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Belgium & France 2020 Itinerary2019-10-31T15:36:40+00:00

DAY 1

Sunday May 3

This is arrival and check-in day in Brussels, and those who get to town early will have the opportunity to take in some of the sights and flavors of the city. In the early evening the entire group will meet in the hotel and head out for an introductory bar crawl that includes some of the Shelton Brothers’ personal favorite beer destinations.

DAY 2

Monday May 4

Our tour bus takes us on a scenic drive from Belgium’s bustling capital to the Nord-de-Calais region of France, an area of placid farms and picturesque villages. Here, off the beaten path, is our first stop, Brasserie Thiriez, a family brewery that has revived the area’s once-lost traditions. In addition to a tour, we’ll enjoy a picnic lunch accompanied by the brewery’s typically delicate, hoppy and quaffable farmhouse ales. In the afternoon we’ll cross back over the border into West Flanders, paying a visit to the inimitable De Struise Brouwers — who offer draft samples of everything from Rauchbiers to IPAs to Imperial Stouts in their schoolhouse-turned-tasting room — for a personal look at their marvelous, expanding brewery. From there it’s a short hop to our hotel in the small historic city of Ypres, where we’ll take in the solemn daily “Last Post” WWI memorial ceremony before enjoying a private dinner at De Kazematten, a local brewery built right into the town walls.

  Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner included

Brasserie Thiriez


The tiny town of Esquelbecq, in the rolling countryside of French Flanders, was once home to five breweries serving 84 pubs. Today, the revivalist Brasserie Thiriez is the municipality’s sole brewery. Daniel Thiriez, who got his start as a homebrewr, plies his craft in a former family farm brewery which, similar to hundreds in the area, had closed after the Second World War. Befitting the brewery’s location near the border, Thiriez’s beautifully rustic, complex, and earthy beers straddle the line between French farmhouse and Belgian saison styles. Many of America’s most well-regarded craft farmhouse ales are fermented with the brewery’s much-respected Thiriez French Farmhouse yeast.

De Struise Brouwers


This quirky brewery’s name has roots in the Flemish word for “ostrich” (the brewers manage an ostrich farm near the French border in West Flanders) and the Dutch word for “sturdy” — hence the brewery’s bird logo and moniker: the sturdy brewers. Urbain Coutteau is one of the more affable, colorful characters in the Belgian brewing world, and his varied list of ales run the gamut of Belgian and European styles, though certainly with a slant towards cheeky, often-whimsical, extra-strength specialties.

Brasserie Kazematten


De Kazematten was launched in 2013 by Hans Depypere, the owner of the Sint-Bernardus brewery, and Rudy Ghequire, manager and brewmaster at Rodenbach. This dual-family-run microbrewery is now managed by Hans’s daughter and Rudy’s son, and is informally regarded as the city brewery of Ypres.

The brewery-restaurant lives up to its name thanks to a unique location: The Ypres casemates, or kazematten, fortified defensive positions that form an indelible part of the history of this 17th-century city with its thick enclosing walls. The portion of wall enclosing De Kazematten was built in 1682. During the First World War, the British army established an officer’s mess in this space, and their local military newspaper The Wiper Times now lends its name to the brewery’s two flagship beers, Wipers Times 14 and 16. De Kazematten also recreates the Sint-Bernardus cave-matured ale formerly known as Grottenbier (literally “cave beer”) under its new name, Grotten Santé.

DAY 3

Tuesday May 5

After checking out of our hotel in Ypres, it’s a very quick drive to the nearby town of Poperinge, the hops capital of Belgium. Here we’ll visit the small, hop-fanatical De Plukker brewers, who will lead us on a tour of early-springtime hop plants and sample us on their (you guessed it) hop-forward brews. Having immersed ourselves in the bittering element of Belgian beer, it’s time to explore the malty side, and what better place to do so than the legendary, elusive Abbey of Saint Sixtus? We’ll enjoy a rustic lunch at neighboring café In De Vrede, accompanied by a range of Westvleteren Trappist ales — and maybe a rare peek at the actual brewery (TBD!). Heading east into the Wallonian region, we finish this perfect beer day with a tour, tasting, and charcuterie meal at the marvelous Brouwerij De Ranke, with its famously hoppy saisons and dreamy, far-away countryside sunset views from the tasting room. Depending on one’s capacity for beer (or wine, or cocktails), it’s then on to a free night of bar-hopping or a restful evening in after we cross back over into France and check in at Lille.

  Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner included

Brouwerij De Plukker


In 2011 organic farmer Joris Cambie, whose family had been growing hops in the Poperinge fields for several generations, joined forces with local brewer Kris Langouche to launch the only Belgian brewery fully allied with a hop producer.  All De Plukker beers are made exclusively with the company’s own hops, and all are 100% organic. Maintained on the farm’s 12 hectares is a mix of aroma and high-alpha hop cultivars including the English varieties Goldings, WGV, Pilgrim, Fuggle, Phoenix, Challenger, and the American varieties Cascade and Centennial. The brewery is located in a hangar previously used for the picking and drying of the hops, with a capacity of 1000 liters per batch, and includes its own bottling line. De Plukker serves additionally as the official hop museum of Poperinge.

In de Vrede / Westvleteren


In 2012, the Shelton Brothers had the unique honor of serving as Saint Sixtus Abbey’s importer for a one-shot Westvleteren export batch designed to raise funds for monastery repairs. Since then, and until who-knows-when, the only place in the world to purchase these elusive ales is at the In de Vrede café across from the abbey.

Brouwerij /Brasserie De Ranke


In the mid-‘90s former homebrewers Nino Bacelle and Guido Devos, in an effort to recreate the hoppy blond Belgian beers of their youth, teamed up to create XX Bitter, which became an immediate sensation as the hoppiest beer in Belgium. The much-loved XX, along with a subsequent, slowly expanding range of De Ranke (“hop bine”) beers, were for years brewed exclusively on weekends at nearby Deca Brouwerij. By 2005 consistent high quality and perseverance paid off as Nino and Guido opened their very own brewery in Dottignies. Cult favorites from the beginning, De Ranke ales are now highly regarded in beer circles around the world.

Lille


Lille is the capital of the Hauts-de-France region in northern France, near the border with Belgium. A cultural hub and bustling university city today, it was once an important merchant center of French Flanders, and many of those Flemish influences remain. The historic center, Vieux Lille, is characterized by 17th-century brick town houses, cobbled pedestrian streets, and the large central square, Grand Place.

DAY 4

Wednesday May 6

Waking up in France, we’ll soon drive back into Belgium, making one of today’s three border crossings. First stop: Brasserie de Blaugies, the ultimate Belgian family brewery, recently expanded into a beautiful state-of-the-art modern facility that still manages to produce the most traditional of farmhouse ales. Here, in addition to the tour and tasting, we’ll enjoy a legendarily hearty country lunch in the village restaurant. A short ride back into France and we’re soon pulling up at the Brasserie Au Baron, set in what is undoubtedly among the most picturesque wooded locations for a brewery anywhere in the world. After a tour and tasting, enjoy a few beers on the beautiful riverside patio, weather permitting. From here we head back to Belgium, returning to Brussels in time for a free night of food and maybe more beer — or a good sleep after three glorious full days of border-hopping and beer tasting.

  Breakfast and lunch included

Brasserie de Blaugies


Genial wife-husband team Marie-Noëlle Pourtois and Pierre-Alex Carlier were beer-loving school teachers when in 1987 they began making beer in their garage in Blaugies, a tiny village near the French border. In the beginning, and until very recently, Marie-Noëlle, the brewer, would back up a tractor to the garage door to transfer the spent grains to livestock, and the family has always consumed much of its own product, whether by drinking or using in cooking (their other passion). Their sons now also work in the family business, one as a brewer and the other running their restaurant across the street. Blaugies’ rugged and hearty beers, inspired by traditional farmhouse styles but very adventurous, have been highly rated from the beginning, and the family has just completed construction of a free-standing brewery next to the house.

Brasserie Au Baron


The Au Baron café was once one of 50 in the tiny village of Gussignies, right on the French/Belgian border. By 1973, when it was bought by Alain Bailleux, it was the last survivor. Here Alain and his wife opened a restaurant that featured a wood-fired grill made of an ancient brew kettle. In 1989, Alain and his father, a retired brewer, installed the small revivalist Brasserie Bailleux next to the bistro kitchen and began creating beers inspired by old farmhouse styles. Today the brewery, only slightly expanded, and since rechristened with the café’s original name, is in the hands of Alain’s son Xavier, who creates bières de garde that show a strong affinity with the refreshing saisons of their southern Belgian neighbors.

DAY 5

Thursday May 7

Just when you thought it was time to relax, we’re back on the road, headed directly south of Brussels into lambic country. We’ll spend a good portion of this day immersing ourselves in all things Drie Fonteinen, starting with a visit to the old village brewery, followed by a casual lunch at the company’s LOD café, and finally an extended, exclusive tour and tasting at the Lambik-O-Droom, the awe-inspiring cathedral of barrel aging and research. Having barely satisfied our thirst for some of the world’s finest wild, sour ales, we’ll shift gears, heading back into Brussels for a late-afternoon tour and tasting at the city’s premier revivalist producer of classic, hoppy pale ales, the renowned De La Senne. Eventually tearing ourselves away from the brewery tap room, we’ll head out for dinner at a classic Brussels restaurant.

  Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included

Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen


Once revered equally for its expert lambic blending and traditional Belgian country café, Drie Fonteinen has more recently joined the ranks of the world’s top spontaneous fermentation breweries. A major 2016 upgrade for its facilities means that the brewery is now offering the first substantial batches of “new” multi-year blended lambics. Overseer Armand de Belder is a legend in the beer world and a great friend to Shelton Brothers, and a warm welcome is guaranteed at both the modern 3 Fonteinen Lambik-O-Droom and the original old brewery.

BRASSERIE DE LA SENNE


De La Senne Brewmaster Yvan de Baets is arguably the premiere authority on Belgian brewing science and history, and, in contrast to the extra-strong and malty styles many American drinkers associate with Belgium, his flagship beers are inspired by the country’s nearly lost classic hoppy blond ales. Keen to revive such once-predominant styles, he started out as a gypsy brewer, but having quickly earned a worldwide reputation for quality, was able to fire the kettles at his very own Brussels brewery in 2011. De La Senne has more recently begun offering mixed fermentation beers to complement its line of superbly drinkable classic Belgian ales.

DAY 6

Friday May 8

The beginning of our final day presents two delightful options: A train trip out to the Kerkom brewery and its beautiful garden café, or free time to relax, sip a coffee, or sightsee in Brussels. But the dual grand finales of our trip are absolutely not optional — a special tour of legendary lambic makers Cantillon, followed by a private dinner with members of the brewery’s Van Roy family, at Brussels’ finest traditional restaurant, Les Brigittines.

  Breakfast and Dinner included

Browerij Kerkom


Kerkom’s is the quintessential old farmhouse brewery, set amid cherry and pear orchards in the gentle countryside of East Flanders. Brewer Marc Limet and his wife Marina live here (and formerly brewed here), and on the weekends offer sustenance to throngs of visiting beer lovers. People come from all over Belgium to sit in the great courtyard, sipping the brewery’s briskly bitter and refreshing Bink Blond, the warmer, satisfying Bink Bruin, or the darker, stronger Bink Bloesem (Blossom).

Brasserie Cantillon/Museé Bruxellois de la Gueuze


Generally considered the most important spontaneous-fermentation brewery in the world, Cantillon has been brewing authentic, unsweetened, unfiltered, unpasteurized lambic in its original Brussels location since 1900. On the verge of closure just 25 years ago, before the micro/craft movement and subsequent “sour beer” explosion, the brewery, and brewing family Van Roy, hold a special place in the hearts of serious aficionados around the world, their classic Gueuze and various fruited lambics the benchmark for fellow brewers. A visit to Cantillon and its working museum is both a piece of history and an inspiration for all modern-day wild-beer/barrel-aging enthusiasts.

Les Brigittines


To celebrate the last night of our tour, we are honored to be joined for dinner by the Van Roy family, makers of Cantillon and, more importantly to us, great friends of the Shelton Brothers. When we first asked them for a restaurant suggestion, they offered one choice: Les Brigittines. Small, cozy, traditional, friendly, and supporting the best local breweries, this was already our favorite place in Brussels.

DEPARTURE DAY

Saturday May 9

With our six-day tour having come to a close way too quickly, we encourage guests to further explore on your own — you can, after all, get anywhere in the world from Brussels. But whether you’re keeping the exploration going or heading back home to work or family, we will be available to assist this morning with transportation to trains, planes, and maybe even automobiles.

  Breakfast included

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