A Magical Day at the Gruut Brewery in Ghent, Belgium
The Stylish Gruut Brewery Bar
When organising a beer tour for your boyfriend in Belgium, it is important to schedule your first day-trip for the day after you arrive. The reason for this, is that if you leave your boyfriend to the delights of Brussels, or give him a chance to discover the wonders of the big city you have travelled to, he will not want to leave. You must take advantage of the jet-lag, or Eurostar-lag, and get him on a train to the provinces. Pronto!
The lure of a brewery is a good way to do it. We depart from Brussels Central Station and catch the train to Ghent, where we seek the Gruut City Brewery. Ghent used to be the centre of world trade for textiles, and had a formidable bunch of city brewers during the 14th century. Over 200 brewers, comprised of Trappist monasteries; enterprising brewer families; and small independents; provided the busy port-city with delightful refreshment, which solidified Belgium's expertise in brewing. This medieval skill, and the secret recipes for brewing with herbs, in particular, remain hidden in family histories, and within monastery walls.
Gruut Brewery Entrance
Ghent's only City Brewer is a Woman
Annick de Splenter is the owner and chief brewer of the Gruut Brewery. I expected this industry to be the province of males, so this surprised me. Annick studied biochemistry at university and has used her knowledge of organic chemistry to revive old family recipes for brewing beer without hops. Over the last few years, Annick has developed four Gruut beers; a white, blonde, amber and brown; and as we sit listening to our guide explain the history of the Gruut name and the family history, we are steadily plied with a pint of each beer. Starting with the white.
Tours are Personal and Entertaining
Beer is Better for You than Water
From the moment I sip the gorgeous Gruut White beer, I am entranced. This feeling has built since I walked through the cobbled streets of Ghent; to the beautiful place I sit in now. This building used to be a convent, and then a trendy riverside restaurant, and is now Gruut Brewery. Our guide, Walter, takes us back in time; through an amusing, and intimately Flemish-flavoured history of brewing; including Annick's journey to settle on the brews we taste; and anecdotes from Ghent City history.
The beer is delicious, and I savour every mouthful. Herbs; coriander; grassy notes; orange; and champagne fizziness; delight my palette. I remark on this to Walter, who tells me that women in particular enjoy beer that is brewed without hops, and prefer herbs. I agree, and inside I am revelling that I have discovered beer again. I've missed it; as I live in England where the brewers are hops experts; and I did not know the remedy.
Never mind that I'm here with my boyfriend on a romantic holiday. I've fallen in love with beer again, and he's looking at me strangely, as he can see the delight on my face. Walter continues with tales of medieval Ghent, and how beer was drunk by children for many years, and was considered better for them than water. People belived this strongly in Ghent and it was common practice. Beer without hops hydrates you.
More convinced than ever that beer is now my most favourite thing in the world, we learn that due to the black plague, the river water which we look out over was unsafe, so beer was given to the children. Makes sense, but also makes us laugh, as we determine our travel catchphrase; "Apparently, beer is better for you than water."
Our travel catchphrase pops out at every opportunity for the rest of the trip, and survives long after we leave the delightful Gruut Brewery in Ghent. I remember two things about this day; that Belgian Whites have restored my palette for beer; and that travel catchphrases are one of the key essentials, to having a fun holiday.
Did you know that, apparently, beer is better for you than water?