Florence also gave me detailed instructions on how to use one of the quality-testing machines for alcohol and sugar density. Specifically, she showed me how to perform these tests for Timber. First, we took a sample from the fermentation tank and mixed in some kieselguhr (the same substance used for filtration) to remove the yeast. Next, Florence showed me how to properly calibrate the machine with water to ensure there was no residual sugar or alcohol left inside that would contaminate the sample. Finally, you can measure the beer sample by placing the filtered beer into a graduated cylinder and placing a straw-like hose connected to the machine into the filtered beer. The machine then sucks up the beer and gives an alcohol and density reading.
This machine provides a reading that is one hundred times more accurate than a hydrometer; therefore, it is the preferred method of testing during the fermentation. However, during the brewing process, (i.e. throughout the filtration and the boil), we take several sugar density measurements using a hydrometer because it is faster and more convenient.
We also measured the temperature and pH and took note of the pressure in the tank. After sharing our results with Tanguy, he decided to suspend the fermentation (by lowering the temperature to around 1 degree Celsius) and to purge the yeast.
He plans on having the machine ready for the next bottling day. The addition of this machine will relieve the duties of an entire person on bottling days, as it will automatically pack crates.
One of our last nights in Couthuin, my mom took me out in the rental car to an empty parking lot and taught me how to drive a stick shift. Cars with automatic transmission are as hard to come by in Belgium as cars with manual transmission are in the States. Therefore, my mom and I figured this would be as good of a time as any for me to learn. I think I stalled about twenty times going between neutral and first gear. After about the millionth circle around the parking lot, and experimenting a bit with second gear, I started to feel more comfortable with the timing of removing my foot off the clutch and onto the gas. I would not say that I know how to drive a manual now by any means, but at least I have a sense of what it is like so the next time I return to Belgium I could (maybe) rent a car.
When we returned the car at the airport, our receipt indicated that my mom drove 2,325 kilometers (1,445 miles) in two weeks. I suppose that is a testament to our busy weekends.
My mom and I explored the museum and completed the short 10-minute walk to the abbey through the forest and gazed in awe at the beauty of the grounds and architecture. Afterwards, we redeemed our glass of beer included in the entrance fee. I tried Chimay Tripel and my mom ordered Chimay Red Cap (the original Chimay beer) and we split a cheese plate consisting of five Chimay cheeses. Two of the five were made with beer. My favorite was “A la Chimay Bleue,” a mild and creamy cheese that is washed several times with Chimay Blue Cap during its two-week aging process.
Once in France, we spent two nights in Reims and toured the chalk caves of Veuve Clicquot. On Saturday, we journeyed the short 30-minute car ride to Epernay: “The Capital of Champagne.” There we visited the Avenue de Champagne, a street lined in with grandiose Champagne houses and villas. Here, we toured a mere 1 kilometer of about 30 kilometers (nearly twenty miles) of caves owned by Moet et Chandon.
The land in Champagne is absolutely gorgeous. The grapes that compose champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Meunier blanket the rolling hills. Pictures alone cannot do the Champagne region justice. All I can say is the terroir of Champagne provides an idyllic backdrop to savor in the France’s most festive beverage.
Over the past month and a half, I have cultivated a life here in Couthuin that I am not eager to leave. I fully intend to return to Brasserie de Marsinne someday. In the meantime, I will remain in contact with my new brewery family. I will especially miss talking with Florence everyday as we spent many hours bonding over our shared passion for beer and our roles as women brewers. We will keep all keep in contact through Facebook and e-mail as I am eager to receive updates on the brewery.
Thank you Nicolas, Tanguy, Florence, Bastien, and Bruno for opening your hearts and homes to us. I will cherish the time I spent in Belgium and am greatly appreciative of their generosity, kindness, and patience.
I would also like to thank the Rondia Family for going above and beyond to show Peter, my mom, and I a good time in Belgium. Our time spent together truly made this experience unforgettable.
The future of Leopold 7, Belgian Pacific, and craft beer in general is very promising. We all should feel very excited to witness the next chapter of craft beer as breweries embrace the use of social media, release collaborations with other breweries, experiment with new hop varieties, and take advantage of canning technology. I am honored to I personally contribute my experience and passion to the spread of the craft beer culture through the establishment of a brewery that will unite two of the greatest beer cultures in the world: Belgium and California.
Peter returned home last Wednesday to start his new job at Microsoft on Monday (September 12). I miss him, especially because brewery life is now much different without an extra helping-hand during production and bottling.
Last Wednesday, we bottled with new bottles, and without the extra step of sanitation and inspection, bottling goes much faster. I struggled to keep up with the filled bottles as I packed cases and crates, inspected fill lines, and monitored the date stamp machine. Fortunately, Tanguy was nearby to lend a helping hand. However, he was quite busy coordinating the upcoming Folk Festival hosted at his castle that weekend.
On Thursday, Florence and I performed the transfer of four smaller fermentation tanks - two, 40-hectoliter tanks and two 20-hectoliter tanks - into one 120-hectoliter tank (yes, it’s big). In order to prepare the transfer, you must first empty all of the dead yeast from the bottom of the fermentation tank. The most important part of this step is cleanliness. Florence stressed the importance of practicing proper sanitation techniques by ensuring that I sprayed alcohol on all the openings of the tank before, and after, performing the yeast purge. She also advised that I rinse the tank and ground with water afterwards to avoid sugar residues that can attract unwanted pests.
This past weekend, Marsinne (Tanguy’s castle) hosted the 25th annual Folk Festival. Over two thousand people from all over Europe come to Couthuin to attend this three-day festivities each year. It’s quite a production, as there are three large stages for dancing, two banquet halls for more dancing and food, booths selling musical instruments and local crafts, a puppet theater, and more.
Festival attendees showcase their passion for folk music through dance. With each song, there is a corresponding dance. When my mom and I first arrived Sunday afternoon, we thought people were just dancing for fun to the music (and some were). However, when I returned later that evening with Florence, we soon learned that indeed there are special steps.
After a few songs, Florence and I worked up the courage to join a group-dance. We tried our best to mimic those around us, and had a great time laughing at ourselves with each wrong step. No one seemed to care how knowledgable of a dancer you were, as long as you were having a good time. We embraced the friendly, free-spirited atmosphere as we danced hand-in-hand with other fellow dancers.
After a few songs, Florence proposed we get something to drink. “Maybe a beer that we brew?” she stated with a smile. I was parched, and a Leopold 7 was exactly the thing to quench my thirst.
While we drank our beers, Tanguy spotted us and came over to see how we were enjoying the festival. We chatted for a while until Tanguy excused himself to oversee the festival proceedings and Florence proposed we go home, as we both had to be at the brewery the following morning at 8 am for a full day of brewing. I had a great time immersing myself in a new music culture, as I can’t imagine experiencing anything this authentic in America.
Today, we brewed, and things went pretty smoothly. I spent my time asking a lot of questions and talking with Florence and Bastien. My mom picked me up early for a brewing day (4pm) so we could drive to Galler, a chocolate store about 30 minutes from Couthuin, to bring some chocolate back to California. We had a successful shopping experience, so much so that the nice woman working at the store gave us several pounds of free chocolate. We already purchased some to give to our Brasserie family, so we can’t gift it to people here. Packing the extra several pounds of chocolate will pose a challenge, but I am confident my mom will make it work. After all, it’s Belgian chocolate.
We arrived in Bruges on Saturday evening after spending the day visiting Brasserie Dupont and Brouwerij Huyghe. The drive into Bruges is unique: the roads approaching the city are typical of Belgium, but upon crossing a bridge over a canal, you are suddenly transported a few hundred years back in time to a lovely historical village. That evening, we enjoyed an outdoor concert performed by a local band in the Market Square as we enjoyed excellent Liege waffles.
The following day, we acquainted ourselves with the city. We began our morning with a narrated canal cruise throughout the city. Viewing Bruges from the canals imparts a whole new perspective of the city; it is a 'must-do' for every visitor. Bruges is quite small, so we quickly familiarized ourselves with the town layout. For lunch, we ate at Brewery De Halve Maan, where we sampled some of their brews. I found the Straffe Hendrik Tripel delectable and Peter treated himself to the Quad.
During our time in Bruges, we also visited Choco-Story, a chocolate museum, and the Bruges Beer Museum.
I found this museum fun and informative as the exhibits enhanced my previous knowledge and appreciate for Belgian chocolate.
On Sunday, we visited the Bruges Beer Museum located just off of Market Square (the city center). Upon entering and paying our 14 euro admission fee (including a tasting at the conclusion of the tour), the museum receptionist handed each of us an iPad and headphones.
We ended this weekend by enjoying a dinner with the excellent company of the Rondia Family: Jean-Claude, Raphael, Jessica, and Jessica’s son. Together, we dined in Liege and shared a delicious meal of boulettes as we talked and laughed the night away. Belgium is starting to feel like home thanks to the kindness and generosity of the Rondia’s and my Brasserie family.
Peter and I met my mom at the airport on Thursday morning, picked up the rental car, and made our way back to Couthuin. The entire way, my mom kept saying, “There’s no way I would’ve found this by myself.” Belgium may be small, but it's very easy to get lost. I’ve never felt more thankful for smartphones with GPS.
That afternoon when we arrived at the brewery, Tanguy asked Peter and I to experiment with various spices, including grains of paradise, cardamom, ground ginger, coriander, woodruff, and orange peel for a new beer. This new brew, called Timber, will be a darker, more full-bodied beer compared to Leopold 7 Classic. With this in mind, Peter and I took six different spices and infused them in three different temperatures of water: cold, boil for 1 minute, and boil for 10 minutes, to extract the same flavors as the actual boil of the brewing process.
Friday morning, Peter, my mom, and I embarked on a busy weekend where we visited Bruges and several incredible breweries along the way. In this post, I will discuss each brewery in detail, and dedicate my next post to Bruges.
During this ceremony, individuals who have made significant strides to the brewing profession, especially with Belgian beer, were “knighted.” On her plane ride over, my mom sat next to the husband of a woman who was receiving her knighthood status, so that’s how we learned about this ceremony in the first place. Hopefully, we’ll be able to return to Brussels another year to experience the Belgian Beer Weekend.
Location: 30 minute north of Brussels by car (between Brussels and Antwerp)
Tour: The tour was approximately 1 hour and another hour was allotted for tasting. The tasting consisted of two full pours of a wide selection of beers in the Duvel Moortgat family & cheese.
Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and began the tour with a short video and then by explaining the brewing process in depth. He then led us through the brewery where we got to look inside the kettles and awe in the glory of the large fermentation tanks. I found the bottling system the most impressive part of the brewery, as I am accustomed to Brasserie de Marsinne’s small set-up, Duvel devoted an entire room at least 8 times the size of Marsinne alone solely to bottling. I was especially surprised to find that Duvel also reuses their bottles. (Turns out, basically all Belgian breweries reuse their bottles).
Visiting Duvel was not my favorite tour, but not my least favorite, either. I am partially bias because I love the charm of smaller breweries, and Duvel was, by far, the largest brewery that we toured. Peter, on the other hand, loved the tour and confidently states that this stop was his favorite. I believe this visit offered a nice contrast to the other smaller breweries in Belgium.
Location: Directly south of Ghent; about 1 hour from Brussels by car
Tour: The tour lasts about 1 hour tour and 1 hour is alloted for a tasting of three beers & cheese made with Moinette blonde.
Our tour guide was a charming young woman from Namur who led us through the quaint brewery. I was surprised to see how small the brewery was, considering their production is 21,000 hectoliters a year (that’s 7 times the size of Brasserie de Marsinne). The brewery was split into many rooms, as multiple rooms were dedicated to fermenters and brewing kettles. Some of the rooms had very low ceilings- I noticed some of the taller men in the group having to duck their heads to avoid hitting the ceiling!
I fell in love with the story behind Dupont. In a nutshell, the brewery has been family owned since 1920, and the family intends to keep it that way. Each year, they honor their cleints with a bottle of Bons Voeux (Good Wishes) and also have a line of organic beers. In addition, as most breweries keep their yeast at a university, they store their yeast at the brewery and propagate it as needed. Another fun fact about the yeast they use: it ferments at 34 degrees Celsius (compared to most ale yeasts that ferment between 20-22 degrees Celsius). That’s a pretty special fungus.
Beer: I tried Bon Voeux, Saison Dupont Biologique, and Biere de Mel. I loved all three and was surpsied to notice a difference between the organic and non-organic version of Saison Dupont. I am not sure exactly what imparts this flavor difference, if it is the grain, the hops, or some other part of the process, but I think I preferred the non-organic version.
We all had a great time and purchased many fun items in the gift shop (at really good prices, too- a shirt was only 8 euros!). I ended up getting a shirt, a sweatshirt, and glassware because we were having that good of a time.
Before leaving, we were presented with our “discovery pack” that included six bottles of their most popular beers. Yummy!
Location: 20 minute drive southeast of Ghent (in a cute little village called Melle)
Tour: The tour lasts about 1 hour and the time allowed for tasting seemed unlimited. Our tour guide, an older man who volunteers his time to give tours of the brewery, told us that he dedicates his time as a way to get free beer. Smart man, as there’s plenty of beer to go around at Brouwerij Huyghe.
The tour started out with an information video, and then our tour guide led us around the brewery. We started in the milling room, and made our way all the way through bottling and storage of the beer. Visiting this brewery was a sharp contrast to Brasserie Dupont, as Huyghe produces over 43,000 hectoliters of beer each year. All in all, the tour was pretty standard, except for the large pink elephants plastered on the walls of almost every room.
Overall Experience: The tour was mediocre, but the tastings were excellent. It was very nice that our tour guide gave everyone the opportunity to taste all the beers. They also had a small, but well-stocked gift shop where we purchased some glassware and shirts. Who doesn’t love the pink elephant?
Location: St. Bernardus is located about an hour southwest of Bruges by car (very near the border of France). As we approached the brewery, we spotted acres of hop vines and knew we must be in the right place. September is hop-harvesting season, and these hop vines looked full and ready for harvest. Turns out, harvest would begin the following day.
Tour: The tour itself lasts 45 minutes, plus about 45 minutes for tasting. Overall, the tour was comprehensive and thorough. Our tour guide gave us all of the interesting and relevant information regarding the brewery, she wasted no time with sales pitches or useless facts – my type of tour.
She also explained the connection between St. Bernardus and the Sint Sixtus Abbey of Westvleteren that brews the famous Westvleteren XII, which is regarded as the “best beer in the world.” From 1946 to 1992, St. Bernardus had the license to brew under the Sint Sixtus name. Since 1992, St. Bernardus has continued to brew under their own name, using the same recipes, only a different yeast strain. Basically, the only difference between St. Bernardus’s Abt 12 and Westvleteren XII is the yeast strain.
Location: Westvleteren is only about 20 minutes from St. Bernardus, so, of course, we stopped by to try the “best beer in the world.” There are only two points of legal sale of Westvleteren beers: the café called In de Vrede and the monestary itself (if you make an appointment weeks in advance). However, resale does happen, as at most of the larger markets or beer shops sell Westvleteren beers, for a markup of at least 400 percent. I’ll admit, Peter and I did pick up a couple of these Trappist bottles at a store in Brussels.
Driving out to Westvleteren requires a journey on several small, one-lane roads. On our way out there, I constantly made sure we were on the right path as it seemed that we were in the middle of nowhere- and we were. Then all of a sudden, we arrived at the Abbey and across the street there was a packed parking lot and signs to In de Vrede. We struggled to find a table inside and we soon discovered that this was the local watering hole as the café was mainly packed with older people speaking Dutch.
Tour: None available
Overall Experience: In de Vrede does not offer a full menu, but does have a nice selection of snacks. Peter and I tried the pâté and cheese made with Westvleteren beers, and my mom enjoyed an ice cream sundae. It was the perfect complement to our beers.
My next post will discuss Bruges and beyond. Many consider Bruges the most beautiful city in Belgium, with cobblestone pathways and meandering canals. We had a fabulous time exploring this lovely historical town and experience Belgian culture in another part of the country.
Friday, August 26
Friday morning, Tanguy picked Peter and I up at our apartment to take us to the train station. Five hours, and three trains later, we arrived in Amsterdam.
My first impression of Amsterdam: modern and English-speaking. Most of the time when you approach someone, they greet you in English, even though all locals speak Dutch. I guess I just scream tourist, which in this case, is fine with me. When talking with Florence about this observation, she informed us that almost everyone uses English to communicate because Amsterdam is such a tourist destination and because English is a language most tourists (even other Europeans) have in common. Makes sense.
I am really happy we decided to embark on this impromptu “beer tour” throughout Amsterdam because it gave Peter and I a route to explore the city. After Arendsnest, we walked up the Damrak towards central station. This is truly the heart of the city. While walking, we stopped in at the Amsterdam Sex Museum, and for 4 euros a person, we got a preview of what the Red Light District is like at night. Truthfully, it was quite a raunchy experience, and I don’t know if it was worth the money. (Then again, I don’t really know what I was expecting).
Luckily, our third stop was called “‘Cause Beer Loves Food,” a casual beer joint that serves an ever-changing food menu. Peter and I enjoyed our dinner of fish cakes and spareribs over a couple of good beers. One of my favorites of the day I enjoyed at this bar was an apricot tripel.
The last place, Craft & Draft, was a bit off of the main track, a couple of miles west of the Old Town, and a bit over a mile from ‘Cause Beer Loves Food. We chatted with the bartender as he poured a rauchbier, or a smoked German beer, and a saison (both from local breweries). The rauchbier was not my favorite, as I learned I do not prefer the taste of smoked beers. However, Peter enjoyed it, and I took custody of the saison. Upon finishing our last beer, we presented our receipts to the bartender, and he rewarded us for our accomplishment with our shirts.
We decided to take the Metro back into the city center, where we then walked around the Red Light District and the Dam Square. Not surprisingly, we found that there were more people out roaming these streets at midnight than at noon. I love how Amsterdam is a vibrant city at all hours of the day.
Saturday, August 27
After a good night’s sleep, we woke up and visited Heineken. Their tour, called the “Heineken Experience,” is truly an experience. The tour is self-guided, with checkpoints along the way where Heineken employees teach you how Heineken is made, guide you through a tasting, and give you a sample of wort. Probably the most memorable part of the tour was the 4-dimentional brewing experience where guests are “transformed” into beer. Here, we stood on platforms that jostled around during the whirlpool, had water splash on our faces during filtration, and were surrounded by bubbles during fermentation.
Near Heineken is the famous Albert Cuyp Market, the largest street market in Europe, boasting 260 stands. What better place to sample some authentic Netherlands delicacies such as herring and stroopwafels? The Dutch prepare herring by freezing, then lying the fish in salt for a couple of days. Traditionally, Dutch street stands serve herring with onions and pickles, but you can also order it with bread. I went traditional, ordering herring straight up, and Peter chose the bread. Personally, I love fish, and I found herring to be no exception (Peter, on the other hand, could barely choke down two bites).
To salvage the Dutch food experience for Peter, I stopped at a stroopwafels stand so I could order two warm, flat waffles with caramel oozing out the sides. There was a chocolate-dipped option, so I went for it. I only had a couple bites before Peter devoured his sugar-filled delight. (Stroopwafels are very good, but personally, I find Liege waffles much tastier).
Amsterdam also knows how to prepare a mean burger. After doing some research, I found that one of the best places to indulge in Amsterdam’s finest is at a burger joint called The Butcher, located on the same street as Albert Cuyp Market. You really can’t miss this place, as the entrance has a stuffed cow hanging in the window. Although we had been snacking all morning, we decided to split a burger and fries. And yes, it was a damn good burger.
Instead, Peter and I decided to visit De Hallen, a former train depot that is now the home to a cinema, indoor market, craft centers, a reading café, TV studios, and a food hall. De Hallen opened at 11am, and we got there about half past 11. We walked immediately to the FoodHallen (the food hall), anxious to see what culinary creations they had to offer, only to find that most vendors were still in the process of setting up.
We decided to wait around until more vendors opened up. Particularly, I wanted to visit De BallenBar and sample some bitterballen, a traditional Dutch food reminiscent of deep-fried gravy, usually served to accompany a beer. In the meantime, we ordered a couple of beers from the bar and discussed our impending foodie adventure.
To wash down our meat extravaganza, we decided to treat ourselves to De FoodHallen’s famous gin and tonics. I enjoyed a floral cocktail made with raspberries and blueberries; while peter savored an apple and mint concoction.
This was the only stop we had time for on Sunday, and I am quite all right with that, as we were so full and content, we did not eat the rest of the day.
Monday, August 29
On Mondays, we brew. I think for the first time nothing went wrong (at least for us). Nicolas had some issues while conducting the filtration, but nothing too dire. In fact, we finished our brew early. We also cleaned most of the floors in the brewery after brewing and only worked a 9-hour day. I felt pretty accomplished.
This issue delayed our progress about an hour. Various other issues arose in the afternoon, including more bursting bottles and displaced railings on the bottling line. Oh, Peter also dropped a crate on his foot that happened to land on the part of his boot that was not steel-toed. Also, I almost got my hand stuck in the filling machine (yes, you should never put your hand into moving machinery, I know). Luckily, the worst harm to us consists of a couple of bruises. Truly just par for the course for a day in the brewery; however, these incidents also serve as a reminder that you must use caution while working in a brewery, because serious incidents can, and do, occur. Despite our delays, we still managed to be back to our apartment by 5:30.
Tomorrow evening, after another day of bottling, Peter and I will be heading to Brussels in preparation for meeting my mom at the airport and guiding her back to Couthuin in a rental car. Despite my mother’s keen sense of direction (and ability to drive on little sleep) I thought it best to help her back to Couthuin. After all, how else are you supposed to follow directions on a map when half of the streets aren’t marked? Or when every intersection in Couthuin is an unmarked “yield”? I’m excited to have my mom join us on our Belgium experience. This weekend, we’re going on an extravagant brewery adventure on our way to Bruges. Some places we’ll be visiting include Duvel, Brasserie Dupont, Saint Bernardus, and Huyghe (the brewery that makes Delirium Tremens.) This weekend is Peter’s last here, so we’re going out with a bang. It’s going to be quite the weekend.
Tuesday & Wednesday, August 23 & 24
The brewery never felt more like a sauna last week as temperatures reached highs of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. This weather made bottling, an intrinsically physical task, even more tiresome. I’ve never enjoyed a beer as much as I had after those long, hot days of work.
The previous week when we bottled, we filled clean bottles. However, this week, we filled dirty bottles. At Brasserie de Marsinne, in an effort to conserve resources, they ask their clients to return empty bottles to the brewery. Bruno occasionally sends Peter and I to sort the incoming dirty bottles, stored outside, some of which have become the newfound homes of all sorts of outdoor creatures. (Needless to say, it’s not my favorite brewery job).
Tuesday morning, after thoroughly cleaning the bottling system, we all took our respective posts: Florence placed bottles in the machine for cleaning, Peter put filled bottles into crates, Bastien did all the odd jobs (monitoring the filling line, restocking dirty bottles for Florence, transporting filled palates to the hot room, etc.), and I inspected the clean bottles coming directly out of the machine to ensure no dirt or unwanted substances remained in the bottles.
About an hour of this job, and I got bored. Peter complained that morning of feeling tired, so I had him switch with me so he could sit down and I could relieve my mind of boredom.
Everything was going smoothly until after lunch. Although it is not uncommon for the bottling line to stop due to stuck or fallen bottles and jammed caps, I can usually spot the problem and quickly alleviate the issue. However, one of the times that the machine stopped for what appeared to be for no apparent reason, so I called Bastien over. He did not know what the matter was either, so he enlisted Tanguy’s assistance.
Several minutes later, Bastien informed me they discovered that one of the electrical outlets shorted out due to water exposure. Now the only question remained: which outlet? There are many sources of power on this machine, so this proved no small task. We asked Tanguy how common this issue arises, knowing that brewing, at all stages, is a very wet process. Tanguy explained that it's fairly typical, due to their use of very sensitive surge protectors.
A few minutes later, Bastien discovered the source of the power shortage: the capping machine. This makes sense, because a few minutes before the power stopped, a bottle broke on the line and Bastien hosed down the machine with water. While resolving the issue, we were delayed only about 30 minutes.
Thursday, August 25
Thursday was kegging day. This was the first day where we started at 9am (an hour later than our usual start time). I really enjoyed the extra hour of sleep. Florence, Peter, and I spent the morning filling 50, 30-liter kegs (also known as slim quarter kegs, with a capacity of 7.75 gallons or approximately 62 pints).
In the afternoon, we assembled Leopold 7 gift boxes containing a glass and four bottles. It was a nice way to spend another sunny afternoon as Bastien played music and we discussed music festivals and concerts.
Everything was going very smoothly that day, until we were cleaning up. At this point, in the midst of transporting all of the newly-made gift boxes to the warehouse, due to a lack of saran wrap, they all came crashing to the ground. I ran to the warehouse only to find a mountain of gift boxes and Bastien facing down, shaking his head, and mumbling with what I assumed to be swear words. This incident is very uncharacteristic of Bastien, who rarely makes rookie mistakes. Turns out the sight of the incident appeared more devastating than it actually was, as only three bottles and one glass broke. Sure, we will have to remake several gift-packages, but that is not a big deal. We quickly cleaned up and still managed to leave by 5.
When discussing weekend plans with Peter, we initially planned on visiting Chimay and spending a night in their hotel (yes, Chimay has a hotel). We would spend the remainder of the weekend exploring the outdoors in Southern Belgium (we hear it is quite beautiful). Our plans quickly fell through after some research, and confirmation from Chimay employees, when we learned that no busses run between the nearest train station and the brewery on weekends. I guess we’ll just have to come back to Belgium another trip.
Hmm... so now where to go to by train? I’ve always wanted to go to Amsterdam, and neither Peter, nor I, had ever visited the Netherlands, so why not. On Thursday morning, we asked Tanguy to give us a ride to the train station after work on Friday. When we shared we were visiting Amsterdam, he graciously told us to take Friday off and he would take us to the train station Friday morning. That was very kind of him, as he knew that by train it takes about 5 hours to get to Amsterdam from Couthuin.
Back in April of this year, Fabrice and Jean-Claude visited Brasserie de Marsinne and spent two days brewing with Tanguy, Nicolas, and Bastien. Here are some superb photos of their time spent in the brewery. Enjoy!
The past few days, Peter and I have received a wave of generosity from those around us. I feel so fortunate that we are surrounded by such a thoughtful and supportive group of people.
The first act of kindness occurred on Thursday, after a minor bottling fiasco.
Thursday, August 18
Bastien and Florence explained to us that we filled more than half of our bottling quota on Wednesday, so we should be done with bottling by 1pm on Thursday. We were pretty excited about this, since this meant Peter and I could catch a bus in time to visit either Huy or Andenne.
Our plans for the afternoon were quickly replaced by a better offer. During a brief break from bottling, Florence offered to drive Peter and I to Huy, the town where she went to High School, to show us around. I felt so grateful she offered to dedicate her free afternoon to spend with us.
Around 11am, soon after Florence’s proposal, the filling machine experienced a technical difficulty on the bottling line. This mechanical problem was a bit too complex for Bastien to fix by himself; so he enlisted Tanguy’s assistance. Luckily, Tanguy was able to resolve the issue in less than one hour and we were back to bottling. Tanguy is a pretty smart guy.
Despite the minor setback, we finished around 1pm. While biking out of the brewery driveway, we were surprised to see Fabrice’s father, Jean-Claude, driving up to the brewery with his two grandchildren. He introduced himself and told us that he made a special visit to watch us work. Unfortunately, we explained we were finished for the day and were headed home. I felt bad that he visited the day we happened to get out early.
During our conversation, Jean-Claude graciously invited us to visit him in his hometown of Liège, a city located about 25 miles east of Couthuin. Both Florence and Bastien had mentioned Liège to us as a vibrant city full of college kids attending the University of Liège. At this point, I couldn’t feel more fortunate to have locals show us around Huy and Liège!
Florence picked Peter and I up that afternoon and gave us a tour of Huy. We started out by walking to the city center, all on pedestrian roads. That’s when Florence explained to us that almost all Belgian towns have a city center with surrounding pedestrian roads that no cars can access. The town centers are always buzzing with people enjoying a beer at a Brasserie or purchasing some goods at a local shop. I wish that the United States (or at least California) had more cities like this.
After exploring the city center, Florence led us a few blocks away to the fair that takes place every August in Huy. Just like in America, the fair was full of games involving variations on darts, ring tosses, pistol shooting and, of course, fair food. Florence told us that, before we left, we needed to try lackemans (wafers filled with maple syrup) and croustillons (deep-fried balls of dough that are reminiscent of beignets, but more rich).
Without a problem we found a food stand selling both lakemans and croustillons. I told Florence to order whatever she wanted and we would pay. She ended up ordering a lakeman for each of us as well as a cone of 9 croustillons. We happily devoured all of them.
During our stroll around the fair, we also visited a beer bar, Le Vadurée 8. Here we conversed over some excellent beers. (We've been brewing together for two weeks, it was about time we shared a beer!) Here, I asked Florence how she became interested in brewing. She told us it was a long story, but in a nutshell, she explained to us that her passion for brewing stems from her respect and desire for craftsmanship. When her initial pursuit of agricultural studies did not pan out, her love of beer led her to enroll in brewing courses. I’m happy she chose brewing, for my sake and the sake of Leopold 7, because Florence will make an excellent brewer with her eagerness to learn and acute attention to detail.
In the evening, we decided to bike to Andenne, in preparation for biking the next morning to catch our train to Liège to meet Fabrice’s father. We found a good bike route, and, despite the massive hill on the return voyage, we made it back to our apartment before nightfall.
Sunday, August 21
After my alarm went off Sunday morning, I opened the curtains only to find that it was raining. Jean-Claude mentioned that it was supposed to rain in Liège, and for some stupid reason, it did not occur to me that it would also rain in Couthuin. Since Peter and I were planning on taking Tanguy’s bike’s to the train station, and locking them outside the entire day, the rain made biking a non-option.
I immediately sent text messages all of my contacts in Couthin: Florence, Tanguy, and Bruno. When we didn’t hear anything back within an hour of our 9:47am train departure, we decided to walk the 3.5 miles to Andenne. We left later than we should have... at this point, I did not think we were going to make our train. As we were practicing our speed-walking, about a mile out from our apartment, I received a text message. It was Bruno, telling me he was on his way to pick us up. He picked us up on our way and we made it to the train station with over 20 minutes to spare. Thank you, Bruno, for saving our butts once again.
Jean-Claude met us at the grandiose Liège-Guillemins train station. Before we left, he explained that the train station was built fairly recently in order to accommodate the high-speed trains. The architecture is truly remarkable - it’s definitely a sight to see in itself.
Next, we took a stroll along the river Meuse on our way to the La Batte, the oldest and largest Sunday market in Belgium. La Batte occupies about a mile of street parallel to the river. Here, vendors sold everything from fruits and vegetables to purses and chocolates. During our walk, we stopped in at a popular Brasserie where Jean-Claude bought us a Jupiler, Belgian’s most popular pilsner, made right there in Liège. I found Jupiler a very palate-pleasing and refreshing beer and very agreeable for drinking before noon.
After exploring the long, busy stretch of La Batte, we returned to the Brasserie for a traditional Belgian lunch, only to find that the place was packed with people. Instead, Jean-Claude treated us to lunch at Chez Pascal, an interesting take on a food truck that is essentially a restaurant in a retired city bus owned by a man from Greece. The inside of the bus was converted into a kitchen and bench seating, where we decided to dine (truthfully, it was the only place we could find a seat).
Here, we enjoyed some excellent tapas, fried calamari - accompanied by delicious Greek yogurt and tartar sauces - and washed it down with some rosé. Very little chewing was necessary for this meal, as the calamari melted in my mouth. I thought Monterey offered some good fried seafood, but I've never had anything of this caliber. (Who would’ve thought to come to Belgium to enjoy calamari?)
Our visit to Brasserie Curtius was an absolute delight. Their flagship beer, a triple blonde, was flavorful, delicious, and palatable at 7% abv. For our second round, Fabrice’s brother, Raphael, and his girlfriend, Jessica, joined us. We had an excellent time talking with them as they shared with us Belgian, particularly Liège specialties, such as sirop de Liège, a jam-like spread made with apples, pears, and dates, and peket, the Belgian version of gin, distilled with fruit. Before leaving, Peter and I made sure to stop in the gift shop and purchase some glassware to add to our collection of beer glasses. (I fell in love with Curtius's sommelier glasses as soon as I saw them).
Our final stop with the group was La Maison du Peket, where Raphael treated us to some peket violette - violet flavored peket - served flambé-style (yes, it is common to drinking flaming peket). I was somewhat hesitant to stick my plastic straw in the shot glass, nervous of it melting, and not looking forward to the alcohol burn. However, after taking my first gulp, I was pleasantly surprised; the fire burned some of the alcohol, which mellowed out the taste, and my straw didn’t melt. Overall, it was a great experience. I’d like to sample the other flavors of peket, such as framboise (raspberry) and cuberdon (a Belgian candy) at a later date.
Note: for the August 15th celebrations in Liège, people sell peket on street stands in trays consisting of upwards of 50 shots. Seems like Peter and I were in the wrong Belgian city last weekend.
Bruno, the kind man that he is, picked us up at the train station that evening after working all day at a festival serving Leopold 7. Thanks to Jean-Claude, Raphael, and Jessica, Peter and I experienced and learned more than we could have ever imagined during our short time in Liège. Needless to say, both Peter and I slept very well that night.
Monday, August 22
Today is Florence’s birthday. This morning, we brought Florence a card and picked up some Berliners (doughnut-hole-like pastries filled with custard) from the bakery across the street for everyone at the brewery. After all, we were brewing today, so that meant we’d be at the brewery for at least 8 hours (actually, it turned out to be 10.5 hours).
Florence was delighted that we remembered her birthday and to receive her treats. Bruno also remembered Florence's birthday, and brought a tarte du Héron, a pie only available in this region, made with pears, toasted almonds, held together by a fluffy crust. In the afternoon, we all enjoyed the Berliners, the tarte du Héron, and, of course, a Leopold 7. Happy birthday Florence!
I am still working on getting ahold of a copy of the newspaper article and will share it as soon as I can. Also, Jean-Claude sent me some exquisite photos of the brewery that he took during his visit a few months ago. While visiting with him in Liège, he explained that he used to work for Polaroid, meaning he knows the ins-and-outs of good photography. I will post a compilation of those pictures in the next couple of days! Until then...
Question: Where in the world can you hear the words “fry-friendly,” “beer,” and “bar” in the same sentence?
Despite the touristy holiday weekend, Peter and I managed to spend almost three full days exploring Belgium’s capital. With a hostel booked and the best beer bars in the city mapped-out, we intended on leaving early Saturday morning to take advantage of the full day. Unfortunately, (or fortunately?) both of us were more tired than we realized, and ended up sleeping in until almost 11.
We were planning on allotting three hours to journey to Brussels: one hour to walk 3.5 miles to Andenne, the town with the nearest train station, and two hours by train to Brussels. We left our apartment around noon. Although, we packed fairly light, it was a sunny day and soon Peter and I were both sweating bullets. I had a map on my phone, but with the intention to conserve data, I could not follow our current location. As a result, I led us in the wrong direction for a while, extending our journey an extra few minutes. After what felt like forever, we had been walking only 30 minutes and were still 2 miles out. I was feeling pretty bummed at this point.
He noticed us around the same time and immediately came out to the street to give us a kiss on the cheek, and asked us if we were heading to the train station. We confirmed that we were taking a train to Brussels and he immediately offered to drive us to the train station. After grabbing a shirt and car keys, we were well on our way to Brussels. Bruno is my hero.
Turns out (at least the way Bruno took us), getting to Andenne is pretty tricky. There are so many slight turns and small roads that look like dead-ends, it would’ve taken Peter and I hours to find our way. We bought train tickets with only minor difficulty decoding the ticketing booth in French, and before we knew it, we were in Brussels.
Stop number one: fries. We asked the man at the desk in the hostel where to purchase good fries, and he recommended a place a few blocks down the road. He also explained that fries are traditionally sold in concrete shack on the city streets, usually near parks or other points of interest. He also mentioned that there were several surrounding “fry-friendly” bars where we could enjoy a beer with our fries. At this point, I was halfway out the door; never mess with a girl on a mission for fries and beer.
By late afternoon, we made our way back to the city center to visit the Belgium Beer Museum in Grand Place. This small museum showcased their old brewery and their new brewery, and the 5-euro entrance fee included a beer brewed on-site that you could enjoy in the old brewery. Definitely worth it.
We then made our way to one of the more trendy beer bars in Brussels, Moeder Lambic. They had an excellent tap, bottle, and food menu. I enjoyed a Troubadour Magma that was classified as a Belgian IPA brewed with brettanomyces yeast. This beer was like nothing I had ever tasted; it came off strong, like a brett beer, but had a clean finish with no lingering aftertaste. Next I tried Caulier Tripel with a spicy and purfumy aroma with a subtle malt presence; I found it to be a flavorful, yet refreshing beer. We also split a mixed cheese and charcuterie plate replete with only the best soft cheeses and accompanied by a generous portion of bread. It was the best cheese/charcuterie plate I’ve ever had.
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering in and out of shops and found ourselves people-watching at a sidewalk café. After a while, we ordered carbonnade flamande, a Belgian beer and beef stew to split for a late dinner. At this point, we decided to stay another night as there were still a couple of beer places we wanted to visit, such as Delirium Café, which holds the Guinness Book of World Records for the most beer varieties (3,162) commercially available. The menu is legitimately a book. I don’t believe I had ever been in a bigger bar, as there were floors upon floors, each complete with an impressive, and unique, tap list. Peter and I both tried a few of the Delirium alternatives, including Delirium Tremens, Delirium Nocturnum, and Delirium Red. There’s nothing like a Delirium on tap in Belgium. After this visit, Peter and I definitely have plans to visit Huyghe Brewery on a future weekend.
Next, we embarked on our quest for Belgian chocolate. After doing a little research, we discovered that Pierre Marcolini crafts some of the best chocolate in Brussels. They specialize in sourcing their ingredients from all over the world. Our box of pralines showcased almonds from Sicily, cashews from Vietnam, and coffee from Java.
Out of all of Marconi's eight locations in Brussels, one of which is located in Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, we decided to go a little south-east of Grand Place to Place du Grand Sablon. Here, you will find a host of Belgian chocolate and confectionary stores including Godiva, Wittamer, Neuhause, and Leonidas. Their storefront is elaborately decorated with colorful flowers. We ended up purchasing a box of chocolates and some macarons for the road. Needless to say, all were delectable.
Today, we spent the entire day bottling the beer. In total, we bottled over 9,000 bottles of Leopold 7 into crates. Before bottling, we added sugar and fresh yeast to the beer, in preparation for “bottle conditioning,” which refers to the process of adding more carbonation to the beer post-bottling. The four of us, Florence, Bastien, Peter, and I, worked the bottling machine. Bastien and Florence took turns loading bottles into the sterilization machine and helping Peter and I put the bottles into crates and place them on the palates. The bottling machine sometimes has a mind of its own, but luckily, Bastien always knows how get it going again. Although the work was monotonous, I found that time went by fast and for the first time, I felt as though I bridged the gap between being an observer and a useful contributor.
Whether we needed to replenish the cap supply, pack more bottles, or inspect the bottles for quality assurance, we were constantly kept busy. Tonight, parts my hands are numb, despite using gloves, and Peter complains of sore legs from transporting case after case. Tomorrow, we will spend the day bottling again and Tanguy will lead the brew.
Today, the article about Peter and I learning how to brew at Brasserie de Marsinne made the first page of the local newspaper! Here’s a preview. I’ll post more pictures (and a full article) as soon as I get ahold of a hard copy.
Now we have witnessed every stage of the brewing process. I can’t wait to become more involved and accept larger tasks in the days to come. Until then, cheers!
Next comes the mash, or l’empattage as they say in French. It takes a bit over an hour for the mash to get up to temperature. Meanwhile, we clean all the pipes that the beer will go through in order to get the filtration tank (cuve de filtration). For this, we use the Clean-in-place system, which involves hoses, water, and an acid cleaner.
There’s rarely a dull moment in the brewery. Today, during the mash, I was talking with Bastien about school when all of a sudden the power went out. Since the brewing system is somewhat automated, we rely on readings given on the electronic screen to indicate the progress of the brew. Nicolas, Bastien, and Florence engaged in a rapid conversation in French while Peter and I stood in anticipation of what to do next. When Nicolas excused himself to make some phone calls, Florence explained to me that everything will be all right...probably. Since the beer was at a high temperature, and that the tanks are well insulated, the beer could sit for about an hour or so without any negative side effects. At this point, there was nothing we could do but wait.
When Nicolas returned, he informed us that a fallen tree had caused the power outage, and that power should be restored in an hour. As a skeptical Californian who’s experienced a fair amount of power outages, I was dubious of this prediction of a one-hour power restoration. Thankfully, Couthuin’s predictions are more reliable than what I am used to, and power was restored to the brewery within the next hour.
We continued the brewing process with filtration. During this time, I was trying to become acquainted with the couple-dozen valves used to control the brewing system. It’s pretty daunting to look at and know that one wrong quarter-turn could result in you spraying boiling water on your leg or pumping cleaning fluid into the wort.
Another reason why strength is important in brewing: the stainless-steel filtration plates that are placed inside of the lauter tun are large and heavy. Bastien picks up each plate in such a nonchalant manner that I didn’t realize how unwieldy they are until I assisted Florence during installation.
At the end of filtration, the spent grains are removed from the lauter tun and given to a neighboring farmer who uses them for animal feed and compost. As a curious foodie, I always have wondered what spent grain tastes like. After all, Sierra Nevada serves bread made with their spent grains at their restaurant and Fieldwork (formerly) baked crackers with their spent grains to accompany their cheese boards. I asked Florence and Bastien if they had ever tried spent grain, and they gave me a confused smile, probably hoping they misunderstood my English. I smiled back, took a piece of steaming grain coming out of the lauter tun, and put it in my mouth. I then looked at them and smiled and said, “it’s not bad!” and it really wasn’t. The taste reminds me of crunchy oatmeal. In my opinion, wort (or the sugar-water before the fermentation) is much less palatable. (Note: If you’re curious what wort tastes like, go on a Sierra Nevada tour - they give all their guests a little taste).
At this point, all the tanks, floors, and pipes must be cleaned. This process takes about an hour and involves lots of water. At one point, Peter compared some of the trub (the layer of protein, solid hop material, and entrained wort) to split-pea soup. Thanks, Pete, for that lovely image.
Yesterday, and today, we were at the brewery for 10 hours. (And today Bastian and Florence allowed us to leave early to pack and plan our weekend excursion to Brussels). Over our evening meal of a charcuterie and cheese, Peter asked me what was the most unexpected thing I have learned thus far in the brewery. I struggled to think of just one answer, so I narrowed it down to three:
This upcoming Monday, August 15th, is a holiday for Belgium. I can definitely use a three-day weekend to catch up on some sleep. Every day since we’ve been in Belgium, our alarm has gone off at 7am, which is 10pm California time. Next Tuesday, we will filter the beer, and Wednesday and Thursday, we will bottle and brew.
I look forward to visiting Brussels, and other larger towns this weekend. Peter and I plan on visiting some Belgian breweries to taste some other Belgian beers. I also plan on indulging in some Belgian chocolate and moules-frites.
I almost forgot... Today we received a visit from a journalist at the local Belgium Newspaper, LaMeuse, who had heard that there are Californian brewers interning at Brasserie de Marsinne and wanted to take pictures of us! We posed for several pictures with the entire brewery team in front of the brewing system. Stay tuned for the article and pictures!
Cheers to the weekend.