At any given moment there's a bike race going on somewhere in Belgium. Well, maybe not outside the daylight hours, unless you count track (which I emphatically do not). But even if you do, you're still only looking at the normal waking hours. So, to recap, if it's between the hours of 7am and 10pm, someone in Belgium is drinking a beer and watching a bike race.
Which beer, you ask? Well, that's an important question. Let me caveat any further bleatings on this subject by pointing out that I am neither a certified beer expert nor in Belgium right now. But I've dabbled at both, and offer the following. Namely, that what beer you drink depends a bit on what race you're at. All of this is offered to you, now, free of charge, as you head into the weekend whereupon you will make some of your most important beer shopping decisions of the calendar year. If not your entire life.
1. This Week's Mini-Classics
Theme: hardcoreness. These are Flemish mid-week races where Kenny De Ketele is considered a big name.
Locale: Handzame is in the middle of West Flanders. Nokere a bit further east.
On-Hand Pairing: De Dolle Brouwers, Esen. Start with the Dulle Teve. According to them, the name means "mad bitch" but the US Government doesn't like the name. As someone associated with the US Government, I appreciate this expression of deference to our preferences and submit the following recommend... wait, they kept the name. Never mind.
International Pairing: Dulle Teve. Good luck finding it, just like the feed for these races.
2. Dwars door Vlaanderen
Theme: Turning the page. Getting serious. Not fucking around in Italy anymore.
On-Hand Pairing: Steen Brugge Trippel for people at the start. A nice, light 8.7% ABV to get good and ready for the classics to start (and ensure there is no rationale for returning to work). Plan B would be anything from De Bie in Dentergem. May I recommend Drunk Bie? Is there anything about a drunken honeybee that doesn't scream "yes" here?
International Pairing: Rodenbach Grand Cru. Dark but not too much so. Just a good, hearty classic to kick things off.
3. E3 Prijs Harelbeke
Theme: Secret Awesomeness. I love this race perhaps a little too much. Tough shit.
Locale: Harelbeke, heart of the Vlaamse Ardennen, or nearly so.
On-Hand Pairing: De Graal Quest. Small outfit out of Brakel. A mere 9% ABV for this bitter trippel blonde. Nobody will doubt your commitment.
International Pairing: Rochefort 10. It's from outside Flanders, but no matter: a beautiful thing to be savored, from a small bottle. It's not about quantity or notoriety. Just quality.
Locale: Gent, Wevelgem, and generally West Flanders.
International Pairing: Hoegaarden. I'm not a witbier guy, but this is a good day for a detour.
5. Driedaagse De Panne
Theme: Impatience. The big day draws nigh, but not quickly enough.
Locale: West Flanders, particularly along the coast.
On-Hand Pairing: Why not park at the Westvleteren Ale House for three days and drink the legendary St Sixtus?
International Pairing: Anything you are curious about but don't want to squander your bigger days drinking. That's what this race is, something to do without impacting the major players. Oude Geuze? Lambics? Flemish sour ale?
6. Ronde Van Vlaanderen
Theme: Inclusiveness mixed with gloriousness. Everybody wins!
Locale: Really just a narrow slice of Flanders.
On-Hand Pairing: This being the Race of All Flanders, the choice has to be Leffe, which flows from household plumbing in this magical little region of the world. But that's just to start with; because it's a very long day in the saddle, at some point you need to pace your lubrication and expenses. Shift to Jupiler the moment you're drunk enough to think this is a good idea.
If you're sitting in the Grote Markt in Oudenaarde (which I highly recommend), then go for Liefmans Goudenband.
International Pairing: St Bernardus 12, a classic, pure and simple. Sold by friendly monks. Later, shift to Leffe as the race heats up. Or espresso, in my case.
Theme: General whateveredness.
Locale: Schoten, just outside Antwerp.
On-Hand Pairing: Gouden Carolus is a nice option for small cafes at the course's outer edge. But if you're waiting all day at the finish -- and here I speak from experience -- then it's Jupiler. Not a very good beer for not a very good race.
International Pairing: Stella Artois. Don't splurge. Unless you really need to, in which case Westmalle, from just north of the finish line.
On-Hand Pairing: They have beer in France? I guess whatever you can smuggle over the border. The Abbaye de St. Martin (try the Blonde) is more or less on the way to the Arenberg Trench.
International Pairing: Chimay. There's nothing wrong with it whatsoever. Just like the race.
[h/t the Belgium Beer Map.]