Thursday, November 26, 2009

Stuff Your Turkey With This

Happy tofurkey day to all Americans out there. I wish you the most successful cranberry sauces and mincemeat pies. I spent this European Thanksgiving working a long day and eating alone. Ah, c'est la vie.

But, I'm having a truly wonderful time here in France. It's been about a week and a half since I biked against a brutal wind over the border to the charming village of Esquelbecq and, despite the even more brutal wind and rain we've had here, I've been having a great time.

Tasting room at Brasserie Thiriez

The past week has been full to the brim. We brewed Blonde d'Esquelbecq and Rouge Flamande, did quite some bottling, labeling, and packing, and prepared for a little 'exposition' nearby, reminiscent of a sizable American crafts fair. I had my eye on a nice, handmade leather revolver holster. Just for looks.

I spend the days, mostly 8:30 to 5, in the brewery that sits in the backyard of Daniel and Marielle's handsome old farmhouse. The brewery is new, built around 2006, and orderly but not dull. It's all open and windows and a garage door allow in plenty of sunlight (when the sun decides to shine). There's an office with the computer's brewing program buzzing and blinking away; four massive fermenting tanks side by side, the mash tun and boiling kettle, a hot water tank, three small CIP vessels, and mazes of pipes and tubes and hoses. Each day in the brewery is a little different, but Daniel has the automation down to an art, if that's possible. I'm there to mill grain, hold hoses, weigh hops, label bottles, taste-test, and squeeze all the brewing trivia from Daniel. Today I got to climb atop all four fermenting tanks to spit-shine their stainless-steel domes. That's a good 30 feet up on slippery steel, but I survived. Brings me back to my climbing days, when I almost paralyzed my buddy Tim.

Round and around at Café des Orgues

Anyway, I'm learning a lot about working in and operating a small brewery. But that's not the only entertainment. Living with Daniel and Marielle has been splendid. The old house is scootched right into a nook by the center of town, so it's not too isolated, and the red-tiled roof, decorative interior, and flowerful yard make the living experience lovely. Daniel, Marielle, and I are having fun working on each others' languages over hearty, warming meals and great beer. It feels a bit like home. Of course, we don't stay cooped up every night. A few nights ago we tried our luck at a couple bars. On our way to a bar next to Brouwerij Van Eecke (kind of a disagreeable website...) in Watou, Belgium, we stopped by Café des Orgues. Words can't describe the bizarre yet fascinating experience. It's a bar with an open dance floor and three giant, grandiose, automatic organs. Just YouTube it. Another night found us at a private pre-performance by a trio of talented Francophones. Clar Vox consisted of a pianist, clarinetist, and jaw-dropping soprano, and together gave me the shivers. The performance was held in a 17th-century gunpowder production room formed from white brick and complete with old gunslots in the walls.

The room gets ready for musical warfare

Tomorrow we'll be visiting a cinema and watching a silent film the way they used to: with a live soundtrack. More on that next time!

Scampi at La Table des Géants. Sucker didn't want to be eaten.

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