I’ve done a fair bit of drinking in Germany, but I haven’t actually been back there since before I started writing this blog five years ago. Worse than that, I haven’t been in Belgium even longer, since you paid for your beer there in francs.
Arriving at St Pancras Station for the train, Sourced Market is a godsend, stocking fresh beer from London’s tiniest breweries. Yes, it’s not cheap, but neither is it extortionate. At least, I didn’t come away feeling cheated – like I do when I find myself paying over the odds for a mediocre beer in the type of outlets that have dominated station retail for so long. How much more civilised it is to stroll onto the train with beer from the likes of Five Points and Pressure Drop to keep us going until Belgium.
We arrive in Brussels with a twenty-five minute delay due to vandalism – apparently cable theft is also a problem in Belgium. This is rather annoying, because we have only scheduled in an hour and a half here in the first place. Brasserie Cantillon, just round the corner from Midi station, closes at five – is it worth even going? What the hell, of course it is!
For a last beer we make do with one of the unpromising-looking cafés on the north side of Midi station. This area has been redeveloped since I first changed trains here, and all the little cafés either side of the station have gone, replaced by fancier places with less character; which is a shame.
I used to drink Vieux Temps on the cross-channel ferry, back when there were cross-channel ferries. I order one out of nostalgia, and it’s terrible, a sugary pale with little memorable about it. Oh well. But look around: there are people drinking Trappist beers, yet it’s not a specialist beer café. That’s the joy of drinking in Belgium – good beer is ubiquitous, right next to the commodity stuff – as we discover when we pick up canned Rodenbach in a convenience store before getting on the train again.
The train from Brussels to Cologne is a pleasant enough trip in which to sup a bottle or two of lambic. The coming third beer city of the day is much less revered by geeks, but as we step off the train in the vast, cavernous Cologne Hauptbahnhof I know exactly where I’m heading. More of that tomorrow.