A few weeks ago, I recounted the blind tasting that I had at Le Trappiste bar in Bruges, Belgium while there leading a bike trip last Fall for a bunch of Australians. That was just the first night of a week packed full of biking, Belgium, and beer (with some Luxembourg, Germany, and Riesling thrown in at the end).
Our tasting at Le Trappiste could have been seen a couple of ways: as a reward for a tough day riding in the winds of Flanders, or as a precursor to what the next seven days would entail: beer after beer after beer ending in blindness.
After Le Trappiste, we headed back to the hotel for a brief beer/fatigue induced nap, after which we headed into the center of town for dinner.
Several buckets of mussels later, we walked over to one of my favorite bars in town, the Staminee de Garre, which is located halfway between the Markt and the Burg, down the tiniest of streets you will ever encounter. I have rather long arms, but it is not much of a stretch for me to touch both walls of the buildings that border the “street” (I am not sure how they get away with calling it a “street” but they do—those flaky Flemish).
We were able to score a rather large table right by the bar on the first floor and quickly ordered the first round of beers, and we did not really stop drinking and ordering until the owners of the bar closed up shop. Here are some of the beers that I remember drinking:
Rodenbach Grand Cru: One of the finest renditions of my favorite style: the West Flanders Red Ale. When I went over to Belgium this past trip, I was determined to try as many beers as possible. To that end, I wanted to stay away from the Red Ales, since I drink them frequently at home. Well, that lasted all of one day. The Flanders Red Ales are often called the “Burgundies of Belgium” for good reason–they are perhaps the most aromatic of beers. The Rodenbach Grand Cru (a heavier beer than the standard Rodenbach) throws off some cherry and raspberry on the nose, followed by a pleasant tartness and a little funk on the palate. This is perhaps my second favorite beer (I have to remain loyal to the Duchesse de Bourgogne), but it always makes me long for the no longer produced Rodenbach Grand Cru Alexander, which was purportedly even tastier than this. Hard to imagine. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
Chimay Blue: Chimay is the biggest and perhaps the most well-known of the Belgian Trappist beers, and there are essentially three versions: the Red (fruity and somewhat “light”), the White (denser and hoppier), and the Blue (the biggest). Michael Jackson (the famed beer critic, not the pop star) equated the Blue to a big red wine style (think Zinfandel or Port). For some reason this reminds me of Christmas, perhaps due to the smell of fruitcake wafting from the glass (for me that is a very good thing–I love the oft-maligned rum-laced treat): Nuts, berries and malt. On the palate, not as heavy as you would think. A solid beer for sure, but one you have near the end of the evening, not at the onset. Very Good. 88-90 Points.
Westmalle Tripel: Another Trappist Ale, the Westmalle packs a bit of a punch and adds in a touch of spice as well. Like most monastic brewers, Westmalle makes several beers, but this is clearly the flagship bottling and with good reason–strong but balanced with a bit of finesse on the side. Fantastic finish. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
Pauwel Kwak: The beer has only been brewed since the 1980’s, but the glass and wooden stand is perhaps the most distinctive of all Belgian beers. The Brewery claims that the beer is named after Pauwel Kwak, and 18th Century brewer and innkeeper.
But I know the truth. My mother-in-law’s maiden name is Kwak and, even thought she is 100% Korean, this beer is named after her family. How do I know that? Well, I just do. This is the Belgian version of a Pale Ale, and while it does not possess the extreme hoppiness of American IPAs, it does sport a bit of a sweet finish that balances out the bitterness (sounds a bit like my mother-in-law). Very Good. 86-88 Points (I decided to ignore the glass/stand combo in the rating, which is frankly badass, and would have pushed this beer well into the mid-90’s).
Gulden Draak: This Belgian Tripel is a bit elusive—I only occasionally see it in Belgium and rarely see it in the U.S. It is dark for a tripel and in fact, some people refer to this as a “Barley wine”. Our bartender let us know that the beer is closely associated with Gent, a town we would be visiting in a few days. It is rich and creamy, with some bitterness certainly, but it is nicely balanced with a touch of malt and sweetness (I guess the same could be said of Gent). Fighting through the head on the beer was a dessert in itself with a spicy caramel nuttiness prominent. It was good that I listened to our trusty bartender and tackled this one last as it packs a bit of a punch at 10,5% alcohol. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
Somehow we stumbled back to the hotel, navigating the patchwork quilt of Bruges streets and canals. I am not sure what time we made it back, but I did know that we were going to do it all over again later that day at perhaps my favorite Bruges Bar, ‘t Brugs Beertje.