Belgium revisited

belgian_flagAs anyone following me on twitter or here on Beersay will know, I visit Belgium pretty regularly and as such I often get asked for suggestions and advice on where to visit and stay etc.

Not that I am the font of all knowledge on the subject of course, as most of the information I have is gleaned from experience myself, after taking suggestions from friends, books etc.

I made such a visit a few weeks ago, making two-day stops at Gent and Antwerp both of which were new to me, plus Bruges which is a place I’ve revisited three times to date. Before my trip I set about gathering suggestions as usual for the virgin territory and for anything new on the old ground and thought it may be a good idea to start a bit of a reference section with a links page and hopefully a map for each city I’ve visited and created reviews for.

P1020647This then is basically a bit of a precursor for the above. Over the next few days/weeks/months, I’ll be posting a series of mini/full reviews of places to drink and places to stay, followed by the final reference page for each city or area which can then be added to by me, or as guest review slots. (If you have any you’d like me to include drop me a note in comments or via twitter etc)

Hopefully something useful and more importantly useable will be the end result.

Watch this space



De Garre – Bruges

Although it’s a couple of years old now, for some reason this post seems to be getting lots of hits at the moment, probably as folk plan Belgian beer expeditions. I like it as it brings back lots of fond memories, so I thought I’d post it again. Sorry for the self-indulgence if you’ve read it before…

P1010907To find this place you either stumble across it, or have to purposely search for it, for us thanks to the “Around Bruges in 80 Beers” guide-book and the map reading skills of “pathfinder Rachie” (the wife), it was the latter.

Although centrally located on the main tourist trail and only 100 yards from the main Bruges Markt square, De Garre remains discretely hidden from the less discerning beer tourist, tucked away down a tiny cobbled alley (De Garre) off Breidelstraat. Clientele ranged from the obviously regular local folk each having what seemed to be their own favourite chair, to beer enthusiasts and folk that were very probably lost…

The main room itself is quite small in cafe/bar terms, probably 18 feet by 18, with a small apertured high bar facing you as you venture up the ancient worn stone steps, a tiny winding staircase aside the bar leading to the upper drinking gallery.
Once inside the feeling is like stepping back in time. Being a fan of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, it reminded me of the scene in The Prancing Pony where the hobbits first met Strider, huge gnarled oak beams, stone floor, simple wooden tables clustered together all baring glasses of foaming ales.

Dating back to the 1700’s, De Garre is one of those places where the gentle atmosphere and ambience has your mind wondering how many people have sat here before you. What joys, tragedies, laughter, crimes or drunken buffoonery have these tine four walls witnessed in their lifetime?

Garre Tripel – 11%

Although they have a reasonable beer menu at De Garre, I was only after one in particular at the recommendation of Mark, co author of “real ale reviews” blog. This was the leg weakening De Garre house “Garre Tripel”, I was not alone as almost every table had at least one.

The Tripel arrived in two large goldfish bowl like glasses, with the thick white creamy head massively outweighing the liquid content by about three parts to one, there being only about three-quarters of an inch of beer sitting at the base. Either by sensing our unconscious looks of disappointment or by the daily experiences of newcomers to his bar, the barman softly whispered “wait, it will come”.

Each tray of beer is served with a small portion of chopped cheese, which I’m led to believe is a compatible match for most Belgian beer, it was soft, creamy and when finally, patience rewarded we got to taste the Garre Tripel went perfectly with the beer

The beer itself has aromas of yeast and biscuits with slightly grassy hoppy notes. Once through that thick long lingering head, the first thing that hits you is the smooth malty flavour that disguises the alcoholic strength better than some half the same ABV. Garre is quite sweet for a Tripel which I suspect is due to the heavy alcohol, it has a smooth full-bodied creaminess in the mouth which perfectly compliments the peach and light citrus flavours. The finish is easy-going with evidence of hop bitterness but lightly so.

Garre Tripel is only available on the premises so you really need to make an effort and find it if ever you visit Bruges, all in all a fantastic experience and one we repeated whilst in the city. The beer can be purchased in 1.5 litre bottles to take away but we refrained from buying one preferring to keep the memory of the visit alive.

A final word of warning, at De Garre I’m told they will only ever serve you three house Tripel beers in one sitting, I didn’t test the theory but probably suggest that it’s a wise move..

SupSaison wrap up

Wow time has flown, the #SupSaison weekend is almost a week old and I still haven’t posted a wrap up. I haven’t posted at all to be honest I’ve had a crazy few weeks with work and after long hard days I just couldn’t face another few hours tapping away at a laptop, so, I’m sorry…

I know the guys at the venues I mentioned last week had a real blast and I thank them and everyone else who joined in, wherever you may be, most sincerely.

At “Chez Hardy” I hosted a tasting night that lasted quite a bit longer than normal, it lasted way after midnight as it happened and well past Saisons too as it goes.

I opted for a mix of various styles, traditional well-tested standards, international attempts at mirroring the style, home-brew, flavoured, hybrid variations using saison yeasts and an Imperial. The results were quite surprising as none of the real favourites voted for were what I’d consider bang on typical style with most having a twist of some description in the mix. I’ve added a full list further below which includes descriptions not of my writing, this info gleaned from brewery websites etc and presented as a formal beer list to guests on the night. (Glamorous eh?)

We had seven tasters all of varying experience and all with slightly different personal tastes in beers and styles, each had two votes each and this is what came out as a top 5

  1. Red Willow – Faithless XIV Gin and Tonic Saison (Macclesfield) 4 Votes
  2. Baird Brewing Saison Sayuri (Japan) (Equal first place) 4 Votes
  3. Brasserie de Silly – Saison (Silly – Belgium) 3 Votes
  4. Belgoo – Saisonneke (Brasserie La Binchoise, Binche, Belgium) 2 Votes
  5. Green Flash – Saison Diego (San Diego – California) 1 Vote

So there you have it, the top two most enjoyed Saison beers of the night came from Japan and Macclesfield, who’d have thought it..

The night didn’t end there though, as because we were in such good company, I decided to open my long overdue bottle of Roosters Baby Faced Assassin, closely followed by a bottle of Stone Double Bastard. Thankfully as this was after midnight and SupSaison had unofficially closed the top five remained as they were otherwise the Roosters would have swept the board, it was absolutely stunning even though it was a year old.

We had a blast on the night, I hope you did too. I’ve already had requests to get another started, with suggestions of either Barley Wines or Lambics as the featuring beer style, what do you think, it’s of course open to further suggestion/debate??


Note: There were no real tasting notes taken as this was supposed to form part of the wider twitter tasting event and therefore any comments made would have been live on the night, but here is the beer list:

Order of beer service ~

Traditional Belgian/French styles

St-Feuillien – Saison (LE ROEULX – BELGIUM)

St-Feuillien’Saison is what the Belgians call a beer of the terroir,
A traditional farmhouse ale with all the rich savour of the fertile land of southern Belgium. Saison, a warm golden blonde ale, is a top-fermented classique. Thanks to secondary fermentation in the bottle, Saison has an unmistakable flavour full of rich nuances and a slight tang.

Belgoo – Saisonneke (Brasserie La Binchoise, Binche, Belgium)

Dry hopped Saison, A really refreshing flowery hoppy beer with not that too much of bitterness going on. The hops are really more of a kind of flowery-fruity-citric aromas.

Brasserie La Chouffe – La Chouffe (Ardennes – Belgium)

LA CHOUFFE is an unfiltered blonde saison beer, which is re-fermented in the bottle as well as in the keg.  It is pleasantly fruity, spiced with coriander, and with a light hop taste.

Brasserie de Silly – Saison (Silly – Belgium)

Its taste is remarkable, light and favourably combined to offer a tone that is both modestly sweetened and fruity, leaving the mouth with a refreshing feel as is constantly asked of it.

 Brasserie Fantôme Saison (Soy-Erezée, Belgium)

This is a tremendously delicious, textural, and fizzy county ale, bright gold colour, citric and sour, reminiscent of a good champagne or lambic but in a class all its own.

Fantôme – Golden ale, 8% alc. by volume, with a wonderfully musty and characterful aroma. There are many drinkers out there who believe this is the “Nectar of the Gods.” Certainly no other brewer makes beer like this, in Belgium or anywhere. How many beers of 8% plus offer such fresh fruitiness? A solid Belgian saison beer at its base, with an unusual overlay of fruitiness.

International Efforts

 Green Flash – Saison Diego (San Diego – California)

Unfiltered golden farmhouse ale, brewed with Seville orange peels, Chinese ginger and grains of paradise. Light, bright, spicy aromas, lively carbonation and earthy flavors co-mingle with musty notes that add funky complexity.

Baird Brewing Saison Sayuri (Japan)

A fascinating mixture of down-to-earth simplicity and understated complexity. Brewed entirely with pale base malts and Japanese candy sugar (except for a hint of roasted barely for color contribution), Saison Sayuri is relatively light in body and sprite in flavor. The nose is an immensely complex amalgam of aromas – bubble gum-like phenolics from the Belgian yeast, floral and fruity notes
from dry hopping, and a subtle hint of citrus and spice from the addition
of Japanese daidai peels (daidai is a very sour type of Japanese orange). A splash of sour daidai juice also was added to the wort which manifests itself in a stealthily citric-sour finish.

Leeds Brew – Saison de la Maison  (Neil Gardner – Leeds)

Very classic, dry Saison, medium bodied with fruity yeast and peppery phenols dominating.

A massive thanks to Neil from LeedsBrew for sending me this at his own expense (I owe you one). It was not at all out on it’s own and I’d guess with some certainty that if I hadn’t said it was home brewed, nobody would have known.

Flavoured and style variations

Red Willow – Faithless XIV Gin and Tonic Saison (Macclesfield)

This isn’t just a Saison with a splash of Gordon’s and a glug of Schwepps added to it. The G&T flavours are provided by use of juniper and lemongrass respectively.

Flying Dog – In de Wildeman Farmhouse IPA

Brewed for Bierproeflokaal In de Wildeman’s 25th Anniversary. This brand new brew is an unfiltered American IPA hopped with Citra and fermented with Saison yeast.

 The Bruery – Saison Rue

Saison Rue is a unfiltered Belgian/French style farmhouse ale. This is a beer of subtlety and complexity, with malted rye, spicy, fruity yeast, biscuit-like malt backbone and a slight citrus hop character.

Cigar City – Guava Grove

One of Tampa’s nicknames in addition to the CigarCity is the Big Guava. It earned the moniker from local newspaper columnist Steve Otto in the 1970’s. The nickname eventually gave rise to one of YborCity’s most popular annual events, Guavaween. We brew Guava Grove in tribute to Tampa’s fruity nickname. Guava Grove is brewed with a French strain of Saison yeast and sees a secondary fermentation on pink guava puree. Slightly tart with a dry finish this is a refined beer that is perfect for sharing. Pairs well with a wide variety of cheeses, seafood and light fruit salads.

 Brasserie Fantôme – Pissenlit

Dany, the offbeat brewer at Fantôme, will try anything, and the results are always interesting. A beer made from dandelions would be worth a try if only because no one has ever brewed one before, but the great news is that this is actually a very good beer.
Dany and some cohorts get busy every spring picking bushels of dandelions that grow in the fields around the picturesque farmhouse brewery. The yellow flowers are removed and dried in the sun, then soaked in water for a few days. The thick, dark dandelion “tea” that results is the basis for the Pissenlit, which is made also from traditional barley malt and hops. It resembles a classic saison beer – golden spritzy brew, strong and very flavorful, with a good hop bite. You may have to strain to taste the dandelions, but you know they’re in there.
It should be noted that uncooked, the dandelion has a diuretic effect and is known in France as Pissenlit (literally, “wet the bed” – this also happens to be the British folk-name) for precisely this reason.

Imperial Saison

Marble – Special Imperial Saison (Marble & Dark Star colab, brewed in Manchester)

Imperial Saison brewed in partnership with DarkStar. Classic spicy yeast notes with with a warming alcohol kick.