This is a tale of beer…Belgian beer, to be exact. And if we’re really being specific, this is a tale of far too much Belgian beer…
Beer, oh beer! I do love you so! I love you like you’re my child; I drink you like you’re the last drop of fresh water. Okay, not really. My love affair with beer doesn’t run quite that deep, but in the world of adult beverages, it is beer and (usually) nothing else. I tried to take wine seriously while in Mendoza, Argentina, as I dragged a broken bicycle along bumpy country roads, going from winery to winery, but we’ll describe those epic failures (yes, plural!) in a future post. We took a wine tasting class while in Argentina, and the best I could do was, “smells like wine, tastes like shit.” Katie encouraged me to write a book with that as the title – it would be a beer lovers guide to discovering wine.
So, yeah. As I’m sure you have gathered so far, I’m a beer guy. But I’m not a beer aficionado, and I am definitely not a risk taker when it comes to ordering new food and drink. I am what they call a supertaster (Yes, supertaster is a real thing). It is a good thing for me that finding plain chicken and rice in any country thus far hasn’t proved to be difficult. Also, because I don’t ever trust my digestive system while traveling, you won’t find me ordering anything strange, like fried tarantula in Cambodia. However, it is a rule of mine that upon arriving in a new country, I order a beer. I usually order a mass produced, light lager beer, and that’s just fine with me; I will leave the sampling of live yeast Estonian farm beer to my better half.
On a recent trip to Belgium, we found ourselves strolling around a particularly picturesque town, and quite possibly one of the coolest small cities I have visited: Ghent. Having yet to sample Belgian beer in any serious manner, we decided the time had come to delve into the ultimate Belgian experience (other than chocolate, waffles, chips drowning in mayo, and statues of pissing boys, of course): Belgian beer. We had tried the run of the mill stuff — Leffe, Jupiler, Duvel — but had yet to try the real stuff, the stuff Belgians pride themselves on. We started out at dinner with Augustijn and Gulden Draak (or Golden Dragon, named so after the dragon at the top of the Ghent belfry), which was crowned the best beer in the world in 1998.
Let’s just say that when you start out with dinner beers that have between 7.5 and 10.5 % alcohol, you know you’re in for a ridiculous night. However, it wasn’t until we found ourselves in possibly the coolest little bar (in the coolest little city) that things got…well…really drunken. ‘t Galgenhuisje – which literally means the gallows — is a teensy tiny pub situated in what used to be the hangman’s house. Its old and small, but inside its quite warm and inviting along with a good deal old world charm – centuries old, in fact.
We engaged the folks around us in friendly conversation, getting the opinions of other patrons as to what their favorite Belgian beers were, and why; we hit up the bartender, Oswaldo, for his authentic Belgian Beer recommendations. Oswaldo was only too happy to surprise us with a new Belgian beer each time our glasses emptied. From Westmalle Tripel to more Gulden Draak to Achel Brune, the sweet sweet Belgian gold (aka Belgian beer) disappeared all to quickly. And things got a little silly…
We started out with noble intentions, Katie writing notes about each beer in the small white notebook that accompanied us everywhere on the trip. But much like the trajectory of the night, the quality of the notes was directly related to the quantity of Belgian beer we consumed. From our dinner beers: dark gold; light head; no aftertaste. This level of sensible observation quickly made way for nonsense as the beers continued: like a party in my mouth! and, like beer and fruit and yeast all got married! and, finally, we’re hammered because we are supposedtobehammered! And then the notes just stopped, and we stopped pretending to be serious people, and gave in to the night, which washed over us like a drunken wave.
We tossed around the idea of giving up on our dreams to travel the entire world, settling instead in Ghent to become bartenders.
My legs began to rubberize around the time Oswaldo told us that most of what we were consuming was in the 9% alcohol range. My head actually still hurts just thinking about it. And when Katie started looking like this, I decided it was time to call it quits for the night.
But Oswaldo wasn’t ready to let us go without a fight. When we tried to settle up, Oswaldo launched into an explanation of the differences between aged Belgian schnapps, and he refused to bid us goodnight without a nightcap, which actually turned into two nightcaps: one sweet and one aged plum shot of schnapps. Ass. Thoroughly. Kicked. At this point I could not feel my face, and it was time to end one of my favorite nights in recent memory, and let it lumber towards one of my least favorite mornings in recent memory. But first we had to pose in front of ‘t Galgenhuisje.
And then we had to find our way back to the hostel. We were so drunk, that we got thoroughly lost, but we didn’t care! Even though it was pissing rain! In December! We finally found a taxi that took us back to our hostel, and we fell into a deep sleep peppered with dreams of Belgian Beer. The next morning we awoke with a hangover I won’t soon forget — nothing a few acetaminophens, a sweet Belgian pastry, and coffee couldn’t fix — and set out on our next adventure: to find the grave of my great uncle, who died in Flanders fields during the Great War. But that is a story for another day!
What Belgian beers have you sampled? Have you been to Ghent or been drinking in ‘t Galgenhuisje? Share your favorite Belgian beers and stories in the comments below!