By way of introduction, I’d just like to say that I started writing this post some time ago. I’d been planning to put it out for a while, but then I heard about the upcoming Ramsbottom Chocolate Festival, which promised chocolate beer cocktails and chocolate beer among other things, so I figured I’d best hold back, and see if I learned something that went against my original conclusions. What follows then is my original Booze Tourism feature on Belgium. Next week I’ll post my conclusions from the Chocolate Festival, and we’ll see if I’ve learned anything or changed my mind. So please come back then. Here we go.
Beer and chocolate don’t go together. If you try eating chocolate and accompany it with a glass of beer, you’re just ruining both; they cancel each other out completely - except… if you’re talking about Belgian chocolate and Belgian beer.
Belgium is famous for its chocolate and beer, and it’s almost as if they were specifically designed to complement each other. Maybe they were; here in the UK we have beer and crisps, in France they have wine and cheese, in Australia they have – I don’t know – shrimp and barbies (whatever they are). I expect these formed partnerships by accident, but the specific natures of Belgian beer and chocolate just seems a little too neat to have been anything but deliberate.
Long before I officially became a Booze Tourist, Brenda and I had a weekend in Belgium – Bruges and Brussels. We had a wonderful time. They love their beer over there – love it. They love it like the French love wine, and that’s really refreshing. I get a bit sick of feeling like I’m expected to drink wine every time I go out for dinner, so Belgium was a welcome change for me.
Belgians drink beer with their meals, in fact, most restaurants over there don’t have a wine list, they have a beer menu. Page after page of mouth-watering, tasty and strong beer. And you feel like you’re getting the respect you deserve for drinking it, instead of being made to feel like you’re a cretinous oaf or a football hooligan.
Even the pubs have menus, with 300 beers available. In one pub, Brenda and I ordered one beer from each page of its leather bound beer-tome, and we were nicely sloshed by the time we left to get dinner – Brenda especially – and we’d only made it halfway through. I’ve been to beer festivals where they haven’t approached that kind of variety. In fact, not long after we returned from our weekend away, we went to the Chorlton Beer Festival, where they were boasting of having thirty – thirty – different ales. I sneered condescendingly. That’s not even trying is it? The festival runs from Friday night until Sunday, and they’ve always run out of beer by Saturday evening. Get enough in!
I had never had any compulsion to visit Belgium, but Brenda came home one day saying that there were cheap fares on the Eurostar. They weren’t that cheap, but when we tried Skyscanner.net we found we could get flights for free – plus taxes, and that came to about £30 each (or £30 altogether. I can’t really remember now). Mind you, the flights were actually to Charlerois, which isn’t strictly Brussels, but that’s Ryanair for you.
When I mentioned to my friend Paul that we were going to Belgium, he sounded really excited, and said, “I’ve always wanted to go there.”
“Really?!? Why? What’s in Belgium?”
Beer. Great beer. You can forget your Stella Artois, they have loads of different types of beer. Most of them are so strong that they don’t necessarily come in pints, it can be a half or even less, and there’s nothing unmasculine about it – unless you’re drinking one of the fruit beers. And I don’t mean that as a homophobic slur – some beers are made with fruit! Drinking fruit beer is a bit girly, but you’re old enough to make your own decisions, Nancy.
If you live in Europe, and you are looking for a city break, I’d recommend it – especially Bruges, which is very peaceful, but a great place to wander around and drink. It probably works best for couples though.
You will want to try the chocolate too. We found a place where they give you a mug of hot milk, and a saucer of melted chocolate to mix into it with chocolates on the side – very fancy hot chocolate. There were portraits of dogs dressed in suits on the walls too, so that was pretty special.
You can drink as much of the beer as you want, and it won’t destroy the sweetness of the chocolate, and you can eat as much chocolate as you want, and it won’t dull the taste of the beer. Well done to the Belgians.
Apologies for the lack of booze porn this week, but I’m afraid I don’t have anything relating to this adventure. Rest assured though, I’ll be back next week with the sequel to this post, and there should be one or two pictures to accompany that one. So do come back soon, and have a great Easter break.