We were invited by the lovely folks at Flanders Events to join them for the third time at their Zwevegem Internationaal Streekbierenfestival. It is the largest outdoor beer festival in Belgium with around 15,000 people attending over two days on 14th and 15th August.
This year we decided to drive across with all of the beer and equipment...so off went Robert, Denis and Grant on Saturday morning. Fourteen hours later we arrived in Ypres and were greeted by our hosts, Emmanuel and Valerie. Robert had been their neighbour during his time living in Brussels and they had quickly become good friends. On arrival we were met with some Westmalle Tripel (he really did know Robert well) and a lovely array of accompanying charcuterie. Despite being tired from the long drive we managed a few a more beers before turning in (really, it was a struggle).
We had a rest day on Sunday before the festival started. So we visited the In De Vrede cafe, on the site of Westvleteren brewery for lunch and a beer. The brewery is famed for the rarity of the beers almost as much as quality and we certainly weren’t disappointed.
Next up Emmanuel wanted to show us a traditional and almost extinct game from the West Flanders region. The game was Boltra, and was located in the back of a very old pub in the village of Bussboom. It was played on an 18 metre concave track and was almost like a cross between bowls and curling. It certainly managed to raise Robert’s competitive spirit, although that may have been as a result of Emmanuel’s taunting. He and Grant (team red) had stormed into an insurmountable lead and looked certain for victory when a small boast in the direction of Robert and Denis (team blue) riled them and they rallied to an unlikely yet triumphant comeback (or perhaps it was the bartenders dubious coaching towards team red). Finally, we headed back to Ypres for a lovely meal and then to see the Last Post at Menin Gate, because you can’t visit the town without experiencing it, regardless of the time of year.
When Monday came round we were well rested and ready for the festival. This year we were to be kilted up (at the request of the festival organisers) much to the hilarity of of Emanuelle and Valerie’s young children! After a quick breakfast we bid our lovely hosts adieu (or Da-aag in Flemish), thanking them for their excellent hospitality. Grant and Denis arrived early at the festival to set up our stand whilst Robert went off on his travels to deliver some beer around Belgium (and maybe pick some up from friends too).
Our stand was next to Rodenbach, an old favourite who we have got to know very well over the years (the re-release of Alexander last year brought great pleasure to Robert and he got to try it on draft at the festival). On our other side was Goedendag, whose owner Geert is also well known to us...we had first contacted him many moons ago when we first set up and he was working as a consultant. His beers are brilliantly traditional and well balanced... so it’s no surprise that he is extremely well regarded by his fellow brewers.
The festival organisers really do look after the brewers, with plenty of food tokens and runners available to get extra supplies or refreshments whenever requested. The festival itself kicked off at 3pm and was soon busy with over 8000 people on the first day! All of whom had a national holiday to look forward to the next day. There were over 40 breweries of all sizes showcasing their wares, alongside live music, good food and blaring sunshine, what’s not to like?! We stopped serving at 11.30pm but the revellers stayed until the early hours, by which time we were sharing a well deserved beer (or two!) in our hotel bar with the folks from Silly and St Bernardus.
Day 2 of the festival, and having somehow missed our breakfast at the hotel (nothing to do with leaving the bar at 5am!), we were glad to arrive at the festival for the Brewers lunch. Not a normal part of proceedings at festivals so we weren’t really sure what to expect. We certainly weren’t expecting to be met by a glass of Deus and then offered BBQ steak, frites and tables full of salad accompaniments!
Well fed and heads clear (almost), it was time for the festival to restart. A more chilled start but people soon got into the swing of things once the music (and beers) kicked in! The brewers call this a ‘drinkers festival’ as at many events in Belgium they provide smaller ‘taster’ measures of beer so people can try as many as possible, whereas here each brewer provides a full beer in its correct glass. The result is a great, fun atmosphere where everyone, young and old is welcome. Another successful day came to an end at 11.30pm and it was now time for us to pack up and get a decent kip before the long drive home in the morning.
Overall, it was a great trip where we met some great friends, old and new. We must say a massive thank you to Yvan and all at Flanders Events for inviting us and organising a great festival...a lot of hard work goes into the event from all involved. Further thanks go to Emmanuel and Valerie for inviting us into their home. And, finally to the night porter at the Ibis hotel Kortijk Expo for putting up with us!
Words: Grant Henderson