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Philly Beer Week goes to Belgium: Exploring

We had a head start of an entire day so we set out to explore the city starting with a coffee shop.

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 during their trip.

Check in to Philly Beer Week for more information.

Here is Bryan's second entry:

Our last entry here carried a title that referred to packing the bags. I don't know about John, but I have a tendency to pack in the final hours before leaving for the airport. It may not sound like the smoothest way to approach departure day, but it usually works for me.

I eventually checked off the usual clothing and toiletry items and tracked down the not-so-usual like "gift beers" and Tums. Made a last-minute decision to take a weatherproof coat but leave the wool coat behind. Then it was time for a couple of destination-appropriate Cantillon sendoff beers - with new inventory coming home with me, it didn't hurt to make a little extra room in the cooler - with the missus and it was off to the airport.

The chain of events over the next few hours left me wondering what I'd done to deserve such good fortune. Quick park and immediate shuttle pickup. Nearly no one at the ticket counter/baggage drop. A "pass" on a 51.5-pound suitcase. Absolutely no one at the TSA checkpoint, well except for the employees. Friendly banter and a quick hand swab and I was on my way to my last stateside beers. Tröegs Perpetual IPA, Yards IPA, and Flying Fish RedFish with a solid burger sent me off quite nicely from PHL.

The good fortune didn't end at the terminal. The plane was roughly one-third full and I had a full exit row to myself. Was able to get some slightly-better-than-none sleep. Podcasts and music filled the awake hours through the new headphones I promised to purchase before leaving.

As I finish typing this now, the redeye flight is in its final hour to an 8 a.m. arrival. Will the string of good luck continue on this side of the pond? First up is immigration, baggage claim, customs, and getting to the Brussels-Central bound train. I pre-purchased my ticket online, so that should hopefully speed the process of getting into the city.

I'm really looking forward to a week that will begin in just a few hours with John and his wife, Nicole, over, presumably, some breakfast pastries and coffee. Today looks like a day of exploring Brussels and it would seem shocking if Moeder Lambic was not involved in some way. Tomorrow sounds like a trip to Bruges where I can't wait to share with John and Nicole a few of the high quality sights and beer bars that I recall fondly from 2012.

Bryan Kolesar of The Brew Lounge is author of the forthcoming Beer Lover's Mid-Atlantic, May 2015

Here is John's second entry:

The flight to Belgium is loooong - more so made by the limited room I had for, well, any of me. Six-foot-one doesn't work for coach.

Upon arrival, I noticed that it looks pretty much the same here as it does in the U.S. It is cold and rainy/snowy this time of year. Security is tight at the airport, but the people are friendly and a short cab ride brought us to the heart of Brussels.

We had a head start of an entire day so we set out to explore the city starting with a coffee shop. Aksum cafe has the best coffee here and will be on our list of places to return to. We spent the rest of the first day doing lots of walking in the rain, taking a stellar nap, ogling closed chocolate shops, and making a stop at Leffe Cafe. Despite its atrocious rating, the food was awesome and we were satisfied with the service. Don't listen to the ratings.

Bryan Kolesar arrived in the morning, Monday, in much the same condition as we did the day before: dazed and confused from a red-eye flight. That didn't stop him, however, from leading us after breakfast to Moeder Lambic directly for the best selection of cask sour beer . . . ever.

Our bartender, Pierre, was helpful in guiding our selection as well as informing us of the proper tipping protocol in Europe. Following the 15 or so Cantillion, de Ranke, de la Senne, and Tilquin beers we moved to Delirium Cafe through Grand Place and some of the most breathtaking architecture I've ever seen.

The cafe is open till 4 a.m. so it has gotten a reputation for being a hot spot for the young crowd after hours. The "dive bar with great beer" ambiance was perfect and the beer selection was wonderful but I could see that the place got a beating from the clientele nightly. Definitely worth visiting when you come here, at least once.

Writing in the hotel about our experiences yesterday and today involved waffles with chocolate and strawberries and beers from the brewery we are visiting tomorrow: Straffe Hendrik Wild and Heritage from Halve Maan in Bruges. Later we might go back to Moeder Lambic for more or find somewhere new. Tomorrow we leave early by train so we can have a full day in Bruges. Can't wait to see this ancient city and world class brewery tomorrow.

John Stemler is brewmaster at Free Will Brewing Company.

For additional Philly Beer Week information, go to its website