Filip Geerts – on RateBeer aliased as Trappistenbier – is making himself increasingly unpopular with my wife. He’s blissfully unaware of this fact, whilst taking care of his interesting “Belgian Beer” website. Here, he has this habit of taking over publications, publicity texts, press releases and such, completely unchanged, and putting these up as postings on the forum, as useful info. It’s here that things went “wrong” recently. He’d posted the definitive list of beers, available at the HBL-festival at Heikant-Berlaar. And there and then, I knew I had to attend. Just imagine – 16 beers untried by me, including 3 by breweries so brand-new that they would be first entries in my own ample register (not talking RB, here).
That decision had two big buts (one t). First, I had to convince my wife there was ample reason and rhyme to let me ol’ self off the leash once more, and do without a husband for yet another day. If it’s not rivals, wives have to worry about the daemon Drink – it’s an unfair world. I’m not going to disclose all the devious reasonings I put upon her (find out for yourself what works best!), let me state I’m pondering to buy her a chador. Weak joke.
The other but was even more painful (even weaker joke). “Heikant” is not a village per se, more a hamlet. There’s a score of “Heikants” in Flanders, and Flanders ain’t large. Let us say that it’s the Hades’ *rshole (my God, again under the belt. Too much drink, obviously) from the Antwerpen province, whilst I myself live in another God forgotten hole in the bush. So: leaving at 11.25 home, 7 km on the bike to the nearest railway station, armed with printouts of the Belgian railway site, which tried to send me via the end of the world and a lot of surplus charges to get there and back. Suffice to say that their personnel have somewhat better common sense. The guy gave me alternatives that were healthier for my purse if not my constitution.
I arrived on destination at 14.30, after a brisk 15 mins walk, exactly half an hour too early for the festivities. No big deal, I had to renew some old acquaintances, shake some hands. Right, time to explain the above title. Zythos, as you might know or not, is the Belgian beerconsumers’ organisation (part of the European EBCU). No person is direct member of Zythos – only regional organisations are. You adhere to one of the regionals, and thus become part of Zythos & EBCU. I’m affiliated to H(eikantse)B(ier)L(iefhebbers). This might seem strange, as they are at approximately 150 km from my castle, sorry, home. But originally, I hail from the city of Antwerpen. I used to run a regional branch there, De Dolle Proevers, but that’s history. Our chairman was very thick with the HBL people, as they are in HIS region of origin. Out of sympathy, I became B-member at HBL, and when OBP folded, and Zythos took over, I automatically purchased full membership with them.
So, in those memorable days, we went to their festival en masse, chartering a minibus from Antwerpen. Done with DDP, I never returned. Now was the time to better my ways (hope my loving wife doesn’t read this), and hop back on pilgrimage. I was warmly hailed, spoke to a lot of their staff - incidentally, one of them confided that for a score of years, they just kept repeating themselves, year after year serving their favourite classics. About 3 years ago, they renewed their stance, again searching for new, beginning microbreweries, and buying whatever managed to please them. The result becoming this exciting list.
Back to the present. I got installed, a guy from the O.B.E.R. branch next to me, and I was immediately invited to start, the staff actually impatient to begin – a quarter of an hour early! I’m still unsure whether my first move was a lucky one – or rather the opposite. Anyway, I commanded two brand-new kriek (sour cherry) beers, next to each other (De Ryck and Angerik). Of course, they had to prove the best of the day. I wonder whether the subsequent rather low ratings were a result of those two sparkling gems…
The HBL-festival is a classic – as it’s one of Belgium’s oldest. The habit of raising a board, claiming “thirst!”, “drinks!”, “beer!”, “First (liquid) Aid!” or simply “NANCY!!” in order to obtain table service, can be seen on various locations, these days, but I witnessed this first at their festival. They usually are 3 days in tow (since this year, Friday from 20.00h onwards, Sat and Sun from 15.00h onwards) instead of the usual two, they have their own functional kitchen, every evening session has its special music band featuring (some of them very good in the past). Their staff is well-trained, the work is routinely done, but never just routine (I was told about their problems with two impossible-to-pour draught beers, one of them solved that very morning by applying a home-changed keghead). In short, they love what they do.
Is everything perfect, then? Nothing is. If I wanted to play the devils’ advocate (always with the best of intentions), I could blame the 1 Euro entrance fee (that’s pretty cheap, but usually Belgian beerfestivals feature free entrance), the terribly uncosy and rather chilly hall, the draught beers served way too cold, or, last but not least, their prime dish (Pikante patersballetjes in hete nonnekenssaus – no translations provided, or JoeT freezes my account on the spot) served lukewarm and cold by the time hitting my table.
But who am I to complain! A superbly informative booklet, a great choice, friendly and well-learned people, very efficient service, and I even got offered a ride back to my return station from SEVERAL people. The O.B.E.R. guy next to me, a stout Dutchman (which means he’s supposed to be stingy, out on profit, and in reality orders probably for twice the amount of money as the next Belgian) proved to be of no mean importance. Whilst I was still planning, increasingly panicky, the best strategy to try to fit the tasting of 17 beers in 6 – 6 ½ hours flat, half of the lot on 75cl bottles, I saw him asking and obtaining, a string of unopened bottles, which immediately disappeared in his backpack. Heurèka! I delivered a list of 5 75cl bottles to cellarmaster Tony, who was even gallant enough to confess me they charged less for those than for consumption on the premises! Heaven!
So, I managed to keep my head upright, and even managed to speak coherently to various people, including Zythos secretary Tommy Van Ouytsel, until then just a virtual person to me, as well as their chairman, Fons, who runs the EBCU-contacts as well. It was a great afternoon and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. And in order to make your mouths even water more, he’s the list that hauled me in:
1. Abbaye des Rocs, 33 cl. (Abbaye des Rocs, Montignies-sur-Roc) € 2,20