I’m a beer snob. I won’t claim full connoisseur status because I have several friends who know far more than I do about beer and a few who even brew their own, but I’m always looking to try new beers instead of relying on a basic Bud or Miller. So when The Nickel Slots decided to tour in Belgium I was excited about more than just the shows we’d play. Belgium is known for great beer, with hundreds of breweries in what is (to a Californian like me) a very small country. So I was going to expand my horizons!
This wasn’t a vacation where I could choose where to drink and plan things to maximize my beer exploration: we were playing a show every day, so my opportunities were dictated by those venues (and sometimes by the choices of others who brought us beer on stage). Though we played in Brussels, I didn’t get the chance to visit Délirium Café and its selection of 2000+ beers. Still, I managed to drink 25 different beers in 12 days. The full list is below for any of you who wants to go shopping at your local specialty beer shop. As I said, I’m not a connoisseur, and I wasn’t taking notes beyond the names of the beers I tried, so I won’t try to describe them all with words like “finish” and “mouthfeel.” I’ll just give you some of my best beer memories from the tour.
Cafés (pubs) in Belgium have a basic light lager that you get if you simply ask for a pint, or pintje. This is usually Stella Artois, Jupiler, or another mass-produced beer that is the Belgian equivalent of Budweiser. I didn’t get to branch out beyond a pintje until our third night, after the Dylan concert and a show we played with an outdoor beer stand. That night at Bikers Loft Groenedijk I tried Leffe Brune and started working on the other guys to branch out in their own beer selection, since at home they’re pretty faithful Bud Light drinkers. Chris and Steve did that quite a bit during the tour, but Tony was happy with his pintje.
A couple of nights later at Het Keizershof I told co-owner Wlad that I wanted to try something dark, and he immediately thought of an idea but warned me that it was pretty strong. The beer he brought me was a Charles Quint, a dark and very sweet beer that lived up to his warning. I could feel the 9% alcohol partway through my first glass, and because we wouldn’t eat dinner until after our show I was planning to switch to something weaker. But while I was busy performing I didn’t have the chance to communicate that and Wlad and Kim kept bringing me more of the same. Woo-hoo! Steve tried a couple of Charles Quints too, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that he forgot the notes of his guitar lead in “Fare Thee Well” for the first time ever.
We encountered a lot of local beers that aren’t easily found outside of the region where they’re brewed. In Lebbeke I tried Vicaris Generaal and Op-Ale (no link for this one because BeerAdvocate doesn’t have a page for it), each of which I was told by a local was “the best beer in Belgium.” In Arendonk I drank an Arendonker Tripel and a couple glasses of Keikop, which comes from the new Plukker brewery. I met one of Plukker’s brewers in the café that night, who told me that they’re only able to brew 2000 liters a month, so they’re looking to contract other breweries to make their beer.
Sometimes our new Belgian friends shared their favorites with us, wanting to help Americans navigate the unfamiliar landscape of Belgian beer. Our friend Tom, a huge Bob Dylan fan who drove us to Bonn to see that concert, thanked us for that opportunity by buying us a round of Tripel Karmeliet when he came to see us play in Gierle. We became quite fond of that beer, which is light but has a rich flavor and doesn’t taste as strong as it is (8.4%). At Bruce ‘n Blues, where we played in Lebbeke, owner Bruce enthusiastically helped me find new beers to try. He also refused to accept our drink tickets when we ordered beer, essentially letting us drink as much as we wanted (I tried five new beers that night!). This was pretty typical for club shows on this tour, a bit different from the clubs at home that usually give band members one or two drinks each.
I’m a fan of India Pale Ales and other hoppy beers, which are not the usual Belgian style, so I didn’t find many hops on this tour. The only such beer I encountered was Palm Hopper, which was featured at Café Merlo in Brussels. It was a decent amber ale, not a real hop monster. I suppose it’s probably good that I didn’t find much hoppy beer: that forced me to try more styles I wouldn’t normally go for.
I guess I did a decent job of beer exploration, because at our show on the final night of the tour Ace Café didn’t have any beers that I hadn’t tried. That was OK, because they had Duvel. I had quite enjoyed that beer before and was happy to drink a few Duvels on stage as we bid Belgium a fond farewell.
The list below is all the beers I tried in Belgium and the Netherlands on The Nickel Slots’ 2012 tour. Drink up!
St. Bernardus Abt. 12
Ename Cuvee 974
Tongerlo Dubbel Donker
St. Bernardus Tripel