Beer Tour of Belgium – Day 10: Sint Truiden

Today we left Liege by the northern route, driving to the top of the citadel and looking out upon the city. We made our way to Sint Truiden where we explored the city center and climbed a nearby tower. From there we drove to the Ter Dolen brewery for a beer sampling. We finished the day by driving to our hotel in Zolder and enjoying a final meal in Belgium.

Liege Citadel

Liege citadel

Liege citadel

View of Liege from citadel pathway

View of Liege from citadel pathway

Sint Truiden

Tongerlo Brune with lunch at Sint Truiden

Tongerlo Brune with lunch at Sint Truiden

Astronomical clock in St. Truiden

Astronomical clock in St. Truiden

Cow bouncy castle in St. Truiden city center

Cow bouncy castle in St. Truiden city center

Cathedral in St. Truiden city center

Cathedral in St. Truiden city center

Cathedral interior

Cathedral interior

Climbable tower near St. Truiden city center

Climbable tower near St. Truiden city center

Checking out the St. Truiden chicken experiment

Checking out the St. Truiden chicken experiment

Strange structures near the tower

Strange structures near the tower

Interior of tower

Interior of tower

Looking down tower interior

Looking down tower interior

View of St. Truiden city center from the tower

View of St. Truiden city center from the tower

Catacombs near the tower

Catacombs near the tower

Ter Dolen

Ter Dolen beer and cheese sampler

Ter Dolen beer and cheese sampler

Zolder

Corsendonk beer with dinner

Corsendonk beer with dinner

Mort Subite Gueze with dinner

Mort Subite Gueze with dinner

La Botteresse Brune

Bellevaux Black

La Botteresse Brune

La Botteresse Brune

Beers I Tasted

Here are the beers I tasted today:

  • Tongerlo Brune
  • Ter Dolen Blonde
  • Ter Dolen Brune
  • Ter Dolen Tripel
  • Ter Dolen Kriek
  • Corsendonk Brune
  • Mort Subite Gueuze
  • La Botteresse Brune
  • Bellevaux Black

Total tally of beers for the whole trip: 74 beers

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Beer Tour of Belgium – Day 9: Achouffe and Liege

Today was another successful day filled with beer tasting. We drove southwards from Liege to Chouffe to taste beers (and ice cream!) at their Brasserie. From there we backtracked north to Malmedy to visit the Brasserie de Bellevaux. Our third and final brewery for the day was the Val Dieu abbey, just east of Liege. We finished off the day in Liege at the Fete de Wallonie, making friends with some of the people who ran the food booths. It was a night filled with blueberry beer and liquor!

Achouffe

La Chouffe Brewpub

La Chouffe Brewpub

La Chouffe beers

La Chouffe beers

Inside La Chouffe Brewpub

Inside La Chouffe Brewpub

More La Chouffe Beers

More La Chouffe Beers

Farm-raised venison (gibier)

Farm-raised venison (gibier)

Bellevaux

Fields driving to Bellvaux

Fields driving to Bellvaux

Cows near Bellevaux

Cows near Bellevaux

Bellevaux brewery

Bellevaux brewery

Beer sampler at Bellevaux Brewery

Beer sampler at Bellevaux Brewery

Amusing highway signage

Amusing highway signage

Val Dieu Abbey

Kegs at Val Dieu brewery

Kegs at Val Dieu brewery

Grounds of Val Dieu brewery

Grounds of Val Dieu brewery

Amanda and me at Val Dieu

Amanda and me at Val Dieu

Val Dieu beer sampler

Val Dieu beer sampler

Birds on the Val Dieu Abbey

Birds on the Val Dieu Abbey

Domesticated sheep at Val Dieu Abbey

Domesticated sheep at Val Dieu Abbey

Liege

Fete de Wallonie in Liege

Fete de Wallonie in Liege

Blueberry beer booth

Blueberry beer booth

New friends at the Fete de Wallonie

New friends at the Fete de Wallonie

Beers Tasted

Today I tasted:

  • La Mac Chouffe
  • La Chouffe
  • Porto Mac Chouffe (La Chouffe with Port)
  • La Chouffe Houblon
  • Bellevaux Blonde
  • Bellevaux Brune
  • Bellevaux Triple
  • Val Dieu Blonde
  • Val Dieu Brune
  • Val Dieu Grand Cru
  • La Chaperon Biere aux Myrtilles

Total for the trip: 65 beers

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Homemade Pizza Adventure

Wherein I fulfill a a strange desire to make pizza from scratch, including making my own sausage and mozzarella.

A Higher Order of Pizza

The way I look at it, I can classify the pizza I consume by how much effort went in to me obtaining it. Note that all of these can be absolutely delicious (or atrocious) given the right circumstances.

First Order: Eating pizza at a restaurant. No effort required, just money.

Second Order: Buying a frozen pizza and cooking it at home. This is usually fraught with peril since frozen pizzas typically don’t use high quality ingredients. It’s been a while since I’ve had a frozen pizza, but it does require that I heat something in the oven.

Third Order: Assembling the pizza from ingredients easily obtainable at the grocery store that don’t require further processing at home. The crust could be french bread or Boboli. This is paired with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, and sausage.

My homemade Fourth Order pizza

Fourth Order: First creating the ingredients used in a Third Order pizza, and then assembling and baking it. Instead of buying pizza dough, you make it at home. The same goes for the pizza sauce. Making mozzarella and sausage at home is where it gets tricky.

Fifth Order: Using only products directly obtainable from animals, plants, or minerals in a completely unprocessed form. The difference between this and Fourth Order is that now I’d have to mill my own flour, roast my own chiles (for the red pepper flakes), use a sourdough starter (instead of yeast), use raw milk for mozzarella, create olive oil from olives, etc..

Sixth Order: If I were really crazy, then I’d need to personally be responsible for growing, harvesting, and butchering everything for my Fifth Order pizza. I’d need a ranch, wheat field, cows, peppercorn tree, salt mine, etc.. This might be time-consuming.

My Pizza Adventure

Simply put, my pizza adventure is to make a good Fourth Order pizza. I have previously made pizza sauce and pizza dough from scratch. And since I started making sausage and cheese earlier this year I’d envisioned making a pizza with homemade versions of those as well.

To be honest, I really wanted to do this with homemade pepperoni (my favorite kind of pizza) and also homemade Parmesan cheese. There are two problems with this: aging and fridge space. Parmesan takes upwards of 2 years to age properly, so that would greatly delay the project. Pepperoni also needs to age for a few months, but it also requires a significant portion of dedicated fridge space in which to hang and dessicate. Since I’m not allowed to buy us another fridge, this is also on hold. In all likelihood I will try this again in a couple of years when my Parmesan is done and I can convince Amanda to let me have another fridge.

Italian Sausage

Spices for italian sausage

Italian sausage is easy to make because it only takes a couple of days to set up. I combined a couple different recipes from my Home Sausage Making book and came up with this team of ingredients:

  • 1.75 lbs pork loin roast
  • 3 oz bacon
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1.5 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1tsp fennel seed

Finished italian sausage

The pork loin and bacon were ground twice with the coarse grinding plate. I then mixed in the garlic and spices by hand. Because the sausage was just going to be pan fried for the pizza, I did not bother stuffing it into casings (which is the annoying part of sausage making anyway). After letting it sit in the fridge for 2 days to meld, I separated it into patties and froze them individually.

Pizza Sauce

Amanda and I have been making pizza at home for a while, so I had my standard pizza sauce recipe that I love.

Pizza sauce ingredients

The twist I wanted to do this time was to use fresh tomatoes (from the Little Italy farmers market!) instead of the 28 oz canned tomatoes I normally go with. The sauce starts with:

  • 1/3 cu diced shallot
  • 1/4 cu diced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

These are cooked for around 5 minutes over medium heat until the shallot and garlic start to brown. Then, deglaze with:

  • 2/3 cu red wine

To keep the sauce authentic I used a $7 Italian wine from Trader Joe’s. But in the past I’ve used shiraz, zinfandel, or merlot without penalty. Let the wine boil and evaporate for a minute or two then add the seasonings:

  • 2 tbsp fresh basil
  • 2 tbsp fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt

Simmering pizza sauce

Mix this in to the red wine and let that simmer for a minute or two. Then add the tomato product:

  • 4 large (6 medium) Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste

Mix that together well and then simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring regularly. The sauce will thicken and darken. Adjust the seasonings (e.g. salt and sugar) near the end as needed.

Mozzarella Cheese

After my successful cream cheese last December and my failed Cheddar earlier this year, I felt ill equipped to make mozzarella for this pizza. But I had the ingredients and studied the recipe carefully so I gave it a go.

Mozzarella cheese ingredients

Mozzarella is easier than other types of cheese because you can heat it on the stove (instead of a warm water bath) and it is finished in just an hour or two (my fumbling around kept me from achieving the “30-minute” time frame specified in the recipe title).

Similar to other cheeses, it begins with warming milk and adding rennet to coagulate it. It also includes citric acid, which helps give mozzarella its stretchy nature.

Sliced cheese curds

Once the curds formed and I began scooping them into a glass mixing bowl I was convinced it was a failure because it was a goopy mess the texture of yogurt. I did not think this would turn into a semi-firm cheese.

Goopy cheese curd - will it fail?

However the microwaving-and-kneading steps really brought the cheese together and before I knew it I had some smooth and firm cheese. The ironic part about the cheese is that it only stretches when it is too hot to touch (150+ degree). So I was there burning my fingers and knuckles to get the salt worked in and make sure the cheese came together.

Mozzarella starting to get stretchy

I split the cheese into 4 small balls, cooled them in an ice bath, and stuck them in the fridge for safekeeping while I prepared the dough.

Finished homemade mozzarella balls

Pizza Dough

I usually make the basic pizza dough recipe from the James McNair Pizza book, but this time I wanted to do something different here as well. I went with the New York style pizza dough, which excludes the sugar and olive oil. Allegedly this yields a crisper but less flavorful crust.

Dough kneading action

I used all bread flour and kneaded it in the stand mixer for a full 10 minutes. At this time the dough was really dense and the mixer was struggling, but the dough was also smooth and seemed stretchy. This is important for being able to stretch the crust as thin as possible. Half of the dough went into the fridge to rise for the morrow; the other half spent its rising time on the counter.

Assembling the Pizza

After all that preparation work, making the final pizza was easy! I preheated the oven and baking stone for a full hour at 500 degrees. The pizza dough was easy to stretch by hand to create a thin-crust 14″ pizza. I then brushed the crust with olive oil to make sure it browned properly.

Prepped ingredients for pizza

I was worried about the moisture content of the mozzarella and so I used a light hand when putting it on the pizza. I’ve made that mistake before with fresh mozzarella and ended up with a pool of whey in the middle of an otherwise tasty pizza. I browned and crumbled the sausage before adding it to the pizza. I also went light on the sauce, worried that the thin crust would not be able to support much.

Pizza before baking

Once assembled the pizza went into the oven for 12 minutes.

Finished Product

In addition to enjoying the whole process leading up to the first bite, the pizza itself was delicious and a joy to consume. The crust was probably the crispiest I’ve been able to make at home. The mozzarella cheese surprised me by melting quite well without expelling a lot of extra juice. The italian sausage has a wonderful fresh flavor that I had not experienced before. The sauce turned out much the same as my usual sauce with a slightly more acidic and fresh flavor. I actually think I might like the canned tomato version better because of the more “cooked” flavor.

Finished and sliced pizza

What could be better? The mozzarella is fairly neutral in flavor and I’m not sure much was gained by using it over standard store-bought mozzarella. It’s not salty enough to stand out on its own, so it was somewhat lost among the vibrant flavors in the rest of the pizza.

Even though I liked the crispiness of the crust I think I prefer the richer flavor that the olive oil gives to it. This New York style crust wasn’t as chewy as the pizzas I find here in town.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s pizza! I’ll load it more fully with toppings and also build up more of a crust. Now it’s time to start planning my parmesan and pepperoni to go with the pizza…

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Beer Tour of Belgium – Day 8: Remouchamps and Liege

Friday, September 18, 2009

Abandoned Castle of Logne in Vieuxville

After another breakfast of coffee, croissants, and chevre at the boulangerie in Rochefort (and another attempt at conversation with the nice girl behind the counter), we set off to drive through the Walloon countryside towards Liege.

Abandoned castle entrance

We had picked up a tour guide book at our bed & breakfast near Dinant, and we used that to guide our efforts for the day. I still had desires to see castles so our first stop was the abandoned castle of Logne near the town of Vieuxville.

Abandoned castle walls

Unfortunately this was another case of bad timing; the castle was only open on weekends through the month of September and beyond. It was an interesting setting, however. The castle was part of what looked like a county park that had other attractions as well: playground, goats, and falconry.

Vieuxville goat

After greeting the goats we walked up the half-mile pathway to the castle in hopes that we could scale the walls like warriors of old. Unfortunately the castle was guarded by a gardener and we forwent the scaling in favor of some innocuous photographs.

Warning sign neer abandoned castle

Remouchamps Caves

We continued on the road and landed in Remouchamps, home of the well-regarded Remouchamps Caves. We spent about 10 minutes driving down various city side streets looking for them before realizing that they were actually right in the middle of town!

Entrance to Remouchamps caves

River in Remouchamps

Helpful Remouchamps sign

The caves had tours in three different languages sprinkled throughout the day, and the next one wasn’t for an hour, so we headed down for lunch at a nearby cafe.

Palm beer in its homeland

Of course we had to sample beers over lunch: Palm and Gordon Scotch, to be exact. Actually the Gordon Scotch was one of my favorite beers of the trip even though it isn’t Belgian at all. It had a rich flavor and thick mouthfeel that really stood out from my memories of other Scottish ales.

Gordon scotch ale

The cafe also served cheese bites to go along with the beers, which we were finally starting to recognize as a pattern: the past several restaurants had done the same, and the cheese was always different and/or uniquely seasoned.

Seasoned cheese to pair with the beer

After lunch we joined what turned out to be a Dutch tour of the caves (which explained why the gentleman at the ticket booth gave us such a great discount).We were able to understand a very limited amount of the tour, such as when the guide was explaining how and when the caves were formed.

Inside Remouchamps caves

For the most part, however, we just followed in step with the other 20+ Dutch-speaking tourists and snapped pictures of the colorfully lit stalagmites, stalactites, and bodies of water.

Remouchamps caves

At the far point of the tour we descended a slippery circular iron staircase to the underground river. Following what must have been a safety talk, we boarded two boats and traveled along the water back to the cave entrance.

Boarding the boats to return

Half way back the guide realized we hadn’t understand a word he said the whole trip and gave us the quick safety talk and descriptive tour. We even saw a couple of bats on the way back, capping off a worthwhile tour!

Cave boats

Anthisnes Beer and Peket Museum

Leaving Remouchamps we made our way towards the Beer and Peket Museum in Anthisnes. This was more difficult than initially anticipated given that our tour guide map had the numeric marker in the wrong place. Once we finally arrived, however, we found a humble yet intriguing and informative museum located in the ruins of an old abbey.

Looking down beer museum tower

We learned that “peket” is a fruit-flavored gin unique to the region; that beers frequently have a cheese that is typically paired with them to match the spice profile, and that there’s a seventh Trappist brewery in the Netherlands. The museum had an impressive collection of old bottles and glassware from breweries around Belgium. It also talked about beer flavor profiles, how abbey beers are typically brewed by big commercial breweries now, and what the differences are between styles.

Trappist display at beer museum

As part of our museum admission we also got to sample the beer that the abbey used to make: Cervoise de l’Avouerie d’Anthisnes. This was an interesting style: amber with a distinct spiciness and hoppiness.

House beer at the beer museum

The proprietor was very kind and when we explained we were on a beer tour she busted out her map produced by belgian-beer-routes.com. This had many of the places we had already been, but would have been a useful resource for planning because by definition it was listing tourist-friendly places. At the museum gift shop we also picked up (surprise) a couple more bottles of beer to be enjoyed later in the trip.

Liege

As we approached Liege on the expressway we realized we were leaving the countryside and plunging back into the modern world. The city had less of the medieval/historical feel and more of the grittiness that we associate with big cities. It was gritty. Amanda said it felt more “lived in” than the other large cities we’d visited.

View from our Ramada hotel room

Our Ramada hotel was more Americanized than what we’d been staying in (complete with annoying loud American woman complaining about how slow the elevator was) but was elegant, cheap, and located right on the river. We took a shortcut when walking to dinner and walked along the city streets. We’d traveled barely more than a block when we saw some kind of police bust, and made the decision to return via the waterfront.

Le Vaudree Brune

Our dinner destination was Le Vaudree, a brasserie recommended by our hotel concierge as having an excellent selection of beer. It was a good mile walk away but he was right: they had over 800 beers available in bottles and on draft. I started with their house Vaudree Brune and Amanda went for the Saison D’Epeautre.

Saison D'Epeautre

The food was excellent there, and Amanda got the incredibly unique jambonneau a la moutarde. This was basically a hunk of ham still on the bone covered in a mustard sauce. The mustard flavor was a bit much for me, but the ham was amazingly tender and rich.

Delicious jambonneau a la moutarde

For our second round I went with an Augustine Grand Cru abbey beer, and Amanda chose the Abbeye de Forest Blond.

Augustine Grand Cru abbey beer

Abbaye de Forest

On the way back to the hotel we got a foreshadowing of what was to befall us the following night: a Wallonnie Festival Parade.

Wallonie festival parade

This looked to be a somewhat impromptu gathering of people beating drums, playing horns, marching, laughing, and celebrating their culture. The festival we had glimpsed in Namur had caught up with us in Liege, and would finally overtake us the next day.

Bridge in Liege at night

Beers Tasted

Today I tasted:

  • Palm
  • Gordon Scotch
  • Cervoise de l’Avouerie d’Anthisnes
  • Vaudree Brune
  • Saison D’Epeautre
  • Augustine Grand Cru
  • Abbeye de Forest Blond

Total to date for the trip: 54 beers

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Beer Tour of Belgium – Day 7: Dinant, Rochefort

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dinant

We began our morning in Rochefort at a local boulangerie, enjoying some rich espresso and croissants and struggling to understand the nice girl behind the counter as she tried to converse with us in French. Our original plan for the day was to drive down to Orval abbey to visit another of the six trappist breweries. But, after having spent a couple solid days in the car, we decided to take it easy and do some local sightseeing.

Happy cows come from Rochefort

Our first destination of the day was Dinant. Having already driven through the city at river level, we decided to return by way of the citadel, perched hundreds of feet above the river. It was just a short drive from Rochefort so we got there a few minutes before it opened and had a chance to walk among the gravestones of a local military cemetery.

Military gravemarkers near Dinant citadel

Dinant church and citadel steps (which we did not climb)

The citadel itself contained several displays capturing the military history of the region. It was an interesting mix of pre- and post-gunpowder warfare, with howitzers displayed next to spears.

Rusted machine gun at the citadel

View of Dinant through citadel slit

Most of the displays bordered on the cheesy end of the spectrum, especially the WWII bunker walkthrough complete with amplified bomb sound effects. A particularly amusing one (for us at least…) told the story of people who were bound two-by-two and tossed into the river. There was a portion of the citadel that had been hit by a bomb, which subsequently caused the floor to sink and become tilted. That was fun to walk through, and I almost steped in a pond of water.

Wild Boar. It's What's For Dinner.

Room with tilted floor

However the view from the citadel was impressive, and it was enjoyable to walk through such an ancient structure that had seen battles in multiple eras. The aforementioned military graveyard outside helped drive the point home that this was an area truly affected by recent wars, and whose culture bears those scars.

Rental boats on the Meuse River

Anchors from original bridge that spanned the Meuse River

Chateau de Veves

Our next stop was the Chateau de Veves, a nearby fairy-tale-style castle that was (surprise!) undergoing renovation. The castle itself is owned by some member of the Belgian oligarchy, and it was amusing to see pictures of him sprinkled through the chambers.

Chateau de Veves

Castle courtyard

The castle itself was built in a few phases over several hundred years. These architectural styles were apparent as you walked through the structure; there was a somewhat Frankenstein inconsistency from room to room.

Hall of arms

The historical displays with family trees and coats of arms were intriguing, as were the period furniture. I also really liked the rockwork throughout, including the main hall with it’s zen-like rock floor.

Castle grounds with our car near the gatehouse

Rochefort

We returned to Rochefort hungry for lunch, and decided on the Relais St. Remy restaurant closest to the Rochefort abbey in hopes that it had the freshest Rochefort beer. I tried to order the ostrich but the server informed me that the ostrich man hadn’t delivered yet that day, so I went with the sea bass in lemon sauce. This was paired with Rochefort 10, their strongest beer, because there’s nothing quite like having an 11.3% alcohol beer for lunch.

Rochefort 10 close to the source

Amanda started with a beer that was new to us: Brugs Witbier.This was a solid albeit mild beer.

Brugs Witbier

This was followed up by an Orval, in honor of our original destination for the day. Similar to what I had remembered from the states, it was lighter in body, spicier, and a little more sour than the other trappist ales.

One thing that was interesting throughout our trip was the glassware used to serve the beers. Most every brewery has commissioned a special shape of glass meant to perfectly enhance their products. Many have wide mouths to enable you to breathe in the yeasty and spicy aroma. What was equally impressive was how diligently the bars stocked these different glasses. At the restaurant with 500+ beers in Bruges you could see one whole wall where they had several copies of each brewery’s glass. You might call this craziness, but it was also a demonstration of the pride they take in their beer.

Orval trappist beer

Our lunchtime ended with another opportunity to learn about the differences between Belgium and the U.S.. My credit card didn’t work and the proprietor thought it was because the card didn’t have a microchip in it. This is one area where Europe is ahead of the U.S.: credit card security. Few credit card transactions are done there via signature anymore; nearly all are done using a secure chip on the card, which makes it a “smart card.” Pay-at-the-pump gas stations there all operate this way, so I had to go in to sign the receipt the old fashioned way. Anyway, we were able to get Amanda’s credit card to work at this restaurant and headed on out.

On the way back to town we also did a drive-by of the Rochefort abbey St. Remy. Similar to Chimay and Westvleteren, it was simple from the outside and utterly closed to visitors. They are very secretive about their process for making beer, so we resigned ourselves to a quick drive-by and headed back to town.

Church in Rochefort

Upon returning to the hotel we felt mostly lazy, so we headed down to the veranda to read a bit and enjoy the final beers we had puhased at the B2 store in Bruges: Grottenbier and Malheur.

Grottenbier

Malheur 12

We concluded this relaxing day with another excellent meal at a Rochefort restaurant. I went with the ribeye and peppercorn sauce again, which was a poor pairing with the slightly-sour Rodenbach Grand Cru but tasty nonetheless.

Westmalle Triple

Rodenback Grand Cru

Another strangeness of eating in Belgium was the lack of tipping. Our guidebook said that tipping was not expected but every once in a while the receipt would have the place for you to add a tip, and I’d feel bad not doing it. But for the most part the service was slow and aloof. They really just left you alone to eat until you flagged them down and asked for something else. We got in the habit of ordering our next round of drinks or food whenever we had their attention. We ended up with a lot of beer and food that way, but that’s better than none at all, right?

Grimbergen Dubbel

Espresso with a side of whipped cream

Refreshed from a fairly relaxing day of local touring, we turned in for the night in preparation for the drive up to Liege the following day.

Beers Tasted

Today I tasted:

  • Brugs Witbier
  • Orval
  • Rochefort 10
  • Grottenbier
  • Malheur 12
  • Westmalle Triple
  • Rodenback Grand Cru
  • Grimbergen Dubbel

Total to date for the trip: 47 beers

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Beer Tour of Belgium – Day 6: Chimay, Maredsous, Rochefort

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chimay

After a tough day on Tuesday we set off first thing to drive to Chimay, near the French border. This is probably the best known of the Trappist beers so I felt we had to make the trek down there even though it was a 60+ minute drive towards an abbey I was pretty sure we couldn’t tour. Needless to say, my hopes were not high.

Flowers outside Chimay Abbey

It was a a little gray and rainy as we made our way southwest amidst green fields and trees. Heading the other direction on one of the highways was a protest procession of large trucks. You hear about all the disgruntled workers in Europe and it was interesting to see them in action!

Chimay abbey driveway

Welcome to Chimay!

The Scourmont Abbey of Chimay was a simple building that frowned upon tourists. The real gem, however, was the Auberge de Poteaupre located just a mile away. We passed this humble building on the way to the abbey and noted its Chimay signage. I had personally discounted it as a bad souvenir shop but Amanda fortunately forced us to stop.

Auberge de Poteaupre

We didn’t know it at the time, but the Auberge was the official tasting room for the abbey. The inside was elegantly furnished with wooden booths, antique beer memorabilia, and large bottles of Chimay. The tasting room looked out upon a beautiful green field that even had a swingset for the kids.

View outside at Auberge de Poteaupre

Chimay memorabilia

We got there right at opening time so we had the place to ourselves. Chimay is known around the world for their three beers: Rouge, Bleue, and Blanche. However, at the auberge, they also serve a special beer that’s typically only available for the monks themselves: Chimay Doree. This is a lighter beer of only 4.8% alcohol but has a wonderful spiciness and crispness similar to a saison.

Chimay beer at Auberge Poteaupre

I ordered a Chimay Blanche (their triple-style) on draft, and it was richer and more luscious than any time I’d had it in the U.S.. Along with these beers we ordered a tasting plate of abbey cheese. They were all a little on the pungent side, but absolutely delicious. It was great to be able to try all the abbey products in one place, which definitely made the trip there worthwhile.

Fighter jet in middle of traffic circle

Maredsous

Our next stop was the Maredsous abbey, also well known in the U.S.. This was an interesting stop because of the contrast to the other abbeys we had visited: it was touristy. There were tour buses parked outside, a large visitor center, and hundreds of German tourists inside. There were shops selling cheap souvenirs, cheap cafeteria food, and pay-per-use toilets. We got a taster of the three Maredsous beers, which of course were delicious.

Maredsous beer sampler

Maredsous tour busses and dog poop signs

We started a self-guided walking tour of the grounds, reading about the abbey history, and it started to dawn on us: the abbeys are a great scam. The original idea was for them to sell beer locally to support their priestly efforts. But somewhere down the road they realized they could make some serious money doing this. The abbey was beautiful, magnificent, modern, and spotless. They must be rolling in money from the tourism: this was the waning days of their season and the place was still packed.

Maredsous grounds

Maredsous building

Then there’s the beer. It’s not even brewed by the abbey anymore we learned; it is outsourced to Duvel Moortgat. Yes the beer is delicious and Duvel makes other good beers as well (namely, Duvel) but for me at least it pierced the magic to realize that having an “abbey beer” is partly a marketing ploy just to earn money. This was my Wizard of Oz moment.

Fallen leaves at Maredsous

Maredsous church exterior

Maredsous church interior

Disillusionment aside, the Maredsous abbey premises were beautiful and the church impressive. It seemed very modern compare to others we would see on the trip, and allowed access to most of the interior. After snapping pictures we headed off for nearby Floreffe abbey.

Maredsous corridor

Mossy Maredsous arches

Floreffe

Floreffe was another abbey beer that is no longer brewed at the abbey (it is brewed by Lefebvre, whose tavern we had tried to visit the previous day), but it had an entirely different feel from Maredsous.

Floreffe abbey grounds

The abbey itself is tightly integrated into the community. It houses a school, hosts yearly events, and even has an attached tavern where locals drink.

Floreffe abbey from street level

Floreffe abbey grounds

We took a short self-guided tour through the grounds, snapping pictures of the flowers and decrepit buildings in the back.

Decrepit building behind Floreffe

Old building in back of Floreffe abbey

Old building at Floreffe + peacock

The abbey is perched above a river, and we watched barges creep along the water. We had missed the tour of the church, so we headed right for the tavern and quaffed a Floreffe Blonde and Kriek.

Floreffe abbey beers

Both were awesome, and inspired us to buy a Tripel and Brune to take back to the U.S. with us. They also sold goat cheese there, so we bought a chunk of that to eat for breakfast the next day. Overall the Floreffe abbey was a rewarding stop with cool buildings, tasty beer, and a friendly vibe.

Floreffe tavern

River barge near Floreffe

Rochefort

Our final destination for the day was Rochefort, home to another well-known Trappist monastery. On the way we passed through Dinant, with its arabesque church and impressive citadel. Being pressed for time, we pushed on and decided to return the next day for more exploration.

Dinant citadel and church from river level

The roads in to Rochefort were verdant and rolling, with a myriad of cows, corn, and trees. The town itself is rather small but kept up well; I got the impression they get a fair share of tourists over the summer. We stayed at the elegant Hotel La Malle Poste right in the center of town, within easy walking distance to restaurants.

On the road to Rochefort

Carriage house at Hotel La Malle Poste

Dinner that night was, in a word, incredible. I learned that “a la volcan,” while literally translating as “at the volcano,” really means that your steak will be served on a searing-hot piece of slate. It also helped that my steak was topped with a slab of shallot butter nearly as big as the meat itself.

Steak with shallot butter and Rochefort 8

The real winner, however, was Amanda’s steak “a la Trappiste.” In this instance that meant a sauce of beer and cheese made at the local abbey. It was rich and had such amazing depth of flavor that we couldn’t help dipping our fries in it and ended up licking the plate clean.

Saint Monon Au Miel

Rochefort 6

With dinner I had a couple of local brews–Rochefort 6 and 8–and Amanda tried two Saint Monon beers. These had a very unique flavor profile and were new to both of us.

Saint Monon Brune

A triumphant day full of drinking behind us, we rewarded ourselves with some gelato and crashed in our hotel.

I heart gelato

Beers Tasted

Today was a busy day! I tasted:

  • Chimay Blanche
  • Chimay Doree
  • Maredsous 6 Blonde
  • Maredsous 8 Brune
  • Maredsous 10 Triple
  • Floreffe Blonde
  • Floreffe Kriek
  • Saint Monon Au Miel
  • Saint Monon Brune
  • Rochefort 6
  • Rochefort 8

Total to date for the trip: 39 beers

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Silver Strand Half Marathon

Silver Strand Half Marathon Route

Silver Strand Half Marathon Route

Earlier this year I got inspired by watching the San Diego and Vancouver marathons and decided I needed to run the San Diego Rock & Roll marathon next year. As a first step I ran the Scripps Ranch Old Pros 10k on July 4, 2009. The next big step was to complete the Silver Strand Half Marathon, a course that takes runners from Coronado, down the silver strand, through a loop on a military base, and finally to Imperial Beach.

Training Plan

After having good results at the 10k, I knew I wanted to train reasonably hard for the half marathon. I felt like with all this running I should definitely be in the top half of my sex and age division. Looking at previous results that meant finishing in around 2 hours (9:00 per mile pace), which is also conveniently a nice round number.

Completed half-marathon training plan

Completed half-marathon training plan

I looked at a number of different training plans online to see how I wanted to approach this. I liked the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST) plan because it would have me running only 3 days per week. My knees were hurting when I was training for the 10k so I definitely didn’t want to run more frequently than that. The thing I didn’t like about the FIRST plan was that it lasts 18 weeks and I thought it might be overkill for what I wanted to achieve. So I combined the 3x-per-week aspect with the distances and schedule of Ryan Hall’s plan that I found at RunnersWorld.com. That left me with about 15 weeks of training starting at the beginning of August, including 2 weeks of drinking beer in Belgium (always great for training).

Start line craziness

Start line craziness

Eating Right

The other part of training that I wanted to get right was nutrition. Early on I read Performance Nutrition for Runners, which I found to be packed with great information and an excellent reference over the course of my training. Among the most useful parts of the book were helping me to understand what I needed to be consuming during and after my runs as well as what supplements I should take. It also coached me through how to time your eating and bathrooming before the race. It’s impossible to know what it would have been like without following the advice in the book, but I can definitely say the Accelerade kept my hydration and energy at good levels during the run and the Endurox R4 helped me recover afterward–I only experienced mild soreness the day after my long runs.

Loved the line for the bathroom

Loved the line for the bathroom

Training, Training, Training

Overall the training went according to plan with the exception of my long runs. For the first several weeks I was having trouble keeping them at my target 9:20 mile pace and slowed to 9:40 or so in order to complete them. Part of this was because I was wearing a running belt with water and its motion and weight slowed me down. For the last 2 weeks of training I went without the belt and instead brought energy gels and stopped at water fountains by the harbor. This got my long runs back on pace and gave me the confidence I needed for race day.

A little cold at the start line

A little cold at the start line

Over the course of my 13 weeks I ran nearly 220 miles with long runs between 7 and 14 miles. I hit another milestone along the way of running 100 miles in 30 days. I even joined a gym along the way so I could do my interval workouts more effectively.

Final hydration before the start

Final hydration before the start

Race Day

The race was scheduled to begin at 7:30am at Sunset Park in Coronado on 11/15/2009. Amanda was my official designated race chauffeur and got us there about 6:50am. That was a good thing, because the line for the bathrooms was hundreds strong and took 20+ minutes to get through. At 5 minutes to start time I got in place fairly close to the line and chugged some sports drink. Soon enough, we were off!

Race start, complete with shirtless men

Race start, complete with shirtless men

There were a few things that made the race particularly difficult.

  1. It was very sunny. Even though the temperature was in the mid-60’s, the sun was beating down on me nearly the whole time from beautiful clear blue skies. I had done nearly all of my training runs either in the dark early morning or on overcast days.
  2. The water stations were unpredictable. They were supposed to be 1.5 miles apart, but some were closer to 2 miles. I ate an energy gel shortly after mile 4 (thinking there would be water at mile 4.5) and had to wait another mile to get water to wash it down.
  3. There was an unexpected surprise mini-hill in mile 11 on this “flat and fast” course. I had to slow way down once I got to the top of that.
Amanda waiting for me at mile 9

Amanda waiting for me at mile 9

Amanda was waiting for me at mile 9 in Imperial Beach with a welcome dosage of sports drink and encouragement. I made it there in 80 minutes (just slightly under 9:00/mi pace), but things progressed more slowly from that point onwards.

Me approaching the mile 9 marker

Me approaching the mile 9 marker

I passed mile 11 (after the mini-hill) right at 1:39 (9:00/mi pace). I was able to pick up the pace going downhill but by mile 12 my legs were pretty shot and I was just shuffling along.

Finish line craziness

Finish line craziness

The water stand at 12.5 miles was most welcome, and seeing the finishing line ahead on the final 1/4 mile on Seacoast Drive gave me the motivation to pick up the pace a  bit and finish in 1:58:24 (9:02/mi pace). This is just a bit slower than the pace for which I was training (8:50/mi) but I did (barely) accomplish the goal of being in the upper half of my age division. In the final results I placed 86 out of 173 males age 30-34 (50.3%); 855 out of 2631 overall (67.5%).

Me approaching the finish line

Me approaching the finish line

Every finisher gets a cool medal and gets to select from a variety of healthy post-race snacks.

Testing to make sure the medal is real

Testing to make sure the medal is real

After donning my medal I headed for Amanda who had Endurox R4 standing by. I then hobbled back to the car and am currently looking forward to a steak dinner paired with Belgian beer as I write this.

Enjoying some post-race nutrition

Enjoying some post-race nutrition

Marathon, Anyone?

Would I have wanted to turn back around and run back to Coronado? Probably not today, but I feel great about setting the goal of the half marathon and hitting it. I now believe that I could do the same with the Rock and Roll Marathon next June. Obviously the training would be different (longer) but I’m confident and enthusiastic about hitting that goal. Overall the half marathon took a lot of training time but was an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable experience.

Hooray! (I made it back to the car)

Hooray! (I made it back to the car)

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