19 July 2017

Belgian Beer Trip 2017 - Day 2

Bruges to Ghent 
On Thursday 22 June, 2017, there was time for black coffee at Hostel Lybeer before heading to the station with Mark and Dave / Bod, who had been staying at Snuffel Hostel.
At Bruges station, after checking that we could break our journey at Ghent, we bought single tickets to Antwerp (15.40 euro) and boarded a long Brussels-bound train.
On arrival at Ghent we were able to fit all our luggage into a large locker (5.50 euro for 24 hours). It was a hot day so it was frustrating to walk past the fountain outside the station without any cooling effect!
Mark led us first to the site of the original Gruut brewery at Grote Huidevettershoek 10, via Bijlokekaai (on the east bank of the river Leie / Lys), Nederkouter (the route of tram #1) and Ketelvest (beside Ketelvaart waterway). He was disappointed to see that everything had been stripped out, including the bar, so that no refreshment break was available here.
However, we passed some interesting buildings in Biezekapel Straat, beyond the cathedral, on the next leg to the current Gruut brewery.
Later research showed that a 2011 light festival show had been held in the rear courtyard of the Royal School of Fine Arts (KASK) / Royal Conservatory, with an unusual circular tower, accessed from Biezekapel Straat.

Gruut Brewery
A street fair was being set up in Rembert Dodoenstreef, a route to Baudelo Park, and the location of Gruut brewery.
With bright sunshine outside we appreciated some shade in the building that was once the city's fish market, although the sun still reached some parts through sections of glass roof.
Our first priority now was a cold beer and some water to go with it. My choice of Gruut Wit was refreshing. A 33cl glass cost 3.20 euros. In his 'Protz on Beer' feature of 31 January 2016, titled 'Annick's Gruut Beer is the Spice of Life', Roger Protz writes 'White is a wheat beer and is cloudy and extremely pale. It has a big spicy nose and palate with a pronounced hit of ginger, with hints of orange and creamy malt. Fruit and spice combine in the lingering finish.'
From our seats around a table near the bar, overlooked by stuffed cattle and a large painting of Ghent characters, we studied the beer menu before ordering a second glass.
Gruut Blond was my second choice. As with other beers from the brewery, apart from Inferno, there are no hops but but various herbs and spices are used instead.
The brewing vessels were relocated here from the previous site and can be seen at the end of the room, underneath the large painting and on the opposite wall to the bar. Fermenting vessels are horizontal.
Although we were apparently the first customers of the day, we later talked with Francois Prowse, a Kiwi now based in Brisbane, who was also on holiday in Belgium. Francois mentioned that he is a home-brewer and is able to source ingredients from Bacchus Brewing Co nearby. As usual, I took the opportunity to give Francois a copy of West Berkshire CAMRA magazine, Ullage.
Roger Protz's feature mentions that Gruut's brewster - Annick de Splenter - has parents who are both from important Belgian brewing families.
There are various brewing related portraits and pictures on the walls of the extensive space available for visitors.

Ghent to Antwerp
Dave and I persuaded Mark that it would be a good idea to get a bus back to the station as the sun was still shining brightly when we emerged. We each paid a cash fare of 3 euros to the bus driver and returned to Gent-Sint-Pieters station by a circuitous route. After retrieving our luggage we boarded a direct train to Antwerp. The first stop was Gent-Dampoort, a mere 500 metres from Gruut Brewery! For visitors to the brewery travelling from Antwerp by train it would obviously make sense to use this station. Other stations on the route included Sint-Niklaas and Antwerpen-Berchem before arrival at Antwerpen-Centraal.
We left from a side exit and walked down Vestingstraat, a narrow street where every shop was a jewellers, reflecting the continuing importance of the diamond trade to the city. Soon we would be on a wide pedestrian shopping street and then back to side streets to reach our modern hostel 'Pulcinella' in Bogaardeplein.

Cafe Kulminator
After checking in we soon headed out again to nearby Cafe Kulminator, Vleminckveld 32.
We sat at the big table by the window where we had sat on a visit the previous year. The noticeboard listing draught beers (bier van 't vat) was easily visible from here.
My first beer was Zure Kriekenlam by Timmermans (Martin's). This rarely available sour cherry flavoured lambic cost 4.20 euros.
This is a classic beer cafe, run by Leen and Dirk who will be winding down to retirement by closing at 7pm, with last orders at 6pm from 2020, according to a notice in the window.
We didn't consult the extensive bottle menu on this occasion and I next enjoyed a draught Chimay Grande Reserve from 2016 (3.80 euros).
The decor here has not been changed for many years which adds to its charm.

Billie's Bier Kafetaria
We only had to walk 400 metres towards the city centre to find Billie's Bier Kafetaria with bench seating on the pavement outside.
A blackboard sign at the entrance suggests 'Beer nerds come in try all Billie's crazy beers' and mentions that there are 11 beers on tap.
We found a table near the entrance doorway, which provided a welcome breeze, on a day which was still hot.
My first beer was from tap 4 - Stone the Crows IPA by Brewski (Sweden). At 5.50 euro this proved to be one of my favourite beers with a hazy appearnace and peppery notes.
We decided to eat at Billie's. The limited menu included Vlaams Stoofvlees (18.50 euros) a casserole dish served with chips and a dish of slaw. There was too much Flemish beef stew for me although Mark did accept one piece from the casserole. This would be a good dish to share between two people on a future visit.
While we ate our meals, the bar's dog spent more time near our table. His patience went unrewarded but perhaps he would be able to eat my leftovers later.
Ster, our charming and attentive barmaid / waitress explained that the bar is named after Billie the dog who seems to have the run of the place when he is not exploring nearby streets. I took the opportunity to give Ster a copy of Ullage, the West Berkshire CAMRA magazine and mention some local breweries that advertise in Ullage and might be able to supply the bar like Wild Weather Ales and Renegade / West Berkshire Brewery.

Paters Vaetje
Paeters Vaetje, Blauwmoezelstraat 1, near the cathedral, is only 200 metres further on from Billie's.
John Reynor, Keith Moore & Mark Geeson
We had arranged to meet Keith and John here, also arriving a day early for Antwerp's BierPassie Weekend beer festival. My first beer, draught Gouden Carolus Classic by Brouwerij Het Anker is in the foreground of the photo above.
This busy bar, like most Belgian bars, has a big range of glasses to match all the beers they serve.
Some extra seating space is available in a raised section at the back of the room where a blackboard has details of beer specials.
After a long day, it was a struggle staying awake. Although failing to keep pace with my friends drinking and conversation there was still time to enjoy a Vedett Extra Ordinary IPA before the bar closed up for the night.

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