Ghent Day Trip Visits a Castle, Brewery Gruut, and an Abbey

Between Antwerp and Brussels, we make a day trip to Ghent.  Why?  Our worn out travel guide mentioned a fantastic castle, monastery, and a brewery.  Done.

Ghent feels very medieval, sleepy, and just about to sink into its canals.

Ghent Church CanalThe narrow streets and minute bridges give this town of stone a cosines. At city center, we find Ghent castle: Gravensteen. Immediately, Monty Python quotes and songs bubble about our heads.

Ghent Castle GravensteenIn 1180, Philip of Alsace returned from the Second Crusade and, inspired by castles there, modeled this on them.  We don the headphones and get completely lost.  Spaces make no sense.  The basements, grounds, and storerooms look expansive, while the chapel and bedroom feel as cramped as the dungeon.

Ghent Castle archesThe museum is quaint with amour and weapons.  The Tower view opens over a cold city, windmills turn lazily and a nuclear power plant bellows steam beyond.

Ghent Castle BasementAfter a few hours of imagined dragons, feasts, and jousts, we cross town to Saint Peter’s Benedictine Abbey.

Whereas Gravensteen’s audio guide threw a slew of dates and fairly neutral history at our ears, St Peter’s provides a video guide, but not just any video guide.  Here, a monkish accountant named Alison employs us to solve the murder mystery of his slain illicit lover Raphael.

Allison Ghent St PetersWhile learning about Alison’s fondness for drink, we explore the Abbey’s long corridors and rooms.  It feels eerie, strange, if a bit awkward wandering this place alone in the dead season.

St Peters AbbeyBut St Peter’s Abbey is charming.  We even stumble on a vineyard: surprising this far in the cold damp North. I assume they’re Reisling, the staff think muscat, Alison just rambles about drinking.

St Peters Abbey Vineyard GhentThe real show stopper though is St. Peter’s grand dining hall and its painted ceiling.

St Peters Dining Hall VaultAt the end we solve the murder in an attic, send Alison’s spirit away, and to reward ourselves, visit Ghent’s brewery: Gruut.

Gruut City Brewery Ghent Annik

Annick de Splenter is one of a few female brewers in Belgium and the last city brewer in Ghent.  She founded Gruut City Brewery in 2009.  Her family has made famous beers (Young Pale Ale from Gistel and Dentergems Wit, Liefmans and Lucifer from Dentergem).  But what makes Annick different?  She never uses hops.

Instead of hops, she follows medieval recipes by employing herbs and spices as preservatives and bittering agents (and coursework in biochem).

The space jumbles comfy couches against stainless tanks and copper kettles.

Gruut Interior GhentBut how does her hop-less beer taste?

Gruut Genste Stadsbrouwerij, Blond beer, Ghent, Belgium. €3.00 / 33cl

Gruut Blonde Beer GhentAPPEARANCE: Hazy, moderate gold amber, with a white head. AROMAS: medium intense  pineapple, lemon, and light malt. PALATE: feels dry, twangy, with moderate bitterness, 5.5% alcohol, a medium body, FLAVORS: taste refreshing and fairly intensely  fruity with orange peel, dried florals, rolled oats, and barley notes that last a medium plus length. Gruut’s Blond is very good (4 of 5).

Van Steenberge, Gentse Tripel, beer. Ghent, Belgium. €1.27/33cl

Ghent Gruut Brewery BeerAPPEARANCE: again hazy, a deeper gold color with small fizz, and a huge white head. AROMAS: smell intensely of lemon, lime, salt, and wheat. PALATE: again is bright and tart with lower bitterness, but a clearly warmer alcohol of 8% but a lightish body. FLAVORS: taste fairly intensely of lemon but mostly meringue pie and powdery wheat flour. Again, medium plus length. Gruut’s tripel is very good (4 of 5), really mouthwatering.

Next up their Wheat beer: Gruut, Wit beer, Ghent, Belgium. €3.00 pint

APPEARANCE: Hazy, light yellow, and a white head. AROMAS: subdued but bright lemon, white flower, and clear cut white asparagus with butter, tomato, burnt sage and dry herbs. Complex. PALATE: dry, tart, soft, 5% alcohol, and lighter than the last two.  FLAVORS: med plus flavors of pale grapefruit, lychee, fennel, and heather with a medium. length. Their Wit is very good (4 of 5) snappy, complex, herbaceous, and mouthwatering. The Blond tastes more malty by comparison, like a french fry, or caramel, rounder and tropical.

Gruut Brewery TanksNext up their Brown: Gruut Bruin, Ghent, Belgium. €3.50/33cl

APPEARANCE: looks hazy, medium plus copper amber color, with a cream colored head. AROMAS: proclaim themselves loudly with raspberries, those hard strawberry candies with the juice fill, and caramel. PALATE: feels slightly sweeter, with medium plus acid, medium tannin, high alcohol 8%, and a rich, medium plus body. FLAVORS: taste pronounced with raspberry fields forever, strawberry candies with juicy fill, and a hazelnut finish that seems endless. Gruut’s Bruin is outstanding (5 of 5), faultless, complex, intense beer.  It is captivating, sultry yet vibrant and silly: like a giggling geisha.

I go to the restroom to prep myself for their last beer: Inferno.

Gruut UrinalNow I am scarred for life and incapable of listening to the Rolling Stones the same way again. But we buy a bottle of Gruut’s Inferno anyway

Gruut Inferno, Ghent, Belgium. €3.50/33cl bottle only  APPEARANCE: looks hazy, moderately yellow, with a thin white lace. AROMAS: scream wildly with a blend of Herbs de Provence, bacon, bread yeast, and corn starch. PALATE: feels extra tart, bitter, high in alcohol at 8.5%, and full bodied. FLAVORS: pounce, like chewing on harsh, serious grains, fresh tobacco leaf, yet wrapped up by golden delicious apple flavors that last a long length.

Somehow, the alcohol doesn’t conflict, doesn’t sweeten it thanks to all the bittering herbs. But it’s a tough balance between a bitter, tannic, punchy finish and fruitiness. The bacon aroma might be a fault. But we cannot deny Annick’s talent her. Brave stuff. Very good (4 of 5) However, I wouldn’t reorder it because I don’t want another punch to the face.

Overall, Annick’s Gruut Brewery is a hip, creative, yet casual local. Love it.

Night falls cold, black, and quickly. We catch the last train back to Antwerp. Ghent charmed us completely. As history geeks, we loved this backward looking, medieval, time capsule that somehow embraces enough modernity.  We could live quite comfortably in sleepy, fantastic Ghent.

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Tool or Toy? The Coravin Wine Preserver Review

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Recycling and Regret 2

Recycling and Regret 2

Not feeling too regretful about these values…



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Antwerp Belgium Pakhuis Brewery Rubens House

Day 174. After merely a week in Holland, the beer of Belgium calls us. Last post (read here) we toured Rotterdam’s modern core, Delft factory, and enjoyed various beers. This EU Austerity Drinking Tour post, we take train to Antwerp.

EU Map New York To Antwerp Day 174We loved Holland.  Yet Antwerp, this border town, decidedly looks south to Italy, France, and the extravagance of the Renaissance.  We stow our luggage in its monumental opera house…I mean train station:

Antwerp Train StationAlready in awe, we wander toward the city center. Restrooms are hard to find.  We start to get angry at Antwerp, at each other, at this whole stupid trip.  Then, near the river, we find the ancient Marketplace, strung with curing meat, smelling fantastic, and finally, a bathroom.

Meat Market AntwerpSanity returned, we walk to town square, framed with its magnificent City Hall and squeezed guild facades.

Antwerp Guilds SquareWinding streets take us to the waterfront and a medieval fortress known as “Het Steen”: stone castle. Built after the Vikings left, it once served as the city center. An 2nd century figure sits in a niche above the gate.

Tracy Antwerp CastleThis is the phallic god Semini, which basically is a massive penis with arms, to whom women still come to and pray for children.

To cleanse our souls, we pop into the gothic, still unfinished, Cathedral of Our Lady. Its stonework impresses us, but the endless, intricate woodwork stands beyond belief:

Wood Stalls Antwerp Basilica

The pulpit sprawls with Baroque details: vines, branches, birds from the world over, including an American turkey.

Antwerp wooden pulpitChristmas provides an added bonus, with all the massive altar pieces open and on display by Flemish master: Peter Paul Rubens

RUbens Antwerp BasilicaInspired, we head to Rubens’ villa.  A unassuming door on a simple facade brings us into a cosy, almost cramped dining room:

Rubens house AntwerpAlthough every inch oozes with decorative detail and original works by Rubens.  Small but elaborate rooms feed us into his calm attempt at a Roman temple:

Rubens Roman RoomThen a narrow hall faces out into Ruben’s best attempt at an Italian Renaissance Courtyard, which he also painted.

Antwerp Rubens Backyard by RubensAfter many dark, dinky rooms, Rubens studio opens up, brightened by huge windows and a two story high ceiling, pictured below from the outside.

Antwerp Rubens House ExteriorWorks by Rubens and his many students, including Anthony van Dyck, loom large throughout the studio space.  We can almost hear the near constant, busy, factory-like workshop churning out monumental paintings of well fed, pale people.

Happy and hungry, we wrap our Antwerp visit with a trip to Huisbrouwerij ‘T Parkhuis.  This brewery has the most impressive copper kettles we have seen since Scotland’s distilleries six months earlier on our trip.

Antwerp Pakhuis BreweryEven ‘T Parkhuis’ control station gleams in copper.

Antwerp Pakhuis Brewery ControlT Pakhuis is one of two breweries in Antwerp.  There used to be 27 but WWI and WWII along with the rise of macrobreweries slowly closed them down.  T Parkhuis never filters or pasteurizes their beer and only uses natural ingredients.  They even have a modern growler fill station.Antwerp Bottler Brewery PakhuisBut we came for beer. First up, their Blond:

Huisbrouwerij ‘T Parkhuis, Antwerps Blond, beer, Antwerp, Belgium. €2.50/glass

Huisbrouwerij T Parkhuis Antwerps Blond beer Antwerp BelgiumAPPEARANCE: looks a hazy but rich gold, with small fizz, and an off white head. AROMAS: smell of intense riesling and peach, lemon, and grassy hops. PALATE: fells dry, with twangy acidity, moderate bitterness, medium 4.9% alcohol, but fairly creamy in texture with a medium plus body. FLAVORS: taste similarly rich of riesling, lemongrass, arugula, hops, and a baking spice dusting that lasts a medium plus length. ‘T Parkhuis’ Blond is clean, refreshing but a bit straight: Good (3 of 5).

Huisbrouwerij ‘T Parkhuis, Antwerps Bruin, beer, Antwerp, Belgium. €2.90

Huisbrouwerij T Parkhuis Antwerps Bruin beer Antwerp BelgiumAPPEARANCE: again looks hazy, but richly brown, with an off white head. AROMAS: smell again of grapes, but wild even somewhat musky. PALATE: feels dry, refreshingly zippy again, notably bitter, with alcohol around 6%, and a medium plus body.  FLAVORS: taste again of wild grapes, but with a more pleasant vanilla cream note, finishing slightly more seriously with salt and spice for a medium plus length. ‘T Parkhuis Bruin is unique and very good (4 of 5).

Now we get a bit more serious. Out come tulip glasses with less beer but for more money. Huisbrouwerij ‘T Parkhuis, Nen Bangelijke Blond Tripel bier, Antwerp, Belgium. €3.50 / glass.

Huisbrouwerij T Parkhuis Nen Bangelijke blond tripel bier Antwerp BelgiumAPPEARANCE: looks again a hazy, moderate gold color, with hidden fizz, and a white head. AROMAS: smell again of pronounced riesling peachiness, (an annoying Vapor Rub-aroma burns off), followed by banana and lime. PALATE: feels dry, tart, mildly bitter, with high alcohol around 8.5-9%, making for medium plus body. FLAVORS: pounce with riesling peach, banana, (a cough syrup burns off), grapefruit, honey, and evergreen sap from the hops. They last a long time. ‘T Parkhuis’s Blond Tripel is undeniably very good (4 of 5). Tasted blind, this is the most wine-like beer I have ever tried: more like a Gentil Riesling Gewürztraminer blend from Alsace than a beer.

But we save the best for last: Huisbrouwerij ‘T Parkhuis, Stout, Antwerp, Belgium. €3.50.

Huisbrouwerij T Parkhuis Stout Antwerp BelgiumYes, a Belgian Stout.

APPEARANCE: an opaque, pronounced brown, with cream color head. AROMAS: reek of chocolate covered maraschino cherries, roasted coffee, and cocoa beans. PALATE: Yet somehow this feels dry, with ample acidity, bitterness, and 7.4% alcohol, all making for a full bodied, toasty, enveloping beer. FLAVORS: taste equally pronounced and of dark chocolate, vanilla, cherry liquor, with a long espresso finish. ‘T Parkhuis’ Stout is outstanding (5 of 5) and completely without doubt of its perfection.

Catch us next Monday as we continue to explore Belgium’s breweries in search of the perfect drink.

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Recycling and Regret Week One

If I do not get around to finishing a real post today, enjoy my first work in the series: Recycling and Regret: wherein we present the remains of a week’s in wine sales.

Recycling and Regret 1Kinda light this time…

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