Back to The Session

I’m not altogether sure what happened last month, but I missed the June edition of The Session entirely. What’s more, I probably would have missed this month’s, too, except for stumbling over the entry of the one person in North America who I know is a bigger beer traveller than am I. How do I know this? Simple, Stan Hieronymus
has the URL to prove it!

(Plus, Stan and his wife and daughter are in the middle of a lengthy excursion that has thus far taken them to 49 states, 9 Canadian provinces and 15 European countries. I’ve been to more of Canada and Europe than that, but not by much and over the course of a lifetime rather than a year and a bit.)

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, Gail and Steve of Beer by BART have chosen beer touring as their subject for this month, and as an inveterate voyager, it’s one I just can’t resist.

Their call is pretty open-ended, with room for everything from travel tips to stories to remembrances of a specific brew enjoyed somewhere on the road. I’ve never been good at choosing, so I’m going to tackle all three.

1. Tips: Getting there is seldom half the fun, but always a necessity, so try to travel calm and cool and collected. Something will go wrong and it may be your fault or someone else’s, but chances are there will be little you can do about it immediately. No need to yell at the flight attendant or train porter or odious government official, since it will not get you any further ahead. Sit back, relax, make sure than everything possible is being done to resolve the situation and remember that, one fine day, the whole experience is going to be a hell of a story.

Relish the moment. If you’re travelling for beer, chances are that’s what your sights will be set on, whether that means tasting a specific brew or visiting a certain brewery or beer bar. But sometimes the moment is more important than the beer, and the crappy bar with one or two fine ales and good conversation far better than the fetid and sweaty, overcrowded beer bar with the outrageously good selection.

Remember that no trip is a once-in-a-lifetime affair. You can go back, although it may seem an impossibility at the time. Things change, and what once seemed a distant dream can wind up being a very real possibility.

2. Stories: I’ve more tales of travelling in Belgium than I can sometimes remember, but one of my very favourites revolves around my first visit to the Gouden Ecu restaurant in Antwerp, as I related it years ago in Hemispheres Magazine.

As we walked through the front door, the chef looked up from his stove and glared. His stare was quickly echoed by the dozen or so patrons still nibbling sweets or sipping coffees at the end of their meals. All we wanted was dinner, but it was evident that we had committed a rather gross transgression of the rules.

Which, in truth, I knew before even setting foot in the restaurant. In complete disregard of the advice given me by my Belgian friend, I had led my friends to De Gouden Ecu without first calling for a reservation. Even worse, we had evidentially arrived at the end of dinner service. Now we were on the spot.

Slowly, as if physically burdened by the travail of once again having to deal with tourists, chef-owner Bert Debruyne lumbered towards us. When he finally reached the doorway, we explained that we were in search of a late dinner. He shrugged.

“Impossible,” he grumbled, “You didn’t call. I have no food.”

Hungry and reluctant to take no for an answer, we persisted. His restaurant came highly recommended, we enthused. We were sorry for not calling, but we had just arrived in Antwerp and we were starved for good food.

Our hopes rose when Bert instructed us to wait as he returned to his kitchen to check supplies. A few moments later, he lumbered back. “I have two rabbits and a guinea hen,” the grizzled chef announced, “You sit here.” Minutes later, Bert returned yet again with a large bottle of the beer he had determined would best accompany our dinner.

It goes on, but this is a blog post and I’m not Jay Brooks, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

3. The Specific Brew: Hugh’s Room is a bar and club in Toronto that regularly features blues and folk music. I had been there before and knew the beer selection was pretty sad, so I wasn’t expecting much when I arrived for a gig by my friend, Rick Fines.

Happily, however, things had changed at Hugh’s since my last visit and St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout had been added to the draught selection. I quickly ordered one, as if fearing that the mirage might vanish if I left it too long, and was rewarded with a stunning pint of ebony elixir. Maybe it was the joy of knowing that I wouldn’t be left beerless all night, or perhaps they had just that afternoon cleaned their lines and attached them to a fresh keg, but never before or since have I enjoyed that particular beer is such outstanding condition.

I’m not certain what that story says about travel and beer, since I only travelled across the city to drink the St. Ambroise, but somehow I think it might just reinforce numbers 1 and 2.


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