13 March 2009

The main event

Stupid Belgian railways. Our (mostly my, actually) dicking about with ticket machines and timetables meant it was heading for 7 by the time we reached Brussel Zuid. There was light in the sky over Place Bara as we crossed on our way to Cantillon, and the party was already in full swing inside, with M. Van Roy a one-man welcome committee at the door. After coffee and croissants, we had the unusal privilege of a real life tour guide taking us round the brewery. Mashing had just begun and the mechanical tun was turning over the grist being poked down from the grain mill above.

Back at the tasting room we got our morning glass of gueuze. I think I was the only one not bemused by the concept of drinking beer before 9am. I mean, it was a Saturday. As the other tours went through we staked a claim in the tasting bar to soak in the atmos. Lots of atmos in Cantillon, and here it had just started to smell of wort. As it began to pour from the mashtun we went for a taste. Porridgey, funnily enough. I'd never really noticed the wheat character of Cantillon beer, but here it was -- very pronounced, and slightly steaming.

The clock was heading for 10. Time for another beer. I fetched us a bottle of Iris, served from an unmarked bottle in a basket. Even the bar is old school at Cantillon. As the beer was sunk, so the eyelids began to droop, and most of the group decided that a nap was the best way to make the most of the rest of the day. Not me though. It was a gorgeous bright morning in Brussels and I went for a walk, up to Beer Circus to find out if it opened for lunch (it doesn't on Saturdays) then watched the world go by in Parc du Bruxelles before it was time to see what the sleeping beauties were up to.

We reconvened in Grand Place and lunched in one of the many shameless tourist traps fine dining establishments on Rue des Bouchers. Mrs Beer Nut decided she's seen enough brewing for one day so went off in search of chocolate while the rest of us schlepped back to Anderlecht. When we got there, the boil was done and the hot wort was being pumped into the shallow cool ship in the attic -- raw lambic as far as the eye could see (which wasn't very far, what with all the steam). Wafts of afternoon air were being blown over the tray, carrying the magic beasties which would, when the temperature had dropped sufficiently, begin working wonders on the liquid. Suitably awed, we decided it was time for a beer.

We took a position by the stove, watching the old barrel staves being thrown in as fuel and realising too too late that swiping one for homebrewing purposes would be a nifty idea. Oh well. David was buying this time out, and fetched us a bottle of Rosé de Gambrinus -- the raspberry lambic. Yet again, I just don't rate the fruity Cantillons above the plain gueuze. Still, the acidic tartness delivers a short sharp shock to the tastebuds, and then a fresh fruit-flavoured juiciness finishes the whole thing off. A good beer, no question, but not good enough to claim a place in my 20kg of beery baggage. Plain, wonderful, Cantillon gueuze made up (almost) the sum total of my purchases.

At 4.30, our day's work was done. Saturday night on the town in Brussels was beckoning.

10 comments:

  1. We didn't have much luck with the ticket machines in Brussels. We ended up walking to Central Station to talk to a real person. Tickets bought we used them only to find we were supposed to stamp them on entry. It's a good job there was a good train cop on that day, his mate was all for giving us a fine.

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  2. Even at Central, real people don't get up for 6.30 on a Saturday morning, we discovered.

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  3. That'S a cruel hour. I know I can stay awake getting up at that hour normally, but I'm sure the beer would push me a little towards the land of nod too. Not sure I'd trust myself to wake up again though...

    Is this open day only once a year?

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  4. Twice a year, I read somewhere.

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  5. Turns out metro tickets only work on the metro. We ended up having to buy some off the conductor on the way to the airport.

    Still annoyed i did not steal some of their wood. They should sell it. Or would that be some sort of trade secret?

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  6. Trying to deal with an unfamiliar public transport system that early in the morning is rarely fun. This is why I walked to the brewery and got there at 06:25.

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  7. That's not true, David: the metro Jump tickets do work on national trains inside the Brussels city transport area. The airport, however, is outside the Brussels city transport area. I bought my airport tickets online before leaving Dublin: strongly recommended.

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  8. "The airport, however, is outside the Brussels city transport area. I bought my airport tickets online before leaving Dublin: strongly recommended."

    Ah makes sense, thanks for the correction.

    Anyone want to help me hijack this blog and turn it further into a trainspotting one?

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  9. Hi, I spent 7 months living and working in Brussels last year. It's really nostalgic to read all about your trip there! Thanks

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  10. I probably should add, to the above, that criticism of any city's public transport system is a bit rich when it comes from people who live in Dublin, which has the most awkward and counter-intuitive bus system imaginable.

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