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22 September 2019

Belgium and Netherlands: Bruges, Gent, Rotterdam, Haarlem; beer and eating...

Besides being one of the most awesome (and alas touristy) old cities in Europe, Bruges is home to three (according to belgium.beertourism.com) tasty breweries as well. The Bourgogne des Flandres brewery backs on to the Dijver river on the south side of the old centre. On the website, their beer is described as a 'red-brown ale' (the English translation obviously), although I remember it being fairly dark but not at all heavy - alcohol content is 5% - with a lovely tangy finish to the richer darker malty side.  It's made in the traditional Flemish 'lambic' way, where 'young beer (brewed on site) is blended with a little older (aged for a year in barrels) lambic from Timmermans Brewery' (the parent company in Brussels). This process can I think be compared to how 'reserve' wines are added to younger wines in the production of special cuvée or vintage Champagnes, and indeed this kind of quality beer gains its sparkle from second fermentation in bottle or cask (in this case) like any Champagne or 'traditional' method fizz or 'real' ale. The lambic beer portion is also made by spontaneous or wild ferment courtesy of particular indigenous yeasts, not with added cultured yeasts like most other beer.

The photo above was taken in the spacious courtyard outside Gauthierz brasserie, which is found tucked away not far from the Bourgogne des Flandres brewery heading towards the rail station and is a good spot for enjoying flavoursome beer like this, or Liefmans (pictured below) for instance, away from the madding crowds (the simple menu looks reasonable enough too). By the way, you can find some of my other photos taken in and around Bruges on my Face Book page. Also when 'in Bruges', you might bump into Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in the main square cursing (if you haven't seen the film, then just skip that 'joke' or click on the link to a trailer on You Tube).
Gent (the G pronounced with a clearing of the throat), or Ghent in English I believe or Gant in French, is another must-visit city in Flemish speaking Belgium with a smaller scale of pretty old buildings and canals than Bruges, probably less tourists and a touch rougher around the edges although becoming more gentrified and trendier I suspect. Gent was once home to many breweries apparently, and the craft beer industry is slowly growing again. Gruut is the best known, and for a while the only one, where they use herbs instead of hops I'm told (man); there are a few other beer touring tips on the local tourist site here. Some of my photos taken around the city are here and here too on FB.

Babbels restaurant in Haarlem, a handsome buzzing and surprisingly large town lying west of Amsterdam heading towards the sea, is worth trying for its slightly unusual menu options if you go beyond pasta, pizza, steak etc. I had a tasty duck dish there six months ago (which doesn't now seem to be on the menu on their website), nicely complemented by a delicious bottled dark beer called Imperator made by the Dutch Brand brewery. They produce a wide range of styles from Pilsener, Blond and wheat beer to IPA, Dubbel (kinda like red ale), Porter and the Imperator which is probably somewhere in between style wise. Some inventive fish dishes are served at Babbels too.
Another good dining tip in Haarlem would be the Phang-Nga Bay Thai restaurant (links to info and reviews on Trip Advisor) found a short walk from the town's huge main square. Good value food and portions, and prawns the size of aforementioned square. Can't remember what beer we had with this meal, probably Thai!

Affligem is another well-respected Belgian beer that comes in a full-flavoured Dubbel or 'Double' style among others, as photoed here in Blij café restaurant tucked away in a quiet residential area of central Rotterdam. I quaffed this with some rather nice mussels with three sauces, tasty chips (of course) and salad. Another good choice here is a very well-made mushroom and truffle risotto, even if a little light on quantity (why do places do that with veggie dishes, give you less?!). Desserts included a weighty yet gooey chocolate number and a classic example of Dutch apple cake. If you're looking to stay the night in Rotterdam, the very central Days Inn Hotel is good value including an excellent breakfast.

A Liefmans al fresco, as mentioned above in Bruges. Other Belgian beer favourites include Duvel in its two or three styles, Leffe blonde and brune, Tremens, Chimay, Orval and on and on...

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