Suffice to say that if you head to Brussels, Belgium with beer drinking in mind, as I did two weekends ago, yr gonna have to really carefully craft your itinerary in advance. I wanted to visit some of the heavy-hitting bars that I'd read about for years, and this I did - but I also wanted to go somewhere quiet and simple and nurse a few bottles or drafts without too big of a show. Some place that, you know, the locals go to. Right before I left I saw an online interview with Joe Stange, who blogs as The Thirsty Pilgrim, has written numerous books about Belgian beer, and who was interviewed on his Brussels favorites somewhere (sorry, I can't find the link now), and he sorta offhandedly said his favorite bar in town was AU BON VIEUX TEMPS. He said it was an old, quiet, wooden bar that he liked to while away his time in. So I went there.
Joe didn't mention that it was located right in the heart of the action off of Brussels' Grand Place, the food-and-drink-and-tourism center of town, but no matter, because he was spot-on in terms of how quaint & sedate Au Bon Vieux Temps actually was. It's not the spot to go if you're looking for things you can't get anywhere else, no way. Practically everything here can be found at BevMo in the United States, and there wasn't anything on draft - bottles only. As advertised, the place is wooden, old and sort of cramped, and maybe not quite as "charming" as I'd been led to believe, but a superb place to gab & drink regardless. There was tons of room to breathe and consider one's place in life. I bellied up to the bar and tried to establish communication with the lovely French-language-only barmaiden, and hey, we did all right. Here's what she served me:
TRAPPIST WESTVLETEREN 12 - "The best beer in the world" (!) - it even said so on the
menu. When I was a younger lad I even believed it, and fantasized about going to Belgium and actually hunting down this quote-unquote legendary beer. It's still hanging tight at #8 on Beer Advocate's Top 250. Now that it was right in front of me, it's clear that you don't actually have to bribe a monk to get it - in fact, I went to 3 different beer stores the next day, and they all had it for sale. The mark-up was higher than all other beers in the bar - this one was 15 euros, about $17 - but I really couldn't leave town without having one. I got the six-pack a couple of years ago, and had one bottle a few years before that, and yeah, it's a really delicious, sweet, rum/raisin/breadtastic quad, as I'm sure you know if you've had it. 9/10, as always, as ever.
VIEUX TEMPS - Here's where things get interesting. I knew I'd heard of this beer before, but it was one of the more obscure items on the menu, far as I could tell. Well, first I'll tell ya what I thought of it before I tell you what I learned on the interwebs five minutes ago. I loved it. For only four euros I got a fantastic Belgian amber/pale, yeasty and hot and sweet, relatively simple but flat-out delicious. So what's the deal, right? Well, turns out this is now an InBev beer, and is an old brand now being bottled & marketed under the Stella Artois brand (!). Gross, right? Wrong. Still tasted great, even now that I've learned this. Check out what one fella has to say on RateBeer:
"One of the classic ’spéciales belges’, once a renowned brand in its own right, now one of the many InBev victims. Only purely commercial considerations will determine whether this is kept in existence or not, but in any case it has been an InBev-infected shadow of itself for many a year now. In this form, a clear amber coloured beer with decent off-white head and light (not to say thin) mouthfeel with hints of caramel, pasteurization obviously present, very light nutty touch, medium carbo and a weak touch of vaguely bitterish grassy hops hidden in the background. My father loved this in its original form, fortunately he will not be faced with this InBev ’imitation’ / abomination anymore."
Well hey, I liked it. Must've been a real whopper back in the days of yore. 8.5/10. That's my report from the Au Bon Vieux Temps bar in Brussels, and baby, I'm sticking to it.