On the second morning of our trip we woke up and headed straight to Pairi Daiza (pear-uh-die-zuh; translates to “paradise”) a zoo in the south-central of Belgium. Now, this may not seem like a very beer-y thing to do on a beercation, but there are two important things going on at this zoo:
1. RED PANDA
2. There’s a BREWERY AT THE ZOO.
We sampled all of the house beers: a blonde, brune (brown), cerise and blanche. None of them were memorable, but I’m sure having a brewery at the zoo is nice respite for parents. The real highlight of the zoo was the adorable red panda bringing out her baby to show us.
After leaving the brewery, we weaved back West in a roundabout way with stops at Dupont, Rodenbach, Brasserie Geants (a new discovery), In De Vrede and finally, dinner at De Strooyen Hen, a local favorite in Watou.
Our first stop was a failed attempt to visit Brasserie Dupont. We knew going in that they require large groups to give tours, but we figured we’d try our luck anyway. No such luck this time, but they did point us in the direction of a cafe down the street that served their beers and traditional Belgian dishes.
I’ve had Saison Dupont several times, but have never seen any of their other beers available in our market (except for the dry-hopped version of the saison) so it was exciting to try new beers, fresh from the source not 200 meters away. We sampled the Saison, Redor Pils and Moinette Blond. The blond’s name is a little misleading as it is classified as a Belgian pale ale (typical in Belgium), but delicious nonetheless, with a dry finish and a beautiful balance of yeast, citrus, spice and caramel flavors. I ended up ordering a larger fill of this to go with my meal. We ordered traditional Belgian Mussels in a white wine sauce and Rabbit leg smothered in sauce made with Dupont. I remember eating rabbit long ago when my little sister first got her .22 and we followed my dad’s rule, “if you kill it, you have to eat it”. It certainly wasn’t this good!
While we were on the way to Dupont, we saw a small road sign indicating that there was another brewery in the Ath area called Brasserie des Geants. We made a small detour on our way to Rodenbach on the off-chance we could visit. We strolled through a beautiful archway into the courtyard of what we learned used to be a castle and after speaking to someone messing with kegs, we were sent to the visitors center opposite of the production area. We walked up a new set of stairs into a very modern office and tasting room and a woman came out and we chatted in our limited French and her limited English. She walked us downstairs and into the brewery and gave us a tour, which was more of me walking around taking pictures and John trying to ask questions about the equipment, somewhat successfully. The sight of an old, original mashtun was quickly becoming familiar on our tours in Belgium, but still awe-inspiring to see every time. We were told there are only one or two others that old and of that style still in Belgium, Cantillon being one of them.
Technically, Brasserie des Geants is part of a bigger group called Brasserie des Legendes, as they acquired Brasserie Ellezelloise in 1993 (referred to as the Quintine line). The production is still split between two facilities. Our tour guide explained the story after the tour, back in the tasting room while we tried the Hercule stout (Quintine) and Urchon (Geants), a Belgian dark ale. The Urchon was my favorite, very drinkable and a medium body that contradicted the dark color of the pour. John enjoyed the Hercule, so we bought a bottle to bring home.
After our detour, we headed to Rodenbach. As with Dupont, Rodenbach only caters to large groups but in an email exchange before we left, we were told to try to jump in with another group. Unfortunately, there weren’t any groups that day, so we walked around the grand courtyard and snapped a few shots before getting on the road to Westvleteren.
It is impossible to visit the Sint-Sixtus Abbey, where Westvleteren beers are produced, as they keep their monastery life private. You can, however, visit their cafe right across the tiny Belgian road. In De Vrede was quite busy when we arrived, but we managed to get a table outside looking over the beautiful country-side and imminent sunset. There was an orange tabby running around and the sounds of various languages chatting and enjoying the beers. We ordered a flight of the Westvleteren 12, 8 and Blonde. The 12 is known by some as the best beer in the world, though I disagree. It is excellent, and before the trip I had never tried it fresh. I preferred the 8, it was less boozy, less sweet, and was certainly more drinkable. The blonde was tasty as well, but it’s hard for me to get excited about Belgian pale ales. As I mentioned in the first post about our trip, the only way to get any Westvleteren beers without going through the massive hassle of their system for distribution, is to go to the cafe. We saw several people with boxes and inquired with our waiter. By the time he came back to tell us there were only a few boxes left and that we should get in there, they were gone for the day. We planned a quick return trip Saturday morning when we would be back in the area. Honestly, I wasn’t too disappointed, but I know John wanted some to trade and give to people who had never had it before.
After our beers and a cheese snack (I love the whole celery-salt-on-cheese thing they have going in Belgium) we headed back to our home base, Brouwershuis in Watou. Shortly after we arrived, our hostess told us that our new Norwegian beer nerd buddies had walked into Watou to have dinner at local favorite, De Strooyen Hen. We drove to meet them and had a lovely dinner of steak and croquettes paired with Poperinge Hommelbier and Triple Karmeliet. Afterwards, we headed back to the Brouwershuis to have a mini-bottle share with the Norwegians and another couple staying there as well. When you stay at Brouwershuis, not only are you just steps from St. Bernardus, but there is also a big bar with (almost) all of the St. Bernardus you can drink. They only ask that you put what you can in a box on the bar that works on the honor system. We drank our fair share and called it a night. The next day, Thursday, we headed to Poperinge to visit the Hop Museum and then on to Ghent!