Sunday, December 6, 2009

Flanders, French to Flemish

It's been too long since my last post. It's a vicious cycle; a busy night gives me plenty to write about but no time to write it down, and busy nights have been a dime a dozen. I'll put all I've got out for you, but feel free to ask me more about what I've been up to, I will get back to you.

'T'ain't gonna be too long of a post, despite all the cultural stimulation I've been absorbing, but it'll be a start. SO, dear readers, I've just returned to Belgium, back at Struise beerquarters, after almost three weeks working for (and with) Daniel Thiriez and his Brasserie Thiriez. I can't say enough positive things about Daniel and Marielle and the ship they steer over there in Esquelbecq. It was quite a bit like home for me, a pretty little village with a handful of small but thriving businesses, with Daniel and Marielle's good company, scrumtrulescent cooking, and and rhythmic brewing schedule that I adapted to fairly quickly. I will miss my time at their place in the flatlands of French Flanders.

Marielle and Daniel kindly posed for a shot

Well, since I published my last post, I've seen, done, and ate things I never knew could provide so much pleasure. There was the 1920s 'horror' film screened alongside live music. The Unknown, starring Lon Chaney and directed by Tod Browning (Freaks also - never seen it but multiple generations of critics have raved), is the bizarrely tragic love story of a circus performer who feigns armlessness and falls in love with the beauty of the ring. You'll have to see it, but with a live, experimental orchestra resonating amorphous, really creepy music it was otherworldly. And now I've got Lon Chaney's craggy face forever ingrained in my brain. Oy...

After the film we stopped at a bar and soon after ordering a drink were bombarded with an explosion of some of France's most unfortunate music. It was jarringly loud. Just unbearable. The table next to us seemed slightly amused, though, even whilst cringing under the sonic weight. As we left the bar, the 'tender had a quick chat with Daniel, gesturing and speaking excitedly. I found out on our walk back to the car that the man at the table next to us (I remember he had quite a flowing mane of golden locks and looked a tad bronzed for the season) was the official (state-sanctioned?) impersonator of Claude François, one of France's most well-known, glam-heavy singers. Hence the wall of, dare I say less than pleasurable, music...

Reflective boudin noir

Then, Paris. Ahhh... Paris. I spent one whirlwind, tornadoic day with Daniel driving around and through the impossible alleys and intersections of the macrocosm that is Paris. Despite the speed, my eyes were glued to anything and everything. Yeah, perhaps I'd fallen prey to the tourist attractions, tread too hastily into the jaws of that bear trap, but I think we spent the better part of the day swerving around the backalleys, and that's what really drew me in. With a van-load of beer we cashed in at half a dozen small and aromatic restaurants and another half-dozen caves du vin, where beers from Thiriez were often the only beers sold. Our first stop was the original Pink Flamingo, one of a couple pizza shops around town claimed by Daniel to make Paris' best 'za (and featured in a travel article from The New York Times - I remember reading it this summer) and owned by another, former New Englander. For lunch we dined at a prospective client's restaurant, Le Vin au Vert. I had a creamy, bready boudin noir (blood sausage) with carrottes râpées (grated carrots), purée de pommes de terre (mashed 'taters), and a salad of roquettes. We washed 'er down with a dark ruby, slightly tannic, mildly fruity red wine from the Loire Valley region. I got a quick wine lesson from Patrick, a long-time friend of Daniel's who also acted as our guide/backseat driver around Paris. Patrick is a genial, expressive Parisian resident and history buff as well as aspiring wine shop owner, and his company was both enjoyed and necessary for our tour de Paris.

Drive-by Notre Dame-ing

Daniel and Patrick peruse La Cave à Bulles

An especially special treat for me was our stop at a specialty beer store tucked away along an ancient cobblestone vein branching out from the more main streets. It was specialtaculous. Called La Cave à Bulles ("the cellar with bubbles") and owned by a warm and welcoming certified beer geek, Simon, this "cave" had perhaps one of the best selections of French beer in the country. The atmosphere, the walls of beer, and the enthusiasm with which Simon spoke about beer gave me a nice, warm feeling inside. If I owned a beer store, it would be like the Bubble Cellar. I ended up purchasing a handful of French beers and the last two American beers he had in stock, a pair of Sierra Nevada Porters, for Daniel and Marielle to enjoy on one of these rainy, stormy winter days.

French beer haul (St. Rieul de Noël 8˚, La Delinquante from des Vignes, the Blonde from Brasserie de la Vallée de Chevreuse, and the Blonde from Bière de Brie)

And after Paris, I had to part with Daniel and Marielle and the romance of France. But, I'm happy to be back in Belgium, living at the Noordhoek ostrich farm and changing gears from the more regular, rhythmic schedule at Thiriez to the more whimsical improvisation at Struise. Not to say either is better; they're different worlds and they both get the job done with perfection. Yesterday, my first full day back with Struise, I met Urbain, Carlo, and Pieter at the school to see the incredible progress there. The new office floor is looking good as electricians were installing new outlets for that flatscreen TV that will be distracting the brewers from their work. We were then blessed with the company of more geeks, the Geeks, from England; Mes, Ian, Sim, and Mes' brother Nick showed up and joined us for lunch (I had scampi in garlic butter) and, of course, a bit of tasting. The new Black Albert and Black Damnation are maturing orgasmically, and Mes and Urbain are scheming with a new experiment... Black Mes. Think peaty, aromatic Black Albert. I will say no more, but stay tuned... And meanwhile, check out Ian's web project, pubsandbeer, for all you need to know about UK's real ale scene.

PS - If you are confused as all get-out whenever I lapse into brewing jargon (and if you have been for some time, I'm late in apologizing), a friend sent me a goofy little cartoon about beer. It's quite informative, especially the part about goat titty beer. Thanks, Sophie!


  1. Bonjour Owen, a little message from Patrick. I have got it, my future wine shop, near Bastille. I would be glad to show it to you, next time you come to Paris. There will be a lots of wines waiting for you! We will also go and see the Tour Eiffel, and not just the 10 inches that you saw!
    The pleasure was mine too: it is just great meeting a young guy like you, who knows what he wants to do in his life. It was a (long) day but the best company and I will remember it!.

  2. Patrick! Great to hear from you! And a hearty congratulations on realizing your dream for a wine shop. Wow, I would absolutely love to have another visit of Paris and of your wine shop. I'll see what I can do (I'm in Belgium only another month), but if you have contact info you can email me at Hope all's well.