Sunday, June 20, 2010

Belgian Beer

It was strongly suggested to me tonight, in spite of the fact that this blog is about food, that I make some sort of public retraction of an ill-informed statement that I made last night... The statement went a little something like "I don't like Belgian beer". I regretted it the minute I said it.

I love regretting things when making up for it tastes this good.

My incredibly gracious hosts, Stijn and Karolien, have fed and watered me well in Belgium. Stijn has also walked my legs off, shared his encyclopedic knowledge of Belgian cities and along with Karolien, introduced me to Flemish cuisine (more later on that). Stijn has also introduced me to some really rad collective gardeners in Brussels. One of whom, Cyrille, would not allow me to leave Belgium without sampling some "real" Belgian beers. This effort led us to a neighborhood in Brussels with the beer store featured in the first photo above. There are Belgian beer aficionados in Athens who I know would drop dead in throes of ecstasy walking into this store. I walked in with my toes curled.

Cyrille, in attempt to get at why I didn't "like" Belgian beer, was amused by my response, "It's too sweet". So you want a light beer? Maybe an industrial product like Stella? He offered, sweetly, with a sly smile. Maybe one with a low alcohol content? Really, no. Maybe some honey beer...? Gag. In the end and after being convinced that I really will like it, I made a rather large investment in a selection of Belgian beers to take to the party in one of the collective gardens. The diversity of beers was also Cyrille's attempt to ease me into liking the Belgian style beer. He succeeded. As evidenced by the empty bottles in photo number 2. My favorite was an 9% IPA. Um. Yea. What is not to love, really? We also enjoyed a goat cheese, spinach and walnut tart made by one of the collective gardeners, the remains of which is next to the remains of the beer.

So, this garden is cool as shit and totally worth a digression from beer, and another post later. It's composed of raised beds on wheels that take up as much space as a parked car and are used in public to demonstrate that non-car owners could have a right to public space the size of a parking spot for a car. Really flipping brilliant. (Third photo).The last photo shows one of the mobile beds and it's "license plate"--radish. These gardeners meet on Sunday afternoons and work in the gardens, share a meal and beer and grow up all kinds of good stuff together in the yard of an old school.

But, back to the beer. Allegedly, true Belgian beers are fermented with naturally occurring yeasts, which produce a high alcohol content after many years of fermentation. The American breweries doing Belgian style ales speed up this process by adding extra sugar so the high alcohol content is produced faster. Of course they do. Of course they cut corners on quality by cheating. That's the American way. The Belgian way--of brewing beer, growing food and sharing meals--is gracious with what is offered by nature, patient with the process even if it takes a long time and of seriously good quality.

I like it. A lot.

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