All tagged belgianbeer

Cantillon: Musty Lemons, Cobwebs, and Coolships

Our more knowledgeable beer friends mention Cantillon in the hushed tones of children peering over the banister on Christmas morning: a place and product sprinkled in magical dust.  Cantillon produces the best Lambic beers in the world. Walking down an unkempt street in southwestern Brussels, a sharp morning gust whipped magazine clippings and dirty napkins up on cresting waves.  We turned right, leaving the haggard block behind; one hundred feet beyond the turn, bottles awaited on pallets behind the open cargo hull of a delivery truck. The recumbent, guzzling jester of Cantillon branded each bottle and hung from a sheet metal punch-out above the door. The place appeared closed but the door opened.

A Drink in Season

Spring written in bold, underlined, all-capped looks limp compared to European reality this year.  Pines bobbed and oaks shuddered with the passing wind, shaking yesterday’s rain; in amphibian metamorphosis, their buds grew visibly larger each passing day under the lengthening light of mid-Spring.  Afar, the blooming color powdered the landscape in an Impressionistic blur.  But up close, driving along hairpins and welcomed straightaways, the sun lucidly explained the detailed edges and specks and differences.  Like a solar eclipse, the leaves bent the ecclesiastic power of the sun and left nothing but a blindingly white, broken trace at its perimeter; that remaining light still managed to draw my moving penumbra against the asphalt winding the Walloon wilderness en route to Durbuy.

Breaking Rulles

Friday the 13th started with vegan breakfast and a morning read by the fire.  I reviewed the beer lineup and synopsis for La Rulles - the brewery visit for the day - between a few current events (or, more accurately, “The Real World: Real World Edition”).  Located in the Gaume region of Southeast Belgium, near the Semois River winding westward towards Bouillon and Godfrey’s castle, the brewery habituates a unique microclimate, always a few degrees Celsius warmer than the surrounding Ardennes hills.  The quaint Belgian countryside, eleven in the morning, left two American wanders in silence.

Gold in Trout

I sometimes see the signs of Spring: the pollenated ground; a lonely green leaf on a tree; flapping wings of birds building nests; tadpoles congregating in illusions across a pond.  Winding downhill in a maturing canopy of foliage, I downshifted to cut the personal effort, passing the burden down the line and straight to the transmission.  Far south in the Luxembourg Province of Wallonia, just north of the French border, forest yields to field.  Brown sheep sporting dreadlocks chomped the young, short grass situated within ancient and sturdy polished stone walls.  Ochre colored sandstone, the “pierre de France,” rose from the grass in walls, belfries, and arched sally ports.  Vines climbed in symmetry on the walls of an old guesthouse.  In the background flashes of red maple buds added to the palette as the Spring day fought vestiges of Winter.  A trout, lips pursed upon a golden ring, embossed the keystone of the entryway arch leading to Orval Monastery.

Refresh and Reflect

On the pike we carry heads of those we cross.  A deep gash cut ruby red turns black with fresh blood; the eyes once full of life become empty and distant, looking upon the fields to unknowable horizons.  They roll back and the croaking starts.  You start to shake for life, but it’s already gone with that final choke in blood.  You watch a young man die and look around to keep from throwing up.  From an opioid haze a few mental blocks from a padded room you remember what it’s like to go to war.  In the Jaques Woods I walked through someone else’s nightmare: perfectly spaced pines overlooking fields of grazing fire dotted with persistent fox holes.  The winter struck early and fierce in the Ardennes, 1944.  American and German soldiers, fleeced and furred, billowed vapor in a stand-off like two locomotives pushing continuously in opposite directions.  Dead bodies stacked rigor mortis and frozen provided cover for future barrages.  Rattling machine gun fire and the high pitch scream of artillery and mortars arrived in scores from both sides with little notice for exact grid location.  Certainly no one wanted to be there. 

The Young Trappist

Only 45 minutes from from the youngest Trappist brewery in Belgium - and with the cleaning lady entertaining the dog as she chased around the house with vacuums and feathered dusters - we packed the car, opened the gate, and drove east towards the Dutch border.  Achelse Kluis straddled Holland and Belgium: a place built long before present borders existed (if you want to call the line on the ground between Belgium and Holland a border).  Wispy and remaining stubbornly sunny, the weather held out, but along with the rush of passing tractor-trailers, the gusts blew our tiny Opel hatchback.  The open, Low Country fields laid no barrier for the wind, evidenced by the countless windmills dotting the landscape.  We frequently crossed veins of canals redirecting water to the ocean, making the champaign habitable and above seasonal floods.  Between corrugated brown fields the road ran east: the bricked Abbey of Achelse Kluis rising before the fields of Holland picketed with barren trees.

A Belgian Blonde in Limburg

Comparing our arrival in Belgium to that in Mexico six months ago paints the canvas in black and white.  

In Mexico: we landed in Oaxaca at 10 PM, at an abandoned airport where everything and everyone lived in Spanish; Sara and I shared a seat on the bus (a van) burgeoning with bags and humans; we rode down dark dirt roads chasing stray dogs through the maze of wire fences and graffitied buildings; we bumped along for 1.5 hours to move 20 miles; last to leave the bus, we nervously walked with our 50 pound packs along a one light street searching for a red door and our home for the next month.  

In Belgium: we landed around noon; the airport, clean and streamlined, seemed designed for efficiency; our rental car was waiting, we purchased a SIM card next to the rental car office, and had the option to do it all in English, Dutch, or French; we drove down the Autobahn to Zutendaal for a week-long house-sit; at the drive-way, the gate opened and our hosts greeted us, showed us around and introduced us to a dog, two cats, and two horses; we walked the dog down narrow paths through the woods in the failing light, sat on the couch with wool socks and radiant heat building, made room for the dog by our feet, and looked out the window at a Whitetail bounding as the evening drizzle pattered on the skylights, sounding like static on a record.