Developing the Belgium Beer Ride
When I was reflecting what type of rally or ride could be done in Belgium, things seemed to be complicated: the country is simply too small to do a SS1600 there (1000 miles in 24 hours). Anyway, what could be the theme for a ride? What do most people think when they hear “Belgium”? Chips/Fries, chocolate…..and beer! Why not visiting some of the most iconic places related to Belgian beers? I sat own and tried to develop a ride on the computer…trappist and abbey breweries and monasteries, famous beer makers, the Belgian Brewers Museum….there are many places to visit. After all, Belgium has 180 breweries. I had already proposed this ride to the IBA Germany for 2015, so I needed to check out all the locations I had on my list. I had thought of a special twist, apart from visiting more than 20 locations in less than 24 hours, some tickets of purchases should be collected in shops near some locations. The crucial problem is that the opening times need to be known – some of them change a lot from day-to-day and month to month. So this will be the tricky part of the planning – the route itself is doable even for beginners, but the receipts will require a thorough preparation. In the end, this was what it looked like:
As it was already end of November, it was evident that I needed at least two days to visit and verify all the different places as I needed to take the pictures at daylight. I realized that my place in Belgium is not necessarily the best place to start the ride, but I was just scouting and in the end, I visited all the places in four different days. The nearby abbey of Postel was visited by car before I took off on the next Saturday morning with temperatures slightly above the freezing point:This was a good test for my new Clearview screen, the largest windscreen you can order on this planet for the ST1100. I had also wired the electric jacket to the bike. This would be a good test for the low temperature capabilities of the Pan. I set off for Achel, a monastery that is right on the Dutch-Flemish border. I mean, literally. It is situated partly in The Netherlands and partly in Belgium. I only noticed after 5 km that I had missed turn to the abbey. Well, for the first time in a long time, I used a map for navigation as I had not yet connected the Sat Nav to the bike. I kept the GPS in the tank bag and used it only for the last 1 km to find the exact location, if needed. A strange feeling. Riding just with a map like in the good old days. At least I’m still capable of doing it. The next generations will have troubles with this archaic technique. I took a picture and bought a nice big bottle of Achel Trappist that I stored in my panniers. I was carrying the panniers, the top box and the tank bag: I was prepared for a fat loot.
For the next place, I had to cross the Netherlands and get back to the North-eastern part of Wallonia. I had a great view from the top of the before descending to the Abbey of Val Dieu.
At the abbey, I took a picture of the entrance and purchased a big bottle of Val Dieu. If this would continue like this…I enjoyed riding through the hills before I entered the motorway to the South. This was an easy ride through the Ardennes now, but soon I had to turn for the next brewery: not far from the exit, there is the rather young brewery of Achouffe, which is known for its dwarf on the beer label:
There is a shop at the nearby restaurant where they sell a lot of merchandising, including beer. I bought a big bottle of…..something special: the 2014 Château d’Ychouffe. The beer is made with some added grape must from Sauternes. I opened the bottle as an aperitif on New Year’s Eve…and was surprised! Delicious stuff! Try this en lieu of Champagne.
I continued my trip on the motorway and reached the very South of Belgium. I followed the winding roads on the border with France and reached the next famous Trappist monastery: Orval. I remembered the red post box on the outer wall from the Magic 12 Rally. I entered the shop where people left with happy faces and two boxes of beer under their arms. Orval is not one of my favorites so I picked a cooking book with advanced recipes using Trappist beers as ingredient. Yummy!
The next stop was Rochefort: the fog in the South vanished and I could cruise through the Walloon countryside to my next destination. The monastery and brewery of Rochefort cannot be visited. This is a pity, a nice café serving this great beer would be a good idea. I took my picture of the very red entrance building and moved on.
The temperature in the afternoon climbed to about 5 degrees, but I felt nice and warm. The wind protection was excellent and the heated jacket did the rest although I did not need more than 50 % of the maximum power. This was a nice and winding ride now. Soon I reached the abbey of Maredsous. This abbey can’t be visited either. Again I went southwards towards the city of Chimay. A closed road made me have to improvise and use some small roads. Remember, I didn’t use any GPS.
I had selected not the abbey itself, but the place where the beer is bottled. However, there was no shop where beer could be purchased. However, I found a shop in the vicinity (called “Discobeer”, haha) where I bought a Chimay Grande Réserve…a big bottle, of course. Now it was already time to return home. On the way home, I planned to visit the two locations in Brussels although I knew that I’d have to visit them the next day again. I approached Brussels from the West through the ‘colorful’ quarter of Molenbeek. It was Saturday evening and I experienced for the first time something like ‘traffic’ on that day.
I found the Brewery of Cantillon closed. Of course, as it was already almost 7 p.m. I took my picture and went on to the centre of Bruxelles, passing the Xmas market in the streets.
Finally I had to park next to the Grand Place and walk to the square. An enormous sound and light show welcomed me. The old houses were illuminated with constantly changing colours. When I flipped my helmet open, I realized in my face how cold it actually was. At the end of the square, I found the Belgian Brewers Museum – of course closed. As it was dark, I planned to come back the next day. On the way back, some women asked me the way. I told her I wouldn’t know either. “Oh, I thought you’d be police. Your helmet….”.
I mounted the Pan and returned home. It was apparently quite chilly, but I felt quite comfortable with my heated jacked. I spent the night at home and left again before sunrise. My first stop was the abbey of Westmalle. Another iconic Trappist brewery, it cannot be visited, so I had to take a picture from the outside.
The next destination was in Antwerp; the brewery “De Koninck” is the most famous beer of the largest city in Flanders. I needed several attempts to find my way through the confusing system of one way streets. Remember, I carried no GPS. It was Sunday morning, so traffic was basically absent. On my way to the South, I passed the Brewery Duvel. I decided to include it in the ride on the spot. The large storage facility carries the big letters “Pssst….here ripes the devil” (Duvel). The next step was not far away, the best amber beer in Flanders: Palm Breweries. The next spot in Brussels was not far away and as it was still Sunday morning, I could get to the city centre easily. I noticed that slowly I was getting cold. Had the electric jacket stopped working? Must be a contact problem of my distribution box. I would fix it at the next stop. I returned to the Grand Place in Brussels and finally took my picture at daylight. The museum was supposed to be open – but apparently the Belgium brewers still had a handover for the large doors were still closed and nobody answered the doorbell. I returned to my bike and was approached by a Turkish tourist. He asked me the way to his hotel. As his English was rather non-existing, this was a difficult task. With the help of my battery driven GPS, I located his hotel I tried to convince him to take a taxi, as crisscrossing through the Centre of Brussels did not seem to be very successful. When he went away, three ladies took his place. They asked with a familiar accent so I asked where they came from. “Catalunya”. Aha, so I dug out my rusty Catalan for the rest of the conversation. “Bon dia!” Amazement stage 1. How can I help you guys? The way to your hotel? Let me check the GPS… Amazement stage 2. Why do you speak Catalan? Well, I lived in Barcelona. Amazement stage 3. No, actually I’m not a policeman…yes, I know, my helmet…Amazement stage 4. No, I’m not Belgian. I’m a tourist…I’m German…yes, on a Belgian bike. Amazement stage 5. “Adeu!”
I went again to Cantillon, but the museum was closed on Sundays. So I went westwards in the direction of Oudenaarde. I soon noticed that the two funny encounters in Brussels had distracted me from finding the problem of the not working jacket.
Temperatures were about 3 degrees at the moment. Fresh, but I missed the cosy warmth of the jacket. Finally I stopped at the brewery Liefmans. The are known for their fruity beers and exposed a big copper mash at the entrance. I took off the seat and checked the trigger wire of the Dispatch 1 box if the plus tapping still worked. Aha! The tools bag moved position when I had rattled over the Belgian cobble stones and disconnected the trigger wire. I connected it again and – aaaaah! I was “electrified” again. I went south and entered Wallonia again. I had specifically looked for a point in south-west Belgium to extend the circle a bit. I had selected the Dubuisson brewery near Barry. The was some drizzle now, but I felt nice and warm again. I took my picture of Dubuisson and hesitated for a moment if I should make a break in the warm café. But I had my plans. The next stop would be the highlight of the day.
I travelled back to the Flemish side and passed Kortrijk and Ieper (Ypres). It was cold, misty and raining and I remembered that hundred years ago, the advance of the German army came to a halt in these fields in the Westhoek. For four more years, the Youth of Europe was butchered here and almost 500.000 victims soaked the soil with their blood.
Luckily I was on a much more peaceful mission and headed towards the centre of beer pilgrimage in Belgium (according to many): the Trappist abbey of Westvleteren. Being elected as “the best beer of the world” several times, it is probably the most sought beer in Belgium. Extremely hard to get, you can only buy it at the abbey after a long procedure, or buy it in the abbey shop…or drink it in the abbey café. Finally I had found the parking of the abbey in the fog. I took my picture of the entrance and realized that people left the shop with a happy smile on their face…and some boxes of beer under their arms. Oh, there was the possibility to buy the beer! I queued up and when it was my turn, I was allowed to buy 3 boxes of Westvleteren12; 18 small bottles of beer in total. For the tiny price of 60 Euros. Gulp. I sat down in the Café “in de Vrede” and ordered a Westvleteren 12, from the tap – an opportunity not to be missed. I checked my route and concluded that it could be difficult to visit the last two Trappist abbeys in The Netherlands by daylight. So I contacted my fellow LD rider Giel north of Antwerp and arranged a visit instead.
I continued my trip and entered Brugge (Bruges). I needed to reactivate my non-GPS orientation skills as road signs is not always a core competence of good old Belgium. I could avoid the tourist area and found soon the brewery “De Halve Maan”. The next stop was near Gent and while riding there, I thought that the constant temperature of 3°C didn’t bother me. The Pan really passed the test. I had first some problems to take the right motorway exit (again, no GPS), but in the end I found the brewery Huyghe in Melle.
It is known for the beer Delirium Tremens with the pink elephant. A large brewing kettle is disposed in the front of the brewery. This was my last location for that day. I went to Antwerp and visited Giel. To my surprise, I arrived soaked as it started to rain! Luckily I could warm up at Giel’s cosy place and enjoy his hospitality.
I visited the two missing places on the following weekend: the Dutch(!) Trappist breweries of Maria Toevlucht and Koningshoeven. The two monasteries have only recently started up the brewing of Trappist beers. At Koningshoeven, there is a nice Café where one can try all the beers along with a nice snack.
At home, I had to sit down and prepare all the documents. As usual, this took a while 🙂 . I had to save and check all the coordinates, write the general description of the ride and describe each of the 21 locations providing some background information. Finally I had everything together and sent it to Gerhard for proofreading. Minor typos were corrected and Gerhard and Frank prepared the announcements and a fancy patch that a successful rider will receive after the ride is done and documented successfully. As to the purchase receipts, I decided that six tickets should be presented after the ride; this gives enough headaches during the planning, but should be achievable even for a not so experienced rider. In the end, this ride should be fun and not doable for a few riders only.
This is really a nice ride and I’m looking forward to riding it myself this year. The IBA Germany has decided to start a series of “ride of the year” with this one which means that this ride will only be certified in 2015. The riding documents are presented here.