Friday, 4 September 2015

European Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference 2015 - Brussels. Day Two

The following day’s proceedings kicked off at 10am sharp; although I did notice a substantially reduced number of delegates in attendance for the first presentation, from WordPress are an important sponsor of the Beer Bloggers’ Conference, and their software is understandably very good. It wouldn’t be powering over 24% of the internet if it wasn’t!

Major Sponsor
However, not long after the presentation started, I realised it was very similar to last year’s talk in Dublin. To be sat there in the hall, half-heartedly listening to something I’d heard before, was rather disappointing, to say the least, especially as I could have been enjoying a wander around Brussels in the late summer sunshine instead!

The next session, entitled Beer Marketing, was definitely the liveliest and controversial one of the whole conference. Jean Hummler, owner of the renowned Moeder Lambic café, made a scathing attack on what he called the “fake brewers”; gypsy or cuckoo brewers to you and I. His point was they were diluting the impact and, by implication, the chances of success for genuine brewery start-ups, and he was quite vociferous about one well-known Danish brewer in particular. It was probably just as well that no drink had been taken at this stage, as who knows what might have ensued. Let’s just leave it by saying the language was rather colourful at times!

The so-called “Walking Lunch” which followed, paired various Belgian Beers with Traditional Belgian Foods. The lunch was hosted by tourist organisation, and major conference sponsor - Visit Flanders, and featured some typical Belgian and Flemish foods paired with Beers produced in the Flanders region. I have to say there were some excellent pairings; my favourite being that of Fish Soup, with the refreshing and slightly tangy Gruut Wit, from the Gentse Gruut Brewery in Ghent,  but the Flemish Meat Stew, matched with Gouden Carolus Cuvée van de Keizer, from Het Anker Brewery, came a close second.

In the Conference Hall
It was back into the lecture theatre after for a presentation of the State of Beer in Europe, presented by Bo Jensen, Executive Member of the European Beer Consumers Union and Simon Spillane, Senior Advisor with the Brewers of Europe. This presentation started off well, with some interesting facts and figures about the importance of the brewing industry to Europe’s economy, but unfortunately got bogged down by a rather turgid discussion about duty rates and scare tactics, adopted by the anti-alcohol lobby in many European countries.

The session on Beer Blogger & Writer Reports, which followed, was one of the best of the conference, with British and Irish writers to the fore. All presentations were restricted to just five minutes a piece, so there was real pressure to pack as much in as possible, whilst at the same time trying to avoid information over-load. Matthew Curtis, whose website is Total Ales, gave an excellent presentation on how to use photos properly on your blog, with tips on what makes a good photo, and how to compose, take and edit photos for maximum impact. Baron Orm and Chris Routledge, explained how they conduct their Baron Rating live beer ratings, on the Ormskirk Baron Blog. They described the software they use to edit the recordings, post review, before the ratings are published on the blog.
So Now You Know!
Special mention should also be made here of Pedro Marques,  who had travelled all the way to the conference from Brazil, and Jeffrey Michael, The Biking Brewer. Pedro gave an interesting over-sight of the brewing scene in his native country.  Whilst Jeffrey, who had cycled half-way across Europe to be at the conference entertained us with his presentation on the joys of biking, combined with stories of the people he met, and the beers he drank along the way.

The final session on Sour Beers, was also one of the most  interesting and enlightening, and I am sure we all learnt a lot about how sour beers are brewed and aged. Presented by Petrus Sour Beers, who also provided some excellent beers for us to taste; the session covered both the science and the magic which goes into the creation of these fascinating and refreshing beers.

Sour Beer Tasting

Last on the agenda was Saturday evening’s dinner, hosted by Pilsner Urquell at the Hotel Marivaux. The Czechs had brought one of their Tankovar cellar tanks, pumped full of un-pasteurised Pilsner Urquell, across from Pilsen for us to enjoy. Needless to say, the beer was excellent. Before the meal commenced, we were entertained with a talk from company Master Brewer Vaclav Berka. We were also each given the opportunity of having a Pilsner Urquell glass mug engraved with our name.

The main course consisted of a mammoth and rather tasty hamburger with chips and salad, and was followed by a very rich and filling dessert called a “Marriage of Three Belgian chocolate Mousses”. I struggled to finish mine, given the size and richness of this dessert, but the night wasn’t over yet, as there was an Optional Pub Crawl departing from the hotel lobby. The crawl was led by Paul Walsh of Belgian Beer & Food Magazine, although several of us decided to do the tour in reverse.

"It's all got to be drunk tonight!"

This meant taking a taxi to La Fleur en Papier Doré; a converted maisonette style house dating from the middle of the 18th century. The pub became famous as the meeting place of the surrealistic scene in Brussels, and included such luminaries as, René Magritte, Marcel Lecomte, and Georges Remi (Hergé) amongst its customers.

Stepping inside, I realised that I had been to the pub before; on the same trip to Brussels which included the visit to Café Delirium. It was a nice traditional Belgian pub, with a nice atmosphere and a good mix of clientele. Our small group of four was soon joined by a couple of other groups, which prompted us to move on and try somewhere else.

Charcuterie Board with Pilsner Urquell
Although two of us had been there already over the course of the weekend, the two girls in our party were keen to try Moeder Lambic, so following a walk back towards the city centre, which took in the Manneken Pis statue, I found myself back, once again at this specialist beer café. This time we sat inside, as there were no empty tables outside. As well as specialising in Lambic and Gueuze beers, Moeder Lambic includes various guests amongst its portfolio. Some of these were from closer to home, with beers from Kernel and Siren on offer.

Belgian Chocolate Mousse
The last port of call was a charming little pub called Toone, tucked away down a narrow alley and just a stone’s throw from the Grande Place. Toone is a unique combination of cafe and marionette theatre, with three distinct rooms and far more seating than you would expect from the outside. Despite its location, it was pleasantly quiet and was a good place to end up in, and to round of what was, I’m sure for all attendees, a very successful European Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference.

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