Saturday, June 14, 2014

35, Part 1

I have to say, birthday 35 was pretty great. A near two week vacation to Brussels and England. The former for beer and relaxing, the latter to reunite with friends and attend the wedding of our friends, the pub landlord from our village when we lived in England. And we had beer there too. I mean, c'mon.

Brussels has long been on my bucket list for a beer-cation. When it first made the list, it was because I was into dubbels, tripels, and quads. Mainly due to their strength, my craftbeer infancy, and my wallet appreciated the bang for the buck. The last couple years, Brussels has meant one thing: Cantillon. Sure, I was happy to partake of all the other lambics, and other styles, but, if I'm being honest (and I am) it was always Cantillon.
Mrs Butler and myself enjoyed walking around, taking in the sights, seeing the Grand Place, going to the war museum, EATING. We enjoyed our B&B, the company of our friend who came up from Germany, and making new friends thanks to the craftbeer world & social media. All those things hinged on the beer, the bars, the culture of beer. Well, at least for me.
Moeder Lambic was a great experience. Matter of fact, we went three separate times. How can you not? They have Cantillon on cask, a host of world greats, including largest US selection, and they let me walk their cellar. Orval fresh as SIX days, old as eight months. Comparing them side by side was a real treat, and I kind of fell in love with it all over again. Rare and vintage beers, including 2002 Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek....only 180€. I passed. The staff was great, and by night two, we felt like regulars. Really a must for anybody visiting Brussels who has interest in beer.
Delirium Cafe was ok. Much hyped due to the largest beer selection in the world, but overcrowded for the same reason. Three floors of fun, we enjoyed the top floor, where we could hear ourselves think. Enjoyed several Mikkeller Spontan series variants here--the Gooseberry, Cranberry, and Framboos. Was nice to see my local regional gems Prairie available too. A definite place to stop in, but not my cup of tea. Also, unfortunately, to get there, you must walk past a thousand maĆ®tre d's all aggressively clamoring for your business. 
We visited two hidden gems beside one another, though their names escape me. Found through an Instagram friend, one was a hub for the great thinkers, artists, and writers of the early 20th century. Remnants of their time spent drinking plastered on the walls in the form of scratched notes, pencil drawings, IOUs and correspondence. A pleasant place if you can find it, but beware the steep spiral staircase--use the rope!
Next door was a bunker from WWII, a series of underground rooms. Very cool atmosphere: dark, smoke darkened walls, good beer selection and picnic table community seating. Interesting place, definitely not touristy in any way.
That brings us to Cantillon. First, everyone who says it's in a rough neighborhood, doesn't know the differ difference between rough and poor. Second, if you're in Brussels and skip it, you are missing out on not just world class beer, but history. My wife and I were joined by our friend Neil who is stationed in Germany, and an Instagram friend, Andreas, an American photographer living in Brussels. Lucky for us, Andreas speaks multiple languages, is a member of the Cantillon Museum, and gave us a better tour than we could've given ourselves. For 7€ you get a pamphlet that guides you along a self tour through the various rooms of the 100+ year old brewery. Mash tuns, open fermentation tank, barrel room after barrel room greeted us as we moved throughout the old wooden building. Wood being an important distinction, because that is where the wild yeasts that gives lambics their delicious tartness live. Sticky floors from rupturing casks, spider webs in every corner, and the gleam of the one piece copper coolship are memories I'll have forever.
Upon finishing the tour, you get two taster glasses of some of the Cantillon basics. After that, you're welcome to sit and order on premises bottles that are a bit more rare. I say a bit, most US beer nerds would lose their minds and half their I did. Of course, I brought a small haul home too. How could I not? We had a Zwanze 2012 and 2013 and a 50°n-4°E between the four of us, over three and a half hours. Sitting there, talking beer, life, with a couple other beer friends, in that place was the check mark on the bucket list. Such a great time. 
Funny thing too, Mrs Butler, who has never appreciated beer, decided at Cantillon that she does like sours. Go figure, when she decides to do something, she does it big. Not only does she like a rarer style, she likes the best, and hardest to acquire. Not to mention the inevitable price tag. Oh well, we knew she had good taste, she landed me...
I'll write about the England side of the trip next time, more memories made with good friends over good beer. A continuation of one of the best two weeks of my life.