Food, Beer, and Travel

a dump from the mind of Jon Piper

Bell’s Expedition Stout – 2007 & 2008

Posted by jwpiper on June 29, 2009

It’s a warm summer night (but the coolest all week), and I’ve got a taste for something rich, sweet, and complex. I’ve been wanting to do a side-by-side of some cellared Expedition with a fresher batch. The batches selected are 8183 and 8864, which Bell’s has so responsibly provided a webpage to decode: they were bottled on September 25, 2007 and December 8, 2008, about 21 and 7 months ago, respectively. Poured at cellar temp.

2008 Expedition Stout

Appearance
5
Pitch black and thick – not Dark Lord thick, but very heavy and viscous. The head is a light mocha color and pours to several cm over a 6 oz pour. It sticks around leaving a haze on top of the black liquid beneath.
Smell
4
As expected, a deep roasted flavor with hints of coffee. More raw and boozy. Elements of grassy hops, when sniffed after it’s older brother.
Taste
4
The roasted malts are so strong – without much booze and definite warmth. The hop finish is still present and a bit grassy as in the aroma. This truly is a complex beer which still hasn’t 100% come together yet. This just seems so raw and disjoint when next to the 2007. A real detriment to this beer since it is usually so delicious in its own right. Makes me hesitate to every do a real, side-by-side RIS tasting.
Mouthfeel
4.5
Exemplary thick smoothness with just enough carbonation prickle to clean it up in the finish. Not chewy or heavy.
Drinkability
4
Come on – in truth this is a sipper. But a delicious one. It might be tough to get through two of these.
Overall
4.25
A fine beverage. I would’ve listed it as on of my top beers, but having its year older counterpart is making this one a bit harder to enjoy. It may have ruined me to fresh Expedition!
Price
$2.50/12oz.

2007 Expedition Stout

Appearance
4.5
A darker, mocha colored head. The pour produces less than 1 cm of head which pretty quickly disappears leaving just a ring around the glass and a few islands here and there.
Smell
4.5
Richer and maltier with caramel and chocolate and devoid of any hint of the fresh grass. Some dark fruit aromas appear as well.
Taste
4.5
Wow, so rich and dark. Chocolate and roasted goodness. Sweeter, but not overly sweet and with a well balanced bitterness on finish. Some warmth with no booze. This has become a very special beer. The finish seems to last forever.
Mouthfeel
5
It has gotten thicker, smoother, and is just a bit creamy.
Drinkability
4.5
I could drink a couple of these with no real problem. Extremely tasty and complex – it entices me to keep sipping.
Overall
4.55
This beer, I think, still has a little while before it peaks. Its storage has been non-ideal (in a kitchen cabinet where temperatures vary quite a bit over the course of the year). I think I’ll be cellaring pretty much every bottle of this I buy for at least a year.
Price
$2.50/12oz.

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Lagunitas Hop Stoopid

Posted by jwpiper on April 14, 2009

I’m going into this beer with a bit of a negative lean. I’m not sure what I want to drink tonight, if anything. But, I want to try this while it’s fresh, so it might as well be tonight. I’ve been drinking a lot of RISs and RISs have been on my mind with the recent release of Struise Cuveé Delphine and the impending release of Three Floyds Darklord – to which I greatly look forward. Been a bit of time since I broke out a DIPA. So tonight’s the night. Poured at cellar temperature into Spaten Optimator 0.5L krug. I love these glasses. But I digress….
Appearance
4.5
Wonderfully clear, golden pour with some amber highlights and an off-white 5cm head when poured into my krug.
Smell
4.5
Sticky pine-sap, with grapefruit peel, soap and resin. Strong hop profile with some caramel hints – maybe even a bit of sweet biscuits.
Taste
4
Mmmmm. I’m pretty pleasantly surprised with this beer. There’s tons of pine in the hop profile, and some nice sweetness to go along with it. The flavors are incredibly light given the pine dominance and the intriguingly well-balanced and light sweetness is reminiscent of Hopslam. The finish is mildly bitter with grapefruit peels and sweet.
Mouthfeel
3.5
A bit sticky and under-carbonated. Medium- to light-bodied.
Drinkability
4.5
This is a really inviting and drinkable beer. I wouldn’t say as refreshing as Pliny, for example, but that’s probably not terribly fair. I’ve got no problem downing this beer tonight.
Overall
4.2
I’m rather surprised by this beer, I must admit. It’s pretty darn delicious. Stands out in the sea of DIPAs. Not quite Hopslam (and similar in balance), but closer than I would have expected.
Price
$6/22oz. I bit higher priced than Bell’s Hopslam, but in the right ballpark for what these delicious DIPAs seem to be going for these days.

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Aventinus Weizen Eisbock

Posted by jwpiper on April 12, 2009

Was jonesing for something right and sweet tonight, and this was staring out at me from my beer cabinet. I bought it a while ago, and the label indicates it was bottled in 2008. Supposedly, a beer like this was originally a product of shipping through freezing weather. By the time arrived at its destination, it had been frozen and concentrated (thus the eis in eisbock). I suppose they must have been serving it immediately, before the ice melted, otherwise – what’s the difference once it warms up to proper serving temperatures? Nevertheless, G. Schneider & Sohn created this eisbock to mimic the concentrated beers that their customers received in the cold German winters. I poured mine into a 0.5L Aventinus glass at cellar temperature. I suppose I ought to have cooled it down to lagering temperatures – oh well.
Appearance
4
Pours a dark brown with some caramel and amber highlights. A 1.5cm off-white head forms, but quickly disappears. The beer is only enhanced by the glass into which it’s poured.
Smell
4.5
The aromas are powerful – filling the air once the bottle is emptied. I get concentrated dark fruit aromas: figs and prunes. There are also hints of acidity and a slight metallic aroma accompanied by a bit of alcohol warmth. Further into the bottle, a definite banana aroma emerges.
Taste
4
My tongue is first greeted with sweet caramel, which is immediately followed by the rich dark fruits in the aroma. The finish grows increasingly robust bready/yeasty with an alcohol warmth and mild hop bitterness at the end. The longevity of the whole grain bread flavor finish is impressive.
Mouthfeel
4
Thick, smooth, and full-bodied.
Drinkability
4
The 12% ABV is impressively well masked in this beer’s rich profile. Not quite a sipper, but very big and rich.
Overall
4.1
This isn’t a clear dessert beer because of its bready flavors, but it is suitably sweet. A very interesting beer.
Price
$5/330ml. Fairly pricey, but I can’t think of another beer like it.

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Great Lakes Barrel-Aged Blackout Stout

Posted by jwpiper on April 3, 2009

I’ve been meaning to break this out for some time, as I figured it would be right about now that it would start balancing out some. Having just sampled the Hoppin’ Frog Barrel-Aged BORIS, and giving my palate a chance to rest, I figured now was the time. Split a bottle straight from the cellar with my wife into two snifters.
Appearance
4.5
Nice thick, black pour with a 2cm tan head which sticks around as a thin layer for a little while.
Smell
4.5
This beer is all about the bourbon. Tons of bourbon on the nose. Some deep, rich smells including wonderful roasted malts. There’s a ton of richness here.
Taste
4.5
Bourbon up front, giving way to the nice Blackout malt profile. The hops have died down some as compared to fresh non-barrel-aged Blackout. Sweet, with some fruits, even some bright almost sour fruitiness. The finish is bourbon and vanilla and a little oak. The few months this has sat has allowed the beer to balance and mellow a bit. I like this quite a bit more than fresh, personally. But the bourbon may have died down just a bit, but the beer is still very bourbony. There’s a bit of heat, but the alcohol is remarkably well hidden.
Mouthfeel
4.5
This is incredibly smooth, but with a good amount of carbonation. Very thick and viscous, but it ends on a fairly clean note. This may be the remaining hop bitterness. A hint of chalkiness, which I like for a big RIS like this.
Drinkability
4.5
Tons of interest. The bourbon isn’t as overpowering as I often find it on tap at the brewery. Sipping this one, but I’m finding it easy to drink.
Overall
4.5
For me, this is better than at the pub. An excellent beer, heavy on the bourbon, but at this point, some 6 months after the release, very well balanced.
Price
$14/22oz. A pretty good price for a BA RIS.

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Hoppin’ Frog Barrel Aged BORIS

Posted by jwpiper on April 3, 2009

I took a long lunch to drive down with Matt G. to Hoppin’ Frog to grab a case of their Barrel-Aged BORIS Imperial Oatmeal Stout. I had to get my hands on the BA version of a beer I like as much as I do BORIS The Crusher.

It was my first trip to the brewery. A real nice group of folks – if a bit eager to sell you some beer. Seems they get quite a few randoms without much knowledge of beer since they were so surprised to see people who knew what the heck a Wee Heavy or DIPA were. Wish I could’ve stuck around to shoot the breeze, but we had to get back to work.

My understanding is that the beer was only barrel aged since January. They started bottling at 9am and were still bottling when we arrived. I’d guess that the bomber I’m sharing with my wife tonight is only about 7 hours old.

Appearance
4
Pours a rich deep black color with a 1.5cm light mocha head which rapidly turns into a ring around the top of the beer.
Smell
4
The nostrils are quickly filled with whisky aromas and a little must. This is also accompanied by the nice roasted aromas familiar to BORIS drinkers. A reasonably well balanced profile – not too dominated by the whiskey, but definitely boozy.
Taste
4
Similar on the tongue – some whisky but not at all dominating. A nice alcohol warmth, maybe just a bit too much in the finish. Nice, smooth, roasted flavors – some chocolate, more than I remember in the normal BORIS and just a hint of vanilla in the end. The vanilla and whisky play nicely together in the long finish.
Mouthfeel
5
Regular BORIS has the most incredible smooth palate and this follows suit. So silky smooth from the oatmeal. Definitely an interest beer for this alone.
Drinkability
4
This is a complete sipper. Plenty drinkable, but the alcohol is hitting me a bit too hot as I get through the beer. Also, you’ve got to drink it slow in order to get the vanilla and whiskey on the finish, which is the best part of the beer for me. Not a problem.
Overall
4.1
A worthy beer with plenty of its own unique character. By no means my favorite BA RIS, but again – it’s in its own category almost. I appreciate the balance and relative subtlety of the whiskey. An excellent beer. Not enough barrel character to let this age for an extended period, I don’t think.
Price
$14/22oz. A decent value for a BA RIS. From what I’ve gathered, it’s only aged for a couple of months, which may explain it. Also, the regular Hoppin’ Frog BORIS is a bit pricey for a RIS.

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Alesmith Speedway Stout

Posted by jwpiper on February 27, 2009

On my recent visit to San Diego, I had to stop into Alesmith. I ended up shooting the breeze with Peter, Jessica, and the rest of the folks for a couple of hours before they left to judge the homebrewer’s competition. Along the way, I picked up on what the new Decadence will be, their plans to release some cheeses in the future, and even some long term dreams they’re cooking up. Some pretty exciting stuff going on there – it seems my favorite brewery isn’t only thinking of brewing excellent beer: they’re stretching themselves and even coming up with some pretty original and exciting ideas.

While I was there, I grabbed the better part of a case of Speedway Stout. I’d recently cracked a bottle of Speedway from a previous trip which I guess is about 6-9 months old at this point: the first batch in their new digs. It proved it would be difficult to keep my hands off it, so I figured I’d better replenish my supply. Being brewed with coffee, I figured I’d better give it a try fresh (they didn’t have any on tap while I was there). I split it with my wife at cellar temp into a couple of snifters.

Appearance
5
It pours thick and black with a 3.5 cm mocha head which clings to the glass as it recedes. Just beautiful.
Smell
4.5
Smells of roasted malts with tons of coffee. A definite sour note, kind of like Black Albert. A bit of milk chocolate and some bittersweet aromas.
Taste
4.5
So smooth and so much coffee. This fresh example just has tons of coffee and roasted flavors. A ton of warmth, but mostly from the warm flavors and integrated sourness rather than high ABV. I prefer this with 6-12 months on it to dial back the coffee and meld the flavors together a little more. It’s definitely rich and sweet with coffee bitterness in the finish.
Mouthfeel
4
Crazy smooth. This batch may be less carbonated than most batches I’ve had.
Drinkability
4.5
This is an incredibly easy beer to drink. No alcohol bite or noticeable alcohol presence. It’s a sipper, but very sippable.
Overall
4.55
Easily one of my favorites. Similar in some ways to Black Albert, and not quite as good fresh. But with some age, this beer really comes into its own for me.
Price
$10/750ml fromt he brewery. $13 locally when they happen to have it. Jessica let me know that she finally put a good amount on a pallet headed our way.

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New Belgium Lips of Faith Dark Kriek

Posted by jwpiper on February 22, 2009

Ever since my last trip to Belgium, I’ve been craving sour beers almost on a nightly basis. Unfortunately, the good ones are expensive here in the US. My last experience tasting a sour from New Belgium was actually a very pleasant surprise, so I thought I’d give their Kriek a try as well. I picked this up from Holiday Wine Cellar in Escondido, CA. Poured from a bomber at about 55 degrees into a Cantillon tulip glass.
Appearance
4
Nice dark ruby red color – reminiscent of bing cherries – with a 2cm dusty white head.
Smell
3.5
The aroma is sharp with sour impression. Some vinous qualities: with acidity and a woodsy character. A little bit of funk from the yeast.
Taste
2
The taste is substantially less sour than the aroma. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the beer, but the aroma got my hopes up a bit. This isn’t as complex as I had hoped and is clearly and ale and doesn’t have the funkiness of a good lambic kriek. The flavor of cherries is strong, too strong, and there’s isn’t the character which the pit adds to a good Belgian Kriek. The woodsy component is a bit musty and heavy and doesn’t seem to be well melded with the cherries. Some bready yeast on the finish.
Mouthfeel
4
A bit dry. Medium body.
Drinkability
2
The dryness helps, the alcohol isn’t strong, and there is plenty of complexity. Nonetheless this is starting to get a bit old partway through the first pour. I’d push through a 12oz, but the rest of this 22oz is going to make its way down the drain.
Overall
2.9
There is a good bit going on in this beer – the flavors just seem more competitive than cooperative. The dominant flat cherry flavor gets pretty old pretty fast. Not as good as I hoped based on a small sample of La Folie I had while at Alesmith one day.
Price
$8.50/22oz. I won’t be buying this again. There are much more pleasant sours out there which aren’t that much more expensive. I guess I can even think of some which are quite a bit better.

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Tapas of Eggs and Chorizo

Posted by jwpiper on February 22, 2009


When I returned from California, it was to a fairly empty refrigerator. My wife doesn’t love to cook when I’m gone – in fact, there’s a lot of hummus an guacamole eaten. At least she makes the latter from scratch. Well, from our meager list of food, I was inspired to make a tapas based on something I’d once watched José Andrés create (the wonders of PBS). Simple, easy, but ultimately made of delicious foods: fried eggs and chorizo with garlic. It turned out wonderfully; I was a bit heavier on the chorizo than I would normally be, but I needed something hearty and filling since this “tapas” was going to be my meal. It turned out that the roasted garlic was perfectly complemented by the smokey flavors from the chorizo, and the textures from the runny yolks, the crispy fried whites, and the rich chewy chorizo in a crispy fried exterior were perfect together. This will make it into the rotation as a tapas, or appetizer, or even a breakfast dish.

Tapas of Eggs and Chorizo

Ingredients:
2 large eggs
3-4 unpeeled cloves garlic
1/3 lb sliced spanish chorizo
2 sprigs of fresh thyme (optional)
2 tbsp Spanish olive oil
salt
serves 1 for a meal or 2 for tapas

Preparation:
Use your preferred method for frying an egg with a runny yolk: either use a lot of oil in a small pan/pot and drop the egg in or use a few tablespoons and fry one side at a time.
Be sure to salt the egg.
Remove and plate.
In remaining oil, add smashed garlic with peel on in order to roast the garlic and transfer the aromatic garlic oils into the olive oil. Do this for a minute or two.
Remove garlic and peel.
In the same oil, add the chorizo and some fresh thyme and just cook until it gets a bit crispy.
Place the chorizo slices and roasted garlic over the fried eggs and pour on all of the oil from the pan (some is from the olive oil and some is from the chorizo).

Comments:
I didn’t have any thyme to use and the dish was still delicious. Additionally, I believe José separated the white from the yolk and just fried the white, placing the yolk on top at the end. The presentation was a bit more interesting, but I think if you’re careful when frying the egg, the end result is quite similar.

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Santa Ana – Coffee Factory

Posted by jwpiper on February 21, 2009

There are few restaurants which I’d consider it a sin not to make an effort to get to and Coffee Factory in Santa Ana, CA is one of them. I was first recommended this place a few trips to Los Angeles ago by the owner of Benley Vietnamese Kitchen in Long Beach. Benley is an excellent small restaurant worthy of a post of its own, but they didn’t have bánh mì, Vietnamese cuisine’s flavor explosion of a sub sandwich. So I asked where I could get the best bánh mì around and they sent me to Coffee House in Santa Ana – a restaurant which if I ran into it while driving down the street, I never would stop inside. And what I would have missed. In all of my visits to this restaurant, the weather has been perfect so the outside tables are full with sunglass-wearing Vietnamese sharing french pressed coffee and tea. Inside and out, you won’t find any non-Vietnamese people here unless you’re there on a day when I am. In fact, it’s just about in the middle of a strip mall in the middle of the largest Little Saigon I’ve ever been to.

I’ve never ventured out from bánh mì in my visits to Coffee House, but they do have pho and several other dishes which look wonderful. But I digress: I should be talking about the bánh mì. I have a general disdain for purchasing sandwiches and subs. There are definitely exceptions to this rule, but I caricaturize my opinion for the purposes of making fun of my colleagues who order sandwiches, in one form or another, pretty much every day of the week. But my true objection to purchasing sandwiches lies in the fact that most of them from most places can be made better and cheaper at home. Coffee Factory bánh mì is the exalted antithesis of these lesser examples.

For those unfamiliar with the bánh mì formula, they consist of pickled vegetables (usually carrots and turnips) and fresh cucumber and chillies along with some meat. At Coffee Factory, they add fresh cilantro. This time I had BBQ pork and pork meatball… so delicious. In general, bánh mì are my favorite expression of a sub, but here they use the best french bread I’ve had outside of Europe, hands down – soft and airy on the inside and crumbly crusty on the out. These sandwiches are absolutely transcendent at prices ranging from $2.75 to $3.25. Now, you’ll need two of them to be full (and I’ve been laughed at fro how much I’ve ordered before), but that’s opportunity for variety or to try the pho.

I like to finish off with a cup of frozen yogurt topped with mangoes. For anyone not in the know about Southeast Asian frozen yogurt, this isn’t TCBY soft-serve, this is truly plain, sour yogurt in frozen form. Simple, bright, and delicious – topped with candy sweet super-ripe mangoes makes a wonderful snack or finish to just about any meal.

I can only assume that there’s plenty of other delicious restaurants in the area. I don’t know if I’ll take the risk on my limited trips unless I get a reliable tip on one in particular. But every trip I make to LA, a city filled with delicious food, includes an earnest effort to make it to Coffee Factory.

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Garrett Oliver, Brooklyn Brewery

Posted by jwpiper on February 17, 2009

I find it amazing how few African Americans seem to be remotely concerned with craft beer. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of stereotypical references to malt beverages in black culture. But in my experience, craft brewing can be a pretty pasty environment even among the ever growing mass which contributes only with consumption, such as myself. The number of black brewers or even visible black people in the beer industry as a whole is even smaller.

There exception which proves the rule is Garrett Oliver. This brewmaster and author is the most notable of only a couple of black brewmasters that I have ever heard of, let alone met. And let’s be clear: he is not noteworthy only because he’s one of the only black brewmasters or because he is brewmaster for one of the larger, more respected American craft breweries. Indeed, Garrett Oliver is author of the most referenced book on the subject of food and beer pairing, recognized as the foremost authority on American brewing styles, and is even up for the James Beard award for Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional for the second year in a row.

I had the opportunity to meet him this week at a Brooklyn Brewery event at Buckeye Beer Engine in Lakewood, OH. It gave me an excuse to finally purchase his book, The Brewmaster’s Table, which is now at the top of my reading list.

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Brussels – L’Huitriere

Posted by jwpiper on February 11, 2009

I wasn’t scheduled to return from London to Brussels until rather late, so I lamented having to eat in the airport instead of getting a proper meal on my last day in Europe. I always check to see if I can hop an earlier flight, and at the check-in counter they insisted that they’d closed reservations for the flight. But my rule of thumb is to always try to get to the gate. And I did – in time to make the earlier flight and make time for dinner in Brussels.

Based on the time and where I was staying, St. Catherine’s area seemed to be the only place I could squeeze in a meal. I was hopeful that Rugbyman Two would have foie gras, but alas, they didn’t. So I wandered the street until I found an interesting enough looking restaurant to try. It wasn’t until I handed the hostess my jacket that I noticed that L’Huitriere had been awarded a Michelin star in 2007.

Before the meal even started, I was presented with a small bowl of gray shrimp – another Belgian delicacy that I generally seek out. I’m never quite sure the proper way to eat these, as every culture has their preferred method with such a beast. In the south of France, pop their heads off and eat the whole remainder of the shrimp. In East Asian cultures, I’d expect they’d either eat the whole animal or at least suck out the brain after popping off the head. In the USA, they’d peel off the whole shell and eat only the body with no shell. I’m always torn between the three and really generally do whatever I fancy at the moment, which in this example was a combination of all three to be honest. In truth, I think the heads need to be either eaten or sucked out, and what to do with the body depends on you preference for texture. I did think the shrimp begged to be dipped into a nice mayonnaise, but my request was either forgotten or misunderstood.

I paired a Jupiler with the meal – the everyman Belgian pilsner. It is a nice clean pilsner: a true session beer which is better than Stella Artois and head and shoulders better than Stell Artois in the USA. I found the Hoegaarden to be more complex and interesting as a pairing at Rugbyman Two than the Jupiler this evening.

The lack of a warm, seared goose liver foie gras was a bit disappointing. But not to be entirely denied my desire, I ordered the Terrine de foie gras d’ Oie & sa confiture d’ oignons, a previously formed and cooked foie gras pâté which is then served cold in a block on bread with caramelized onions. It was rather tasty and quite full-flavored (I assume duck livers), but not at all what I was really craving. C’est la vie.

For my entree, I decided on Skrei aux jus de moules, mousse de trois legumes, or baby cod in the juice of mussels with a three potato mousse. It was delicious and clean, but as per my general dislike for cod, should I make the dish, I would likely select a different mild fish. In truth, it was quite good for cod, including the texture which was very moist and tender for cod.

The name of my dessert has escaped me – it is a classic French dessert of ice cream between two doughy pastries and topped with a Belgian chocolate sauce and toasted almonds. It was decadent and rich and finished the meal nicely.

In all, the meal was excellent, and I wouldn’t say the restaurant doesn’t deserve a Michelin star, but I’ve had better meals in Brussels in my opinion. I am likely to attempt a dish inspired by the cod in my own kitchen in the relatively near future. Next time I’m near St. Catherine’s in Brussels and Rugbyman Two is out of foie gras, I’ll likely be dining across the street.

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Westvleteren – St. Sixtus

Posted by jwpiper on February 10, 2009

Every trip I take to Belgium involves a stop in Westvleteren at In de Vrede at the very least and a stop St. Sixtusabdij to pickup a couple of cases of the monk’s brew in the best case.

Having successfully transported several cases of the great elixir over the last several years, I figured I’d share my now tried and true method as well as some of the stumbling blocks I’ve met along the way.

First is reserving the beer. The availability of each type of beer is announced on this page. This is a recent addition which augments the old way of calling in and navigating the phone message system to determine the same information. Indeed, even with the phone system, the English translation is a relatively recent and welcome addition. After you’ve determined what beer they’ll have and that you’ll be available to pick it up, you have to call back at the specified time to reserve the beer. The number is on this page. They have one line open between the hours of 09:15-12:00 (which is 03:15-06:00 EST), so it can take several hours or commonly several days to get through. Once you’ve connected, you must give a vehicle registration to associate the order with. More recently, when originally it took pleading and explaining, it has become much easier to just give them a name. Now they even store this information. In fact – the brother in charge of the reservations seems to remember me quite vividly at this point, laughing at me and my antics on my last call.

Once the beer is reserved, you’re given a time slot to pick up the beer. Even if you get through on the first day, a lot of the slots fill up. The system is clearly designed to accommodate locals and not a more broad audience like the beer has attained. Getting to the abbey is also not the easiest thing. For this, I strongly recommend driving. This may be obvious since you’ll be transporting 2-3 cases of beer, but my first visit was via train and taxi/bus. It was a pain and took forever and wouldn’t be easy to get beers back, so I won’t even describe the process. It’s a beautiful country drive whether coming from Lille, France or Brussels or Antwerp. Fitting in some of the picturesque old towns, like Ghent or Brugges is also recommended on the way to or fro. Once you get to the abbey, there’s a circle drive which leads to the building where you can pickup the beer. You give your registration number or your name and phone number and they’ll check their list, give you the beer, and take you inside to pay.

So now you have the beer. The last question is what’s the cheapest, safest, easiest way to get it home? After trying several transport strategies including a suitcase with a specially created foam insert, I’ve settled on Brouwerij Bosteels plastic crates. These will either have Tripel Karmeliet or Kwak labels on them. If you pick them up from a distributor, they’ll run you €2.10, but I’ve also gotten them for free at a supermarket. Other crates will also work, but be sure they’ll fit all the bottles before you risk it. Every neighborhood in Belgium has a day when used cardboard boxes will litter the streets (it’s called garbage day); I like to grab a healthy looking box, buy a box cutter and some tape, and make a top for each of the crates. This approach will also allow you to save some money on the Westvleteren wooden crates which would be entirely useless for safe shipping. These run €9.60, which ends up being more than 20% of the overall cost if you don’t return them.

Flying the beers back can also be an adventure. Give yourself plenty of time to check the beers in. Depending on what airline rep you get, they are fairly likely to have no idea what to do with you, even when you talk them through it because you have much more experience with it than they. They may even be adamant that you can’t fly with the beer. Stick to your guns and wait them out, insisting that they go through the proper channels to find the proper protocols. Now, clearing customs can also be interesting. I always declare the beer and the true value, and that’s never the problem. From experience, I will be taping the whole crate (or at least the holes and labels, so at US customs they won’t wonder about the liquids or amount of beer. Using the uncloaked crates has gotten me two stops at border control and one bottle stolen by a airline baggage person.

So, that’s what I do. It’s not too much of a hassle and if you’ve got the time and will be in or around Belgium anyway, I’d say it’s 100% worth it to pick up some Westvleteren 12 or Westvleteren 8.

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Brussels – Brasserie Cantillon

Posted by jwpiper on February 10, 2009

Based on what I’d heard about the place and how much I love their beer, Cantillon was a must stop while I was in Brussels. I wasn’t sure how I was going to fit it into my day, but I was committed to at least peek my head in.

The brewery is just outside a shopping district in Brussels where every street was double parked on both sides. Needless to say, I spent a good bit of time to even find an illegal parking spot within a couple of blocks of the brewery. Finally, I approached the building which gave no indication that it was open, but a push on the door revealed a strange old industrial building.

From how the brewers spoke with me, it was clear that they’re used to relative newbies. They kept referring to “real” and “traditional” lambic trying to feel out my familiarity with their style. It took some insistence before they were made to understand that not only do I enjoy their style of beer, I love their beer!

The sister of one of the brewers started my on my self-guided tour through the brewing process. As I’d been told, this brewery tour isn’t quite like every other tour I’ve been on. But more than that – being there was a unique experience for me. I felt like a guest in their home – like they had opened up a deeply personal part of their lives to me. And indeed, with the reverent way they speak of the beer and the brewing process, brewing is exactly that for each of them.

They spoke of leaving the beer to its natural course and not modifying or manipulating the process in any way. It reminded me of how the first “brewers” thought of beer: as a gift from God. Indeed, it’s been theorized that manna was an beer-porridge. For millennia didn’t know what turned sugars to alcohol – they were just thankful for it. Not too different than my experience that day.

After the unique tour, I was treated to several small samples of their standard beers, including the gueuze and kriek. The other couple that wandered the brewery more or less alongside me were stopped there. However, I was also treated with a sample of a rhubarb lambic which they had “brewed on a whim” – it was so clean and a natural combination. They were out of the faro which is also usually part of the sample list, but when I asked if they had any young lambic, she wandered off and came back with a pitcher of it. It was so delicious, I had to buy a full glass. I finished out my day with a bottle of the St. Lamvinus. This seems to be a very well respected beer which I’d never yet tried partly due to the prices in the US, which can exceed $40 a bottle.

I had committed on this trip to spend more time with the lambics. I would love to have a closer look at Drie Fonteinen or Frank Boon’s operation, but my trip to Cantillon was one of best beer experiences I’ve had. Indeed, the young lambic was one of the best beers I’ve ever had. The respect the Van Roy’s have for beer demands equal respect from any visitor.





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Brussels – Rugbyman Two

Posted by jwpiper on February 9, 2009

Having been tipped off by a colleague that the best place for seafood in Brussels is near St. Catherine’s church and having also gotten the heads up from the folks I met at Kulminator, I had to check it out. So it was my first stop on my way down from Antwerp.

I had been told that one side of the road is a more refined experience (and thus pricier) than the other, so my natural inclination was to find the cheaper side and eat there. As I was looking at the menus, I happened upon my new friends, so I decided to pop into the same restaurant. Plus, the place where they were had goose livers on the menu: an Belgian speciality I’ve been searching for. Alas, after sitting down, I learned they were out.

I pieced together a simple meal from the menu. I started with Le cappuccino de bisque de homard a l’Armagnac, or lobster bisque with brandy, which was bright with a bit of spice and some nice lobster chunks. The lobster itself wasn’t terribly impressive as compared with the Maine lobsters with which I have the most familiarity. Served alongside the bisque were several chunks of perfect french bread.

My second course was Le tartare de saumon et thon rouge, ciboulette et concombre, or salmon and tuna tartare. This was the highlight of the meal: its simplicity highlighted the freshness of the fish and the bright onions and refreshing cucumbers were an excellent accompaniment.

I finished with La surprise normande flambée au calvadose, an apple pie flambé in a Calvadose syrup and topped with vanilla ice cream, which was rather rich and sweet.

In all, it was a very good meal, but given the amount of food I consumed, probably not worth the cost. I don’t know that the prices across the street were as substantially different as was described to me, but they were definitely better. Again, I’d also personally steer away from the Belgian lobster. It was good, but not as good as its much cheaper counterpart on the northern Atlantic coast of the US.

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Antwerp – Bolleke De Koninck

Posted by jwpiper on February 8, 2009

Well, before leaving Antwerp for Brussels, I had to give their legendary local beer a crack. And what better way to do so than in a local neighborhood pub? Based on what I’ve heard about Antwerp and De Koninck, I figured I could get it in just about any bar, so I ducked into one for lunch. I decided not to get to fancy and to order “De Koninck and Croque Monsignoir”. Well the ham and cheese sandwich was delivered without incident, but to go along was a tonic water. Glancing around proved that this bar didn’t serve De Koninck at all.

So I decided to drive the streets until I found a place with a De Koninck sign. Boy was I in for a surprise. The bar I found had three people there who were evidently celebrating one of their birthdays by drinking an absolutely excessive amount of good Belgian beer straight from the bottle. Ever had a Duvel out of the bottle? That’s one carbonated beverage. This time, I ordered “bolleke of De Koninck”. After berating me for my poor Flemish and teaching me the proper pronunciations and phrasing, I was presented the object of my search – a bolleke. De Koninck proved to be a very drinkable beer – nothing too special, but an easy daily drinker. Several stories in broken English, overly friendly hugging with strangers, and €1.60 later, I was all too ready to move on with an experience I won’t soon forget.

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Antwerp – Afspanning ‘t Waagstuk

Posted by jwpiper on February 8, 2009

As an interlude between visits to Kulminator, we grabbed a bite at Afspanning ‘t Waagstuk. Given that the place is better known as a bar with food, I took the opportunity to try a classic Belgian dish: stoemp. Actually, while the decision was somewhat motivated by my recent experience in Amsterdam with the Dutch version of this dish, I was also influenced by the fact that there wasn’t much more compelling on the menu.

If ever there was peasant food – this is it. Basically, it’s mashed potatoes with spices. In Holland, even with it all gussied up, it really wasn’t anything too special. Indeed, it screamed peasant food with dressing. But here, at ‘t Waagstuk, we had a simple rendition. It looked like a hefty pile of mashed potatoes with some green vegetable topped with a nice thick piece of bacon. Well, that’s exactly what it was. Except the potatoes were nicely spiced (there was nutmeg among other things) and the bacon was deliciously smoked.

I enjoyed a bottle of Cantillon Gueuze 100% Bio Lambic alongside it, which was nice to cut the heaviness of the dish.

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Struise Black Albert

Posted by jwpiper on February 7, 2009

After having a couple of delicious aged Trappist quads, I was ready for something different and even bigger. I had met up with some new friends and was singing the praises of Struise Black Albert which can be quite difficult to get in the US. With all my yapping, I worked myself up into a hankering for one myself. And since the brewery was sold out, I wasn’t expecting to run into it anywhere else. Struise doesn’t make their own glasses, so it was poured into a generic glass which couldn’t properly hold the beer and head. Served at cellar temperature like every beer is at Kulminator.
Appearance
5
Pours pitch black with a brown-tan bubbly head which sticks to the glass.
Smell
4
Roasted smells with some coffee, but a lot more going on as well.
Taste
5
A bit of sourness. Full-bodied, rich, roasted but not dominated by coffee or chocolate. There are coffee/chocolate flavors, but they’re balanced in with other roasted malts and plenty of sweetness and that sour hint. A little cigarette smoke in the finish.
Mouthfeel
5
So thick, creamy, and smooth. Not cloying despite the sweetness.
Drinkability
4.5
Alcohol incredibly well hidden. A sipper nonetheless.
Overall
4.75
This is easily one of my favorite Russian Imperial Stouts and I try to get it anytime I’m in Belgium. There’s a bar right next to the brewery which distributes Struise beers which always has Struise beers for sale. A strange place to visit, getting one of these makes it completely worthwhile.
Price
€3.50/33cl. Or that’s the price at the bar next to the distributor. Not sure what I paid at Kulminator but I don’t think it was much more than this.

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1999 Chimay Blue

Posted by jwpiper on February 7, 2009

The beer which I wasn’t going to leave Kulminator without trying was an aged Chimay Blue. I figured 1999 would be just about right – old enough to be one of the older beers I’ve had, but young enough that I shouldn’t tun too much of a risk of it being way over-oxidized. I was looking for something which would allow me to make some generalizations about aged Chimay’s which get some pretty high billing as extremely cellerable beers. As before, it was brought straight from the cellar and poured perfectly into the Chimay glass, leaving a finger of beer left in the bottom with most of the yeast.
Appearance
5
Basically black with a nice off white head which holds well through the session.
Smell
4
A little thin. Smells of cardboard. Some rich fruits. Sweet.
Taste
4.5
Again a little thin. Cardboard yeast dominates. Extremely well balanced flavors. Port flavors, but not too much. Rich fruits: prunes. There’s a lot going on in this beer.
Mouthfeel
4.5
Smooth and mildly tingly.
Drinkability
5
So smooth, well balanced, and alcohol completely hidden.
Overall
4.55
A fine beverage. Might have been a bit over-oxidized for my taste, but still quite good.
Price
€8/33cl or thereabouts. Unfortunately I don’t remember exactly. I’d buy it again, but I prefer the

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2003 Rochefort 10

Posted by jwpiper on February 7, 2009

My original plan was to grab just a couple of beers at Kulminator before going for dinner and maybe return afterwards. So, I had to go for something special from the start. Since I’ve always thought Rochefort 10 should age well, I figured I’d give a bottle from 2003 a try. The numbering on the bottle was 281008, which means it was brewed at the end of September in 2003 – more than five years ago. It came to me straight from the cellar and was poured perfectly into an old school Rochefort glass, leaving the last 2 cm in the bottle with the balance of the yeast.
Appearance
4.5
Pours a dark brown with amber highlights, developing a nice tan head which quickly recedes.
Smell
5
Some port qualities – less than expected. Nice rich fruits, like dates. Caramelized sugars.
Taste
4.5
Still has the caramelized sugar backbone. A bit thinner than I expected, but very little alcohol bite. There was minor oxidation. Rich fruits on the palate as suggested by the smell. Some chocolate as well.
Mouthfeel
4.5
Much thinner than I usually prefer for this style, but it is so smooth and the thinness deceptive – as the flavor is by no means thin. Provides a tickle of carbonation.
Drinkability
5
So easy going. A sipper, but not because it couldn’t be consumed faster, but because it’s a precious treat. Very, very easy going down.
Overall
4.65
Delicious – again, not nearly as delicious as Westvleteren 12, particularly with a few years under its belt. Final pour is thick and sludgy. It adds some smoothness and bready notes – quite good. Don’t be worried about mixing this in unless you prefer the appearance of a clean pour.
Price
€6.50/33cl. A no brainer in my mind – or age your own. I don’t know if or when I’ll ever buy enough of this to hold onto for 5 years, so I’d likely go for this again if/when I’m back at Kulminator.

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Antwerp – Kulminator

Posted by jwpiper on February 7, 2009

Given its reputation as one of the best places to have a beer in the world, I had to give Kulminator in Antwerp a visit while I was in Belgium. Stepping in, the bar appears tiny. There were probably 5 tables with about 5 seats each and another 5 stools at the bar. It was fairly empty when I arrived in the middle of the evening, so I grabbed a seat at an empty table and tried to scrounge up an aged bottle menu.

After one of the friendly proprietors dropped it off, it took me a while to figure out what to order. There were a ton of interesting beers of many vintages, and mostly at pretty reasonable prices. In the middle of the bar is a large book of beers which declare that in 2004 or thereabouts they had some 4500 beers or somesuch. I doubt the list is up to date, but clearly they’ve got a ton more beers than on their normal menu. A visit to the bathroom proves that probably half of the space in this bar is taken up by the beer itself. The properietor even pulled down a Three Floyds Darklord and a Sam Adams Trippelbock just to show he had them. It actually begs the question whether Delerium Cafe’s Guinness Book of World Records title is appropriate. Seems Kulminator is your best chance at finding just about any Belgian beer just about anywhere in Belgium. My personal favorites which are tough to come by even in Belgium include Westvleteren 12 (didn’t notice if they had the Blond or 8 as well) and several Struise offerings.

I met some folks who I ended up spending the rest of the evening with, and met back up the next day in Brussels. We enjoyed some delicious beers at Kulminator – some aged, some fresh. And I’ll be trying to work in visits to Kulminator on any future Belgium trips.

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