After spending a few enjoyable days in Amsterdam, today I leave the land of tulips and windmills, Rembrandt and van Gogh, Heineken and Grolsch. My destination, Belgium, has long been at the top of my list of dream travel destinations. The anticipation is palpable, and for good reason. In Belgium brewing is elevated to an art form, they have museums dedicated to beer, they even award knighthoods to brewers. Don’t take my word for it, Belgian beer culture was recently added to UNESCOs list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity traditions, the only beer culture to be honored in such a way. A pilgrimage to Belgium has long been at the top of my list of dream travel destinations, so despite my relative proximity to Belgium over the past seven months I’ve held off until the time is right, and that time is today.
Belgium offers a dizzying array of choices for the beer lover. You can explore lambics, Trappist ales, saisons, wit beers, and the sour, dark beers of Flanders, all packed within a country the size of Maryland. As an amateur beer journalist, it’s a little daunting to decide where to go, and once there to keep up with the wealth of knowledge and tasting notes that are sure to follow. There’s a danger of it all running into a blur of beery ecstasy and excess, not the worst outcome to be sure, but I’m going to try to experience it at a more measured pace.
While in Belgium I’ll have three different bases of operations, starting with two nights in Brussels, followed by two nights exploring French speaking Wallonia from La-Roche-en-Ardenne, finishing up in Dutch speaking Flanders with three nights in Ghent. I’ve arranged brewery tours at La Trappe, which while technically in the Netherlands brews Trappist ales firmly routed in the Belgian tradition; Fantôme, where I hope to learn more about saisons from brewer Dany Prignon; and Rodenbach, where I will be able to glimpse the cathedral of oak foeders where the most iconic Flander’s Red matures. A pilgrimage to Cantillon and the museum of gueuze is of course a no brainer. Those four stops should give me plenty of material for longer in-depth stories about four of my favorite styles of beer. There are a whole bunch of other places I hope to visit if I can, as shown on the map below.
Of course beer doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and while you experience the taste of a great Trappist ale or spontaneously fermented gueuze from the comfort of your home, you have to go to Belgium to put the beer in the context. The people, the culture, the landscape, and the history are all part of the story and I hope to capture some of those elements along the way. Not to mention that even the saintly patience of my wife, who is my traveling companion and designated driver for this trip, may reach its limits if every stop is a brewery. Strategically timed visits to places that specialize in waffles, chocolates, and pomme frites will be necessary to placate my wife and daughter.
You can follow my progress on social media, either through the Pat’s Pints twitter account or the Ex-Pat’s Pints facebook page. If you’ve got travel tips, suggestions for places I should see, or contacts in Belgium please don’t hesitate to share.