Monday, October 5, 2009

The Land of Beer

While Home Simpson would have you believe that Belgium was the land of chocolate (Mmm... Chocolate, half price!) it turns out that Belgium is also the land of beers. And it is in that vein that I would dedicate this entry to my Uncle Chris who once showed me that there was a difference between the micro breweries and ... you know – Labatt's. As good as Blue can be, it's no Mill Street, or Muskoka Cream Ale.

Wandering into a store that looked as if it was called 2BE (you'll find it on the main drag, with signs pointing to the “beer wall” - a wall with one bottle from the over two hundred different local brews. Once you've entered the shop (can't miss it – big pink light in front) you'll stumble down the red lit steps into the basement. And there a world of magic and excitement will be presented to you.

You see, in this basement, they sell all the different beers that you saw on the wall. They range in price from from one and a half euro to three or four euro. Most are around two though, and that's not too bad. If you want one of those boxes to carry the mix and matched assortment of beers that you'll end up with though, that will be an extra two euro. You see, it's called a gift box here. Yawn.

The real problem though arises from the same place as the magic. The sheer enormity of the choices. How does one decide? How can one possibly know what beer is good, and what ones are best to avoid? So, of course, you do what everyone does when presented with these options. You judge the book by its cover, the beer by its label.

So with five bottles precariously held in my hands, I made my way up up up the secondary flight of red lit stairs (I had wondered before why I kept seeing people stumble down into the basement, but never return. And to be honest, I wasn't entirely trusting that there was a beer shop down there, and not something all together terrifying.) took them to the check out, made my purchase, and loaded them into my pack.

Over encumbered, and slightly worried that my straps would start to snap, my day of exploring was at an end. It was time to sample my new authentic Belgium purchases. And what were the five bottles that I purchased you may be wondering? And if you are – good for you. For it is only by questioning that we truly know we are alive!

Pink Killer
A 5% “pink grapefruit” beer that had a pink dog on the cover, with pretty pink collar. Yeah, I don't know. But – come on – when will I ever get the chance to try this one again?

Delirium Nocturne
8.5% with a pink elephant on the bottle, dancing through a collision of bubble letters spelling out the name, obscuring the percentage until it was far too late.

Mort Subite Xtreme Kriek
4.3% with pictures of cherries covering the label. Hey, I also had a bottle of pink grapefruit, so why not a bottle of the cherry brew?

8.5% This was a high percentage beer that wasn't messing around. It knows what it is, and it's proud of it. Black bottle, red letters. After touching the blood (well the container, well the containers container) of Jesus' blood, how could I resist the temptation of Judas beer? I could not. Off I went to buy it.

Cuvee Des Trolls
7% with a shocking seven percent, Cuvee Des Trolls was my final purchase for the – experiment. It had a picture of a cute little troll, as if drawn by that guy who draws many faeries, the name of which I can not remember right now. But he did the book of smushed faeries, and good faeries bad faeries. Brian Fround? Something like that – maybe. With this bottle finally in hand, I was ready to begin.

But where to consume these beverages of choice? You see, my hostel has a no alcohol policy. Now you may be asking yourself, where does this policy stem from? Have you inadvertently found yourself in a Christian Youth Hostel? Did you foolishly book another stay at a no fun zone? Oh you silly fool, the answer to both questions is no. The truth is you are not allowed to bring alcohol here, because - - - it has a bar! And they want you to consume the bars beer! Strangely enough, the bar is very reasonably priced (similar, if not cheaper than the beer store) but it did mean my five samples had to be consumed elsewhere.

Is it allowed to drink in public in Bruges? I asked this question to a local, I asked this question to the person working at the beer store, I asked this question to a police officer. Each time the answer was, “It may not be the most correct thing to do – but yes, you can.”

So I made my way to a secret forest shrouded in mystery, with an ancient church hidden beneath the underbrush.

Well, actually I headed to Astridpark, but that's basically the same thing. Except you get children passing by your not so secret stronghold, smiling widely, while their parents look on disapprovingly.

But this is Belgium. The land of beer! And to not sample their (I've just been told) over four hundred beers made in Bruges alone would be insulting.

Legally speaking, drinking your beer in a park here is no different than consuming one in a bar at home. Except for the savings, and lack of atmosphere. But – remember – I had a secret mysterious church in the middle of a deep dark forest. There are few more atmospheric places than that.

So beer number one was the cherry brew. And my was it cherry. It tasted like a smooth and creamy cherry float. To think that this was a beer was beyond conception. It was rich in flavour, and closer to being a smoothy than anything else. But without the little bits of pulp floating around. If you're in to cherries, and you also enjoy the finer effects of alcohol, this is a beer for you. If you, however, enjoy beer – it's probably best to stay away.

Drink number two was Pink Killer. This dog holds nothing back. But it is a pink killer. It tastes like grapefruit. It's crisp and cutting on the tongue, unlike the previous beverage. But it definitely tastes like pink grapefruit, with a slight taste of beer hidden behind the effeminate exterior. Now, I'm not sure what made me think this would be a good choice, aside from the fact that I would never see such a thing again. You see, I hate grapefruit. Pink, or not. So this was perhaps a mistake from the get go. On to the Troll beer.

At seven percent this troll beer was strangely light in flavour. Normally when you drink a high alcohol content beer it tastes syrupy, like molasses. But there was none of that here. This tasted as crisp and cool as any eastern Canadian brew. It wasn't trying to be anything more or less than it was. And packing a punch it's sure to please any budget drinker.

Judas. This was the one I thought would be most likely to make me wretch. And it was! If you like the taste of burnt sugar, this is the one for you! If you want every swallow to be a challenge, then swig away. If you hate yourself, and want a beer to match your tortured soul, than look no further than Judas. Judas beer – a proud sponsor of you getting over alcoholism.

At this point I thought it best to leave the park, and begin my wander back to the hostel. Nocturnal Delirium was consumed on route. This beer was not as god awful as Judas, despite being the same eight point five percent alcohol. Rather than tasting like something terribly awful, it had a slight hint of chocolate. Troll it was not, but as far as an eight percent beer goes, you can't do much better than this. Pink elephants lead the charge.

Five down, just about three hundred and ninety five to go.

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