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 seventh entry:
I seem to recall typing the word epic earlier in the week when describing our day at Cantillon. If that was epic, then should I find another word to describe this last day of touring the giants of the Lambic beer world?
Epic is likely an overused word these days, but it again seemed to most accurately describe what how our day went after catching an early train (early based upon our bedtime standards after late nights carousing Brussels) out to Lembeek where Brouwerij Boon is a very short walk from the train station.
The former small brewery near the river Zenne, now the largest Lambic brewery in Belgium, expanded nearly two years ago and sees roughly 85% of its production stay in the country.Hence, the oft-difficult task of finding a plentiful supply on this side of the pond.
Frank Boon, owner and well-studied local historian, took our group on a detailed tour, which was a treat given that it is something he rarely does. Another perk, I suppose you could say, of traveling with the esteemed Tom Peters from Monk's Café.
The tour showed the old brewhouse, the open-air coolship, the brewery, fruit drum press, and of course the immense barrel storage. Some is also stored and aged in a nearby facility.
Boon went into immense and interesting detail around the process of making beer in his new, highly automated facility. So automated, in fact, that of 17 total employees at the brewery, it only takes two to see a batch of beer through a brew cycle. Brewing is done from Sunday through Thursday each week primarily in winter months.
A tasting of the exceptional Marriage Parfait Gueuze (2011, in this case) served by Boon himself capped a memorable and appreciated tour from Boon.
Train schedules waiteth for no beer drinker, so it was back to the train for a connection through Halle to Beersel. Unfortunately, we had no time to squeeze in the magnificent moat-surroundedBeersel Castle but it was a small sacrifice for a decadent lunch at 3 Fonteinen's café and a tour/tasting from owner Armand Debelder.
3 Fonteinen is reachable from the Beersel train station by walking a half-kilometer (mostly) up hill. Maybe 10-12 minutes uphill and 5-7 minutes down depending upon your condition.
At the classic Belgian café, our group's lunch table included orders of rabbit braised in gueuze (a very popular and well-done dish), eel, oysters, croquettes, and carrot soup. Zwet.be, a porter with brettanomyces, was the first order of business as a beer that does not frequently find itself in the U.S. Many then moved on to various types of Lambic and Gueuze (blended Lambics of three vintages) before Debelder stopped by to retrieve us for a tour and tasting.
Along the way, Debelder introduced us to a new business partner, the young Michael Blancquaert (29 years old), who is being positioned as the future face of the brewery as Debelder nears retirement. The pride is evident in Debelder's tone and expressions that his brewery not only escaped a near catastrophic disaster in 2009 when an explosion claimed nearly all of his inventory, but that the brewery now thrives like never before and is being set up for many future years in capable hands.
Following the beginning of our education, Debelder took us from the retail shop, into the brewery, and eventually into the cellar, where numerous barrels were stacked upon each other amongst the requisite cobwebs. He proceeded to fill several pitchers of Lambic direct from the barrel, which allowed us to further appreciate the base product that makes its way into blended Gueuzeand assorted fruited varieties, such as Kriek.
The retail shop offers plenty of the beer, glassware, and apparel that we've come to expect at brewery retail shops. One special treat at 3 Fonteinen, but not for much longer, is the Armand'Spirit which is the resulting product from distilling gueuze that was salvaged from the disaster in 2009. Only 6,000 of these one-of-a-kind bottles were produced and won't last much longer. As they say, when they're gone, they're gone for good. But, if you get there soon, this provides an excellent opportunity to support the brewery as they continue to recover and grow from such an unfortunate incident.
Rest of the day's story: return to Brussels, enjoy a steak dinner at the venerable Belgian restaurant, Aux Armes de Bruxelles, with part of the group, and then I claimed a relatively early night. Perhaps John will have some (publishable) insights to the meanderings around Brussels that closed out the penultimate day in a week, the days of which wereall beginning to blur together.
We'll be back yet one more time for a last wrap-up with our closing thoughts on the incredible visit to Brussels and its area breweries and bars and perspective on the future of the collaborative brew between Free Will and Hof ten Dormaal.
Bryan Kolesar of The Brew Lounge is author of the forthcoming Beer Lover's Mid-Atlantic, May 2015