Essentially, the plan is to try and tick off 12 whole new countries in 2015, and given that I've already visited 30-odd, including most (though not all) of the closer ones, it could be a bit of a challenge, so I'm trying to get off to a flying start. Except that I don't like flying all that much.
|Sampling beer at the Cantillon brewery|
A really, really fucking short trip, actually. About 80 minutes. There's not an awful lot to do in Lux.
However, the upside of this is that we got to use Brussels as a base for a couple of nights to break up the 13 hour train journey, and there is plenty to do there. Especially if you like drinking Belgian beer.
Brussels stoutsI probably haven't even begun to scratch the surface of the drinking potential of this city. From the Moeder Lambic bars where authentic sour fruit beers are served on cask, to the tiny Nüetnigenough ('Greedy Glutton') brasserie where traditional Belgian food and beers are paired in a more intimate setting - try the Carbonade de Bouef made with Rochefort ale.
|Lambic, sausage, malt grains and mustard - a great night out!|
(While I'd been to Belgium before, this actually was my first trip to Brussels, and I was surprised at how small Mr. Pis is - and I mean the entire statue, not just his pissing cock!)
But back to those deliciously sour lambic beers, and if that's your bag, a trip to the Cantillon brewery has to be on your to-do list.
Anarchy in the EU
If you've been on an organised brewery tour before, you'll probably know the slightly guilty feeling you get when your host starts glaring suspiciously in your direction just because you've eyed up something interesting in a corner and are thinking, just thinking mind, about wandering off from the tour for a moment. Like Charlie and Grandpa Joe.
|Fuck knows what this did|
It's impossible to imagine a brewery of similar size and stature allowing this sort of shenanigans over here, but for a visiting beer writer, it's a fucking awesome scenario.
You pays your very reasonable seven euros to get in, they hand you a leaflet, and you wander about watching the magic of fermantation as the miracle unfolds. When you're done, you can head back to the bar and have a couple of free samples.
And it is really quite a lot like Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory in there. Whirring, clunking noises abound, the smell of crushed malt hits your nostrils at every turn, and watching the spinning and churning and flowing is really quite mesmerising.
They're very trusting, these Belgians. I don't think I'd trust Grandpa Joe Public with open vessels containing of gallons of wort.
Bits of ancient, disused equipment are left in situ alongside the current working kit, so you'll see cobwebby bottling machines from the 1930s alongside brand new keykegs, freshly racked for export market.
|Whirr, clunk, the magic at work|
For example, I had no idea that Cantillon only brews Lambic variants, that the brewing season is Winter-only, and that the youngest lambic ever made available for drink is a full year old - most of it then goes on to be blended with fruit, or with older lambics, and matured for even longer.
And the fruity ones are proper fruit beers. None of your gimmicky, Fosters Radler shit here. Fuckloads of real sour cherries go into the kriek. I've seen the big sacks.
Unlike most Belgian breweries, Cantillon do produce a fair amount of cask for a few outlets in the city (in one evening I found the regular lambic, kriek, framboise (raspberry) and faro (sweetened) available, which really isn't bad).
With its long maturation time, it's a style that lends itself really well to the cask, so long as it's served nice and cool, and it would be great if Cantillon exported to the UK in this format.
I'm left wanting more, and while I still want to tick off another ten new countries this year, the prospect of a return to Belgium to check out more of its breweries is a sorely tempting one. And it is only a couple of hours on the Eurostar...
I might just have to stand for the European Parliament and get myself sent to Brussels while we're still in the business of sending folks there!