Belgium and Germany Beer Trip Report

Al Korzonas,

Well, I'm back from three weeks in Germany and Belgium and, naturally,
I'm three weeks behind in my work, so I'll try to make this short.
A special thanks to all of you that sent me your very helpful suggestions
for lodging, translations of brewing terms and suggestions of places to
Where: Bamburg, Muenchen, Bacharach, Koeln, Duesseldorf, Beersel, Brussels,
Brugge and Antwerpen.
I missed a lot of the "easy" brewery tours (the ones that were actually
IN the cities we were staying and had regular brewery tours) like Straffe
Hendrick and Gouden Boom (Brugge) or the big breweries in Muenchen.  I did,
however get to tour some of the smaller, more interesting breweries that
are not on everyone's agenda, like Paulaner Brauhaus (a brewpub owned by
Paulaner), Forschungs Braustuberl, Unions (another brewpub near Muenchen),
Zum Uerige, De Dolle Brouwers, Oud Beersel, Rodenbach and the cellars at
3 Fonteinen in Beersel.  Cantillon was certainly a must and was an "easy"
brewery to tour: you could probably wake Jean-Pierre at 3am and he would
let you tour the brewery.
Beer-related Highlights:
* the rauchbier at Braurei Special in Bamberg (Incidentally, while everyone,
  especially the citizens of Bamberg, criticize Kaiserdom for being a "bad"
  rauchbier, I feel that it is not that far off the mark, and probably most
  of the local criticism is because it is a major brewer and not a small
  independent.  Yes it is probably twice as smoky as Special, it is not that
  much smokier than Schlenkerla.  Back off 25% to 40% on the smokiness from
  Kaiserdom on your homebrewed attempts and you should be in the ballpark.)
* while the Muenchner Helles were all quite similar (almost every brewery uses
  34/70 yeast) throughout Bavaria, the Dunkels had wide variety of
  interpretations... standouts were Benedicktiner Dunkel (Bamberg), Augustiner
  Edelstoff Dunkel (Muenchen) and Koenig Ludwig Dunkel.
* the best beer I tasted in Bavaria was by far the St. Jakobus Bock, a
  pale bock beer brewed by Forschungs Braurei (Koenig Ludwig Dunkel was
  a close second).
* Kulmbacher Reichelbraeu Eisbock is outstanding... the only other eisbock
  I had tasted was one brewed by Dennis Davison -- the one that won the
  bock category at the Nationals this year.  I know one or two judges gave
  Dennis a score of 50 on his beer, but (sorry Dennis) I'd have to give the
  Kulmbacher one point higher.
* Zum Uerige -- yes, it is as bitter and as malty as they say it is.  No,
  no homebrewed version I've ever tasted has even come close.  It is brewed
  with about 98% pils malt just a few percent roasted and caramel malt.  All
  Spalt hops.  This was another outstanding beer.  The other Duesseldorfer
  Alts (Zum Schuessel, Schumacher, Im Fuechshen) are also very good to
  outstanding and most are almost as bitter as the Zum Uerige.  There were
  some fair-to-poor Alts there also, so not every alt is spectacular.  Also,
  several excellent Alts were *fruity* despite many descriptions that say
  they are supposed to be dry and not fruity.  They were all at least slightly
  fruity and were all semi-sweet -- the hops balanced the sweetness and
  perhaps that's why some think they are a dry-tasting beer.  They are *not*
* 3 Fonteinen Geuze (Flemish spelling) is outstanding.  Too bad they are so
  small that you have to get within 10 miles of the cellars to find it.
  The acidity was a little harsher than Cantillon.  A five-year-old bottle
  was much smoother and tasted about as smooth as a three-year-old Cantillon.
* Cantillon Gueuze (French spelling) is the best.  With some aging it becomes
  a nectar.  The best beer I tasted in my life was a 17-year old Cantillon
  poured by Jean-Pierre at the brewery.  It was more complex than any other
  10 beers combined.  When I asked J-P if he thought we could make lambik
  here with pure cultures, he said: "You can make lambik anywhere!"  He felt
  that traditional methods are key and that you must learn to work within
  your environment.  Jean-Pierre says he doesn't make lambiks, lambiks make
  themselves -- he just helps: "The lambik is the boss... I work for the

* Hanssens, I feel, makes the best Kriek.  Their Geuze is variable, from
  good to excellent.  One bottle I had tasted very oily/solventy/caprillic.
  While this can be part of the style, I thought the levels were excessive.
  No year on the cork, so it was impossible to tell how old it was.  Another
  bottle at a different cafe was much better.
* I was not happy with the Girardin Geuze or Lambik I tasted.  Neither were
  as good as the Cantillon, 3 Fonteinen or Hanssens.  However, just as with
  the first bottle of Hanssens I had, I would have to taste several other
  batches to say Girardin didn't belong in the same league as the other three.
* Petrus is a very good Oud Bruin.  Good Old Bruins (Flanders Browns) are hard
  to find.  There are a lot of overly-sweet beers, with no sourness, calling
  themselves Oud Bruins -- beware.
* I asked at Rodenbach if they consider their beer a "Red Beer" or an "Oud
  Bruin."  They said it is a "Oud Bruin."  Given that, I'd say shoot for
  something between Rodenbach Grand Cru, Liefmans Goudenband (the old recipe)
  and Petrus when trying to brew an Flanders Brown Ale.
* Rochefort 10 is excellent -- IMO one of the three best Trappist beers
  (along with Orval and Westvleteren Abt).  Rochefort 8 is also very good,
  has a similar flavour as the 10 and is far more quaffable.
* You can get beers like Rochefort 10, Orval and Cantillon at grocery stores.
  750ml of Cantillon Gueuze is BF 100 (about $3.25), a bottle of Orval will
  set you back BF 43 (about $1.40).
* On the, "this is not lambik" front: you can buy Belle Vue Kriek in cans.
* I tasted the Celis White in Brugge.  I feel that it is not as good as the
  Celis White brewed in Austin.  It didn't have as much of the yeast character.
  It is not surprising that it would be made from a different recipe there
  (as if Pierre was going to release his trade secrets).  Incidentally,
  Hoegaarden Wit, along with Stella Artois and Jupilier are the most widely
  available beers in Belgium (Belle Vue Kriek is up there also).
* At 't Brugs Beertje, Jan and I compared 9-year-old and a current bottle
  of Verboden Vrucht: no comparison.  The night before, I ordered my wife
  Karen a bottle of the current stuff, expecting something like the Pierre
  Celis version.  She hated it and I even had trouble finishing it.
  Obviously, Interbrew has ruined another great beer.  The old beer was an
  explosion of fruit.  The current smells and tastes more like a strong
  industrial American lager than anything else -- a Belgian Mickey's Malt
  Liquor if you will.
* Jan ('t Brugs Beertje) rents out the Boon brewery one day per year and
  makes a 4,000 or 5,000 liter batch of beer.  He then ages it four years
  before serving.  Every year it is a different recipe and the kegs last only
  a few weeks when he puts in on sale.  I tasted the beer served this year
  (he puts a small percentage in bottles) and it was a pale, citrusy, wheat
  beer made with sloeberries.  Very fruity, but did not taste like a typical
  fruit beer.
* Fresh Duvel is not as good as old Duvel.  We're actually lucky to get it
  "pre-aged."  Some cafes pre-age Duvel.  Fresh, it smells solventy and the
  alcohol burns the throat.  Even one year of aging turns it to silk.
* The last two beers I drank in Belgium (I had planned to bring them home,
  but our luggage already weighed 390 pounds and that was after I airfreighted
  home 44 pounds of glassware) were scottish ales!  Gordons Scotch Ale was
  outstanding: a peaty nose, much lighter than McEwans and much less sweet.
  It was deceptively strong, however.  Highland Fine Whiskey Malt Beer (brewed
  by Henninger Brewery in Germany and packaged in a can!) was good: slightly
  smoky nose, more smoky in the palate, rather lager-like (duh!) perhaps a
  cross between a rauchbier and a scottish ale.  Probably the best beer I've
  tasted from a can.
* 173 beers critically tasted (if you don't count the Old Dominion Ale during
  our layover in Dulles), visited nearly a dozen small- to medium-sized
  breweries, performed countless hours of people-watching in numerous
  biergartens and cafes, ranched more than 30 (possibly different) yeasts,
  and saw some cool old architecture (some as old as Roman times).  There's
  still smoke rising from my Visa card... I'd call it a successful journey.