Something strange brews in the Senne valley. In the cooler months, brewers open the shutters of their breweries and welcome in whatever is borne on the breeze. Foaming wort bursts forth from old oak casks, spilling over the cobwebs networked between barrels. Some of the beer has been aging here for three years. The master brewer takes stock of each vintage and blends them together into a final concoction that springs to life once more in the bottle. Lambic and gueuze are the defining drinks of Brussels and Brabant, and this small patch of earth is the only place in the world where it can be brewed. Continue reading
I left Johannes’ home bound for breweries and hop fields. My second day of riding (the map of my full route is in Part 1) would take me past De Dolle Brouwers and De Struise Brouwers before having a rest at In De Vrede, the café of Sint-Sixtusabdij, and finally coming to Brouwerij Sint-Bernardus where I would spend the night in the heart of the hop-growing region of Belgium called Poperinge. Unfortunately the first two breweries only open up their taprooms and tours on weekends, but as Johannes said before I pedaled away, “You never know – maybe they’ll see your cycle and the rain and feel sympathetic.” With that hope, I headed in the direction of Esen.
I took off from Brugge along a broad canal headed in the direction of the Zwin. By my guess, the channel used to bring ships in from the coast via the Zwin back when Brugge was a major inland port, but over time the Zwin silted up and Brugge lost its status as a hot spot of trade. But the Zwin still sees its fair share of comings and goings, only these days the traffic is comprised of birds rather than ships. It brought me to the northernmost corner of West Flanders, so much that I crossed into the Netherlands and back into Belgium twice in the course of cycling there.
Henri Maes opened Brouwerij De Halve Maan in 1856 on the promise from his uncle of a contract to supply Sint-Janshospitaal in Brugge with beer. High above the houses, on the edge of the small city, the rooftop of the brewery offers what may be the best view of the contortion of canals, cobbles, gables, and red-shingled roofs. Some of the shingles are new, but each house wears the same uniform cap.
There being so many farms in Norfolk, one might wonder just what they’re growing. After my own heart, the farmers of Norfolk produce much of the barley Crisp turns into high quality English malts that I’ve used in my own beers in Brooklyn. Branthill Farms supplies over a dozen brewers in Norfolk with Maris Otter malt and operates The Real Ale Shop and solar-powered Branthill Micro Maltings. Naturally, to better get a taste for Norfolk, I made finding the shop a high priority.
After a healthy fermentation with repitched yeast from my pomegranate saison, something seemed to go a bit agly with my honey saison. The beer that went into the bottles tasted like the same as my pomegranate saison before priming, but the beer that came out was changed. It developed more acidity, and I thought I spotted small pellicles in some of the bottles. I tried to snap a photo, but (fortunately) those brown glass bottles are very effective at blocking light.
Yesterday Joshua Bernstein, author of the recently released The Complete Beer Course, brought about 25 beer geeks, homebrewers, and curious travelers to my apartment to sample some homebrew and pick my brain. Besides making some cool cash, it was also exciting to get to share my beers with many people all at once who were interested in discussing it and noting what they tasted and enjoyed.