You know how it is, one day you’re minding your own business and someone leaves a comment on your blog offering you free beer. I hesitated for all of three nanoseconds before taking them up on their offer of a tasting session at a pub in Oostende. The people in question were the generous folk at beertourism.com, a site which… well, you can probably guess from the name, can’t you? Their site offer beer reviews, city guides, recipes, brewery tour information; pretty much everything you could want, in fact, in order to help you discover the big wide world of Belgian beer.
And now they’re launching themselves into the non-virtual world by teaming up with pubs in order to offer tasting sessions. They’re launching the campaign in September this year through a partnership with Café Manuscript, a well-established bar in Oostende which also offers regular music nights specialising in blues and jazz. So it was that I found myself heading for the Belgian coast on one of the wettest and coolest days of the otherwise sweltering summer. The rain didn’t let up for most of the day, so after a brief walk along the seafront to admire the large, dented orange boxes:
and a quick stop for a fishy lunch, we headed into the welcomingly warm and dry cafe to meet Glenn, the owner, and Jim from beertourism.com. They explained to me the concepts behind the site, their plans for partnerships with bars in each of the main Belgian cities, and the history of Café Manuscript in particular. One of their main aims is to make it easier for people, both tourists and locals alike, to explore the vast range of beers available, beyond the biggest names available in most bars.
And then it was down to the serious business. A selection of five different beers, each accompanied by a local delicacy chosen to complement the flavours. First up: Zinne Bir from Brussels brewery Brasserie de la Senne. A light and refreshing drink with a summery, citrusy taste.
Our first nibbles; a local type of black pudding. Surprisingly soft and smooth in texture, almost like a praline, yet full-bodied and rich in flavour (that’ll be the blood, I suppose).
Jim took some more photos of the sausage for his blog while Glenn prepared the next round.
Duchesse de Bourgogne. A strange mixture of sweet and sour (no, not like a Chinese meal). I know from a beer blogger friend that sours are quite popular at the moment, at least among American beer geeks like him, but I’d never been attracted to them. And yet this one definitely grew on me after a few sips, and I could very easily drink more of this one. Very easily.
This time the perfectly matched snack was local shrimp which features heavily on restaurant menus across Belgium. But served simply in a bowl with a good beer is probably my favourite way to eat them.
Beer number three, and time for something Trappist: Rochefort 6. Another tasty, rich, yet not overpowering beer.
And the snack this time was a tender and tasty pork cheek product.
The next beer was probably my favourite of the afternoon. I’ve liked Duvel since I arrived in Belgium 12 years ago, and every year they produce a special edition called Tripel Hop, made using a special guest hop. Last year it was from Washington state in the US, and this year they’ve decided to use the Sorachi Ace hop from Japan. The bouquet (can you say “bouquet” when talking about beer? It sounds weird to say “smell”) was amazing, and the taste in the mouth lived up to it. I intend to acquire larger quantities of this for myself as soon as possible.
It was accompanied by a gorgeous cheese called krieken kaas. Impressively pungent and slightly salty, it was the perfect match for the Duvel.
And finally a St. Bernardus Abt 12, another distinctive beer full of character and complexity.
Paired with this was a delicious local cured ham on raisin bread, an intriguing combination of sweet and salty.
Following the official launch in a couple of months’ time you too will be able to book a session like this. The cost has yet to be finalised and will vary depending on the size of your group and the products available, but the ballpark figures Glenn mentioned to us sounded very reasonable indeed, especially considering the quality of the food and drink on offer.
I had a very enjoyable afternoon drinking and talking about beer, food, Belgium, and drinking culture in different countries, and I’m sure the strategy will be very successful. I certainly plan to come back for a repeat sitting, and I’d be excited to one day visit all the bars across the country which take part in this project.