Although I’d been out late the night before, I was so excited I got rolling early so I could get to the Cantillon Brewery as early as possible. Being one of the most enigmatic, sought-after beers in the world, I naively thought there might be a crowd when I arrived at the brewery. Instead I had the whole place to myself.
As I wrote in my post about the brewery visit, I was shocked and pleasantly surprised to find the tour be a self-guided walking tour around the over 100 year old facility. This would never happen in the United States. Using the explanatory pamphlet given me at the front desk, I wandered from room to room, fascinated how this revolutionary brewery made their amazing beers.
The room which was most fascinating for me was the cooling tun room. This is the place where the magic happens, that is, where the wort is inoculated with wild yeast via contact with ambient cold air, only from late October until mid April. Allowing the beer to be ‘infected’ this way is a unique process Cantillon has mastered, and gives their beers the unique flavor that has made it so popular.
After the tour and a few samples, I took the metro across town to a beer store that had come highly recommended as a place that would ship beer and glassware home for me, since carrying it with me for another 16 days was completely impractical. The store was called Beer Mania, and I knew I was in trouble when I walked through the door.
The well-stocked shelves were full of brands I’d heard of plus many not available in the states, which were the ones I really wanted to load up on. After making a bunch of my own selections, the store’s knowledgeable owner helped me round out the collection. While he was having it boxed up for shipment, he served me his own personal homebrew, called Mea Culpa, in the small cafe type section in the back of the store.
I left the store lighter in the wallet, but pleased and excited to have scored such an admirable load of new and unique beers, including 5 bottles of the elusive Westvleteren 12, one of the world’s highest rated beers. I headed back to the metro and caught a train north the another of Brussels’ iconic structures, the Atonium.
This bizarre structure, over 100 meters high at the top, was designed to replicate and iron crystal enlarged 165 billion times. It was originally only intended to be the centerpiece and main pavilion for the 1958 World Fair in Brussels, but was so popular that it’s been maintained ever since.
Today the building’s top floor provides sweep views of the city as well as the surrounding countryside.
There is also a permanent exhibition about the building itself and Expo 58, as well as temporary exhibits covering a wide array of social and scientific subjects. Escalators and stairs connect the eight spheres of the structure, but, for stability’s sake, not all of the outer spheres are open to the public.
After a short break, I headed back down to the city center. I made it a point to catch a few more of Brussels’ more well-known features. The first was the imposing Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, a Gothic church which took over 300 years to complete, finally being finished in the mid 1500s. It is named after Brussels two patron saints.
The other thing I was determined to track down was the Zinneke Pis, which is a small statue of a dog urinating on a pole. Brussels has two other statues like this, the Manneken Pis (a little boy, which I’d seen the day before) and the Jeanneke Pis, a little girl. I’m not sure why the city of Brussels needs three urinating statues, but it’s a harmlessly quirky feature of the city.
The sun was beginning to set as I made way back to the Grand Place for my evening stroll around the great square. While I was disappointed not to see the light show I had witnessed the night before, I still enjoyed the picture taking and people watching I did on this cool April evening. I was certainly pleased with my decision to come in April, as I could only imagine how different the atmosphere would be during mid-summer, when the throngs of tourists descended upon the city.
I spent the evening wandering around to a few charismatic beer bars, including Au Bon Vieux Temps, a small, hard to find little gem a short walk from the Grand Place. The bar contained a piece of beautiful stained glass art depicting St. Michael and St. Guida, and one of the bars patrons was kind enough to tell me of this legend while I was there.
I finished the evening with the most Belgian of treats, a waffle. Not just any waffle, mind you, one with ice cream, whipped cream, nutella, and chocolate sauce. I ended the evening (a little earlier than the previous one) with a night cap of a final glass of Cantillon at my favorite Brussels bar, Moeder Lambic.
I’d very much enjoyed this trip to Brussels, a city I’d always liked but had never bonded with before. That certainly changed on this visit.