The sleepy green L’Hogneau river valley is home to the village of Gussignies, literally meters from the Belgian border. This is the French border region of Bavay, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, home to Brasserie Au Baron, makers of the classic French pale Biere de Garde Cuvée des Jonquilles. In addition to the Jonquilles, bottles of the Medard Ambree and Medard Brune are available at the brasserie, for takeaway or to sit and enjoy streamside.
Photos from a visit in August 2014
Au Baron Reviews
The servers are young and take no care in pouring bottles, so if you prefer a clear pour and do not have a taste for paint in your beer, either be mindful of their handling or ask to pour for yourself.
Or rather, why is wheat not traditionally used in lager?
Before the Reinheitsgebot, the Munich city council decided that it would try to control brewing quality, and drafted laws that specified beer to only be made with barley, hops and water, not mentioning yeast. Prior to this, and before refrigeration, German beer made outside of winter was warm fermented, typically taking place in open vats that were spontaneously fermented. The source of fermentation was not well understood at the time, which explains how yeast went ignored in the original purity laws. The warm fermented beer made during the summer was inconsistent and did not keep as well as the bottom fermented beer made during the winter months. Summer brewing was even outlawed, limiting the spread of these ales. However, according to the Reinheitsgebot, the one style that was allowed to be brewed in the summer was wheat beer, and the specifics of the Reinheitsgebot allowed for wheat only as an ingredient in top fermented ale, not in lager. Hence bottom-fermented weizenbier never gained cultural footing in Germany, and to this day we still largely see all barley German styles throughout the world, with wheat still used almost exclusively in top-fermented Weizenbier.
Before the Reinheitsgebot was enacted in 1516, the brewing industry in Bavaria was buying up wheat in order to make beer, leaving other grains, such as spelt, oat, and barley, to the bakeries. The bakers and the population in general felt that bread made with these grains was less enjoyable and thus less in demand, and William IV, Duke of Bavaria, heard enough complaints that he addressed the problem in crafting the Reinheitsgebot. Beer making was to be limited to barley only, with the one exception allowing wheat in warm fermented summer beer.
I’ll be upfront: I consider De la Senne my favorite brewery in Belgium, and I consider Yvan De Baets the best brewer in Belgium. Taras Boulba and Taras Runa, Crushable Saison (and the new 3.2% version), as well as ongoing series of hoppy Belgian pale ales, De la Senne shines where few others go: low strength, dry to off-dry, intensely hoppy Belgian ales with immense depth.
The understated minimalist character of the Brasserie de la Senne tap room is a testament to letting the product speak for itself. Tucked down a narrow business driveway with little signage or promotion, this bare bones taproom seems to have come about in response to increasing beer tourism rather than seeking such.
Case in point, we were told that the famed Taras Boulba was not available that day due to allocations reserved for area stores and restaurants. Though our loss on that day, the growing popularity of Boulba is a welcome idea in a world where people drink more well-marketed dull beer than anything else. Not even XX Bitter has attained this near-cult status in it’s home country. Boulba seems to draw people in with both aesthetics and drinkability, and most who drink it do not seem to think they are drinking a dry beer, but rather a hoppy beer, which is all fair and fine. The point is, young drinkers in Belgium are excited about an artisanal 4.5% dry and hoppy beer, which is heartening as long as the popularity does not get to a point where the beer becomes impossible to find.
Thankfully, there are still enough places in Brussels to find De la Senne, but if you have any concern for freshness and state, you know the right move is to buy from the source. Rather than take our chances at Brussels beer shops and cafes, we drove out to the brewery in west Brussels before heading south to the day’s destination in Hainaut. Brasserie De la Senne is not walkable from central Brussels, it’s not in a sexy location like Moeder, instead this place is all about the beer.
Brasserie de la Senne
Dobřany, Czech Republic
Fil and I took the bus from Pilsen to visit a new brewery called U Bizona (The Bison) in the village of Čižice. Only by the time we showed up at the door, the brewery was out of their own beer, offering instead the shameful Gambrinus 10° Svetly. Even if house beer were available, the front room was opaque with a thick fog of cigarette smoke.
Fil said “This sucks” and we promptly left.
It was 12 km further to reach Dobřany and promises of beer from Modrá Hvězda, only we had no means of transportation other than our feet. Fil did his best to talk a local boy into talking someone he knew into driving us, but it proved to be a worthless endeavour once we learned that nobody with a car was in town at the time. 12 km is a long way to go by foot, but long walks are meditative, and promises of beer after meeting a challenge is motivation enough. We made quick work of the first 3 km to Štěnovice, where we found the only establishment open in the afternoon – a bakery. Nothing could be more perfect. We took full advantage of it, consuming coffee, confections, grabbing a bottle of polotmavý for take-away from the mini fridge. That’s about as good as it gets while walking long distances town to town.
Making our way through streets and parks and across waterways to reach the western edge of Štěnovice, population 1,565, we see a blue road sign that reads,
“Dobřany 10 km”
Our enthusiasm for the walk receives a gut check.
I throw up a thumb at the first car to come by, and they stop immediately. It feels like it worked too well. I had searched online about hitchhiking before leaving on this trip to the Czech Republic, just in case it became necessary. Prevailing thought at the time was that the Czechs were okay with it, but that it was not commonplace. With our driver and his infant son in the front seat, we climbed into the back to make quick work of the last 9 km to Dobřany. When he attempts small talk we mention the pivovar and his eyes light up and his smile widens. Never doubt the power of beer in the Czech Republic.
He drops us in the central square of Dobřany and we immediately walk into Modrá Hvězda, a large hotel-brewery-restaurant pouring seven different taps.
Modrá Hvězda Dobřany
The 16° Dobřansky Dragoun, a sort-of Polotmavy bock, was an especially rich, crusty Czech malt experience, and worthy of filling a PET bottle, the eastern block growler, to take back to our friend Ryan in Pilsen for Thanksgiving the next day – the same Thanksgiving I took a train to Franconia and got stopped by the narcs.
Prague, Czech Republic
On the western edge of the Vltava in the heart of Prague is the John Lennon Wall, a collection of street art dedicated the artist’s memory. On Google Maps you can find the wall at Velkopřevorské Náměstí.