Monday, November 19, 2012

Familiar Faces in the Ardennes.

During the summer visit to Belgium I had a rental car for several days. The day I arrived in Luxembourg was not one of them. Starting that morning in Antwerp, I took trains to Gouvy. Then I hopped a bus to Houffalize, and from there lugged my wheeled suitcase down a bumpy path between pastures -- the cows were amused -- to the Vieille Forge.

The Vieille Forge is a B&B which is also home to the new-ish Inter-Pol nanobrewery, but I'll get back to that. This is in Mont, a village with a strategic location for beer travelers. From the lodge you can take a 15-minute walk through more pastures and down the hill to another village named Achouffe, which has basically been taken over by the eponymous brewery. Beer lovers can go to the Taverne there and enjoy Chouffe Houblon. Soup lovers who prefer copious coriander to hops can drink one of the other beers instead.

Here I wrote a rant about the travesty that La Chouffe has become. Then I deleted it. Much more interesting to talk about Pol's little brewery, as he puts it, the second largest one in the Achouffe valley.

Beer-traveler types were coming to Vieille Forge for years before there was a brewery here. Andy Neil, he of Bier-Mania tours, was the one who turned us on to it. Tine and Pol let us camp in the yard when the inn was full once, for the Grand Choufferie. (And what a piss-up that is, lots of folks drinking 8% Chouffe from kegs like it's lager, then attempting to climb stacks of beer crates. Highly recommended.) People came for proximity to Achouffe and Luxembourg's many natural charms, and for Tine's cooking, but they stayed to hear Pol talk about his brewery. He dreamt, then planned, then worked on that stone shed in the driveway -- the old forge itself. It opened in 2010.

The main two beers are the Witte Pol and the Zwarte Pol. The white is classic Belgian Witbier laced with citrus zest, refreshing, while the black one gets light sweetness from milk sugar and some bitterness from cacao. Both were intriguing and more than a bit mysterious, the types of beers you can sit and get to know over a couple of bottles. Neither was overdone in its spicing. Maybe Pol knows things that the brewery down the hill, where he leads tours from time to time, has forgotten.

Pol's beers (and those of the neighbor, and its parent company) are available at the Grand Café, the petit bar that takes up half the old forge. It opens Fridays and Saturdays at 5 p.m., very handy for guests who have been touring all day. It seems to have a few local regulars as well. Past and present brewers from down the hill have been known to appear.

It's worth noting that this makes a serviceable HQ for exploring the Ardennes, whether it's war monuments, trout fishing, or breweries you want. Or some combination thereof. Near enough are Trois Fourquets, Ferme au Chêne, Fantôme, Oxymore, and others.

Good thing my friends showed up the same night I did. With a car.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Like "Happy Ending," Get It?

Back at Costa Rica's first craft beer fest in April, folks were buzzing about, well, a lot of things. In fact there were many buzzes going around. And there was much interest in the big-flavored beers of Treintaycinco.

Pictured are the beers that comprise the familia completa. Attractive, eye-catching labels. Note the strengths on those suckers: Two are at 8% and two others are at 9.8%. Then there is the Japi Endin, a lighter "tropical lager" made with local tapa de dulce sugar and checking in under 5%. I've tasted a few of them a different times and here are my early impressions: They have been very good at times, based on solid and interesting recipes. Consistency isn't quite there yet. But when these babies go legal, they will immediately be among the most interesting beers available in Costa Rica.

Co-founder Ignacio Castro Cortiñas says that the permit process is far along, and that "very soon" the nanobrewery will have news on where to find the beers. I'll try to keep you posted but a safer bet is their Facebook page.

Also, here's more info from a post that David Ackley did on his Local Beer Blog in June.