in 80 Beers?

brusselsApparently if I were ever to be taken seriously as a writer, it would be a nightmare rather than a dream being brutally honest, mind worse would be seen as some bloke tapping away at a keyboard for the sake of traffic for an online beer store (to which it has little effect in reality), I best declare interest in the subject…

If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, I occasionally more so, prefer to try to write, that is, something more than “whoopieeeee new beer here“.    The recent Tripin’ to Burton and Lupilin Love blether were fun to write, sort of.   I don’t find writing as easy as the more gifted out there seem to make it look.   When I have the chance to spend time in the company of  Mark Dredge of the excellent Pencil and Spoon Blog, Mark Edwards or Maeib and one of my favourite people – Simon of the Reluctant Scooper blog – I am always in awe of their talent to bring energy into the subject, argue, present or just plain inspire those that read their work – and I am not shy in reminding them.  If you expect something akin to literacy from me, um, sorry. I give up!  This is the reason that I do prefer the art of Photography as irritating as I assume it must be to my friends now.

Recently, I really enjoyed the read Hops and Glory by Pete Brown, so much so it inspired some questions and caused a little journey in search, admittedly hoping to be wrong to a question that I already knew the answer to, as much Simon did.   You see travelling so much and it might sound a shade clichéd but the journey is as important, perhaps more so than the destination.   Beer is important to me, but more over it’s the meeting with fellow beer lovers, the other beer travellers and just enjoying the ride into another perspective on this absolutely stunning beverage.  Really, beer is more about the people, the interaction, the banter,  the camaraderie and all that goes on… great beer can sometimes get in the way.  Yes, there it is, I said it… just get out there and enjoy beer. I love the big esoteric beers, debating the origins of IPA’s and dreaming about monster Danish bourbon barrel aged coffee imperial stouts made with civet cat poo coffee… but, as much the sitting in some cafe in the arse end of nowhere drinking the local lubricant.  Be that gueuze, lambic recently or cans of “best drunk ice cold” just hanging with mates…

So, what’s that got to do with Brussels?

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away

when I was in a different life, just doing my annony-mouse travels around the globe with one eye on great beer, I had the fortune of spending a few days with a good friend Paul who’d been seconded to Belgium, who’s actually from right near where I live here on the beach near Deal, Kent.   Paul, something of a superstar in the sporting world as a commentator and official, he’ll not thank me for that is excellent company. To spend a few days with him, over a beer, heading to a fun Belgian Beer festival and just having a change of scenery was going to be fun!

Now, Paul had been in Belgium for some time by the time that I got to go see him.  He’d been around, such as boredom and the need of a malt based hop infused beverage takes visiting many a bar that had prompted text messages of what to drink.  So much so, it got to I’ll show you beer and you show me bars.    We wandered around Brussels, the location to his secondment… it was great to actually spend some time in this puzzle of a city.  The difference, the impact that they the Walloon, French speaking vs the angle  I approach from through the wonderful beer rich Flanders brings was immediately apparent.

Benefiting from my parents wishes of spending time abroad when I were a lad, their intentions for me to learn a language or three has gone beyond “dos cervesa, por favor” and Paul certainly no slouch when it comes to picking up a language or five, we spent an evening wandering around those bars that just fall under the radar of the normal Lonely Planet style guides.  (shame I never figured English out!?)  These were the bars that you really need a little bit of local knowledge or better still the language to find out about.   We just wandered, bar hopped if you like, vaulted cellar bars, ancient Walloon cafes, one strange Flemish bar, the very impressive Chez Moeder Lambic and a couple of others.  It was wonderful  to just wander with someone who was beer aware, but not beer focused for their pleasure in the experience.  Enjoying this snapshot of life, Bruxellois style was a fantastic night and one that I always recall when whizzing past the skyline of Brussels on the motorway, (hence the silly apple-esque artwork above – Apple over load this past week), all too frequently.

Last year, this week past, I was over in Brussels again for the Brussels Beer Fest, aka 24 hours of Beer, This isn’t a fest that I really enjoy.  It’s a bit like being penned in like a cow feeding at a trough.  Being “new” in the “industry”, (So, when does new start and finish? lol)I best thought I should go and show my face, but in true style an escape route was also formed.   This route was facilitated by the very capable and wonderful chap Joe Stange of the excellent blog, Thirsty Pilgrim.  So, when my somewhat short attention span was suitably filled by the fest, I wandered off to the Chez Moeder Lambic. I met up with Joe and Truman, his awesome Bassett aka the Cheezehound.    Joe and I arrived to a very busy bar, not filled with beergeeks, but the folk and fauna of Brussels St.Gilles district.

I brought a few gems to refresh this American Ex-Pat’s palate for American brews, which we shared with the charming and extremely knowledgeable Jean, owner/partner of the CML, now one of my favourite places.    We sat there shooting the shit, the beers just the fuel, ooops, um, “incidentals” to the conversation about beer in Brussels, Lambic and Gueuze, the culture, the music scene and all round Brussels life.  The evening ended sitting on the road side drinking with, quite literally on the kerb,well, sidewalk, drinking some great brews, chilling and just chatting about great beers and bars.

I recently caught up with Joe this past weekend, whilst in Antwerp.   On fine form as ever, save for a bout of the lurgy.  After a brief catch up,  we were into the beers.   One of the things that he did was get money out of me for his recent book, well, I still owe him.  But, still.   Even so, the couple of moments that I had a chance to read a page or three when I was over, driving around pajottenland I was impressed with the number of bars that I have been into, loved and completely forgotten where they were or worse what they were called.  Here I was, with a book of my vague memories.

The book, Around Brussels in 80 beers, is that book.  Thin, glossy, ubiquitous beer label images as a cover, container print shouting it’s subject – hides what is high quality content about great bars holding hands with insight into a number of must try Belgian brews.   Looking at the name of the co-author Yvan de Baets, who I know to be a close friend of Joe and  very very knowledgeable brewer at the Brasserie de la Senne/Zinnebier brewery and sometime at Cantillon, could there be a better partnership to deliver local insight and international perspective?  Here I was holding a guide to my drunken memories and it’s been written by two people who I’ve come to respect and really enjoy their company.  Could it get better… perhaps not, well…   I am sure that this little book will be a fixture in my van… well thumbed when chance arises… if there was two people I’d trust to get me around Brussels, in 80 beers, these are those.  C’est Possible!

Nice work J.
buy it, blah blah....

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