Saturday, September 7, 2013

Belgium, Day 3

Lets start at the very Beguine, a very fine place to start.


For our first day of brewery tours, we loaded up in Serge's van and headed towards Antwerp. Not far from there, in the area of Mechelen is Het Anker, a brewery that is on a location where beer had been brewed for over 700 years. In the 1400s, the Beguine sisters received permission to brew beer here. Beguines and Beghards were an indigenous Catholic religious order, whose adherents performed works of mercy, which included running hospitals, baking bread for the poor and, at this particular Beguinage (convent), brewed beer.

A local volunteer took us on a tour of Het Anker. We tried to explain that we were an owner and employees of a brewery in the States, but the point got lost. Tyler especially enjoyed hearing how beer includes four basic ingredients and how yeast turns sugar to C02 and alcohol.

While the the building was old, the brewery, and equipment that held it dated from early post WWII. There was a copper heat exchanger, where wort dripped over the outside of copper tubes through which flowed cold water. On the roof of the building was a Coolship, basically an open pool that held wort, and exposed it to the open air for spontaneous fermentation.


The building is a historical landmark, which prevented the brewery owners from doing much renovation or expansion so, much of the operation is now performed in other parts of the town. In its place are hundreds of Kentucky bourbon barrels that the brewery is now using for aging whiskey. Their first batch is due out later this year. When asked whether they age beer in the used bourbon barrels, our traditionalist guide replied, "Who would want to age beer in whiskey barrels?"

Het Anker also runs a nearby hotel, where the chief selling point is proudly displayed as "spend the night between the sheets with a brewer." Tyler commented that if we took that business approach, he'd have to delegate more.

Het Anker's flagship beer is Gouden Carolus, named for a gold coin from the reign of Charles V. We tried several iterations of Gouden Carolus, including the licorice heavy Classic, a Tripel, a hoppy Hopsinjoor, and Cuvee Van de Keizer.

Next stop, Duvel Moortgat. Everyone knows Duvel, the devil's brew. Their recently renovated facility is amazing with fermenters three stories high. They quoted their capacity in hectoliters, and the conversion math is hard, but it's pretty certain that one or two of their fermenters alone can contain the entire capacity of The Bruery's 17 fermenters.

During our tour, (in which we again learned the basic ingredients of beer, and how it's made) what really got our attention was their massive bottling line. In Belgium, bottling doesn't start with filling bottles. It starts with sorting and cleaning bottles returned from local markets. This was a warehouse of automation, which ran 24 hours a day, 5 days a week. There were only three employees in sight, and one of them was our tour guide.


After our tour we settled into Duvel's tasting room. We had the regular Duvel, Vedett Extra White, Maredsous, Houblon Chouffe, and Liefmans Fruistesse. Maredsous is an abbey beer produced under license and occasionally inspected and blessed by the monks. Liefman's Fruitesse is sweet as jelly, made with five berries (cherry, strawberry, elderberry, raspberry, and bilberry). Served over ice, it tastes almost like a punch or sangria. It was delicious.

Before heading back to Brugge, we stopped at Kulminator, a long-time running cafe specializing in cellar aged beers. Among other beers, we enjoyed a 2004 Pannep√łt and Patrick found his first Belgian fanboy who had just recently shared a Black Tuesday and Chocolate Rain with the Kulminator's proprietors.

The day ended with dinner back in Brugge. First another glass of that tasty Cantillon Gueuze, then mussels, chicken, and several rounds of Orval, outside on a cobblestone square.

Post written by Carl Katz, our CFO and resident champion of eastern culture and remembering all the weird spellings of these Belgian names.

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