Bryan Kolesar of The Brew Lounge won Philly Beer Week's annual raffle, sending him and a local brewer of his choice to Belgium. Kolesar chose John Stemler of Free Will Brewing in Perkasie, and the two are now in Brussels to work on the annual collab beer to be served during Philly Beer Week, May 29 to June 7. The two will contribute blog posts to Philly.com during their trip.
Check in to Philly Beer Week for more information.
Here is Bryan's third entry:
I'm ready to finally get beyond the last two days of sharing the weeks of travel prep and the process of getting to Belgium. This has been a trip that for the most part has come together in the last month. Finally, here we are.
The train from the Brussels airport into the heart of downtown Brussels is a breeze simply by going down a couple levels from baggage claim to the train lines. Buy a ticket for 8,50 euro and hop aboard a train heading to Brussels-Centraal and 17 minutes later you're in the midst of the city's hustle.
I wasted no time in meeting up with John and Nicole and we kick-started my day with a coffee, croissant, and ham sandwich to shake off the cobwebs from the redeye flight. And, true to expectations, the first beers were at Moeder Lambic where we spent at least a couple hours sessioning our way through a standard (!) lineup of Cantillon, Brasserie de la Senne, and several other beers.
The cheese plate is not to be missed here and provides a wonderful complement to at least a half dozen beers from each brewery (six on a hand pump). John did a real nice job in yesterday's blog sharing our experience and beers at this beer lover's must-stop in Brussels. Go back and read if you've not yet.
(In case you were wondering, a 25cl glass (about 8.5 oz.) of, say, Cantillon is priced in the ballpark of 3,50-4 euros and full-size bottles 13-35 euros depending on the style - 13 euros for the "bio" and 35 for the likes of Lou Pepe and Zwanze.)
He also discussed visiting Delirium Cafe inside the sprawling Delirium Village on the north side of the central Grand Place. Here it was a few more beers with familiar names like Boon and Struise.
Walking through Grand Place is a visual wonderland of architecture dating back 300-plus years. Plenty of opportunity for imagining the history that's transpired in such a place amongst as sea of modern-day selfies.
Of course there are the ubiquitous coffee shops, chocolate stores, waffle stands, and other assorted retail so walking around the winding streets of Brussels is certainly no boring adventure.
Today, we're off to Brugge (Bruges). The train ride each way is 14 euro and takes a bit over an hour to arrive from Brussels at the train station, which is a 15-20 minute walk into the heart of the lovely town.
We expect it to be a day of walking the cobblestone streets around canals and more centuries-old wonderment. In the middle, John has a visit with Halve Maan for what should turn into a tour, beers, and lunch.
I'm anxious to revisit some of the places that became favorites during a trip in 2012 like De Garre, BrugsBeertje, Rose Red, De Kelk, and others. Time, conversation, window-shopping, meandering, beers, and the natural pace of these excursions will probably mean we get to only a couple of these stops.
We'll make the most of our time before heading back to Brussels as this is all just a warm-up for meeting the rest of the Philly Beer Week traveling crew on Wednesday.
Bryan Kolesar of The Brew Lounge is author of the forthcoming Beer Lover's Mid-Atlantic, May 2015
Here is John's third entry:
Day 3 in Belgium started at 7 a.m. . . . ok more like 8:30 when we left the hotel for the train station across the street. Our plan was to go to Bruges for a planned 12 o'clock tour at Halve Maan (half moon) brewery and arrive early as to see the city.
To be quite honest, the only thing in Europe I have always wanted to see was Bruges - such an old city with so much to see and experience. We arrived early enough to have breakfast and coffee at a local bread shop and make our 12 p.m. tour.
Our tour guide was knowledgeable and pleasant with great English. The courtyard was being redone with block (they aren't Belgium block in Belgium) for the cafe since they are putting a 3 km tube in to transfer beer to the brewery expansion outside of town.
As it stands, Halve Maan is the only brewery in Bruges proper and you can see the whole town from the roof. Most of the tour is of the old equipment used by the six generations of the brewing family led by Henri Maes - yes, every one of them was a Henri Maes. Totally worth the visit, as if Bruges is not enough. The beer is spectacular.
Next on our tour was plenty of walking through town over canals and by some of the oldest homes in Europe.
We were on a mission to find Napoleon Mandarin, chocolates, and a purse to carry the aforementioned for my wife. After no luck with finding the liquor, we decided to have some beer and food at Bier Brasserie Cambrinus, where it was reported they had Westvleteren, but it was not on the menu.
It was, in fact, on the menu but not in stock so we settled (can't believe I just wrote settled) for DrieFonteinen Oude Geueze and some bangin' food and snub service.
Now that we were slightly warm in heart, we moved to Rose Red for the best sour beer list anywhere. Unfortunately, they were closed until Thursday from a one-month holiday. OK then - to De Garre for the best house tripel anywhere (except Teresa's Next Door) and more DrieFonteinen, Hanssens, and well . . . I'm still here so we will find out.
As an aside, we found out that there is a beer fest here on Saturday and everyone will be here. Guess we might need to find a hotel in Bruges Saturday night as there will be no way to get back to Brussels after 11:20 p.m. Tomorrow holds our meetup with the rest of the crew at Cantillon so I will catch up then.
John Stemler is brewmaster at Free Will Brewing Company.
For additional Philly Beer Week information, go to its website.