Since I have now been home for several weeks (and several life events later) this post is severely outdated, but was written when I first arrived home from my Euro trip so that the events would be fresh in my mind. I thought I'd post it, even though it's late...
I arrived home last night after a whirlwind tour of three cities in three different countries and face the task of trying to recap what happened in a couple posts. On top of that, I am now on a plane for the Great American Beer Festival in Denver after being home for less than 16 hours. Of course Iâ€™m not complaining, just letting you know that what youâ€™ll find here is a summary of the middle part of my trip, and then Iâ€™ll add the two brewery tours I did of Paulaner and Cantillon in separate posts a bit later.
After five days in Munich, and three days at Oktoberfest in that time, Chris White and I caught a plane toÂ Paris. Now I know what you are thinking; what is a beer guy on a beer trip doing heading to Paris? The answer is that two of my best friends on earth live there, and it has become one of my favorite European cities. If youâ€™ve never been, forget everything you think you know about the French and trust me that this place is amazing, and you can even find some decent beer. But on top of that, on this particular occasion, my friend Yann, whom I got into homebrewing on a visit to the U.S., is opening the first microbrewery in his region of Paris, and to kick things off, heâ€™s throwing a party dubbed â€œJustoberfestâ€ in my honor. Oh, and the brewery is being opened in an old abandoned French brothel, so really, what more could you ask for.
So Whitey and I head for Paris and spend a few days as tourists seeing the sites, drinking wine and beer (the wine is unbelievable and at a price you canâ€™t refuse; about five Euros for world class wine that would cost well more than 80 bucks here) and of course, exploring the red light district (but youâ€™ll have to tune in to the show for those stories). Unfortunately for Chris, Justoberfest is not for a few days and weâ€™ve got a Belgium trip ahead of us first, from which Chris will fly home, and Iâ€™ll head back to Paris alone. Se we eat amazing French food like Charcuterie (artisan butcher plates of various pork derived meets and pate), smoke Cuban cigars on the cheap and make general American nuisances of ourselves for three days before catching a high speed train to Brussels.
Brussels, I must admit up front, is a bit of a disappointment. I think Iâ€™ve built it up so much in my mind as Beer Mecca that it would be impossible for it to meet my expectations. I quickly find that itâ€™s difficult to get around, much of the beer is a cheap industrial version of the true Belgian stuff, and the Belgians themselves could care less about the true beauty of real Belgian beer. But I wonâ€™t say that the place is a bust, thatâ€™s not what I mean at all.
We of course hit the popular spots first like Delirium CafÃ© and Toone. Theyâ€™re easy to get to and reliable as good beer bars. Delirium was impressive in its beer selection (they boast 2000 beers available, but Iâ€™m skeptical), but it felt more like a night club in Walnut Creek California with young twenty somethingâ€™s chugging Stella and enjoying the meat-market atmosphere. Oh, and I got hit on by a Danish dudeâ€¦again with the Walnut Creek action. But we did have some great beer, and the bartender new his stuff as we asked for true Belgian sours and he delivered every time
Toone was more impressive and fit my image of a Belgian beer bar. Whitey tells me that beer geeks who travel here from the U.S. complain about Toone for its lack of beer selection, but to them Iâ€™d say theyâ€™ve missed the point. Toone has a very casual feel, a rich history in French Belgian tradition as a puppet show house (creepy I know but appealing in the same wayâ€¦like hanging out with JP), and serves me an organic Cantillon Gueze (my first beer in Belgium) that rocks my world. Itâ€™s quality not quantity folks.
The best part of the city though, and you had to know this was coming from me, was visiting the only traditional lambic brewery left in Brussels; Cantillon. That story requires an entire post of its own, so Iâ€™ll save it for that. Just know for now that I could have gone to Brussels for one day, spent that day at Cantillon, and left fulfilled with my trip to Belgium this time around.
Whitey and I also found (through the Cantillon brewer) the best true Belgian beer bar in Brussels, Moeder Lambic, which stands for Mother Lambic (Moeder is Dutch, Lambic French). This place, according to the owners we interviewed, exists not for tourists like us (itâ€™s a bit off the beaten path) but to teach Belgians about great Belgian beer and its traditions. They explain to us that Belgians have forgotten about beer over the years and refuse to spend much money on great hand made beers and instead prefer wine, considering beer to be plain and lower class. Does any of this sound familiar to you? I explain to the owners that their task is noble and worth the fight as the U.S. has faced the same problem, still does today, but that craft beer is now winning the war against industrial swill due to similar effortsâ€¦well at least in our world right?
The bar lives up to its name, has a verifiable and impressive list of 250 true Belgian beers, and a beer cellar that rivals anything Iâ€™ve ever seen, including several cases of the famed Westvleteren. They even have Cantillon Lambic on tap, something that youâ€™ll not find anywhere else in the city (and typically not on earth?) and will change the way you think about beer on tap. It is an absolute do not miss on any trip to Brussels, and we didnâ€™t even try the artisan cheese they had to offer.
A few adventures later and much more beer, and our time in Brussels was complete. Out last night there was spent with a very cool American listener now living in Belgium, Phil, at Moeder Lambic and another localâ€™s bar (sorry the name escapes me, but I was drunk so Iâ€™m sure you understand). The next morning I jumped the high speed rail back to Paris, and Whitey caught a flight home.
As a quick disclaimer, please donâ€™t get me wrong, Brussels is worth a visit, but I suggest one day and night there if youâ€™re only going for beer, then renting a car and heading out to the countryside, like Bruges, Vleteran, and Flanders. That advice was given to me as well, but I didnâ€™t follow it, so take my word.
The next Euro installment, which completes the majority of my trip, will include my Paulaner tour in Munich and of course Cantillon in Brussels.