RateBeer Weekly Magazine > Beer Travels
A Letter From Belgium
A NON-REGULAR FESTIVAL, PART 2
July 22, 2004
Once more, it was the mulier (I love her) who suggested I’d search the Webb bible for more options, as it was only just 1.30 PM, and still half a Saturday to go. I came up with two distinct directions, and five pubs. One was made by the two La Roche entries, further Southeast. The other was back Northwest, towards Huy (that’s the province of Ličge) and a place called Moulin de Kevret, in Coutisse, province de Namur (isn’t Belgium lovely tiny?). Huy was the farthest out (36 km on the road), but we opted for that, as the Moulin thing wasn’t going to open before 6PM anyway, despite sounding the best by far; and in a larger town, there’s more refuge from the waters from Heaven.
Trying to maintain an open-mind-profile, as well as a cultural one, instead of pointing towards the next boozer, I suggested a visit to the Collégiale Notre-Dame first. To ruffle my feathers, this was met by less than enthusiasm. Yet, and, Mr. Webb, please note, this awesome Gothic church is the only decent reason to include Huy in any guide. The rest of this town is a dump.
Especially the “Big Ben” pub, which owes its entry in the guide to an effectively long beerlist, but can be alternatively proud on having the filthiest toilet I’ve ever witnessed in Belgium. Of course, all three kids had to go there, several times over… On top of that, my first choice in beer was abysmal (Pink Killer (!) from de Silly), and the second not much better. The latter was an obscure label-beer, “La Noisette d’ Andenne” (which is a name for a dried Ardennes’ ham speciality) and seems to have been brewed by Mibrana, once. It’s classified as “retired”, but I wonder… The food ordered by the kids was, again, abysmal – pancakes burnt to a crisp cinder, ready for instant cancer upon consumption. We really didn’t push the little guy to eat up.
We searched for another place, with clean(er) toilets. My wife came up with a coffee-and-tea room (I hadn’t the heart to argue!). I thought the tea bad, but the kids loved the milkshakes. The toilets were not that much better than in the last place (I can’t imagine less, unless in a French camping site, or in a Greek island kafeneion). Anyway, to cut an already long story short, we fled Huy. And that proved to be the best decision taken that day.
Though it didn’t lead us directly back towards Hotton, the Coutisse entry isn’t all that far from Huy. Tim Webb writes (I retranslate)“ once found, you’ll let it under your skin”. He has no idea how much that applied to us. OK – it had an unfair advantage (several, but I’ll pass). Even when arriving under the last drops of a drizzle, the skies were definitely clearing (for the remainder of the day, actually, but how were we to know?). Everything looks better under the sun. Second, it has a spectacular setting: the whitewashed building is an age-old watermill, in a beautifully secluded vale, and if the houseanchors are to be believed, it has been there since 1441. I thought Europeans were busy trying to find a way to the Indies in those days…
We arrived a full hour before it was supposed to open, but after walking around for two minutes, somebody made her exit there, and immediately opened up again for us, going out of her way in getting me a beer. “Our choice is presently bearing the largest gap ever witnessed”, she told me whilst I made my choice. Usually, that’s the standard lie I immediately detect. Here, I was already prone to believe them on their word. For good reasons.
When entering, I enquired in my best possible French (as Mr. Daniel Shelton made abundantly clear elsewhere, very shaky), but my son Joren, not hindered by notions concerning linguistic barriers, enthusiastically delivered some comments in his own language to the lady-owner. On which she replied in flawless Dutch, i.e. with a dialect not unlike his own… She made us feel welcome, and though she was obviously itching to get out (and collect her own son from the municipal swimming pool), she had us all settled first – in Dutch from now on.
Dutifully (for Ratebeer), I tried the two Ciney beers (rather awful concoctions, these days by Alken-Maes – read Jumet – and unbelievably – seen their lacklustre qualities – popular in Wallonia, rather rare in Flanders). And then the 8-year old son came in, made friends with our lads, some other guests arrived, and then we learned… We learned that Annemie and Stan (who would make his appearance from his roofing job – in Gent!! – another full hour later) were less than the perfect strangers we’d taken them for. Those familiar with Gent, will catch on, all you others bear with me for an instant.
Years ago, Stan and Annemie opened in Gent, a by now legendary shop-pub-restaurant in ‘t Patershol , the most authentic heart-of-old-Gent area (opposite the water seen from Waterhuis aan de Bierkant). The toko (De Vier Windstreken), was the first place where exotic vegetables and fruits, real curries, etc., could be purchased in Gent – but also rare Flemish beers as Jawadde (defunct). The restaurant (De Vier Tafels) had – sorry, has, under the new owners – a superb choice of dishes from anywhere on this earth: African, Thai, Carribean, etc., and also Flemish – here I went a few times for “waterrabbit in gueuze” – that’s muskrat to you – until the mentally retarded from the Belgian FDA-equivalent formally forbade this (officially not-controlled origin, thus potentially hazardous food, read: can’t levy taxes enough).
Both Lut & myself loved the restaurant, so when Annemie explained they only offered “table d’hôte”, no menu available, we didn’t hesitate a second, and went for it. We were well-rewarded: a superb starter consisting of a near-unlimited supply of gorgeous light-smoked salmon and grey North Sea shrimp, with a homemade salad defying concurrence; a freshly made oseille (sorrel) soup; and chicken moambe (with palmnut oil) as main course; and Walloon-type sugar-pie and/or blueberry pie to finish, all in monstrous quantities.
We parents were happy, and if one of our children was less than perfectly happy – it was because Joren had managed to fall headlong, fully clothed, in an unheated pool at the side of the house. He was drying in the (meantime warm) late afternoon sun, wrapped in blankets. The other children bubbled with mirth, as the hosts’ son supplied them with lots of unexplored toys, kittens, sheep and we them with good food (the children had their own menu). And for the first time, mum & dad were not shouting them to keep quiet, sit still, don’t run, etc.
We really made friends with the owners on the spot, and by the time we left, we were on first name terms with ALL the guests. I had left ratings, and was drowning Orval instead, while Stan was matching me glass for glass with red and blue Chimay. We will go back to Moulin de Kevret, but for now we drove ‘home’ a bit reluctantly, for the Festival des Bičres the next day. BTW, the beer supply at MdK hails from Dranken Geers at Oostakker, a place with an exciting choice – but restocking only happens when Stan drives there with the van – hence I believed them about the stock having run out.
Sunday started, if possible, even greyer and wetter than Saturday. As the festival started at 11.00 AM only (in practice, even half an hour later), I found myself for the second time in as many days in a tea-room (help!). The weather was just too awful for the kids, and the little island in the Ourthe river, where the breweries set up shop, was turning into mudflats in places. But to me it couldn’t go wrong anymore, as Dany quickly pointed out the booth to me, where, indeed, Tigertops were installing their pumps. Well – 1 true-to-God handpump (for an I.P.A.), and one double keg tap, for a witbier, Belgian style. I might be CAMRA-member (and by far prefer cask), I’m not allergic to keg as the fundamentalists, and, as it turned out, their wit was probably the best wit available on the festival. Still – compared to what is listed under Tigertops on the “Beermad” website, a third beer, (from a handpump), might have been not superfluous luxury.
Then again, it ought to get sold. And the organisers were despairing about the weather conditions. One could easily imagine a double, even higher, attendance if Tlaloc would have been more clement. I thought to start at the Gigi booth, a brewery, virtually exclusively brewing tafelbier/bičre de table (=traditional low-alcohol Belgian style), but in a superb way; but Dany preceded me by offering me kindly one of his creations; “Pissenlit”, the dandelion beer he’s been making for some time now. I didn’t like this when I first sampled it, because of an overaggressive bitterness from the dandelion flowers, but this time, a more powerful malt base, as well as more subtle spicing had turned the beer into a truly great offering.
BTW, the system worked this way: one bought ones’ tickets (1 Euro each) at the first booth, including the tasting glass at two tickets, and even when the main seated tent (sporting two Fantôme specials from an evil-looking Jupiler tap) served in plastic cups, and the Orval stand had brought their own galopins (small tasting glasses in the traditional Orval form); most booths required this festival glass, a ticket for a tasting. There was an appetising smelling BBQ-ed hot dog stall, demanding two tickets for a roll. People had omitted to fix prices for take-away bottles, however, but I’m running ahead on things. I returned to the Gigi booth, tasting a blond ‘tablebeer’, and purchasing myself a bottle of “Speciale” (1 Euro only), as well as learning that the former Unicbier, rated only a week before, has been retired the last few years.
By then, the handpump was serving, and I had a superb draught I.P.A. In Belgian Luxembourg – beerheaven is getting closer all the time! I needed to convince the Yorkshire brewer however, that, no, my accent isn’t Canadian (I’ve been accused of Australian, South African, Irish, Cockney and other accents, I’m getting the hang of this) and I am born-and-bred Flemish indeed. Their wit, as said, proved quite good – better than Dany’s own wit “Blanche de Soy” at the tent with the seats.
The two taps there turned out the most yeasty-looking beer I ever saw. Well, correct that. I’ve seen yeaststarters quite similar. Mind you, the Hotton festival special “La Gourmande de Hotton” was quite good-tasting, fairly up to usual Fantôme standards. Not so the Blanche, which was a surprisingly bland witbier. Dany P. and blandness, what is this (beer)world coming to!
I then rapidly calculated what else to drink – we had another (beery…) stop planned on the way home. So, in order to get things done more quickly, I decided to buy the two Br. de Bouillon beers, rather than sample them here. I still wonder about that move. First of all, they wouldn’t do it, not knowing if the organisers would allow this. After 15 mins of deliberation, they charged me three tickets. Whilst I happily counted out three tickets, they corrected me: three tickets PER BOTTLE! My fury must have shown on my face (3.6 USD for a simple 33cl bottle – 25 miles from its point of origin, that’s robbery!), so they lowered it on the spot to two tickets, without me having uttered my indignation (yet)!
Both the rain and this proceeding dampened my ardour. A short tasting here and there, and then we left Hotton for the North and the West. Destination: Louvain-la-Neuve and the “Cręperie Bretonne la Mčre Filiou”. Now here’s something strange. Although it finds itself in TW’s GBG, I have never read any comments on this place in any of the forums I participate in. Yet I’m sure this place must fascinate any visitor. The beerlist has been aimed at a good thousand. 500 is more near the mark, but then again, I’ve never asked for something that proved unavailable. I do suspect however that some of their stocks are quite old. I couldn’t corroborate the taste by the fact, as neither of the two French bottles I sampled had any sign of a sell-by date on them.
You might be excused to wonder why both the wife and the kids gracefully accepted another beer-soaked suggestion by me. The reason is in the fact that La Mčre Filiou’s eclecticism doesn’t stop at all at the beers. They have the most enormous list of coffees, tea’s, soft drinks, strong booze, desserts and sandwiches one might wish for. But above and before all, the most unimaginable, unending list of both salt and sweet-filled pancakes I’ve ever witnessed. Literally thousand of possible fillings to choose from. This time around, there was a special Italian style offering (9-10 different fillings), from which I opted for a filling with superb lean lambmeat, dried tomatoes and topping of a quite unusual Italian cheese. In the past, I’ve had pancake (huge portions, always) with pheasant breast, brandy sauce and wild mushrooms… Honesty compels me to tell that what we choose for our daughter (scraps of duck fillet with crabmeat, cashew nuts and cocos) sounded ten times better than the result, which was overflowing with cheap baking oil, and, as quite a number of their fillings, too salt by far, due to a predilection here for fried bacon shreds.
My wife also seriously miscalculated the hunger of our offspring (she pressed waffles and sweet pancakes upon them afterwards), so much that I doubt that the 93 Euros we ended coughing up, were really consumed for half their value! But I’m not complaining, it was well worth looking again for this ever-busy place. The reason, I suppose, that it is not that well known by beergeeks is this: first of all its location, the totally artificial university village of LLN (even when reachable from Ottignies train station) is out of any tourist route; and second, La Mčre Filiou has to share its beergeek appeal with the housebrewery l’ Ambrasse-Temps, literally 50 yards away, less busy, offering dinner service as well, fewer children on the premises, and of course, house brewed beers.
That I didn’t suggest a visit there as well, was not out of goodness of heart towards my long-suffering lawful wedded other, but because I was less than impressed by their Brasse-Temps beers on my first (and so far last) visit there… Can do better. All that just to suggest that when finding yourself in this, relatively beer-poor, neighbourhood, a visit here might prove rewarding, certainly when a little (or better, huge) hunger, might seem a Belgian version of Brittany’s world-famous pancakes rather attractive.
And on the way back to flat-rural Ursel, I thought about sharing my blitz-holiday, richly blessed with water, beer and all things fluid, with you all. I just hope I didn’t bore you to death…
Joris P. Pattyn 12/07/2004
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