Monday, June 15, 2009

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

Sunday arrived and the God's were kind to us.  No jet lag, no hangovers.  After a delicious breakfast, we gathered at the van and headed back towards the city center of Brugge to witness the beginning of the Tour of Flanders.  This "Spring classic" bicycle race is akin to the Super Bowl for Belgian cycling enthusiasts. All the top teams in cycling compete in this challenging road race along the cobblestone roads of Belgium.   One of our travelmates, Pat, 
is a huge cycling fan, so the serendipity of our trip falling on the weekend of Belgium's biggest cycling event proved a real treat for her.  Tim, a.k.a. Brown, made certain he was wearing his Sunflower t-shirt so that he may be immortalized in picture on the walls of Sunflower Outdoors.  The Shimano support team looked a little puzzled by Tim's presence in front of their support vehicle holding a flag of Flanders in both hands.  The race started without incident and, poof!, they were gone within seconds.  Thousands of onlookers quickly dispersed, as did we, so that we could head to one of my all time favorite breweries, De Dolle Brouwers, or The Mad Brewers in English.   Located in the tiny burg of Esen near the municipality of Dicksmulde,  De Dolle Brouwers is the quirkiest of breweries.  The passion of Kris Harteleer,  De Dolle began in 1980 after he and his brother entered a brewing competition normally reserved for commercial beers.  They won the competition and soon thereafter their mother financed the purchase of the 19th century brewhouse they continue to brew on to this day.  Kris' mom was our tour guide on our visit and she will go down as one of the most passionate tour guides I have ever encountered.  She spoke, in English, at great length of the healthful benefits of beer.  There was an impassioned speech about the "power of the seed."  That all life comes from seeds and beer is brewed from seeds.  So much nutritional power is packed into seeds and beer harnesses that nutrition.  She would back up her assertions with anecdotes of doctors that had visited the brewery over the years and confirmed her beliefs in the "power of the seed".    
After the tour, we gathered in the café and drank Oerbier, the very beer Kris and his brother had entered into competition all those years ago.  I talked with Kris about the fantastic 1st anniversary Oerbier I had had on my previous trip to Belgium in 2001 at the Kulminator in Antwerp.  He then 
pointed out that the lion-maned man and his wife sitting at the table behind me were the proprietors of the Kulminator.  I ran back to the van and came back with two bottles of Free
State Santa's Helper for Kris and for Dirk and Leen, the Kulminator folks.  It was fun to be able to give back after such great hospitality.  I would have been content sitting on the back patio of De Dolle drinking Arabier or some other fantastic De Dolle creation for the afternoon, but alas, we had appointments to keep.  On our way out someone pointed to a printout posted on the outside of one of the breweries cooler doors.  It was a listing of the top 100 breweries in the world according to Ale Street News.  De Dolle came in at #6...Free State sat at #77.  Pretty cool.

We hopped back in to the van and headed off to Poperinge, the center of Belgium's small hop growing region and home the the Hop Museum.   I'll be honest, I made only a cursory run through at the museum.  Having gone to Hop School at HopUnion in Yakima Valley, WA, I was pretty familiar with hop growing.  Instead, I waited in the sunny courtyard to the museum and enjoyed a delicious beer and hop jenever at the café.   This resulted in my taking a nap on the ride back to Brugge.  In fact, most van rides resulted in several of us taking naps to recover from the previous nights activities.   It was important at this point to rest up for our dinner
reservations at Den Dyver.  
This fantastic restaurant in Brugge specializes in beer cuisine and multi-course meals with beer pairings.   Glutton that I am,  I ordered the five course tasting, each accompanied by the perfect beer.  The service was spectacular.  Our waiter/host effortlessly guided us along each course with a deftness at describing each beer that 
was admirable. He also reminded me in some weird way of a villain in a James Bond or Bourne movie. He looked as if he could dispatch any challengers with a quick kick a la his countryman, Jean-Claude Van Damme.  If JCVD is the Muscles from Brussels, then perhaps our waiter was the Mussels from Brugge.  Regardless, we left Den Dyver in tact, dispatched by our appetites, not any imagined villains.  Most everyone rolled home to the hotel.  Rick and I headed to t' Brugge Beertje for one last visit and a few nightcaps before leaving Brugge.  A perfect way to end a perfect day.