Archive for September, 2012

beer tour – women only

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

I’m not sure where to start this entry – it really begins with a Belgian TV show and a woman I know slightly at work. Both are all about beer.

The Belgian show Tournée Générale appeared in 2009-11, and featured two men touring around Belgium to explore its beer and beer culture. The woman at work, Judy, whom I know mostly because she used to sit with some guys I work closely with, is also into exploring beer; she and her boyfriend go to beer festivals on weekends and plan vacation to taste beers in different countries. (She’s the only European I’ve met who not only believes me that the US has great beer and that the menu doesn’t begin and end with Budweiser, but who has actually traveled around and tasted a wide variety of microbrews.) So when a woman here who works in the beer industry and blogs about beers was inspired to plan a woman-only beer tour in the style of the Tournée Générale, Judy found out about it and told me.

At first I thought, “Sounds like fun, too bad I’ll be working that day.” Then I realized it was the sort of opportunity I’d kick myself if I missed. I had the time to take, so I signed up. Then I spent the next few weeks wondering if I’d amde a mistake: I didn’t know anything about who was running the tour, how it would be funded, or if I’d be left out while everyone chattered in Dutch all day.

The answers to those questions turned out to be the efficient Fiona, a woman with a passion for beer; still no idea how that worked; and yes, a bit, but not too bad respectively. We met at den Bosch, a city twenty minutes away from me on the train, at 8:30. Departure was planned for 8:45 but we were held up by a combination of traffic and train issues – the shuttle van we would be traveling in got to the train station late, and some trains weren’t running at all, resulting in a few people being stuck in Breda. Fiona decided that it would be quicker for us to pick them up than for them to take a bus to den Bosch, so we started the day with a bit of a detour.

Once all eleven of us were aboard the shuttle, we headed to Brouwerij Emelisse, in Zeeland. In some ways this one was may favorite, maybe partly because it was a lot like a US brewpub. It was quiet, this being a Wednesday morning. There wee beautiful copper kettles in front of the entry and a nice eating area, with more of the brewing done downstairs away from the public area. The other reason I liked this one was the variety of their beer; in addition to the usual blonde, dubbel and tripel beers, they also had three kinds of IPA (India Pale Ale) and two stouts. (IPA and stout are ales, which ferment at room temperature and are more common in English beer styles. Beers from Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands are generally lagers, which ferment at lower temps – blond, dubbel and tripel are styles with increasingly stronger flavor. There’s some good info on beer styles here, but it’s excellent on ales and not so good on lagers. There’s better info on Belgian beer styles here.) I brought back samples of all three IPAs for Ted, since they’re his favorite.

Next we headed to Brugge to visit Brouwerij Halve Maen, which has been open since the mid 1800s and is still run by the same family. We were given a tour by the CEO Xavier, who is the sixth generation of his family to run the brewery. This was much more crowded than Emelisse, and a completely different experience. Brugge is a beautiful old city that’s very popular with tourists. The courtyard was full of people eating and drinking, and our private tour was sandwiched between the public tours they provide in three languages. The beers there are in the Trappist style: Zot, which is a blond, and Straffe Hendrik, a tripel.

If the first brewery looked like an American brewpub and the second was a tourist attraction, the third, Brouwerij Bosteels, was a working factory. At this place we again got a tour from the CEO himself, who in this case was the seventh generation of the family to run the brewery. This one is even older than Halve Maen; their primary beers are Triple Karmeliet, whose recipe dates back to 1791, and Kwak, whose recipe is from 1697, making it even older than the brewery. They also make Deus, a “champagne beer that’s double fermented and put through some of the same processes as champagne to produce something that is truly unique. (All of these tours were in Dutch, so I could only get the gist of parts of them; I think the CEO was telling us they’d tried to market Deus for brunches, but that it hadn’t quite worked out.)The most impressive part of this tour for me was the warehouse: I don’t think I’ve ever been in the presence of that much beer. Afterward we went to the small private bar to have a taste. One thing that’s common among Belgian and Dutch beers is that each one has its own special style of glass; you can see in the photos that the Kwak is served in a unique bulb-shaped glass, which is supported by its own wooden rack.

Speaking of the photos, it was too hard to choose and I didn’t want to wait too long to get this entry up, so here – have a whole gallery. You can click on any image to enlarge it.

Ted Competes at the FISA World Rowing Masters Regatta

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Last week I took time off work to row at the FISA World Rowing Masters Regatta. This is a very large regatta run by the international rowing federation (FISA) that is held in different locations around the world each year. This year it was held in Duisburg, Germany which is only 100km from where we currently live, so I just had to attend even though I was not really prepared.

The regatta was very big, with over 3,000 competitors representing 44 countries, participating 449 races held over 4 days. The overall competition level was extremely high and the average size of the rowers made me feel very small. (Comment from Paula: Welcome to my world!!!.) This was the first time my Dutch rowing partner and I had rowed a 1K race together and we wanted to use this as a learning opportunity. We rowed 2 races with OK results in our heats, but our overall times were not that good compared to the entire field. From a learning perspective it was a very successful race; we were able to review the data from our first race and make measurable improvements in our second race. Now, we need to continue improving for the World Masters Games in Torino next year, and apply what we learned in our next race this weekend in Rotterdam. I also raced in the single where I was last in my heat, but based on my time I was close to the middle of the overall field.

The rowing venue in Duisburg is awesome, and was the highlight of the trip. The course was laid out in the standard international 2K competitive race track with the launch and retrieval area separated from the racecourse, with a long channel to the start area, and then a fully outfitted 8 lane race course that finished in front of a covered stadium with a jumbo-tron. What made this unique is how it was integrated with the very beautiful park and other outdoor activities. For example, there was a ropes course going over the water, so while rowing to the start of the race people were ziplining across the water above you. The race course also provided a first for me: This is the first time I raced with a full Olympic-style start. This included a “boot” that is raised from under the water and holds the bow of your boat. This “boot” prevents rowers from false starting, and retracts when the race is started. For a big regatta like this, with races starting every 3 minutes, the “boot” system really helps speed up the alignment of the boats at the start of the race.

The other amazing aspect of the venue was the food and drink. Since we were in Germany the beer tents were abundant. These beer tents were supplemented with all sorts of different tents selling specific beverages including: Champaign, Gin, mixed drinks, RedBull, soft drinks and coffee. The only drink missing was sports drinks, but I guess in Germany RedBull is a sports drink? Unfortunately Paula could not attend the regatta and really missed out because her favorite two foods were prevelent, grilled shrimp and soft pretzels. (Comment from Paula: He did bring me home several soft pretzels – much beter than getting flowers!)

Overall it was a great experience and a lot of fun, even though we did not bring home any medals this time.