Lucie Loves... Food & Drink // Are Belgian monks the best beer makers in the world? Probably. Trappist beer night gives five more very strong reasons to love Belgian Beer.
The Beer Merchant Tap is one of those venues in which beer lovers, upon entering, breathe a giddy sigh of relief as they head to the bar. This place means business. With a massive array of taps, even more bottles, and absolutely zero gimmicks it is, quite frankly, a boozer’s paradise.
Into this arena stepped Ales Tales. A small Belgian beer company started by a passionate banker (yes banker).
Stupidly, thinking we are waiting in the main bar to get started, I order a pint of lager while I wait, only to be whisked through into the charming dining room about 12 seconds later. So I enter late, with what everyone probably assumes is a pint of Carling, and sit down awkwardly. My mate still hasn’t turned up and as I neck my lovely pint of Longboard, willing for this carbonated evidence to disappear before someone catches me, I convince myself that the charming staff don’t actually think there IS a mate.
We are given some amazing Saison beer to start with. Mercifully, Laura turns up as I am smashing my way into one of these bad boys and we start trying to listen to what other people are saying about it. We both mumble some comments about hops and citrus and then our night begins…
After a brief synopsis by Ales Tales head honcho, we are introduced to Jef Van Den Steen. Wiry, crazy eyed, and looking like a sprightly Gandalf, Jeff holds the room in the palm of his hand as we chow down one of three Belgian cheeses sat in front of us.
Jef doesn’t so much take us on a whistle-stop tour of Belgian Trappist beer, as a non-stop sprint through everything good and boozy about those blessed monks. Six bottles of beer, we are told, are on the menu tonight. Despite having had the pleasure of visiting Belgium on a number of occasions, for some reason I still forget the Golden Rule of drinking Belgian Beer: It Is Much Stronger Than You Are Used To So Don’t Drink Them Like You Are Necking Carling.
Jef talks us through the fascinating origins of Trappist beers starting with the 4.8% Westmalle, a hoppy, refreshing number that hits the spot as we enjoy a historical yomp through the Trappist abbeys of Belgium via provincial France. By the time we reach the Achel brewery (with a significantly more heady Achel blond), Jef is gesticulating wildly, knocking back his beloved beer, and orating with the eloquence of an ale fuelled Daniel Day-Lewis. By the time we reach Westleverten XII (which I think was about 11%) I am fairly certain everyone in the room was definitely moving to Belgium.
The cheese, a Chimay grand classic, and an Orval, Rochefort tradition, provided a lovely gastronomic break during copious quaffing sessions. In fact, coupled with the artisan bread, it was probably the single reason we didn’t all end up seeing 14 Jef Van Den Steens instead of just two.
As the evening wound down, you could hear a pin drop as Captain Jef expertly landed our aleplane (sorry) onto the landing strip with a few bottles of his entrancing Saisons thrown in for good measure. He signed off with a pleasant speech about how Belgian beer will ALWAYS be superior to English. And not one person in the room disagreed.
Like a pair of Beatles fans circa 67, we approached the man himself afterwards, who regaled us with further tales that the Ales Tales Beer Festival would probably not officially advise us to encourage. Needless to say, if you ever get a chance to meet this legend make sure you A: Buy him a drink and B: Try and speak to him. We left as he entered the main bar and started chatting effortlessly with a pair of hipster guys who were drinking, as he informed them, the wrong type of beer. They didn’t disagree either.
The Ales Tales Beer Festival is on June 1st and 2nd 2018. Tickets are available at alestales.com
By Lee Gant