You can’t beat a Belgian beer run and this year’s jaunt was no exception.
It was especially fruitful having got through to the famous ‘beer phone’ to order two cases of Westvleteren 12. This year was a record for me, getting through after 17 minutes on my 76th attempt.
To make the most of our break we kicked it off with some campervanning in Holland before heading over the border for our four day stint in Belgium. Here’s how we got on:
Belgian beer run day 1 – collecting the best beer in the world
We got packed up quickly to ensure we made our appointment at Sint Sixtus Abbey. Our progress was only slightly hindered by a fight with an awning that refused to go back in its bag, but swearing at it seemed to help and we went on our merry way. We got to West Flanders with an hour to spare so we made a visit to In De Vrede, the only cafe licensed to sell Westvleteren trappist beers. We got tucked in to the croque monseurs made with trappist cheese, a doorstop-sized slab of Westvleteren 8 pate and sipped a chalice of Westvleteren 6 which was crisp and hoppy.
Just before 1pm we got in the queue at the Abbey as the gates were being unlocked. It had changed since our last visit, with new windows and a payment kiosk made of Westvleteren crates. Unfortunately I can’t share pics as photography is banned. I exchanged our old crates to get the deposit back on them and picked up two shiny new ones.
Next it was on to Bruges, with a quick stop at a camping shop then Carrefour supermarket for supplies. The beer aisle is jaw-dropping, as are the prices, with some amazing beers priced at little over a Euro. We also bagged a fondue pot and some cheese.
We checked into a campsite on the outskirts of Bruges where we had a nice lazy day, made all the better by the bottle of Deus Brut Des Flandres that we stuck in an ice bucket when we arrived. It kept us going while the other newly purchased bottles chilled in the fridge and the powered cool box we bought for inevitable overspill.
Day one tasting list: Deus Brut Des Flandres, Urthel Sasonniere, Lucifer, Dronkenput tripel, Gulden Draak, Affligem tripel.
Belgian beer run day 2 – venturing into Bruges
We kicked off the day with a campsite brekkie before jumping on the bus into the centre of Bruges. Melting by the time we disembarked, we enjoyed a beer sitting outside at Tea Room Laurent overlooking Sint-Salvatorskathedraal before going on to one of my favourite bars, ‘t Brugs Beertje. Next we attempted to visit Volkscafe Sint Jacobs which is run by one of ‘t Brugs’ former barmen but we picked the one day it was shut. One for the next trip!
Next stop was Le Trappiste where table football and the promise of a tasting paddle from a 20-strong taplist awaited. But we were out of luck there too, as the toilets were out of commission forcing the bar to close within the half hour. It didn’t put us off ordering the tasting paddle anyway, albeit we drank it somewhat faster than usual. Remind me not to do that again as memories of the evening are a little fuzzier than intended.
We headed across Markt (the main square) and on to another of my favourite bars, De Garre, for a couple of the delicious house tripels served with a mini dish of Young Belgian cheese cubes. We were sat across from four ladies, all pensioners, who were quaffing Belgian beer, grinning from ear to ear and peeing themselves laughing at pretty much everything. Watching them made me happy – please let that be me when I’m their age! Next stop was an Indian restaurant called the Taj Mahal, run by a husband and wife team, just off Markt which is reasonably priced despite its prime location.
After that it was back to t’ Brugs to have ‘one for the road’, and on the way home the boyfriend had to persuade me that I did NOT need chips and mayonnaise as a chaser for my huge curry. What can I say, it’s force of habit after a Bruges night out!
Day two tasting list: Ommegang, Westmalle tripel, Dulle Teve, Abbot tripel, Gulden Draak, Hoegaarden raspberry wit, Bush Blonde, Straffe Hendrik tripel, Tripel van de Garre, Brugse Zot, Boskeun.
Belgian beer run day 3 – Bruges round two
We kicked off the day with some hearty toasties packed with Old Amsterdam cheese, smoked ham and pickles to lay a foundation for the day’s tasting session. The day included a bit of campervan housekeping, finding creative ways to pack everything away into every nook and cranny. It was in aid of a very good cause – creating maximum floor space for the beer crates we’d be buying the next day.
Just in case we hadn’t consumed enough cheese and meat, we stuck out a platter of cheese cubes and salami and cracked open more of those top-notch supermarket beers. Then it was back into Bruges where we took a different route into the centre. This time the hedge opposite the bus stop had been decorated by the homeowner ahead of the World Cup – impressive effort!
We tried out a new bar this time, The Beer Wall, which is a big tourist trap. It had a huge row of taps and tap-lists hanging from elastic strings at the bar, complete with beer tasting notes. We timed it well, bagging a table outside by the canal and a beautiful willow tree.
The boyfriend ordered a Paix Dieu – a tripel which came in a lovely glass – while I opted for the Mongozo Coconut, unable to resist the temptation of a beer served in a coconut shell. The tasting notes had very honestly described it as “too sweet”, and while I didn’t mind that, it was watery and woody, but it was a novelty. The only complaint? Beer Wall’s glasses had stupid security tags on them which ruined the look of them.
Next it was back to De Garre for another. It’s the only place you can buy the Tripel van de Garre so it’s important to grab every opportunity!
Dinner was an absolute treat, at a cosy and quirky place called The Hobbit, with a warm welcome and hearty, mouth-watering grub. Notes of all different currencies hung from the ceiling and the menu featured funny vintage adverts. The boyfriend got the generuously-portioned mixed grill while I got a melt-in-the-mouth steak. It’s was our second visit there and definitely won’t be our last.
Conveniently, it’s immediatley across the alley from ‘t Brugs Beertje so, you guessed it, back to the old faithful haunt to finish the night. One drink turned it to four, we got chatting to strangers from all corners of the globe and had a great night. And this time worked up the appetite for chips and mayonnaise on the way home!
Day 3 tasting list: Satan, Gordon’s Finest Gold, Rochefort 8, Affligem tripel, Mongoza coconut, Tripel van de Garre, Bruges Tripel, Boskeun, Paix Deu, De Graal tripel.
Belgian beer run day 4 – home time
The last day in Bruges is always bittersweet, as you know you’re going home, but you also know you’re about to ram the van full of goodies to take up the road.
We packed up and popped the remaining beer into the cool box for the ferry, then headed to Prik en Tik, a cash and carry a few miles from the centre which has parking and big beer-crate trolleys. We spent about an hour in the shop stocking up on our chosen cases and drooling at the others.
Next it was on to Carrefour where we made up some mixed cases – one for us, and two for gifts. We stopped in at a fast food place called Quick which does amazing burgers with pepper sauce. Then it was off to Zebgrugge for the ferry.
Once on board we took advantage of P&O’s special offer on Leffe (note to travellers – you get a discount if you buy four so you’re as well buying a couple of rounds at once!) and tucked into our cool bag of remaining Belgian beers.
Then it was bon voyage back to Bonnie Scotland. Humphing crate after crate of beer into the house was no mean feat but worth it, even it it did take up most of the kitchen floor…
Until the next adventure!
Day 4 takehome list (excluding crates for gifting): 48 x Westvleteren 12, 24 x Gulden Draak, 24 x Rochefort 8, 24 x Rochefort 10, 24 x Straffe Hendrik Tripel, 24 x Affligem Tripel, 8 x St Bernardus 12, 4 x Bush Blonde, 4 x Bush Ambree, 4 x Gordon’s Finest Gold, 4 x La Trappe Tripel, 2 x Deus Brut Des Flandres 750ml, 1 x Leffe Blond 6L PerfectDraft keg.