I have been to Belgium several times, not just for the beer (read my lips), and have always visited Bruges, as we have a very dear family friend, Livia, who lives and runs a bed and breakfast there. (Judge Belgium not by the European Union, but for its gift to the world: Trappist monks.) But no matter how many times you’ve been to Bruges, it always takes a while to find De Garre, a cafe where the house specialty tripel is one of the most delicious to ever ebb down my esophagus, because you first have to be slender enough to make your way through the medieval sliver of an alley to get to its door, without tripping on any wretchedly treacherous cobblestone. (I accomplished the latter, and barely accomplished the former.)
The first time we were there, Livia clarified, “Anyone here who is drunk, carousing and causing a disturbance is either British or American.” That’s because Belgians don’t drink to get drunk – notice how bars are called cafes. Sipping a beer with friends is the honorific equivalent of grabbing coffee to catch up or enjoy a post-repast tea. Beer is not for downing but for crowning a beautiful afternoon in the sun or a cozy nightcap. The fact that De Garre, one of All About Beer‘s 125 Places to Have a Beer Before You Die, is situated somewhere between Bruges’ main market square and its littler one signifies everything in balance and moderation. Their tripel nestles happily at 11.5 percent A.B.V., and you will not be served more than three chalices in one visit. There is no reason to do yourself that disfavor – anything more than that leads to diminishing returns in flavor.
Last Saturday, my buddy in everything good and happy about life (softball, tennis, eating, the same last name of Koh, beers), Lynette, and I visited Brewers Craft in Clementi on Singapore’s west coast for a beer tasting (note I am a lifelong Eastie and do not typically cross Buona Vista Road, to me the local Mason-Dixon Line, unless for extraordinary reasons). Actually, my main compulsion for venturing over there was to pick up a bottle of Abstrakt’s Imperial Stout (17.1 percent A.B.V.; as with all its beers, brewed just once in limited quantities), but let’s not sweat the details and hop to the story.
We found Brewers Craft after meandering past hazy incense shops and hardware shops so eccentrically put together you might find a screw loose in a haywirestack, but only after bumping into Meng-Chao, the beermaster of the house. It’s half a storefront, empty bottles of some of the world’s best beers displayed on shelves lining the walls. You know you can trust a specialty beer store when its cellar takes up half of its space. In the middle, there is a small table, enough for sippers to cuddle elbows while celebrating the communion of convivial consumption.
And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it. We sat down with two older guys who were happy to jabber on about everything from giving ex-convicts a second chance to parenthood, then after they left, three dudes from INSEAD took their seats and taught us that the world’s second largest Oktoberfest takes place in Brazil, that South American craft brewers are experimenting with ancient grains and seeds (happy days for runners!), and that beer brings people together (this last one was a review session in something we already knew). Wine connoisseurs swaggle their tongues and compete in grape name spelling bees and sniff corks and don’t have bellies big enough for hearty guffaws. Us beer folks just hang out and swap stories and buy each other rounds.
Saturday’s tasting was a tribute to Toshi Ishii who carved his name at Stone Brewing Co. in San Diego before returning home to Japan to head up Yo-Ho Brewing: we started with Yo-Ho’s Aooni I.PA. and Tokyo Black porter, before tackling Stone’s Pale Ale and Arrogant Bastard (of course). We skipped Stone’s I.P.A. – I am just not a fan of this style, it’s too hoppening for me. Meng-Chao is a man of few words, but he makes up for it in generous pours and much wisdom about fine beers, which he shares from the pulpit of his stool.
Three hours later, we left with a crate of beers for domestic use, and I couldn’t help but look forward to bringing my parents with me the next time I journey to the west. After all, they inducted me into the wonderful world of drinking at age nine, with great foresight – they knew the day would come when nothing was as beautiful as tippling with your spawn, especially when they’re the ones picking up the tab and paying for the cab ride home.