Day 13 • Good thing there's no time for a proper tour!

After a short drive in a rainy Gent, we find a place to park and continue on foot. To get out of the weather, we duck into St Baaf for a quick look around. Only after we left did I recall that this is the site of van Eyck's "Adoration of the Mystic Lamb".

We find café Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant on a canal where we stop in for lunch and, of course, a beer. Sigi, the bartender was most helpful and modestly claimed that the others there new much more about beer than him… good thing we didn't hook up with them as we might still be there trying the beers!

A couple of quick photos of the castle, canals and other old stuff (it's all old!) we head off to Ertvelde to find the Piraat's home at Van Steenberge, According to Johnny at Global Imports, "The best brewery in Belgium".

On our arrival, which was not expected, we are introduced to the brewer who gives us the tour. Most impressive was the fully automated brewing system. No need to touch anything except the computer consol! We learn that, in addition to their own brands, they also 'contract' brew for other well-known names… 43 beers in all!

The new 20k/hr bottling line is set to handle one kind of bottle at a time, taking more than 2 hours to reconfigure. So they may bottle both Piraat and Gulden Draak on the same day, but not the Sparta Pils. Along the way, we meet Jef, the 7th generation family brewer. He takes over the tour, securing many labels for Becky and shows us the garden and the spring that is their source of water.

In the tasting room, we get a photo of Jef, pouring a Gulden Draak in front a large painting of his 86-year-old grandfather who still comes to work every day! He explains that the copper kettles survived the German occupation because his grandfather had purchased great quantities of scrap steel to offer to the 'war machine' in return for leaving the brewery intact. Thank goodness, otherwise we might not have such a range of great beers.

After the photo Jef encourages me to finish the bottle he opened for the photo. I reluctantly (hah!) accept and, in spite of Jef's "need to get back to the brewery", we chat for a while. He tells us that he is getting married soon, and after a short 'honeymoon' will be back to work. We wish him well and leave with a few 'samples' for later consumption. Considering the abv of these beers, I think this is a good thing!

On the way back to Masaries, near Roselare, we drive along one of the many canals seen throughout Belgium. It's still an important part of the economy and I wonder if they transport beer I this manner. My daze is disrupted as my dad suggests that we need to stop off at Vapeur so he can buy the 'naked pig' beer glass. As you can imagine, it doesn't take much to convince me, so arriving at Pipaix, we again find Jean-Louis in the brewery. We visit the shop, taking a moment for a BBB photo, and make our purchases. As Jean-Louis may be called off for a fire at the school, (he's also a fireman), he suggest that we have a beer with his wife Vinciane.

Vinciane, who speaks English very well, tells us the history of the brewery. It seems like Biset Cuvelier who was then 80 years old, turned over the brewery to his son. The son was not interested in running a brewery, he was over 60, and intended to tear down the buildings and make a garden for his house. Jean-Louis was aghast and offered to help run the brewery to keep it open. In the end, 17 years ago, he bought the brewery. We further learn that in the beginning the brewery was coal fired for the steam but later converted. Due to a problem with the new system, there was a steam explosion, which resulted in the death of Jean-Louis's first wife.

While having a Saison de Pipaix and several glasses of Cochonne, in the no more than 50 tasting room, we hear that they do only 12 brews per year; one of Saison, one Folie, one 'special' and the rest Cochonne. The bottling line is 1k/hr and the inspection is "by the eye of Jean-Louis". There are only the two of them, their daughter and one worker who comes only on brew days. She hopes her daughter will come to work in the brewery when she "finishes her studies".

There was much discussion about the taxation of the brewery and according to Vinciane, even the smell of the brewery is taxed (a tax on emissions of 'pollutants'; the nerve!). As my father was by now turning blue from the cold (I suggested he have more beer), we depart and head back to our base.

Back to Belgium 2001