Three Gems of Limburg Province
It’s August. High summer here in the northern hemisphere. The perfect time to sit outside and drink a beer or three, and to perhaps have a nice meal to boot. Maybe you are lucky enough to be headed to Belgium or are already there. Where to go, you ask?
How about I show you? Here are several great places to soak up the summer sun, ambiance and beer in Limburg Province, which is situated to the east of Brussels near the borders with Germany and the Netherlands.
Limburg does not get nearly the amount of visitors or recognition it deserves, but it is home to a number of great breweries and cafes, not the least of which is Brouwerij Kerkom. The brewery is located near Sint-Truiden and has a large open courtyard that is a favorite spot of locals for warm weather imbibing.
It doesn’t hurt that the beers brewed just yards away are some of the best in Belgium. The Bink Blond is a fine, dry-hopped, refreshing brew of 5.5 percent ABV that is oh-so delectable on draft. It’s one of Belgium’s top session beers. The Bruin (brown) is no slouch either, with a similar strength. It’s a typical malty Belgian brown ale.
Kerkom also has the interesting Reuss, which is a blend of Blond and aged lambic from 3 Fonteinen. Armand Debelder of 3 Fonteinen and Kerkom brewer/owner Marc Limet are friends.
Reuss is produced for the Bink festival (if you jet off to Belgium soon, you can make this year’s event on August 22 to 23!) Limet blends the lambic with a less bitter version of Bink Blond (38 IBUs versus 52 IBUs.) Reuss was the name of the first beer brewed at Kerkom in 1878.
All the Bink brews are unfiltered, unpasteurized and bottle-conditioned. Almost all of the hops in the beers are Belgian, grown in Poperinge. Limet has also been known to use American-grown Cascade hops on occasion for special brews.
Other Bink beers include Bloesem, a unique beer with local honey and pear syrup in its recipe, leading to a slight sweetness and fruity character; the tasty Tripel; and the dark, rich Winterkoninkske, a superlative winter brew of 8percent ABV that is brewed with juniper berries and lavender, among other things. Food is limited to small snacks like cheese. See http://www.brouwerijkerkom.be/en.
If you head northeast to Hasselt and then north to Helchteren you will come to another fine spot for warm-weather beer tasting. Brouwerij Ter Dolen is located on the grounds of a 16th century castle (Kasteel De Dool) that used to be the ÒvacationÓ home of the Abbots of St-Truiden.
In fact, several of the Ter Dolen beers were just granted official Belgian Abbey beer status by the Confederation of Belgian Brewers, making them the only recognized Abbey beers brewed in the province!
The brewery and castle are owned and run by . They craft four year-round beers in the modern brewery just yards from the large open-air courtyard where people gather to drink and enjoy the Belgian lifestyle.
These are Ter Dolen Blond, a fine session beer with 6 percent ABV; Ter Dolen Dark, an impressive brown ale with a fine malty character and 7 percent; Tripel, the strongest of the pack with 8percent ABV (best not have too many of these in the summer sun) and the relatively new Ter Dolen Kriek, a refreshing, somewhat sweet, easy drinking beer with 4.5 percent ABV. All these beers are available both on draft and in 33 cl bottles, which can be purchased to go. The cafe also offers light snacks like cheeses, sandwiches, sausages, tapas, shrimp, calamari and spare ribs.
Brewery tours are offered on weekend days at 3 pm, and the cost is 5 euro, which includes one drink. Group tours are also offered by appointment. Mieke and Jeroen also have B&B accommodations for a group up to six people in their castle!
There’s even a golf course nearby, in case anyone wants to hit the links before having a beer in the Ter Dolen courtyard. The cafe is open seven days a week in July and August, from noon onwards. See www.terdolen.be.
Fancy a Trappist beer and a meal? Head north towards the Dutch border on the road to Eindhoven, and take a little detour east to St-Benedictus Abdij de Achelse Kluis, at Hamont-Achel. Make that Achel for short! This, the sixth Belgian Trappist Abbey that brews beer, initially brewed from 1850 to 1912, and restarted with a modern brewhouse in 1999.
As at most of the other Belgian Trappist Abbeys, Achel is situated very near the border with another country. The Netherlands, in this case. In fact, some of the Abbey grounds are indeed located in Dutch territory! The brewery, however is completely in Belgium.
There are two beers which are only available on draft there: Achel 5 degree Blond and Bruin. These delicious session brews are perfect for the cyclers that visit the Abbey tasting room, and for everyone’s summer imbibing.
Of course, the 8percent ABV Blond and Bruin Achel beers are also available in 33 cl bottled form, as is the pinnacle of the Achel range, the superb Extra. This brew is only found in 75 cl bottles, which are hand-filled by the monks inside the brewery.
Snacks like cheeses, sandwiches, soups and sausages are offered in the cafeteria-like setting adjacent to the brewery. If you visit at the right time, you might see Brother Jules or Marc Knops working in the brewery! You can sit outside in the open inner courtyard of the Achel complex.
There is a museum of monastic life and a shop selling spiritual items related to the Catholic faith and the Trappist monks. There’s also a shop where several hundred different beers and glasses are available for take-away enjoyment, as well as a variety of cheeses and chocolates. Achel is a spot not to be missed! See www.achelsekluis.org.
Cheers, Gezondheid and Sante!
Charles (“Chuck”) Cook