Leuven beer festival took place in a conference centre outside the city. I’d deliberately not done my homework and so went without too many preconceptions other than my vision of breweries with bars set up around a field, or at least in a marquee, with people milling around and enjoying a beer sat on the grass in the sunshine. I was very wrong. A large conference hall with 83 individual six foot stands arranged in squares. There were a few tables, although getting a seat was a challenge, and a few patches of floor on which to sit. Ironically the only fresh air was in the outside smoking compound and the inside was jammed full of beer drinkers making it a little stuffy.
But first impressions aside it turned out to be a fantastic day!
We started light and worked our way up to some heavier darker beers. I am no expert and would have no idea whee to start without guidance, but Ben’s commentary and direction took us on a journey from the lighter stuff to the stronger stuff via the just plain unusual stuff. Some, to my mind, much better than others.
On arrival I spotted across the hall a huge sign for Dead Man’s Hand, and insisted we try it. When we eventually arrived they also had a beer called Ace of Spades that I opted for. But Dead Man’s Hand turned out to be the beer of the day, for me anyway. A dark almost coffee like flavor saw about four of my tokens spent on the tipple.
At this festival it wasn’t a case of buying half or a pint at each stall. On arrival you paid 10 euros for a 10cl (or 100ml) glass and seven tokens, each token got you on 10cl glass of beer. We then topped up with another 10 token leaving us with 17 for the day – a surprisingly easy amount to get through.
By beer three or four we had got use to the hustle and bustle, had found a few comfy spots to stand at the side and were well and truly into the swing of things.
By beer 16 we had found a table far away from the crowds and were watching as stalls packed away for the evening. Somehow the afternoon and evening (we’d arrive about 1pm) had disappeared and it was closing time.
The bus back to the station was packed full of drunken Europeans signing football songs loudly in various languages. A fellow commuter told me they were Italian, Dutch and French, although none of the teams actually played against each other so it was all good natured. It also transpired that he was from Antwerp but heading to Brighton this week and had friends in Bristol.
Possibly our most ‘real’ experience of Belgium beer (well drinking) probably came as we killed time waiting for the train in a boozer opposite the station. It was the kind of place were you stuck to the floor, and was clearly only frequented by locals. The beer, although only Stella (it was pretty much next door to the Stella factory), was half the price we’d paid anywhere else.
We sat in a glass wall enclosed smoking area and watch the general melee. A group of men were playing a billiards like game I’ve never seen before, and one of them appeared to be having some trouble standing using the tale as an aid every time he needed to move!
Back in Brussels after a day of drinking the obvious place to find ourselves was the Absinthe bar – it seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea at the time! We (and and I, the other two were sensible) end up drinking what tasted like pure alcohol but was actually the lowest alcohol Absinthe they sold (42%).
From there the night went unsurprisingly downhill (in the best possible way!)! We found ourselves in an Irish bar drinking (more) Stella, apart from Ben who had one Coke then sensibly (having had five more beers than us at the festival) made a beeline for bed. Andy, Paul and I, however thought it was a good idea to drink more, and more, and more. Eventually finding our way home at about 5am!