Ramblings by Dave: Belgian Beer, French Wine and Fast Trains
Belgium and its Beer
I can’t tell you how much time we spent in New Zealand and Australia searching out beer that had more than 5% alcohol (for those new to the blog, both countries have a higher tax on beer that’s more than 5% so many breweries try to stay below that threshold). So to show just how the universe always balances itself out, we were ambushed in Belgium, where beers with 8% alcohol are the norm and often straddle the 10% level. Needless to say, quality trumped quantity.
Beer in Belgium is truly amazing. Most bars/restaurants have a diverse tap list with flavors for all tastes. But one of the interesting things I found is that a lot of beers I came across also have made their way to U.S. shores. There are Belgian beer bars in many U.S. cities (San Francisco’s Toronado still reigns supreme, though we’ve also visited Trappist in Oakland quite often) and even quality beer shops have a good selections of Belgian beers. So many of the beers we came across in Belgium, like Leffe, Duvel and Chimay, are also quite common in the U.S., though with a substantial mark-up. It took away some of the allure of Belgium, though the sheer volume of beers that we don’t get is remarkable.
France and its Food (and Wine)
With all due respect to organic foods and the farm to table movement, one of the most amazing differences in food from when I was growing up until now is how great bread is. From the multitude of options at the supermarket to what you can get at a bread shop or restaurant, there have never been so many great choices for bread in the U.S. That being said, there still is no place on earth quite like France and its simply amazing baguettes. I’m not sure if Jill shares my fascination, but the combination of a crusty outside and soft and fluffy inside is unparalleled anywhere else I’ve been (though we did have an amazing baguette in Montreal a few years back). It blows me away how good they are.
We knew when we decided to go to France that it would be an expensive country, but have been shocked at how reasonable wine is. We just spent a few days in Alsace and found any number of wonderful still and sparkling wines for less than 10 Euros, or right around $13. The cheaper wines typically are not Grand Crus, but we’ve found some beautiful wines at very nice prices. We’re now in Burgundy and are finding the same thing, though to a lesser extent. The caves we have visited have offerings below 10 Euros and even Grand Crus can be found around 18 to 20 Euros. What we sometimes forget is that wine is a way of life in France and just as much a staple as that baguette I spoke of so lovingly. It’s only when the middle men between here and your favorite wine shop get their hands on it that the wine gets marked up four or five times. That’s it, I’m moving to France!!
After eight months on the road, I’m beginning to think we’re throwing out some kind of vagabond vibe since we continue to get free things. The latest was at Domaine Maillard-Lobreau in Savigny-Les-Beaune in Burgundy. We tasted with the owner/winemaker, chatted as much as my limited amount of French allowed and bought literally the cheapest bottle of wine on his list (6 Euros for a Chardonnay). He went back into his cellar and came out with the Chardonnay and a bottle of Burgundy as a “cadeaux” (gift). Incredible. We happened to have a bottle of Alsatian Riesling on us and after drinking most of it during a picnic, brought the rest back to him, figuring he’d enjoy something other than Chardonnay. Or maybe not.
Two of my most favorite days traveling are the days we got to travel on the bullet train in Japan and the high-speed TGV in France.
We were told there’s actually a rivalry between the two countries over whose train is better. I have to give the edge to Japan, but only because I got to take this picture with the conductor (or maybe he was a ticket taker, I’m not sure).