It wasn't a totally a voluntary decision. The plan had been to combine the RateBeer meeting in Antwerp and Bruxellensis. I enjoyed the Ratebeer meeting last year tremendously, especially finally getting to drink Zoigl (thanks Sebastian). But it wasn't to be. Dolores was away in Germany and I had to look after the kids. I suppose I could have taken them to Antwerp, but I doubt it would have gone down too well with everyone else. Whilst sitting around trying weird and wonderful beers might be fascinating for me, I can't see it occupying the kids' attention for long. A beer festival is another matter.
Andrew has an impressive array of beer festivals under his belt: ZBF (twice), Hasselt, Essen, Annafest, Peterborough to name just a few. And still he won't drink beer. I suppose, being just 11, he still has time to acquire the taste. We have a wager about beer drinking. I bet him 50 euros that he would drink a beer by the time he's 18. Andrew thinks that's easy money. I do, too. I wonder which of us has got it right?
I only have one criticism of Bruxellensis. The instructions on how to get there by train say to take the 81 or 82 tram from Gare du Midi. We jumped on the latter. It was soon obvious that it wasn't going in the direction of the festival. Andrew usually manages all the navigation on public transport. I assume he'll need to know the way back, as I won't be aware of which town I'm in, let alone which direction to go after a day's boozing. It's a good system. But this time I had to take control. As luck would have it, we got off at just the right stop to change to a 97 tram, which does go the right way. Thank you god. I owe you one.
The festival is held in a building called Ijskelders van St. Gillis (Ice Cellars of St. Gillis). It looks like an old bus garage inside, but I think the name gives away it's original purpose. Rather Spartan and industrial but not without a certain charm. I would provide you with photos so you could judge for yourselves, but Dolores had the camera in Germany. Hopefully I can borrow some of Andy's.
The organisers have strict criteria for selecting participants. This is how they put it:
"There will thus be present brewers producing beers, the majority of which, if not all, have well-defined characteristics. The aim is to support and defend those who have made the decision to turn their back on easy commercial gain but rather have adopted a fighting stance against beers with little flavour. They are thus brewers who wander off the well-trodden path. They work in breweries on a human, rather than an industrial scale, using traditional and natural methods, and are guided by higher motives than an unbridled pursuit of profit. They are small in size, but their contribution to our brewing heritage is enormous: they are the ultimate guarantors of the preservation of centuries old tradition and produce beers with a genuine diversity of flavours."
An admirable viewpoint. It means that, whilst quite small, the festival offers an impressive number of distinctive and exciting beers. Certainly more than I could manage in three hours. Though I did have three pints of Mild. And a couple of pints of Alt. With so many beers of 5% ABV and under, I was delighted to get my hands on a pint glass. I would have gone crazy drinking Mild from the tiny festival tasting glass.
It's also an international festival. Two brewers from Finland, two from England, half dozen from the Rhineland, several from Franconia, and one each from Spain and France were represented. Plus 10 Belgian breweries, mostly very small and traditional. A unique mix.
It must say something about me (probably not very complimentary) that I always bump into loads of people I know at festivals. Bruxellensis was no exception. Jeremy from the Babblebelt, Fred Waltman, Andy and Evi, Mike Kavanagh, Marlies and Hugh of Bierlijn. Quite impresive, especially considering many were at the RateBeer meeting. (Apologies to those of you - probably the majority - who don't have the faintest idea who all these people are.)
I only have one concern: that it might get too popular. It was just about right on Saturday afternoon. It was possible to get a seat and get served. But there wouldn't need to be that many more attendees to bugger all that up. I hope it doesn't become a victim of its own success.
Those of you able to read Dutch can find Andrew's account of the day here.