What’s that old, saying, “when you get to a fork in the road, take it?” That’s how I’ve always approached the open road and, to a larger degree, life. What does that have to do with beer, particularly a fine Belgian Ale brewed in a Flanders Abbey? You’ll just just have to wait and see.
A few years back I was on a business trip to Germany, visiting the little town of Raunheim on the Main River just south of Frankfurt. There is nothing especially interesting about Raunheim. It is a pleasant enough town that can be driven through in about 5 minutes, even if you hit all the lights on the main strasse.
So, arriving early one sunday I grabbed a rental and took off, sort of headed southwest towards Bastogne Belgium, but not headed directly there. I’ve always wanted to visit Bastogne, site of the Battle of the Bulge during the Second World War, but it was less about getting there as it was about the journey. I thrilled at reaching that historic city, but was just as swept up in what I would discover along the way.
Half way to Weisbaden, about 45 minutes south of Raunheim, I slipped purposely off the highway, following backroads, through small German towns, rolling hills and vineyards, and great windmill farms. It was a bright and warm September day, the trees hadn’t turned yet and were still full and green. Scattered, towering thunderheads moved north from France. The warm breeze through the window of my little metallic-blue Opel hatchback was scented with rain. I passed quickly through little Luxembourg into Belgium’s sweeping hills, storybook villages and banks of towering pines.
Recalling this I am coveting a stein of St. Bernardus Abt 12, an artfully blended Belgian Ale. In Bastogne I sat at a small sidewalk cafe with a beer, sitting alone and pondering the journey the town had made in nearly seven decades since the war. I recalled growing up on images of Vietnam as a child, and how many years later it was a North Vietnamese official with the United Nations that helped me get into besieged Sarajevo. It was a lesson that hearts, are on journeys as well.
It is said that the Brewery at St. Bernardus was founded in 1946, just after the end of the war. The water used to brew the very bottle off Ale I’m drinking now fell upon Flanders during the life of Jeanne D’Arc. So this smooth Ale, rich in malts, with a craftfully balance sweetness, and not a hint of bitterness likewise made a journey.
I often recall that journey to Bastogne. I can’t recall precisely the beer I had at that street-side cafe. Lifting the glass of St. Bernardus to the light, as it filters softly through that wildflower honey color, and wisps of sediment, and recall that when the check came and that beer cost 7 Euros, or almost 11 US Dollars, that it too was part of the journey. I wouldn’t have paid a penny less.
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