A few months 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).
After a brief nap back at the hotel, we headed out to a dinner of mussels and, yes, beer, after which we headed to another of my favorite bars in Bruges, the Staminee de Garre, which is tucked away on the smallest “street” in town.
That first night in Bruges was an indication of what my week would be: beer, after beer, after beer. I am certainly not a big beer drinker by any yardstick (it took us about four years to drink through the beer left over after our wedding–and we had only bought four cases to begin with!), but this group of Australians were determined to change that.
One of the peculiarities about being a cycling tour guide in Europe (at least for the company that employed me) was that you were expected to stay out with the group and show them the “hot spots” in town (at least until I was no longer able to compose comprehensible sentences), which could lead to some rather late nights and rather rough mornings. With this particular group, they seemed determined that I experience both on a regular basis. It appeared as though they had also coordinated their efforts: after the first night (where all members of the group were out late), there would only be 2-4 people interested in late-night shenanigans, but those 2-4 people changed every night,
In other words, they were out to break me.
But I was up to the challenge (as far as I can remember).
Following the evening at Staminee de Garre, I woke up determined to ride my bike, thinking this would somehow purge my body of the toxins I ingested the night before and prepare me to do it all over again that evening. I was able to get a decent ride in, out to the coast and then over to the Netherlands briefly (in my book, it is always a good ride when you are able to cross an international border). The ride was as flat as you can get: I rode nearly 40 miles and only gained 152 feet in elevation (that is a gross, not a net), but the wind certainly made up for it. A few photos from the ride:
That night, after dinner, we headed to perhaps my favorite bar in Bruges, ‘t Brugs Beertje. The bar is outside of the town center and is not all that interesting architecturally (I think the building is “only” 150 years old), but the beer list is unsurpassed as far as I have been able to determine (they have close to 300 different labels).
No visit to Bruges would be complete without a stop in at ‘t Brugs Beertje, and there is also a Philadelphia connection: the owner of a Belgian-style pub in Philly gets some of his beer from ‘t Brugs Beertje and is a frequent visitor. I drop his name every time I am there, which makes me feel as though I am getting special treatment (but likely just causes them to roll their eyes as soon as I turn my back–I get that a lot).
My beers that night:
Rodenbach: The previous night I had the Rodenbach Grand Cru, which is really splendid, so I thought I would go for the less prestigious, but still tasty Rodenbach. One of the reasons that Rodenbachs are right up near the top of my list of favorites is that they are made much more like a wine than a beer. The beers are actually blended, with a portion of the blend actually aged in wood. During the process of making both beers, a little caramelized sugar is added to offset the natural tartness. The standard Rodenbach, though certainly similar to the Grand Cru (25% of the standard is the wood-aged beer that goes into the Grand Cru), is a wonderful sweet/sour combination with some tropical flavors and noticeable oak. The regular Rodenbach is usually about 60% of the cost of the Grand Cru, thus paying the extra for the “better” beer can be tough to justify as this is Outstanding as well. 90-92 Points.
Rochefort 6 and 8: Since I was on a bit on a “let’s drink the less powerful beers from the producers that caused us to get sloppy drunk last night” theme, I ordered both the Rochefort 6 (a dubbel) and the 8 (a tripel–the Rocehfort 10 is called a quadrupel–all of these terms roughly equate to the relative amount of alcohol in the beer). The 6 is considerably lighter in color and style than the 8 and has a touch of sweetness with a pronounced toasted caramel flavor. At 7.5% it is a bit high in alcohol by American standards, but it is the “lightweight” in the Rochefort lineup. Outstanding. 90-92 Points. Compared to the 6, the 8 is a brute. Darker, richer, and packing a bigger punch (9.2%–the 10 is a whopping 11.3%!), the 8 is also noticeably sweeter and more raisiny, all of which masks the alcohol content. I think the Rochefort 8 might be my favorite of the three, but that would clearly require more study. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.