Just back from a short trip to Ghent. Castles, trapgevel, bicycles, chocolate, bells, canals, frites, stoverij, beer. Nice town – unlike Brussels, which seems to get filthier with every visit. We weren’t in Ghent long enough to really investigate the pubs, though we did have a couple of hours in the excellent Dulle Griet, squinting at the beer menu through the tobacco fug.
Another stop was the astounding Hopduvel, a ten minute walk outside the old city on the left bank of the Coupure canal. There are something like 1,200 different beers brewed in Belgium – and most of them are available in this barn of an off-licence. This selection is all I could physically carry – a curse of being a photographer is that my camera gear takes up space of at least six bottles.
Hiding at the back there is the most expensive beer I’ve ever bought – a Westvleteren 12, probably the most hyped brew of recent times. I’m sure you know the story – tiny batches, no labels, hard to find, yadda yadda. The beer is only officially available from the St Sixtus monastery, with its slightly bonkers reservation system. If you buy it anywhere else, it’s a sort of ‘grey export’.
WV12 is considered by some (not least Ratebeer) as the best beer in the world. How much of this opinion is formed by the exclusivity of it is hard to tell – but i’ve been looking for a bottle to try for two or three years. I picked this up at De Bier Tempel – researched by Mrs TIW as our best bet – in central Brussels along with a Westvleteren Blond and Westvleteren 8, the only three beers the monks brew commercially. I have no idea when i’ll try it – i’m almost scared of it.
On our walk back to Midi station we were shadowed by the world’s most obvious bag snatcher, culminating in a staring match before we got to the sanctuary of the Eurostar terminal. This is the third or fourth time we’ve been to the Belgian capital, and if anything Midi station is getting worse – reminding us of the stygian terminals we encountered on our rail journeys in China a few years back. Midi is certainly incomparable to the high Victorian glory of St Pancras that welcomes you back to London. Sort it out, Mr Van Rompuy.