Bruges, they offer an informative tour in several languages, have a large bar/restaurant, a shop and a comfortable terrace. After our tour, we settle there with a lovely couple from Basque and one of the tour guides, who regales us with her quick wit and funny stories of travel. She quickly tunes us into two other beers on the menu, a Brugse Zot Brune (a wonderful 7.5% Belgian dubbel, dark, nut brown, hints of fruit and caramel) and a Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel (11%, a jet-black, complex, malt forward & dry big boastful brew). Berinda tells us a batch of this last marvelous beer was aged in Bourgogne wine barrels for one year, packaged in corked bottles and sold only through the local newspapers. The staff each got a glass too, but the bottles were gone in 3 days. Sorry to have missed that one!
Next up were De Dolle Brouwers Arabier (7.8% strong amber ale, white head, aromatics of honey & hops, fruity palate balanced with an earthy bitterness) and Femme Fatale from local Brouwerij De Leite de Rudderoode (6.5%, light amber, creamy head, malty nose, hints of fruit
At this point we pay up and head out the door, having completely forgotten about dinner. Bruges, unlike its larger sister cities, closes early, so we find ourselves alone on the main square, all the restaurants closed, munching on frites and skewered meats from the one of the two take-out wagons, the only things open at this time, watching the full moon hazily approach the old tower, thinking that, yes, finally, it's time for bed.
The next morning we take the 20 minute train ride to Ghent. Another prosperous medieval city, full of canals, tiny winding alleys and well preserved architecture. We hop the tram from the station to the historic city centre, jumping off at the Gravensteen Castle. Right across a canal sits Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant, a lovely old pub right on the canal, large terrace stretching to the street and accompanying gin-house next door. They have some 140 bottles beers available with 16 taps, 3 of them house beers. Mammelokker Bruin (6%, light malt nose, beautiful clear brown ale, initial sweetness dries on the palate, becoming
smooth, well balanced) is the light 'lady's beer'. Gandavum Blond is a bit bolder and hoppier (7.5%, floral aromatics, gold hued ale, beautifully balanced palate, dry hopping pushing this beer to a dry finish) and their killer Klokke Roeland Amber checks in at 11%. Again, the aroma gives nothing away, maybe some light malt sweetness, a frothy head leaves lovely lace, deep gold/amber, smooth palate, balanced, complex, some apparent alcohol warmth belies its true strength, under-
pinned by a whole lot of hops, dry finish. We pair this with an excellent course paté made with the Klokke beer itself, served with a piquant horseradish-bite brown mustard. Right below the terrace, canal boats take tourists through the city as far as the river Scheldt, pointing out historical architecture and shedding some light on the city's past glories. We too take this leisurely ride, enjoy the views and discover a new brewery along the canal route, which we return to to investigate.
Saison, fruity, funky, cloudy, big flavour complexity). We looked at the bottle list next, quite a variety, lots of lambics, all the Trappists...
I choose Hanssens Artisanaal Oude Gueuze (6%). Very sour, straw-gold in colour, fine head falls to the surface of the beer, aromas of grapefruit & horse blanket, tart palate, acidic, not for the faint of heart. I loved it! We rounded out the afternoon with a Trappist classic Orval (6.2%). Impressive head, musty peach nose, almost orange in colour, a multitude of notes: flowers, pepper, copper, dried fruit, caramel, dry with some malt sweetness, long finish.