This is another in a series chronicling my travels last Fall in Europe. The first week was in Belgium and Germany with a group of fun-loving, hard-drinking Australians. We had just left Bruges and I met up with them for lunch in Eeklo, on the way to Ghent.
As I was polishing off my second Herbakkersbier, the Aussie crew decided that they better climb back on their bikes and get moving. It was only two o’clock, but they had to still navigate their way into Ghent, and at their average pace, it could take them a while.
[Alright, right there I was trying to be kind–yes, that was me trying to be kind–but the fact that Ghent is only 20 kilometers from Eeklo means that even if they were to walk their bikes, it should only take them three hours.]
On top of that, that night was an “independent night,” which meant they were on their own for dinner (and therefore so was I). I mentioned at lunch that I would be heading to my favorite little hole-in-the-wall place on the other side of town if anyone wanted to join me. It was a real nondescript place where no one spoke English (I was tempted to say that neither did anyone in Australia, but refrained) and the food was honest and local, but not spectacular.
No one seemed interested. (You might be thinking that I am a terrible salesperson, but you would be wrong– I was looking forward to a little down time and purposely sold the restaurant short–the food was actually quite good, and there was a waitress there that I had a crush on….).
Since I was going to be driving the van, I decided to linger a bit at the restaurant after they had left. I was going to be taking the back roads into Ghent, but still–driving after a few Belgian Ales is never anybody’s version of a good idea. I ordered up a Coke, pulled out my laptop and tackled a bit of the accounting that had piled up.
I had a bit of cushion since the group had decided to try to find a remote World War II cemetery, which I had no idea existed–some tour “guide” I know. I figured there little foray back in time would render them hopelessly lost and I could kick back and relax a bit. [In all fairness, I was not actually their tour guide for the trip–I was billed as a factotum (I am not kidding), which was a word I actually had to look up.]
I rolled into Ghent right around 2:30 in the afternoon. Ghent is a magnificent city, made even more vibrant by the 60,000 college students there year round. It is not, however, an easy city to navigate driving a big behemoth of a van. I finally got to our hotel and was able to park the van an hour later. Our hotel, was actually a monastery and it was a magnificent building, made all the better by the bar that was located in the cellar.
After unloading the mountain of luggage (I am not sure if all Australians travel with a boatload of bags, but this brood absolutely did), I made a bee-line for the basement to nab a couple of beers.
Saison Dupont: Saison Dupont had long been on my list of beers to try, but I had not yet gotten around to it. I was surprised to see it on the Monastery’s list since it is not technically a trappist ale, but classified as a Saison/Farmhouse Ale (listen, I do not make the rules….). A pale yellow color that foams up rather quickly into a large, somewhat sticky head when poured. A bit funky, in a good way (I guess “musky” would be better) with a hint of clementine and spice. On the palate, complex yet refreshing with some lemon and spice coming through. There is a reason that many consider Dupont the standard-bearer for the Saison/Farmhouse style. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
Augustijn Grand Cru: Another that had been on my list of “musts” for quite some time, this one, though, proved much harder to find, which is why I was excited to see it at the monastery. Based on my love of Burgundy and Champagne, I am easily swayed by a bottle with the words “Grand Cru” written upon it. Slightly darker than the Dupont, and a bit less effervescence, producing a more modest head. A bit more tree fruit than citrus here on the nose and the palate, although perfectly fine, I found myself yearning for more complexity. While this beer was certainly Very Good, it feel short a bit for me, particularly when compared to the Dupont. 87-89 Points.