OSTEND – BeerTourism.com is far more than just an online story. Yes, we are promoting the Belgian regions through our rich beer culture and gastronomic tradition, but we also want to give an impetus to the general, day-to-day and real life beer experience.
A team brainstorming session gave us the idea of establishing a link with our city travel guides, to launch a number of Beer Tourism Cafés in co-operation with local entrepreneurs. In our first 'real world' project, we have joined forces with Glenn Rotsaert and Vanessa Demey from Café Manuscript in Ostend.
Ostend is a popular coastal holiday resort, but not necessarily a town that has an obvious connection with beer. Ostend and beer does not immediately spring to mind as a combination.
However, as we never shy away from a challenge, this partnership was concluded to demonstrate that, above all, beer and beer culture is present everywhere in Belgium, whether Flanders, Wallonia or Brussels.
Belgium is indisputably the beer capital of the world and the Beer Tourism Cafés we are planning to set up throughout the country are to serve as locations for tasting, pairing and can be the starting and finishing point for Belgian beer tourism walks, tours, adventures and other experiences in a specific town, city or region.
Far be it from us to establish a chain of artificial, “Disney styled” beer cafés. On the contrary, we are making a deliberate choice to enter into partnerships with authentic businesses that have a soul and a story to tell.
Belgian cafés are as unique and important as the beers they serve and they remain the perfect showcases to allow Belgian brewers to market their products. The individual identity of each café we select has to be, and will remain, paramount.
After a few months of preparation everything is pretty much ready to launch the first Beer Tourism Café (just a few more weeks before the official presentation!).
The range of beers on offer has been increased considerably and we have developed special Beer Tourism degustation glasses. There is a tasting room with a decor that enhances beer enjoyment and Glenn and Vanessa are also developing their own Manuscript beer in collaboration with Brouwerij Anders.
So, no better time than the present to put our money where our mouth is and invite a guest to test out our concept. Our ‘guinea pig’ for want of a better word, was British expat Simon Litton, who has been living and working in Belgium for years. As Simon has his own blog, “Simon Says”, through which he writes about his experiences of food, beer and generally living in Belgium, he was a great candidate for this assignment.
Although the Belgian coast has been blessed with weeks of sunshine and happiness, this particular day turned out to be grey and dreary. This did not put us off at all as we are convinced that that beer tasting and beer tourism in general is an all-weather activity.
Glenn had selected five beers with an accompanying choice of five regional dishes. Although it was their first meeting Simon and Glenn hit it off straight away and this set the tone for our tasting.
We started off with the Brussels ‘Zinnebir’ by Brasserie de la Senne, a golden blond, slightly cloudy beer of 6% ABV, as we did not want to start off the afternoon too ‘enthusiastically’. We partook of this first beer using the prototype of what will soon be the official Beer Tourism tasting glass.
Simon approved of both the glass as well as its contents. Glenn provided a snack of local blood sausage to go with the beer. This sausage is a recognised artisanal product. The combination with the very aromatic and slightly bitter beer received the thumbs up.
The second brew arrived relatively quickly; Duchesse de Bourgogne produced by the West Flanders Brewery Verhaeghe. A true and genuine West Flanders roodbruin beer; this is an authentic Belgian beer style, which is unfortunately becoming rarer these days.
This unique, sweet and sour beer with an alcohol content of 6.2 % ABV was accompanied by fresh, hand-peeled Ostend shrimp.
As Glenn is a true Ostend local he has ways and means to obtain these fresh from the boat. This is an obvious pairing for some but nevertheless it hit the mark perfectly.
The choice of our third tasting beer was a Rochefort 6, as we were keen to include a Trappist on the menu. This Rochefort 6 (7.5 % ABV), which only represents a small percentage of the monks’ beer production, never fails to hit the spot. Accompanied by another classic Flemish dish, 'hoofdvlees', the verdict was unanimous: a very successful taste fusion.
We then felt it was time to break with the trend. Simon was delighted to witness the appearance of a few bottles of Duvel Triple Hop – 2013 selection (9.5 % ABV). Last year Simon rather took to the Citra edition but he hadn’t had the opportunity to taste this version, which uses Sorachi Ace from Japan.
Simon is obviously a Duvel fan from the first to the last sip so, at the end of this tasting session, he pronounced the Triple Hop his personal favourite.
It was tasted on this occasion in a successful pairing with the strongly flavoured ‘krekenkaas’ cheese, produced locally by the ‘Oostendse Kaashoeve’.
To finish off the afternoon in style we racked the alcohol content up a notch (or two). Glenn filled our glasses with a St. Bernardus abt 12 containing 10.5 % ABV. An interesting beer and, just like the Duchesse, is brewed in West Flanders. This St. Bernardus 12 is often compared with the Westvleteren 12, in view of the fact that the St. Bernardus Brewery in Watou used to brew for the monks of Sint-Sixtus Abbey.
However, these two beers are very different in terms of taste, availability and price. To complement this heavier and sweeter beer, Glenn chose to serve an artisanally produced, cured country ham with raisin bread. Once again, this beer and food pairing combination went down very well with all participants.
The analysis was as simple as it was unanimous. This is the perfect formula to spend an afternoon or evening with convivial table companions. Simon’s report has now been published online and can be read on “Simon Says”.
The food pairings for this trail tasting mainly comprised of cured regional products or those that did not require cooking.
Once the kitchen facilities they are planning have been installed, they will be able to offer hot dishes too. All orders will be prepared fresh on request or à la carte with prices ranging between €15 and €25. To obtain more information or make a reservation, please get in touch with the café.
In October we will officially introduce the first Beer Tourism Café, along with our concept of beer tastings, experiences and trips. Watch this space!
Telephone: +32 (0) 478 54 28 17