Drake’s Dealership ups the ante for Bay beergardens

No disrespect to the other great outdoor drinking spots in Oakland and the rest of the Bay Area — and there are many. But Drake’s Dealership may be the new standard for what we think of when we say “beergarden.”

I was invited to a media/friends preview, so my experience was colored by knowing a lot of people there and not having to pay. It’s notable, though, that a bunch of jaded beer insiders were still impressed. I heard a lot of “this really is beautiful” and “I can see why this took them so long” and “I didn’t know it would be this BIG.” When the sun set I think the collected group might have made Instagram explode.

Just another crappy day in the Bay Area

Just another crappy day in the Bay Area

The space, the parts and service department of an old Dodge dealership (hence the name) seats hundreds but will probably still be crowded a lot of the time. In contrast to the vibe at Drake’s brewery, which they proudly call “more gritty than pretty,” this is a spot for the hip Oakland of now. Which means some people may find it too cool for regular consumption, but even those people have occasional out-of-town guests to impress, right? And if your friends love beer, you can be sure you will be invited to gatherings here. A lot.


Don’t call it a brewpub (no beer is brewed onsite) but this is very much a beer destination and not just another pretty face. The early days featured all Drake’s beers, but in the future the 32 taps will include guest breweries. The following Drake’s beers are intended to be on tap year-round, forming a crowd-pleasing base for an otherwise rotating taplist: Oaklander Weisse, Hella Helles, Hefe, Blonde, Amber, Red Eye, 1500 pale, IPA, 7×70 IPA, Denogginizer double IPA, Nitro Stout, Black Robusto porter, and Drakonic imperial stout. Beers are a reasonable $6 for 20 oz or 12 ounce glasses, depending on style and strength, and 4 ounce pours are available for $2. And yes, they fill growlers (starting next week), as well as selling six-packs and bombers of bottled beers.


Like the beer list, the food menu covers many bases…burgers, salads, fries, snacks, and some really tasty wood-oven pizza. Mains are mostly in that moderate $10-14 price range the Bay Area does so well, though the duck leg confit sounds worth every bit of its $18.


Drake’s Dealership is at 2325 Broadway in Oakland, a short walk from 19th Street BART, at the back left of the massive new Hive complex. What do you mean you haven’t been there yet? Get going! Bring the kids, bring the dogs (outside only), hell, bring your gluten-free friend for wine on tap. You can follow the Dealership on Facebook.


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Beer, equality, and a lot of rainbows

Yesterday was a good day for Americans who are not homophobes. I’m only 40, but that’s old enough to look at companies officially celebrating gay rights and think “times have changed” (for the better, of course). Yeah, you could get all cynical about brands “using” a historic civil rights moment…but the people *I* know who do beer social media were just as happy yesterday as anyone else.

Here are some highlights, gathered from Facebook.





Hog’s Apothecary updated its cover photo…


Rosemunde adjusted its logo…


Linden Street Brewery shared this image from Oaklandish


And a bonus picture of Fieldwork’s Alex and Marcela in their pride month t-shirts. Some proceeds from the shirts and Fieldwork’s ginger IPA Oakland Pride released earlier this month went to OurSpace, the East Bay community center for LGBTQ youth.



Happy Pride, Bay Area!

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Keep an eye on Fieldwork Brewing

I’m late on this one — not just because the beers have been pouring since February, but because I like putting my next-big-brewery predictions in writing early. Here it is: get excited about Fieldwork Brewing in Berkeley.

handy-dandy beer book with all the technical details in it. Almost as tasty as the beers!

handy-dandy beer book with all the technical details in it. Almost as tasty as the beers!

It’s possible you’re already psyched on at least one of their beers that have been rotating through the Bay Area for the last few months. I work at three bars, and I’ve watched Fieldwork beers like Canopy pale ale, Chocolate Milk Brown, and Farmhouse Wheat go pretty fast. And then there are those great IPAs…

Before Fieldwork, founder Barry Braden co-owned a restaurant in San Diego with a good beer list and frequent events. You may know head brewer Alex Tweet, formerly of Ballast Point and Modern Times, as the guy who put grapefruit in your Sculpin. His professional brewing career started when Ballast Point invited him over to brew a commercial-sized batch of his homebrew Indra Kunindra, a stout with cumin, curry, cayenne, coconut, and kaffir lime leaf that tasted way better than I just made it sound.

I sent Barry some questions and it turned out to be one of those email exchanges you can publish almost as-is. (West Berkeley brewery people seem to be good like that.) Thanks Barry for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this!

Q. How big is the brewhouse currently? Seems like you’ve got room to expand? 

A. 25 bbl system with 260 bbls of fermentation capacity. We can expand our fermentation capacity to over 700 bbls if people like what we are doing.

obligatory shiny-new-tanks photo

obligatory shiny-new-tanks photo

Q. What brought you north to the Bay Area in general and Berkeley in particular? 

A. I grew up in the East Bay and wanted to move back to the area since my family are all here. We looked at buildings all over the East Bay, but kept coming back to this building in Berkeley. The city is ground zero for all things “local” and we were just very excited to locate the brewery in Berkeley. Our building is in an up and coming part of West Berkeley and it was affordable at the time for what we wanted to do. The city has gone above and beyond to welcome us, and we have had tremendous support at all levels of city government.

Q. Are you eventually going to settle into a flagship or some year-round brews, or will things always rotate?

A. The plan is for a little bit of both. I think variety is what people can expect from us for a while. The rotation at the moment is simply driven by what’s going on in the hop market. Our big hop contracts begin in 2015 (for 2016 delivery), so we are working with what we were able to contract for 2014. We are unable to make the same hoppy beer all the time, however, we can rotate hoppy beers through the rest of the year and bring back favorites. For example, batch two of Burning Daylight IPA will be released next week and batch two of Chisel IPA is being brewed next month. We expect Farmhouse Wheat and Morning Time Breakfast Stout to be year-round beers and we may get there with Chocolate Milk Brown based on the response to this brew. 

Q. Can you tell me more about your plans for wild/funky/sour beers? 

A. We are brewing some “tart” beers this month and are ramping up the sour program. It will be an ancillary part of the brewery and beer lineup, and we are very excited about it. Alex is passionate about these styles and I can wait to taste the results.

Q. You recently expanded the hours at the taproom. Any other changes in the works?

A. It’s a great question. People seem to be enjoying the beers and the brewery is growing quickly. It’s everything we can do to keep up with the pace at the moment. We are going to keep our nose to the grindstone and concentrate on getting more beer out to people here in our own backyard and see where the winds take us.

[Finally, I made a dumb joke about “rock star brewers” and asked if he could tell us more about the Fieldwork team other than Alex, who’s already gotten a lot of media attention. Little did I know…]

A. We have been fortunate to attract some amazing individuals to the company. Mark Maigaard is leading sales in the East Bay for us. He literally was a “rock star”– seriously, look him up :-). Josh Olenberg-Meltzer spent the past couple of years as a brewer at New Helvetia in Sacramento before moving down here to join us. He has proven to be an excellent complement to Alex. We knew our Taproom Manager, Finn Parker, from San Diego and we were ecstatic when he told us he and his spouse were looking to move up here. He has been glue for us these past few months since opening. Brian Fulk — well, you know Brian Fulk [yep, old friend from my homebrew club] — serious, but funny guy. Knows beer and brews beer. A really great representative and leader in the Taproom. Our Taproom team of Brian, Marcella and the two Matts are first class individuals who are passionate about beer and it shows in their interactions with our guests. It really is an amazing team for such a young company.

Doesn’t that make you want to go to the taproom if you haven’t already? I thought so.

The Fieldwork taproom boldly (for America) has no TVs, which is right up my alley. Instead it offers board games and occasional live music. You can stand up at the bar or sit down at a table inside or outside. Food options are currently large soft pretzels and meat pies. Beers are available in full pours, half pours, and sample size, and they fill growlers — bring a clean, logo-obscured 64- or 32-ounce growler or buy one there. The brewery is kid- and dog-friendly, and maybe if you’re lucky you can meet Barry’s dog Hannah while you’re there.  

Fieldwork Brewing is located at 1160 6th Street in Berkeley, at the corner of 6th and Harrison. Hours are 4-9pm Monday and Tuesday, noon-9pm Wednesday and Thursday, noon-10pm Friday and Saturday, and noon-8pm Sunday. It’s not the greatest trip for BARTers but it’s convenient by AC Transit #72 and seems popular with cyclists. Follow Fieldwork on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

good girl...

good girl…

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Rosamunde #5 now open on Telegraph Ave

Remember how excited we all were in 2012 when we first heard that San Francisco sausage institution Rosamunde was coming to Oakland? It landed in Old Oakland and there was great rejoicing, even by vegetarians (seriously, those vegan sausages are solid). Now the sausage ‘n’ beer mini-chain continues to widen its East Bay reach with a new location in Temescal, a neighborhood mysteriously low on good beer options.

Screenshot 2015-05-28 at 11.24.53 AM

A little history: Rosamunde’s first site was its small food-only space next door to beer bar Toronado on Haight Street, which opened back in 1998. Getting a sausage there and bringing it into Toronado is still a classic San Francisco experience.  In early 2010, a second location opened near 24th Street BART in the Mission and this one served beer on-site. A Brooklyn outpost came along in fall 2012, and Oakland’s first Rosamunde opened in January 2013 inside Swan’s Market.

Food at all the locations is similar: tasty, tasty sausage and various toppings. (Example). The atmosphere at this location seems to maximize efficiency, not lingering. Service, as always, is at the counter in an orderly line. You’re reading this blog, though, so here’s what you really care about: an example of the rotating taplist.


Disclosure: a friend of mine buys the beer for all the Rosamundes, but look at that taplist…no bias necessary to think it’s awesome.

This is a pretty great development for Temescal residents who like good beer, as well as providing an affordable, quick meal-out option in an increasingly fancy part of town. I’ll swing by when I’m in the neighborhood. Rosamunde Temescal is at 4659 Telegraph, half a mile from MacArthur BART. It’s in soft-open mode now and the grand opening party is June 11.

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Whole Foods Dublin loves beer

There’s a new Whole Foods opening today in Dublin, and plenty of other writers can tell you about the food options and/or make fish-in-a-barrel jokes about the prices. I’m here to tell you about the beer situation…which, by the way, seems reasonably priced for this area.

Stolen from Whole Foods Dublin's Instagram

This guy knows what day it is. Stolen from Whole Foods Dublin’s Instagram

I got filled in by Whole Foods beer/wine/cheese expert boss type Jared Shoupe (official title: “associate team leader,” which is shorter but not as fun). The new store, in addition to 24 feet of beery retail, will include a taproom called Dublin Vine. It’ll have 12 rotating beer handles, 3 wine taps, and 50 wine bottles available by the glass. You can also buy any beer bottle off the shelf and bring it to the Vine to enjoy with no corkage. “The wine focus is more local than most,” said Jared. “The beer focus is just cool stuff, but a lot of cool stuff is local.” Indeed.

The first time I had some beers at the Whole Foods taproom in San Francisco, I was surprised how little it felt like drinking in a grocery store, and the Dublin set-up also sounds pretty nice. There’ll be outdoor seating with space for 100, a firepit, and a stage for live entertainment. The indoor bar area should fit 64.

And you can eat there because…wait for it…it’s a Whole Foods. The taproom menu actually sounds appealing: salads, wings, cheese and charcuterie plates, pizza, noodle bowls, and sandwiches. I’ve long thought more drinking establishments should offer noodles.

Here’s the opening day taplist:

  • Ale Industries Cherry Kush (Jared, a former Ale Industries bartender, made this the first beer poured through the draft system)
  • Almanac Golden Gate Gose
  • Calicraft Chez Panisse
  • Drake’s Omega Session
  • Faction Anomaly
  • Faction Pilsner
  • Finn River Black Currant Cider
  • Headland Point Bonita lager
  • Mission Creek Off The Rail IPA
  • Mission Creek Punch List pale
  • Oakland Brewing Company Fly Trap
  • Tahoe Mountain Mars Hotel

Dublin Vine is at 5200 Dublin Blvd and will be open from daily from 10am to 10pm. If you’re coming from out of town to do a Dublin beer day, note that Whole Foods Dublin is walking distance from BART and quite close to 580. You can follow it on Facebook or Instagram.


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State of the blog 2015

For a blog called “East Bay Beer,” I’ve certainly done nothing but write about Belgium lately. Sorry.

There are a lot of things going on these days. Breweries and bars are opening too fast for me to keep up. I still haven’t been to Cleophus Quealy, for god’s sake, and they opened last year! There are several big beer events this weekend and I haven’t written about any of them, and I promise I really meant to. You should go to Fieldwork’s grand opening and/or Triple Rock Firkin Fest today, by the way.

Such a good event, but...couch...

Such a good event, but…couch…

Part of it is that I’m busy. As some of you know, I have bartending/serving shifts every week at Albany Taproom and I’ve also started running all the beer stuff (I hate the phrase “beer program”) at the CommonWealth pubs. It’s exciting times to be in charge of the beer list for a pub everyone loves and a brand new one that’s starting to get attention. Ordering beer for a living (and complaining when the order is screwed up or the keg is broken or or or…) is actually more complicated than it sounds, and new responsibilities at work always throw me for a loop for a while because I like feeling like I already know everything 😉 Plus I live in Richmond, and the price I pay for bargain housing is a bad commute to everywhere south of, say, El Cerrito.

Gratuitous picture of Micropub food stolen from Stephen Loewinsohn of the East Bay Express

Gratuitous picture of Micropub food stolen from Stephen Loewinsohn of the East Bay Express

So right now, a lot of my beer drinking is tasting small quantities at one of three bars I work at. When I get a day off the last thing I want to do is hit a bar or a brewery tasting room. This is probably how most beer blogs die: bloggers start off all gung ho, then get industry jobs and drop the ball.

But! I do have time to do this! I don’t have kids and my house doesn’t need *that* much work. I mean yeah, I work 6 shifts a week, but I seem to have plenty of time to watch Inside Amy Schumer and look at Facebook. I just need to spend more time doing this blog thing I actually do enjoy when I get A Round Tuit. So I think I’m going to go over to shorter format pieces for a bit, dropping in on various drinking spots in the East Bay both old/taken-for-granted and new/shiny. I will also try to finish some projects I started, mostly beer history I don’t feel qualified to do (but no one else is doing it).

To reward your patience, my 8 loyal readers, here is a hilarious picture of me from the year I started writing about beer. I’ve been doing this too long to stop now!

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The pleasant surprise: Ghent

When I was in Belgium 14 years ago, I only spent an afternoon in Ghent. Mistake. This time, our group chose Ghent mainly as a convenient base for excursions to West Flanders, but everyone wound up loving it on its own merits. There’s no bragging-rights breweries or world famous bars here, but there were also no real clunkers. It’s a place with a good local flavor, and man is it pretty.



Ghent really loves its food and drink. It’s a student town and on weekends the streets are lively until quite late, but not in a rowdy American frathouse way. I’d hazard a guess you wouldn’t go too wrong choosing watering holes at random, but here’s what I did:

Oudberg: This is restaurant/cafe street beloved by both tourists and locals. If you continue up the street and a bit to the right, it becomes Sleepstraat, the main Turkish street in town. Non-beer note: I eat so many Turkish kebabs whenever I’m in Europe it’s ridiculous, and if you need vegetarian food the Turks have your back on that, too.

Aba Jour: My husband and I broke off from the group one night and had date night at Aba Jour on Oudberg, where the food was a little splurgey but delicious — beef stew in Rodenbach and Westmalle Dubbel, are you kidding me? The bartender was also our table server and he was happy to talk beer with us. Based on my choice of Ellezelloise Quintine, he confirmed that I liked bitter beers (though Quintine isn’t what a Californian would call bitter) then recommended a new beer, L’Arogante, for my second. At 45 IBUs and fresh, I think this was the hoppiest beer I had in Belgium. Good stuff, nice place, cool staff…if they’d been open later I would have returned the next night.

I'm going to be a witch riding a mash paddle next Halloween

I’m going to be a witch riding a mash paddle next Halloween

‘t Velootje: Also on Oudberg, I tried to go to Velootje (the bicycle bar) but it was jam packed to the point we could barely get in, let alone make it to the bar. My friends had better luck later in the night. They said they were greeted at the door by a man who looked like Santa Claus and jokingly asked them if they were the police before letting them in.

What's the secret handshake?

What’s the secret handshake?

Brouwerj Gruut: Just south of the center, the one brewery within Ghent city limits is an odd duck in that it makes only gruits. You may not be blown away by them amid all the other world class beers at your disposal, but flights are available so you can try them with minimal commitment. My husband, who’s homebrewed some good gruit in his time, was enamored of the brown, while I preferred the golden strong. If any strike your fancy, bottles are easily found in local grocery stores. The location of this brewery, like most things we saw in Ghent, was fairly central. Ask your server about the giant mural on the wall — the shirtless guy is supposed to be the mayor.

Dulle Griet: It’s on a main square and there’s a gimmick — no, you won’t be the only tourist in here. The gimmick is that the house beer only comes in a large, outlandish glass that is ostensibly so irresistible to thieves the server takes one of your shoes as a deposit then sends the basket of shoes up out of reach with a flourish.

Shoe basket! So whimsical! Okay, it's kinda cute. Photo by Betsey.

Shoe basket! So whimsical! Okay, it’s kinda cute. Photo by Betsey.

Trollekelder: Another one of those delightful traditional basement-y pubs that seems like it hasn’t been dusted in 100 years. Trying to find your way to the restroom and back from the basement serves as a de facto field sobriety test.

Waterhuis an de Bierkant: Partially pictured in the first photo in this post, it’s in the middle of everything and practically obligatory. A few house beers, including one they steer the “ladies” towards (sigh). There’s a sister restaurant next door where things got a little silly…

De Planck: This bar is a canal boat. They could serve Natty Lite and people would still go. Fortunately, there’s good beer on the boat. It’s located outside the tourist area so you’ll be more likely to see, you know, actual Belgian people and stuff. It’s a nice enough walk that will help you justify a beer or two.

Brouwzaele: Now that you’ve had beer on a boat, you are a stone’s throw away from another good watering hole. Dig the bar made out of a huge copper brew kettle!

Hot Club de Gande: A jazz club, not a beer bar, though the beers on offer were just fine. And by “just fine,” I mean “you’d be stoked to see these and pay at least twice in any jazz club at home.” Unless you hate music AND beer you should probably come here. 16588445829_ea69392e22_z That one brown cafe that’s in none of the books or blogs: I had mine and you will have yours. The locals are there. They will all look at you when you enter. Some of them will be drinking a lowest-common-denominator like Stella and just as many will be drinking, say, Duvel. It’s dark and the music isn’t the worst pop music in history as it is in so many European bars. Drink your Duvel or whatever and wonder what it would take to sell your house and move to Belgium. Thanks, Ghent. Til next time…16587041818_1de8850732_z

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Antwerp: old buildings, old beers, and getting old(er)

I’d never been to Antwerp before and all I knew about it was diamonds, Jews, and the renowned beer bar Kulminator. Well, the diamond thing is pretty low key to the casual observer (I saw a few stores by the train station) and for all I knew I was the only Jew in town. Kulminator really is one of a kind, though. More on them later.

Antwerp is less hectic than Brussels but still a big city with a lot going on and some seriously beautiful old buildings and tricky cobblestone streets. Even the train station is attractive.

BART stations do not look like this

BART stations do not look like this

I know this is a beer blog, but look at this crappy cell phone photo with no processing. It’s hard to take a bad picture in Antwerp.

Not pictured: tourist boys climbing the statue the next day trying to cop a feel

Not pictured: tourist boys climbing the statue the next day trying to cop a feel

Anyway, on to the bars.

Paters Vaetje. We missed a few bars due to Belgium’s notoriously loose definition of “posted business hours” — one bar we failed to go to actually listed its closing time as “???” — but  Paters Vaetje was there for us every single night until late. The first time we wandered in, we met a Belgian guy who used to live in California. We went the next two nights upon two different bars we wanted to visit being closed. It was worth it every time, with its nice staff, central location, and solid beer list. Nothing but good times.

Paters Vaetje, near the big church and with its own stained glass

Paters Vaetje, near the big church and with its own stained glass

Gollem: The Antwerp outpost of a popular mini-chain of bars in the Netherlands, but with its own character. Another bar conveniently located right off the main square, with food and a blackboard helpfully identifying beers from Antwerp. They have a contract-brewed house IPA called Precious. Groan. Also one of the many places in town to have a “bolleke” of De Koninck, which manages to be the most popular beer in town without being a sad pilsner. Hooray!

Local beer, Antwerp style

Local beer, Antwerp style

Bier Central: Conveniently located by the train station with a good selection at very fair prices. I sucked down one more Cantillon bottle than I should have because I felt like I couldn’t afford not to. The bartenders, at least on the night we were there, were douchey even by San Francisco standards. If you don’t like tourists, maybe don’t work at a bar next to the train station?

Oud Arsenaal: I was told I’d like this place because I like old man bars. Guilty as charged. The difference is, old man bars at home don’t have Rodenbach on tap. This is near the Rubens House (culture) and Kulminator (beer culture?) The restaurant next door fed us well before our visit here, even if the peas blended into my mashed potatoes made for a visual surprise.

That's right, the cow cheeks weren't the most confusing part of this meal for me

That’s right, the cow cheeks weren’t the most confusing part of this meal for me

Kulminator: The one of a kind time capsule, both literally (the beer cellar) and figuratively (classical music and an overall old-time vibe). The husband and wife team here have been upping Antwerp’s beer ante since 1974. Here’s what The Good Beer Guide To Belgium and Holland had to say:

“…This is the edge of the old town but it well worth locating for this elegant cafe and its superb collection of beers, Antwerp’s essential visit … The range of beers tops 500, which is huge even by Belgian standards … Try the interesting range of over 200 vintage ales, up to 10 years old. … Rumors that [owner] Dirk’s mustache hides a beaming smile are without foundation.”

That’s from the edition of that book published in 1994. Not a thing has changed, except that the selection is even bigger now. Click here for some history.

It's Kulminator. Like it or don't. You probably will though.

It’s Kulminator. Like it or don’t. You probably will though.

I’m not as into aged beers as many beer nerds, so I thought Kulminator’s cellar might be lost on me. I ordered mostly draught beers (some of which were still several years old), but fortunately a few people in my group were bolder. I got to sample a bone dry Pannepot Grande Reserve from 2006 and an aged Orval that bore no resemblance to Orval, among others. On our last night in town, my husband had the owners unearth this bad boy from 2007:

Coffinesque bottle boxes are one of Belgium's many odd charms

Coffinesque bottle boxes are one of Belgium’s many odd charms

My only complaint about Kulminator is that the bar cats wanted nothing to do with me. What an eccentric, wonderful place.

Don't ask what's going on with the decor. Just appreciate it and keep drinking.

Don’t ask what’s going on with the decor. Just appreciate it and keep drinking.

Also in Antwerp, we found our way into a genever bar, which was fun and educational but probably not the smartest move :) There’s quite a variety to Belgium’s national spirit, but I only have one liver to give for my country. It was refreshing to taste a liquid other than beer and lukewarm hotel-sink tap water, though.

Finally, selfishly speaking, Antwerp is where I turned 40. This was my first beer of my birthday, and a fine one it was. Cheers.

Yet another beer that's no damn good after 6000 miles of travel. Maybe in another 40 years I'll have another one.

Yet another beer that’s no damn good after 6000 miles of travel. Maybe in another 40 years I’ll have another one.

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Day trips: Malle (Westmalle) and Mechelen (Het Anker)

The small city of Mechelen is about halfway between Brussels and Antwerp and a relatively easy and quick train ride. Unlike Brussels, Mechelen (population 82,000 or so) actually seems to want you to visit. Signage is good and the city center is easy to reach on foot from either train station. It’s another one of those places with an attractive town square that turns you into a camera-happy tourist whether you’re normally into architecture or not.

If you’re here for beer, Mechelen’s home brewery is Het Anker. You’ll find a cafe in the city center, another on brewery grounds, a distillery, gift shop (of course), and even a brewery hotel. If you want an official tour of the brewery or the distillery, contact them in advance for a reservation. We didn’t bother, but still enjoyed an afternoon in this pleasant town drinking fresh Gouden Carolus beers. Mechelen is where I crossed one of the more adventurous foods off my Belgian to-do list, filet americain, seen here in the form of “toast kannibaal.” Sorry, vegetarians.

Both cafes were pleasant but I’ll give the edge to the one adjacent to the brewery despite the less convenient location. Visiting both allows you a head-clearing walk between beer sessions, which is almost always a good idea.

The bar at Het Anker's brasserie, adjacent to the brewery. Photo by Rick.

The bar at Het Anker’s brasserie, adjacent to the brewery. Photo by Rick.

Belgian beer fans from the US will recognize some of the beers on offer: Lucifer,  Cuvee van de keizer blauw (and rood), Hopsinjoor. By going to the source, you’ll also find a few interesting things that rarely or never make it onto a trans-Atlantic boat, like the Gouden Carolus Classic (yum) and Ambrio. I had no idea Het Anker made a bock!

German beer adrift in the land of Belgians...plus a cute goat

German beer adrift in the land of Belgians…plus a cute goat. Photo by Ann.

Fans of drinking local might kick things off with a Maneblusser, an easy drinking blonde with enough flavor to keep things interesting. It’s 6.2%, which starts to feel very low after a few days of Belgian classics. From the Het Anker website:

The inspiration for this brew originates in the night of January 27th in the year 1687. The moon projected its reddish glow on Saint Rumbold’s tower, which was wrapped in a dense fog. “Fire, fire, the tower is on fire!” shouts the dreary voice of a drunken man. The alarm was sounded and people were making haste to help extinguish the so-called fire. Before the tower was reached, the moon slowly moved through the fog. From that moment on, the Mechelenians are called the Maneblussers or “Moonextinguishers”.

There are a few other cafes in town where you can sample the local goods. We hit Afspraak on the way back to Antwerp. It’s very near one of the train stations in town and has food. If you enjoy Het Anker beers — and I’m not sure why you wouldn’t — I recommend Mechelen as a nice break from the hustle and bustle of Belgium’s bigger cities.

Small pours + decent prices = trying lots of beer!

Small pours + decent prices = trying lots of beer!

Pilgrimage to Westmalle

If you don’t love Westmalle, what are you doing in Belgium? Right? So we had to take the bus out to the small town of Malle (two syllables) to pay our respects. It’s a reasonably short bus ride from central Antwerp and you can buy your 3 Euro ticket on the bus. Groups may or may not get a fare break depending on the driver’s disposition. The bus stops literally in front of the brewery and cafe, so this is a good excursion for that day when you’re tired of walking everywhere. Judging by the umpteen Westmalle-branded bike racks out front, this is also a popular cycling destination.

Visitors may walk around the brewery/abbey grounds, but the monks have better things to do than entertain you, so your drinking will be done across the street at the Cafe Trappisten.

They're brewing back there...somewhere...

They’re brewing back there…somewhere…

If you’re expecting old world charm, guess again. The place is shiny and modern, and at 40 I was the youngest person in the place. Odd. Don’t come for character, do come for Westmalle Dubbel (2.90-3.30 Euros, draft) and Tripel (3.60 Euros, 33 cl bottle). What else do you need in life? There’s also a half-and-half blend of the two (3.60 Euros), which I’m glad I tried but seemed like less than the sum of its parts. There are meals, snacks, and oh yes, piles of Trappist cheese.

As Anthony Bourdain would say, this does not suck

I’m 100% glad I went, and depending on your reverence for Westmalle beers you might want to go too, but it was also refreshing to get back to the more colorful and characterful bars of Antwerp afterwards.

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Day trips from West Flanders

Safely mixing beer tasting and driving is tricky, but if someone in your group is willing to stick to small portions, it opens up some interesting possibilities in the West Flanders countryside. You might want to base yourself in a rural town for a day or more, since driving and parking in Ghent was a motherfucker and it’s probably just as bad in any other city.  You can also do some stops fairly easily by train and bike, or with a lot of walking. Don’t rely on small towns to have cabs, but don’t rule out the harder-to-reach breweries just for the sake of convenience either. There are so many places to go in West Flanders we could only scratch the surface, but you could do a lot worse than to hit these three places if you can.

Obligatory trip to Westvleteren, sort of

Many people have visions of driving to the St. Sixtus abbey to pick up a case of Westvleteren, but you won’t be shocked to hear this is difficult in 2015. A quick google gives you tales of making hundreds of attempts to call the hotline to make a reservation to come in at a certain hour…nope. In the end they’re monks, not capitalists, and they’re overwhelmed. What you can do is have lunch and some beers at In De Vrede, the delightful little tourist trap across the street from the brewery, which has a gift shop where you can buy a six-pack if you’re there at the right random time. We weren’t. That’s okay.

It's real and it's spectacular

It’s real and it’s spectacular

You’ll still be able to enjoy fresh glasses of Westy blonde, 8, and Hype Juice (I mean “12.”) I enjoyed my lunch, some of each beer, tastes of cheese and ice cream (!) made with the beer, and an amusing hustler of a waiter who flirted with one of our friends a little when her husband was there and a lot when he wasn’t. It just feels good to drink the most overhyped beer(s) in the world for prices in the neighborhood of five bucks. And yes, they’re exceptional. I said overhyped, not overrated.

Eclectic beers at the perfect size at De Struise

De Struise makes some great beers, like my beloved Pannepot. They also make some weird beers. And some of their great beers are a bit on the intense side (Black Albert, Cuvee Delphine…). So how wonderful is it that (at least on the day I was visiting) they offered 8cl  (3 ⅓ oz) glasses of beer for a Euro? It’s a great way to taste a lot of beer while not getting too much of the strong stuff. At those sizes, drivers can have a little fun too and cyclists won’t wreck their bikes.

I'm crushing your head 8 cl at a time!

I’m crushing your head 8 cl at a time!

As it turns out, my favorite of this visit was restrained by De Struise standards: the delicious and well balanced oud bruin Sour Tan. I could have drank a lot more than 8 cl of this. I also enjoyed the dark sour Sigma, the hoppy saison Rio Says, and the self-explanatory Expresso Stout.

Outdoor fermenters and barrels at De Struise

Outdoor (!) fermenters and barrels at De Struise

As a bonus, if you buy beer to take home, they throw in a 750 ml bottle that is only available as a “free sample” with a bottle purchase. Nice!

Nano hop farm at De Struise

Nano hop farm at De Struise

We want to be friends with De Dolle now

Service all over Europe can be brusque by American standards — no one relies on your tips to make a decent living, so no one needs to wear a fake grin and kiss your butt. However, you can tell some servers in Belgium really like what they do for a living. Els, the wife of De De Dolle owner/brewer Kris, is one of those bartenders. (I hear his 96-year-old mother still gives tours, too, but she wasn’t there this time. What a neat family!)

We happened to show up at De Dolle the day they released their Easter beer, Boskeun. We’d all had this beer in bottles in the US and found it pretty good, but fresh it was simply incredible, one of the standouts of the trip (even next to Oerbier Reserva 2012, which on a normal day would have been the best beer of my week). The tap handle had an animatronic Energizer bunny attached to it that played drums when the beer was poured. Our friend Betsey wanted to take a video next time someone ordered one, and instead Els offered to let her get behind the bar and pour the beer herself. So fun! It’s one thing when a mediocre beer needs a gimmick, but if you mix a good beer with a fun gimmick with a cheerful barkeep, you’re in business.

Kris was tired after a long day but was also very nice, and seems like an interesting guy. He did all the art in the brewery and all of De Dolle’s labels. Here’s a good article if you’re interested in learning more about Kris, Els, and their brewery. They’re open very limited hours, so plan carefully if you want to make it.

If you lived here you'd be double fisting by now

If you lived here you’d be double fisting by now

Sun sets on our De Dolle beers

Sun sets on our De Dolle beers

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