Belgian Beer Needs R. Crumb’s Help

January 20, 2009

The fabulous bottle-conditioned bounty of Belgium.

The fabulous bottle-conditioned bounty of Belgium.

Like Darwin stepping off the HMS Beagle to behold the Iguana and Komodo, a beer lover in Belgium is confronted the widest array of concentrated beer bio-diversity in the world. And I, like a schoolboy reading battered science-fiction novels under the covers with a flashlight and eager imagination, devoured Michael Jackson’s romantic tales of the arcane brewers and brasseries of Belgium. His tireless chronicles of the Belgian beer mages and their unconventional approach to beer-making, sense-of-humour, and blatant disregard for the so-called rules of brewing tradition, turned these ordinary men into the bandit folk-heroes of my amateur home-brewer dreams. If there were trading cards I would have collected them. R. Crumb, are you listening?
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Brewer Puppet with Apron and Mash Paddle, Pipaix

Brewer Puppet with Apron and Mash Paddle, Pipaix

Trappist monasteries like Orval, Westmalle, and Westvleteren, pouring candied sugar syrup into Singles, Dubbels, and Trippels, weaving prayers, incantations,  into their arcane design. Bearded Lambic Blenders of  Lambeek and Beersel and their ancient art of collecting wild yeast and bacteria from the heavens, weaving their concoctions into alchemical realities called Geuzes, hitherto only known by the mad and delusional. Farmhands of Hainaut, churning cheese and mashing grain, until Sunday, when their wives go to chapel and they go to the brasserie to shoot bumper pool and drink gallons of sundappled and peppery Saison  — the list went on and on, like a league of Superheroes, each with their own super power, uniform and ethos.
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Mrs. Beaglethorpe Enjoying her Frites

Mrs. Beaglethorpe Enjoying her Frites in Antwerpen

Recently, my wife and I had the great fortune to tour Belgium for a couple of weeks. After years of drinking improperly handled bottle-conditioned beers that survived their trek in questionable condition, to make their way across the Atlantic ocean. We decided to make the jump. We booked a flight, rented a car, grabbed our tattered copies Jackson’s “Great Beer Guide to Belgium,” and Tim Webb’s “Good Beer Guide to Belgium”, and with a determined and well-conditioned livers, had the time of our lives, one amazing beer at time.  And yet still, like some obsessed collector of old blues acetates, I yearned to meet the heroes behind the music. R. Crumb, I’ll say it again, are you listening?

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