Vuvuzela

Feeling a bit adventurous on Tuesday, Eve and I decided to take a 30-something minute bike ride to the Vuvuzela in Ham. Once we had a handle on how we supposed to order drinks, and after the food had finally turned up, it was all very pleasant.

The service did feel quite slow and, while they certainly weren’t speedy, I may be being a little unfair here.

With Tuesday being a public holiday, we’d had quite a late breakfast and, consequently skipped lunch. As such, we were both more than a little peckish by the time we arrived. Then we realised that the couple at the next table had ordered a stone-grilled steak. This is where you get the raw meat and a hot stone so you can cook your own — and it smelled so good…

Some of the slowness was probably also a reflection of the fact that this is primarily a fiets cafe — somewhere for cyclists to stop for a drink. I’m guessing, therefore, that they would normally expect you to order food at the bar and are struggling a bit with the switch to table-service that the coronavirus restrictions have imposed on them.

This has left them, however, with the maddest compromise possible.

While someone will come to our table to take our food order, and to serve the food once it’s finally ready, we are still expected to traipse into the bar to order and collect our drinks. It would probably be a bit saner to accept that things will be a bit slow and let the waiting staff handle the drinks as well.

That said, the drink selection was rather good — with much of it on draft as well. They have several very local beers, including their own Vuvuzela Bier. This was okay, but I much preferred the Cuvée Clarisse, a strong dark ale from Brouwerij Wilderen.

The food itself was very Flemish, which is no bad thing, and sitting on a terrace with a beer and burger is one of the better ways to spend a summer evening.

The cafe itself is situated in a large outdoor area with plenty of space for walking, cycling and mini-golf.

The kids should all be able to manage the bike-ride there, so we will certainly go back to explore further. Although next time, I will be very tempted to order some snacks along with our main course, just to keep us going while we wait.

Five Things #26

Safe, Child, Safe is an Obsidian and Blood Short Story from Aliette de Bodard. I now want to read the whole of this Aztec noir fantasy series.

Kristin Andrews and Susana Monsó point out that rats are sentient beings with rich emotional lives, and ask why they don’t get the same ethical protections as primates.

It’s a Brewtiful World visits Brasserie Cantillon, where he first discovered the joy of lambics and geuzes.

Hannah Wallace visits the town that stopped big bottled water.

Will Bedingfield looks at the strange evolution of conspiracy theories leading to coronavirus misinformation. Think before you share.

Five Things #23

Gut Feelings by Peter Watts imagines scenario in which gut flora reprogram the brain’s anger and image-recognition macros via the Vagus Nerve. It is, as the author notes, about as heartwarming as a Peter Watts fantasy can be.

Looking at how people keep on voting, Chris Dillow draws the obvious conclusion that the public does not want economic growth.

A possible third wolf has been sighted up at the Hoge Kempen National Park and its surroundings in Flanders, according to Landschap vzw, the nonprofit association behind Welcome Wolf.

In other Belgian rewilding news, the De Logt brewery will be introducing a ‘Naya’ beer, named after the ‘Belgian’ wolf that was killed last year, on 1st February. Part of the proceeds will be contributed to Welcome Wolf.

Tom Jolliffe takes a jaunt back to the 80’s to see how some of the decade’s biggest fantasy films have aged. Confession: I like Krull. And Time Bandits, for that matter.

English people speaking Dutch

This is what I asked for.

This is what the nice young man behind the bar handed to me.

I’m not sure how I managed to mispronounce Chimay Blauw quite that badly but, given that I did, I should probably stick to coffee for the rest of today.

For the record, I don’t normally drink bottled water. In fact, I never drink bottled water because the very idea of putting water into bottles and then charging people for the inconvenience strikes me as being fundamentally stupid. But it’s popular in Belgium.

And sparkling bottled water tastes disgusting.

Street parties, spaghetti westerns and my new favourite IPA

Kattenfeest is a street party that takes locally every year on the penultimate weekend of August. It’s a day of music, street theatre and kids activities as well as an opportunity for local clubs and groups to generate some interest and raise a bit of revenue that runs well into the evening. We don’t tend to stay overly late (young kids and all that) but it is a pleasant way to pass a sunny afternoon.

We ended up at a bar being manned by the karate club which had put a mat out in order to perform some demonstrations. Here they were serving a selection of local beers, which is how I came to be drinking a Schieve Hop from the Brouwerij De Schieve. I think I have just discovered my new favourite IPA.

Schieve Hop is a very pleasant dark blonde beer with a flavour that is hoppy, but not overpoweringly so. It went down very well, and was much appreciated, on the warm summer afternoon and is a beer I will certainly look out for again. I also loved the fact that the glass was almost as slanted as I was.

And so to my discovery of the day.

I have mentioned the music and this takes the form of a series of bands that play throughout the afternoon and into the evening. One of these bands (Taat Zot & Jasper, I think) was playing a series of 1950s and 1960s covers, including a rather good rendition of the theme from A Fistful of Dollars (or something very similar). This inspired a brief YouTube search and the discovery that this theme has also been performed by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra.

Enjoy.

Camp

This week has been a bit different as all three boys have been away at camp. They are members of a youth group and the week long (ten days for the oldest) summer camp is how they end the season.

So Eve and I delivered the twins to a field last Sunday (Macsen, being older, was part of the group that cycled there the previous Thursday).

Duvel at the Kamp

This left us wondering what to do with ourselves now that we were suddenly kids-free for a week. On Monday, we stayed in but on Tuesday we went out for sushi.

Leffe at Koji Sushi

We have been here before with the boys and, while they enjoyed the presentation they struggled a bit with the food and we haven’t taken them back. So this week seemed a good time for another visit.

I like sushi and the Koji sushi restaurant does a fantastic meal for two delivered, spectacularly, on a boat.

On Wednesday we went out again, this time to Volt, a restaurant we have been to multiple times.

Tripel Karmeliet at Volt

Volt is a reliably good restaurant and probably the only place locally that has a range of international foods on the menu.

The thing about Belgium is that, while the local food is very good, there isn’t much interest in anything beyond the borders. Which is odd given the extent to which Belgian food is a result of the country being stuck between France and Germany.

And so to Thursday when we decided to try something different and went to Het Atrium.

St. Bernadus at Het Atrium

The outdoor seating here is really nice and, while the menu is largely the usual Belgian fare they did have one addition — the Atrium Burger. I would never have believed that I could rave about a burger, but this was absolutely fantastic. It’s a sizable chunk of meat, along with a generous serving of bacon, an egg, and other stuff and it really was exceptional.

I will definitely go back for this again.

On Friday it rained and we went back to Volt.

Chimay Blauw at Volt

Today is the last day of camp and we are about to go and collect the twins. And then I shall have to make peace with my credit card.

Rutger Hauer

Rutger Hauer died yesterday, aged 75. There are plenty of tributes to the actor popping up all over the internet, all of which are deserved and many of which note the “Tears in Rain” monologue from Blade Runner. It’s a memorable speech, for which Hauer wrote much of the dialogue, and a powerful performance.

For me, however, Rutger Hauer will always be the true face of Guinness.

He will be missed.

Grutte Pier: Dutch Beer

This being Belgium, in the run-up to Christmas we visited a Christmas market. Me being me, we found a stall selling beers. This stall had a number of beers from a brewery I hadn’t heard of before — the Grutte Pier brewery in the Netherlands.

So I bought a selection and have been, slowly, working my way through them ever since.

The first one I tried was the Dubbel. This is normally a safe bet for me but, in this case, it was way too sweet. Obviously, I finished the bottle, but it’s not a beer I would pick up again.

Surprisingly enough, the Tripel proved to be a lot better. Surprising, because I don’t usually like Tripels, but this one was nicely dry and went down very well indeed. This makes it one of the very few Tripels that I would buy again. And again.

The blonde was a bit watery, but this probably doesn’t tell you anything as I usually find blondes a bit watery. If you like Heineken, you’ll probably be happy with this.

Similarly the Bretttûne was a bit bland. Again, if you like blondes you might like this, but it’s not for me.

The wood smoked double Bock, however, was a lot better. For a winter warmer, it’s quite light and has a nice smokiness to it. While a bit on the sweet side, the sweetness was far from overwhelming.

The Lente Kuit was a tad yeasty but didn’t have a lot of flavour to it.

And finally there was the Friese Boezem, another tripel and a very typical tripel at that. It was better than average but not that great.

All in all it was a bit disappointing. When I picked up this pack I was expecting to enjoy most of the beers. While I would happily drink the tripel again, and would be more than willing to have a few of the bocks on hand next winter, most of the beers were drinkable but unexceptional.

At least I got a free glass out of it.

2018: My year in beer

Untappd is yet another social network, this one for beer drinkers, and I have been on here for a while. Yesterday they emailed me an overview of my year in beer: what I’ve been drinking and where I’ve been drinking it. It’s interesting, to me at least.

But first a disclaimer. I don’t check in every beer I drink — this is especially true if we go out and I’m drinking the same beer at the same location, in which case one check in can account for several beers. It’s also true that there are occasions when looking at an app on my phone would be inappropriate. So I don’t.

On the other hand, I do try to check in any beers that I haven’t tried before, mainly so that I can keep track of what I did or didn’t like when I find myself looking at the same beer six months later.

Consequently, Untappd will overstate the number of new beers I have tried and understate the numbers of beers that I know I like. And this is apparent in the results.

Normally, I prefer darker beers (Stouts, Belgian Dubbels, Dark Ales) but will happily switch to IPAs when summer rolls around and I want something a bit more refreshing after a day in the garden.

If asked, I would tell you that my preferred beers are Chimay Blauw, Westmalle Donker and Tongerlo Donker and, in summer, I tend to drink St. Martin’s IPA unless I can get hold of Bass Pale Ale. According to Untappd, however, I have worked my way through 18 unique beers from 16 breweries representing 14 dinstinct styles. I had no idea my drinking was so varied.

From these, however, Untappd thinks that my preference is for Belgian strong golden ale, specifically Duvel. Tellingly, my most checked in location is the Middle-Eastern restaurant from which I buy takeaway pizzas every Wednesday.

Duvel is my most checked in beer and, of the rest of my top five check ins, Westmalle, Chimay and Tngerlo occupy positions two, four and five respectively. I suspect the Chimay Blauw would rank higher if more bars and (especially) restaurants sold it.

I was a bit surprised to see Palm Special ranked third most checked in beer until I noticed that the nearby cinema is my third most checked in location. Guess what they sell.

The rest of my check in locations are a variety of restaurants and bars and I was mildly amused to note that the app has decided that England and Wales are a single country.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this but, based on the information I have given it, Untappd thinks that I do most of my drinking when sitting alone and waiting for a pizza.

If nothing else, this does show how easy it is to skew a data set and why, when you see a survey, it’s always worth asking about how the data was gathered and what methodology was used to analyse it. And if the survey relies on self-reporting of data, you can be sure that the errors and omissions will be glaring.

And finally, if you are on Untappd, drop by and say hello.

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