Sunday, November 27, 2011

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Proud Beer Heritage of Luxembourg

What comes to mind when you think of Luxembourg?  I know, trick question, you do not think of Luxembourg. And, why would you?  It is the smallest country in the European Union with about 1000 square miles.
I am here for three nights doing some beer hunting and learning about the country.  They speak French, German and Luxembourgish, which is similar to German, but mostly they speak French.
What comes to mind for me when I think of Luxembourg are the famous cycling brothers Andy and Frank Schleck.  You may know them from a little thing called the Tour de France or Liege-Bastogne-Liege, or any number of famous cycling races.  Amazingly enough, for the two guys who put this miniscule country on the map, there is virtually no trace of them as far as souvenirs, public tributes, displays or commercialism of any sort, which is too bad.  I would have bought a hat or a shirt, or something.  I visited their nearby home village of Mondorf and discovered their home cafe, which did have some photos of them and some other momentos.  It was pretty cool, really cool.  I admire cyclists such as like the Schleck brothers.  The physical fitness level, endurance, stamina, disicpline and mental tactics they have are beyond me.  I do not know how they do what they do, but they do, and this is simply amazing.
I should mention that Mondorf is bang on the French border, so these guys are almost French.  You could probably throw a rock from their homes into France.
But, back to the reason I am here,  beer.  How do I put this...while trying to remain listed Mousel Zwickelbeier number one...and they were is also made by AB this is from where you have to lower the bar of expectations.  Most of the beers here are pale lagers or what some people call Euro pils.  There are some wheat ales.  There are some Belgian, German, Mexican and Portugese imports, too.   It is what it is.  Having said that, my visit to the old taproom of the former Mousel brewery was one of the highlights of my visit.  Mousel is now brewed outside of Luxembourg City, but the Mousel Cantine remains with its wood panelled walls and carved wood details, murals, nostalgic photos, classic oak bar, and stunning old-world atmosphere.  The food and service are excellent, too.  I had mushroom pasta and ling cod for lunch.  If you visit only one place in Luxembourg, make it the Mousel cantine for a meal and a heavy  ceramic stein of Zwickelbeier, which is an unfiltered lager, that has some flavor to it beyond the common pils found here.
The rest of the old Mousel brewery grounds and buildings have been turned into a Disney Land of thumpin, bumpin, techno beat night clubs.  One is called the Big Brauweri and still has the giant steam machines and other gadgets anchored forever in place in the floors of the old building.  People just dance, eat and drink around it all.  This equipment survived two World Wars, it can withstand someone hurling on it.  Wed., Fri. and Sat. are the big party nights.  I do not know how Thursday fell out of favor.
I tried a bunch of other local beers, too--Bofferding, Ourdaller, Simon Regal, Battin Gambrinus,  Diekirch Grand Cru and Christmas beer.  The latter three, all AB Inbev products.  Nothing jumps out at me.
I also visited a brewpub in Bascharage, rhymes with cah garage, called Brasserie Meyer.  They brew Beierhaascht beers.  A helles, dunkel and an amber.  All clean, distinct and brewed to their German styles.  The place reminds me of an American brewpub in atmosphere, except the building also houses a hotel and an incredible butcher shop.  If I had only had a refrigerator...or a barbeque.  Except for some tastey hunters sausage, I did not eat there, but  food looked superb.  This town is also home the the giant Bofferding brewery, which only takes large groups with reservations, so, I did not get to visit their taproom.
It is hard to do this Euro melting pot of Luxembourg justice in a short blog, but it is worth a visit with its history, architecture, scenery, fortresses, fine cuisine and, proud, historic, but limited beer culture.  I based out of the Youth Hostel in Luxembourg City, which is really more of a hotel than what most Americans think of when thinking of youth hostels.  European hostels have retooled themselves to appeal to adult travelers and its working.  This is one of the best I have visited, complete with a really nice restaurant and very helpful staff.  I highly recommend it and other hostels, too.  Luxembourg is very user friendly.  As an example, you can ride buses anywhere in the city and country for only four Euros a day.
This morning I woke up and realized that I had left my boots, and my  only shoes with me, in the lobby the night before when I was drinking a beer, tired and working on the internet.  I came downstairs and they were gone.  A sinking feeling.  My only pair of shoes in Luxembourg gone and now I am barefoot.  How do you go shopping for new shoes, when you have no shoes?  It is a sinking, embarassing, perplexing and yet somehow a  humorous feeling.  I had to tell my innerself, “Stu, do not laugh.   This is have no shoes.  Seriously, dude, you are barefoot.”  After I asked the front desk for the second time, turns out someone had turned them and once again I was with shoes.  They just did not see them the first time they looked.  
Note to self--pay more attention to where you take off  your shoes.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Is Abbaye Mont des Cats in France the 8th Trappist brewery?

The new beer from Abbaye des Cats in France.  Photo by Danny Van Tricht.
Well the internet is buzzing, mostly in French, about the prospects of an eighth official Trappist brewery; this one in France.  Rather than rehash the details of this exciting prospect, I'm going to direct you to my good friend Chuck Cook (and his friend Danny Van Tricht), who thoroughly cover this news in detail...and in English in his Belgian Beer & Travel Blog.  I won't spoil the answer for you, but will tell you this is good news!  The dates for my next Trappist Tour are Oct. 15-24.  Farmhouse Ale of Belgium & France Tour dates are Oct. 10-15.  I am planning to include visits to Abbaye Mont des Cats on both tours!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Tribute to Hoegaarden's Pierre Celis

Pierre Celis, who died April 9, 2011, was a beer legend in the Belgian beer world.  The basic story is that he resurrected the style of Belgian Witbier back in the mid 1960s, naming it Hoegaarden, after the town where he lived and brewed the beer.   This is a photo of a photo of Pierre, that hangs in the taproom at the St. Bernardus Brewery in Watou, Belgium.  I took it this past fall on my Best Damn Farmhouse Ale Tour of Belgium & France.  I recommend reading more about Pierre in Stephen Beaumont's blog, where he so deftly covers the life of this great beer man.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Honk If You Like Goose Island/AB InBev

Sofie Belgian Style Ale by Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Co. is one of my favorite beers( I have many), so when I first heard the news of AB InBev buying the company for $39 million, I was taken back some.  But, I reserved judgment and soaked in all the banter on the internet as beer enthusiasts weighed in with their thoughts: Mostly people upset, feeling betrayed and that Goose Island sold out.  That, and some sycophants kissing ass on Brewemaster Greg Hall’s Facebook page.  Or, at least it looks that way with no dissenting comments.
  Whether this sale is a good thing depends on where you are standing.  From Greg Hall’s perspective, it’s great.  He has provided financial freedom for he and his family virtually forever.   And hey, that’s all part of the American dream, so you can’t knock the man.  I don’t believe there are many amongst us, who if given the chance to make this Faustian deal, would do otherwise.  So, that should be the end of the debate right there, right?  But, of course, it’s not.
  This purchase will likely have an eventual ripple effect, in the form of cost cutting, layoffs, dumbing down of recipes, the large muscle of the AB InBev taking up even more shelf space and tap handles at retail outlets.  But the largest effect, in my opinion, is the resentment felt by loyal Goose Island customers, who had what they felt was an intimate relationship with an independent brewing company, an unspoken agreement, a hometown hero they could believe in and stand behind.  That was all ripped away in what was tantamount to a “Dear John” text message.
  For those of you who know me, you know I’m also a big Kid Rock fan and at the same time use the word tantamount.  Go figure.    What makes Kid Rock so popular (or not) is different for different people, but one of the things that has made him so huge is his immense loyalty to Detroit, his home state of Michigan, and the people of  Michigan, many of whom are working class, proud, resilient and most importantly loyal-to-a-fault people.  His fans when pressed to say why they like him, inevitably bring up his loyalty to the town and state, which produced him…even if they are not from Michigan.  People in Amsterdam get this.  Kid Rock gets this.  Michigan’s Bell’s Brewing Company gets this mutual loyalty concept.  Goose Island, in my opinion, didn’t get this.  Chicagoland believed in and supported Goose Island and look what they got for it.
  I believe Goose Island will over time limp off into the sunset and join the ranks of other AB InBev acquisitions such as Red Hook, and old Chicagoland favorites such as MeisterBrau and Old Style, whose time has past.  Gone, but not forgotten.  When’s the last time you saw someone drink a Red Hook, anyway?
  Whatever happens, other craft brewers, who are in the on-deck circle to be purchased by mega corporations will be learning vicariously, taking notes and Googling the word Faustian.

Farmhouse Ale Tour of Belgium & France

Take a moment to view this just completed video from my most recent Farmhouse Ale Tour of Belgium & France.  As you will see, we covered a lot of ground and had a lot of fun on this one.  The next one is Oct. 10-15, 2011, and I am now taking reservations.  Join us, won't you?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Zythos & Alvinne Beer Festivals!

I'm just back from leading the Great Zythos Beer Festival Tour of Belgium.  Where to begin?  First, a great group of beer hunters, some pictured here in Bruges.  Secondly, sunny weather.  Thirdly, two great beer festivals in one great tour.  Alvinne Craft Beer Festival in Avelgem, proved to be kinder, gentler and more intimate, with many creative, eventful, one-of-a-kind beers.  Zythos was a runaway train, but fun and exciting in its own right.  Both festivals, while very different, were incredible experiences.  We also visited Duvel, Halve Maan and Westvleteren.  Thank you to everyone, who took the tour.  I hope your beer made it home safely!