Cheers to Beers and Dad!

Tasting a great beer in its place of origin adds a whole new flavor
By Philip McCluskey, Vantage copywriter

As a lover of beer, I had long lamented a conspicuous gap in my European travels: Belgium, a country featured on several trips include Vantage’s Switzerland & the Heart of the Rhine & Moselle.

This country the size of Maryland is a veritable brew-topia: home to 160-plus breweries (including some of the most highly respected in the world) and a history of brewing that dates back 1,000 years.

Beer making in Belgium has its roots with the Trappist monks, who crafted beer as part of the work mandated by their monastic vows. Since water was often unsafe to drink centuries ago, beer was a highly prized (and safe) alternative. The monk’s single-minded dedication, knowledge, and skill soon made their beers legendary. Today, Belgium’s reputation as an epicenter of brewing excellence continues, the country boasts some of the most well respected beers in the world. (In fact, UNESCO has added Belgian beer to its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.)

As I traveled through this charming country, I peppered my days with some of those beers. The first thing I grappled with in this hops-and-barley wonderland was the amount of choices. Blond. Saison. Lambic. Dubbels, tripels, and quadrupels, oh my. The dizzying variety of Belgian beers is matched only by the expertise with which they are crafted.

People often talk about “seeing” a destination, but I’ve always found that the best trips stimulate your other senses as well. There were many times during my trip when I stopped at local café in Belgium to get off my feet for a bit. I’d take a moment to relax and reflect on the day’s highlights while engaging my senses with a beer from their exhaustive menu.

When it arrived, I’d admire the look of it: the unique shape of the glass, the rich color, the impeccable pour. I’d breathe in the enticing aroma, and then take a slow sip, tasting the distinctive yet harmonious flavors. Each beer felt like an event – a palate-pleasing exploration all its own.

As I traveled, I thought about how much my dad would enjoy this trip: to experience the history of this country (World War II is a major interest of his), and raise a toast or two to history, and family, and the moments that only seem to come with travel.

I thought about how he would appreciate Vantage’s Switzerland & the Heart of the Rhine & Moselle journey. I think he’d enjoy the stop in Cologne, where we’d explore this historic city and then enjoy a special tasting of Kölsch, the city’s signature beer. And then perhaps return to Belgium on the Bruges extension, where we could try some of the (many) beers I didn’t get a chance to sample the first time around.

Until we do, I’ll be raising a toast to him stateside this Father’s Day, and thanking him for all he’s done. And yes, there’s a very good chance I’ll do it with a Belgian beer!