After our requisite visits to Ghent and Bruges, Caro graciously picked us up for our little excursion. We stopped in Ieper first as Caro wanted to show us the war memorial it is noted for as well as a surprisingly beautiful main square. Of course, with a little prior research I found a fantastic beer café for us to have lunch in and our day got off to a great start. After some food and a stroll around town, we got back on the road. It was foggy and Caro, normally exceptionally well oriented got a bit lost. Not to worry. In these parts there are few roads so you are never far from where you are going. Soon we were in the beery paradise. The monastery has very limited visiting facilities and with such damp cold weather we quickly made our way into the canteen to sample their wares.
The building was quite modern and unremarkable, offering little in the way of true atmosphere. But it is quite functional and none of its visitors seemed to mind since this is one place you can be assured of sampling their fine beers. We started off with their Blonde, a straw colored light ale with a marvelous hoppy palate which went well with their house cheese. Doreen and I proceeded with the remaining two beers and I believe I managed to squeeze in a few extra along the way. I’d been good at lunch as I knew I was to be in nirvana and saved myself for it. Caro had tried to order a few cases of the monks’ nectar to go but found that even with a few weeks notice they were sold out for the day. They have a strict takeaway policy that states that not only are only two crates sold per vehicle but also that they must be pre-ordered to insure you will even get that much! Others can take one six-back with them. Since Doreen and I were on the road, we only took one six between us and let Caro have the extra one. It was the least we could do as she was driving and couldn’t sample as freely as us. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
One thing I love about just about anywhere I've traveled is to find a great little out of the way place to try some local foods and beers. Belgium is great for this and I must thank VTer Caro for not only showing me a few I'd not have found but for coming along on some crazy excursions to places I'm sure she'd not have imagined finding either.
Fondest memory: I know all too well after traveling for many years that you often never go back. Oh, if you like a given place you almost always say I’ll be back here one day for sure. But it often happens that even with places you love you just never do unless you have some strong personal relationship with someone living there. So it seems the places I’ve been back to most are ones I’ve known the most people. Germany and England lead the pack but there are a few places that have snuck in there due partially to being close to these two places but also because they are home to a great beer heritage.
Take for example, The Czech Republic. My wife’s family lives in Germany only 20 minutes from its border so we go there sometimes even just for dinner and a beer of course. Another place I’ve been to a few times is Belgium which happens to be home to some great beer and as I’ve found out over the last few years, some great people too. On my second trip, one designed specifically to meet some friends from VT I was lucky to be escorted around Antwerp by Caro who managed to show me a few places I’d probably have not seen without her.
So, on a recent trip to visit my wife’s family for Christmas, rather than fly into Munich as we generally do, we decided to use Dusseldorf as our entry point. This not only allowed us to visit a different part of Germany but to also go to nearby Belgium. My wife had never been and I hadn’t been in five years so it seemed like a nice getaway with the bonus of meeting up with some VTers. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
It was difficult to pry me away but it was getting dark and we still had another stop on the itinerary. One of my favorite beers is Rodenbach’s Grand Cru. I had read about a raw version served via hand pump in the brewery’s hometown of Roselaere. Caro was nice enough to stop there on our way back to Ghent and even after the fantastic beers of Westvletteren still on my palate I looked forward to this next taste sensation nearly as much. The pub itself was entirely too modern for such an esoteric experience but I looked past this with great anticipation. We ordered our beers and I watched eagerly as the barmaid pulled the big wooden handle back and forth to fill our glasses. She pulled and pulled, and pulled and pulled. When she returned empty-handed I knew something was very much wrong. She explained the keg was empty, that we had gotten there a bit too late. My heart sunk as I knew that this could very well be my only chance to try this beer. It is an extremely acidic beer and not for the masses. Produced for connoisseurs, it is not the brewery’s bread and butter. It could easily be discontinued before I get back.
I made light of it but my comrades knew me well enough to understand my disappointment. We ordered some food and a couple of “mere” Grand Cru’s. They were fantastic and very refreshing after the “heavy” Trappist beers. Any other day, I would have been ecstatic to have it but today it just didn’t taste quite as good. Expectations are funny that way. Still, we had a nice meal and the last beer we’d have with Caro likely for a few years. I know well enough you don’t get back to places, even ones you love, as often as you may want to. And you don’t get to see good friends that live in other countries as much as wish you could either. So enjoy our last drink together we did but I’ll still be looking for that hand-pulled version next time I get over that way. It’s likely Caro will be with us and likely I’ll beg to go a bit earlier to make sure we get it.
Before you take a trip to Westvleteren just for the beer you better call first. Sometimes all the beer is sold out. That is what we discovered in june 2005, after over 3.5 hours in the car....... ;-((
But there is always hope, because you can buy 6 packs in 'de Vrede'. 4 of these 6 packs however are much more expensive than the crates of 24.
So before travelling a long time for nothing call: +32 57401057