This year was the first year I spent Christmas away from the family and while it was hard to be away for the most special time of year, I got to spend it with the man candy for the first time in 3 years. Also, thanks to Skype, I got to be part of Christmas breakfast and Christmas lunch with my family. I also got to enjoy the beauty that is Boxing Day. Oh Boxing Day sales...so many bargains with less shoving and shootings than Black Friday. And then, when everyone was back to the grind, I got a second holiday season at home in Colorado with the family, snow and all.
When I got back to Manchester and everything settled down, Richard and I focused on perhaps the most important part of our lives: beer. Being the devoted girlfriend I am, I surprised Richard with a Valentine's gift that would benefit the both of us for years to come. That's right, Richard got a brewing kit. So with the first useful bit of science I've ever done, we got to work brewing some beer. I loved watching the massive tub of brown water evolve over the coming days to a bubbly, foamy mess. But while our special brewers yeast was doing its thing, we decided to extend our beer research to Bruges, Belgium to see how the experts do beer.
Our goal of the trip was simple...we were to drink as much good craft beer we could get our hands on. And I'd say mission accomplished! We found the oldest pub in Bruges (which dates back to 1515), visited another pub boasting over 400 different types of beer, only ate foods with beer in the recipe, and visited the local brewery, De Halve Maan (Half Moon).
I'd like to take the time to say that Richard and I have both visited countless brewery tours in Colorado, but visiting a brewery that's over 100 years old is quite a different experience. We were told that Bruges had 128 breweries within city limits before WWI. Because copper was required during wartime, all the breweries had to give up their brewing equipment to make ammunition. During the war, Bruges was occupied, but the fields where they grew the barley and hops were not. With military checkpoints everywhere, an underground system had to be created to get the precious brewing ingredients into Bruges so brewing could continue. After the war, only one brewery remained: De Halve Maan. None of the other breweries could afford buying all new equipment to start over again.
Another fun fact? Beer deliveries by dogs. The brewery was the only place in town with a refrigerated room. The barrels of beer would be delivered to bars in the early morning with an ice block to keep the beer cold through the day. Early morning deliveries would be done by horse-drawn carriages (convenient, because if the delivery men wanted to have a drink or 7 along their route, the horse would know the way back to the brewery and the drunk delivery man could pass out and wake up back at work). But in the heat of the day, when bars had run out of beer and demanded more, it was too hot for the horses to go back out. The solution? They built carriages that ran along the railway lines pulled by German Shepherds. Something tells me dog delivered beer tastes better, but this hypothesis is yet to be tested.
Coming back from our beer excursion was unhappy to say the least, but luckily we had another beer excursion to look forward to. Richard and I ventured to Ramsbottom, a town outside Manchester, to visit pubs and breweries with our friends Jonny and Schadia. We tried as many beers as possible, again, and stayed in one brewery for a good 7 hours. I'd say it's been a pretty good trip and our research has turned up the best result yet: All beer is delicious and we must continue traveling and tasting.
As our beer sits in the closet bottle conditioning, I can't wait to start experimenting with our own ingredients and seeing what we get. In the meantime, in Richard's words, we'll keep traveling for food and booze. Because what other reason is there to travel?