Belgian Beer Week Monster. And I'm Cool With That.

The over-the-top craft beer weeks that have taken over some U.S. cities — like Philly and San Francisco — have no real analogue here in Belgium. But the closest thing might be ZBF weekend, which is gradually expanding into more than half a week. Now if someone would just plan stuff for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — beer dinners? meet-the-brewer events? homebrew competition? — we'd be in business. (And in trouble.)

Its all built around the Zythos Beer Festival in Sint-Niklaas. More on that event later, which attracts plenty of traveling beer geeks. That makes it a good time for other places that like traveling beer geeks to organize to-dos.

For now, it starts Thursday, March 4, with the Pre-ZBF Festival at Lakebosschen castle in Oostkamp, not too far from Bruges. Click on that link to find a PDF with all details in English. (Note the excellent "beeriodic system" that represents the fest's beer list.) Organized chiefly by the Alvinne picobrewery, last year's success follows with beers from Alvinne, Struise and Urthel, Dutch brewery De Molen, plus British breweries Thornbridge and Brewdog. No doubt there will be other surprises.

The Thursday Pre-ZBF event is a "whisky and beer" experience from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Don't bother, it's already sold out. Friday is open to the wider public, though, with or without reservation, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Also on Friday: the Night of Great Thirst, out at the excellently named Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst (Insurance Against Great Thirst) in Eizeringen, not far west of Brussels. This is simply one of the world's best lambic cafés, and this event only happens every two years. It starts at 7 p.m., and all the major lambic makers are there... except for Cantillon. But that's OK, because...

Saturday is not just when ZBF starts. It's also Cantillon's semiannual Public Brewing Day. For those planning to hit ZBF later that day, what better way to start than coffee and croissants with the smell of cereals wafting through the air at Cantillon, bright and early?

For the rest of the weekend you've got to options: go two ZBF or drown yourself in Cantillon (and about 30 other top draft beers) at Moeder Lambic Fontainas. Or both.

Hard to go wrong, no matter which path you take.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Moeder Lambic and Cantillon Add to ZBF Weekend Festivities.

Very soon I'll have for you a more complete rundown of all the happy things going on the (lengthening) weekend of the Zythos Beer Festival. But for now a quick item...

You may already know that Cantillon usually holds its semiannual public brew session on ZBF Saturday, March 6. But now you also know this: To honor Cantillon and its fans, Moeder Lambic Fontainas is organizing a mini-festival of sorts all weekend long.

The main attractions are the following lambic stars on draft: Lou Pepe Kriek and Kriek Cuvée Moeder (cherries), Rosé de Gambrinus (raspberries), Vigneronne (white muscat grapes), St. Lamvinus (red Merlot and Cabernet grapes), Iris (dry-hopped), Cuvée des Champions (dry-hopped), Zwanze 2008 (rhubarb), and Zwanze 2009 (elder flowers). Plus, maybe, another surprise beer.

That doesn't include the Gueuze Cantillon, which is always on tap there, or the kriek, faro and unblended lambic from the handpumps.

More fun stuff tomorrow.

UPDATE: According to co-owner Jean Hummler, most of that joyous lambic tappery will begin Friday. Only the Zwanzes and the surprise batch will wait for Saturday. So, fest-goers, plan away.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Scratch that Friday business. Now the lambics will be flowing from the fountains on THURSDAY.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Post No. 209, Now There's an Exciting Title.

Boulevard in Missouri and Orval in Belgium are two of my favorite breweries in the whole wide world. The fact that I'm from Missouri and live in Belgium adds a certain sentimental attachment to both. So I've been swooning over their upcoming Collaboration No. 1 since news of it broke a short while back. Even though that name is so boring it puts me to sleep.

However, I've also been scratching my head over the style: "imperial pilsner"? Excuse me, Mr. Pauwels and Mr. Rock, but really? Can't we stop imperializing lagers and just call them bocks?

Now I understand the beer a little better, thanks to Stan Hieronymous. He has the full story here. Jean-Marie Rock wanted to do something not possible at Orval: a first-wort-hopped, high-strength lager. Well, OK. This guy has earned the right to brew whatever the hell he wants. So has Steven Pauwels of course.

But they should consulted me before choosing the boring name. Clearly this beast should be called Rock Bock.