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...