Thursday, September 25, 2008

One Week 'Til Belgium

Literally YEARS of planning and preparation culminates next Thursday as I board a plane and wing my way to Belgium. Twelve years after my first visit and 11 years since my last, I will finally get back to Belgium and take the full beery trip I have always wanted to do.

Whereas my last trips were sidestops of larger trips or fortunate port of calls, this one will venture outside of the Antwerp\Brussels junkets I have done before into the countryside of Wallonia, the fields of West Flanders and the cities of Brugge and Gent.

Bags are beginning to be packed, reservations and deposits have been finalized and the itinerary is complete. A few resources that I found especially useful that I can pass along to others...

1) Tim Webb's Good Beer Guide to Belgium - I will know for sure once I go but I can't imagine that there is any better guide for a beer trip to Belgium anywhere on the market. Webb is an entertaining and opinionated writer and it's very thorough even for the smaller towns.

2) Belgian Beer Pub Map - While not as thorough as Tim Webb's guide, this website is maintained by Belgian beer fan Filip Geerts and features an easy to navigate map that enables you to see the worthy beer establishments in each town. There are a lot of little known gems in his lists and the best part is you can download all the data in a .ov file for use in your TomTom GPS. I imagine this will be very, very helpful during the car journey portion of the trip.

3) Belgian Beer Board - Another Geerts creation, the best part of this site is Filip's blog. He's turned me on to a few pubs and beer stores I had not heard of before and has been keeping up with the newest and best new beer releases in the West Flanders area. Excellent resource and excellent pictures to go with.

4) The Burgundian Babblebelt - Very useful for keeping up with the latest goings on in the Belgian beer scene. For example, the sad news of the closing of the Hopduvel cafe in Gent was reported there last week and I have seen no news of that anywhere else. Better to know now before going out of my way to visit only to find the place shuttered! Lots of expertise among the users who gave me some useful tips on some of the finer points of my planned visit. Also has city/province guides as well as many Babbler trip reports.

5) - The Belgium group in the Beer Forum is not nearly as active at the BBB but offers some good info on planning your Belgium trip, especially if you're coming from the U.S. Very good insights on brewery tours and arranging to buy Westvleteren at the abbey. The BeerFly feature also allow you to search various Belgian cities for notable pubs and beer stores.

6) Belgian Tourist Office Website - They devote a page to Beer Lovers coming to Belgium. While not comprehensive in content, it is comprehensive in the links it has to dozens and dozens of resources to learn more about Belgian beer. A good calendar for regular beer festivals and such. Also a good start for looking for accommodations and previewing non-beery attractions.

7) Michael Jackson's Great Beers of Belgium - My edition of this classic is fairly outdated but it was Jackson's writings that first made me aware of Belgium's brewing traditions and got me to buy my first Belgian beers. It's coming with me to Belgium if for nothing else but nostalgia.

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