165 days of rampant, alcohol-filled travel across Europe’s major wine, beer, and spirit regions lands us in Holland. Our EU Austerity Drinking Tour has overwhelmed our knowledge of the wide variety of drinks culture Europe offers us.
Our train from Cologne (Koln) reaches the town of Eindhoven. It looks sleepy, but explosions punctuate the quiet. It may be midday. It may be December 30th. But New Year’s Day is near enough to blow something up.
Holland is our 12th country in 6 months. We have stayed with strangers at every home and hostel. Finally, today, family friends Tineke and Dirk pick us up from the station. No more dragging luggage across miles of cobbles in the rain.
We arrive at their meticulously clean, lovely home. I last spent New Year’s here over twenty years ago (during the first sequel of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies).
Much has changed. Their expansions and window bays light up the place. Their sons have moved out. Yet, it remains as warm as I remember.
A trip into town lands us in the grocery store. While Dirk meets with the local butcher, we pick up many many beers from Holland’s only Trappist Brewery: La Trappe:
As one of eight Trappist breweries (Belgium harbors the other seven), monks brew the beer, and proceeds only finance the monastery and non-profit charities. Granted, aging Le Trappe has teetered on the edge of becoming over-commercialized by owners Bavaria. Yet since 2005, Trappist regulations have kept them true-er to their creed.
Armed with beer, meat, and vegetables, we return home.
With dinner preparations underway, we sample Holland’s Trappist brewery.
We start with Trappe’s Witte aka wheat beer (€4.50/750 ml). This is the only unfiltered, bottle-fermented Trappist wheat beer.
APPEARANCE: looks a hazy, medium plus gold amber, with a thin white head. AROMAS: smell intensely of lemon peel, white tea, honey, and cooked white beans. PALATE: feels off dry, bright and tart with acidity, mildly bitter, moderately alcoholic (only 5.5%), with a medium body. FLAVORS: do not overwhelm, but present light orange juice, cardamon, vanilla sugar powder, and those white beans again. Medium plus length.
La Trappe’s rare Witte is Very Good (4 of 5). It is mild, easy, yet complex and a bit wild. It echoes our (slightly hungover but forgiving) walk through a nature preserve the morning after.
But back to our diner. Smells of cooked spinach, garlic, sausage and fantastic-ness waft about.
Next up: La Trappe’s Tripel (€1.19) The APPEARANCE: looks a bright, clear, golden amber, with an off white, fine fizz. AROMAS: blast massive amounts of hot honey, green minty hops, vanilla, and white smoke. PALATE: feels dry, notably acidic and bitter, warmly 8% alcohol, with a rich body. FLAVORS: taste strongly of vanilla cream meringue, white smoke, grapefruit, honey. Medium plus length
Trappe’s Tripel is warm and round yet wonderfully zippy. Very good (4 of 5).
Now for something darker: La Trappe’s Dubbel (€1.19)
APPEARANCE: looks a clear but deep, ruby amber, with a thin cream-colored lace. AROMAS: Christmas dominates our noses with red apple, cinnamon, malt, and caramel. PALATE: feels mellow, less acidic, mildly bitter, but warm with 7% alcohol, making for a plump, medium plus body. FLAVORS: of apple, dark rye bread, dry cinnamon powder, vanilla, and steely mineral last an extra intense, medium plus length.
La Trappe’s Dubbel is very good (4 of 5) and paired brilliantly with the Dutch pastries we devoured.
Enough light fare, time for something bolder: La Trappe Quadrupel.
APPEARANCE: a slight haze adds to the medium plus intense copper amber color, and thin veil of white fizz. AROMAS: glow with orange carrots, golden apples, hot ethanol, anise, and cardamon spice. PALATE: off dry with alcoholic sweetness, some acid, some tannin, frickin’ high alcohol 10%, and a rich, full body. FLAVORS: taste intensely of carrot cake, tart apple, and anise that last forever.
Their Quadrupel is too alcoholic to be outstanding, but proudly remains Very Good (4 of 5). Full and tipsy, this Quadrupel is as loud and boisterous as the building fireworks here on New Year’s Eve (where I drop my ipod again…first time since Barcelona)
The morning after reveals the damage:
But finally, something a bit more serious, La Trappe’s “Isid’or”: named for their first brewer on their 125th anniversary.(€1.30 30cl).
APPEARANCE: looks a hazy, copper amber, with small fizz, and a white head. AROMAS: exude various florals, grapefruit hops, anise, and violet. PALATE: feels dry, with medium plus acidity, medium tannins, medium plus alcohol 7.5%, yet a restrained, medium body. FLAVORS: exude an insane balance, with pronounced but delicate flavors of gorgeous fresh peach, pear, loads of florals, hop greenness, and a long, dark honey finish.
Isid’or is an Outstanding treat (5 of 5). Our last day in Einhoven, Dirk takes us to Van Eyck’s Winecellars: probably the greatest wine shop we see outside of France.
Inside, I find more wines from Domaine Taille Aux Loups than I knew existed…and this ain’t Southern France:
Van Eyck’s is a gem in a town you would never expect.
But more than that, getting to meet Tineke and Dirk’s grandchildren means far more than a few bottles.
They play my brother’s audio recording of a children’s Christmas book that he sent recently. His familiar English sounds strange yet comforting from so far away.
Our handful of days in Eindhoven reinvigorate us for the last month of our trip. Helping a granddaughter to draw a cat and rabbit, wandering the town’s sleepy center, eating fantastic food, drinking wild, rare beers: all of it reminds us why we travel.