Q+A with Master Beer Sommelier Marc Stroobandt
Between trips to England, Israel, and his hometown in Belgium, Marc Stroobandt trained the staff of New York City's new Belgian Beer Café in proper serving techniques. Marc, a Master Beer Sommelier and Certified Beer Server within the Cicerone Certification Program with an honorary Knighthood in the Order of the Mashing Staff from the Confederation of Belgian Brewers, sat down with T+L's Laura Itzkowitz to share some expert travel tips for beer enthusiasts.
Q: What are the three best beer bars around the world and what's great about them?
A: Delirium Café Brussels, now celebrating its 10th year, offers more than 2,000 beers in a unique environment right in the center of Brussels. It consists of small collections of different beer tasting areas serving probably the biggest collection of beers from around the world. If you can’t find it here, give up.
Join the locals at Tokyo's Popeye to enjoy traditional and modern Japanese food with great brews. The super knowledgeable, friendly bar staff, serves a great beer menu with loads of new Asian craft beers among world classics. This place has excellent draught and cask beers all kept very well and served in the correct glassware.
Where can you stop over to discover a unique beer paradise, without even leaving the station, but at the Sheffield Tap inside the Sheffield Railway Station? This spot serves a wide range of traditional and modern craft ales from casks or draught with a huge bottle range and classic dishes like pork pies, scotch eggs, or a huge cheese and meat platter.
Q: What are the best beer pairings and why do you recommend them?
A: Beer and chocolate pairing is always a winner, as more often than not the beer will bring out the cocoa flavors and in return the chocolate makes the beer a bit creamier, creating a unique flavor roller coaster. Look at the intensity, the bitterness and/or the seasoning of the chocolate (chili, coriander, vanilla) to determine what beer to have with it. You don’t always have to stay with dark beers.
Beer and caviar is a combination I discovered by accident. The Blond Belgian ale washes away a little bit of the caviar's saltiness, but then brings out all that’s great about these unique and delicate flavors, using the soft bitterness to lift it to an even higher level.
Give me beer and cheese and I’m happy. Beer pairs so much better than wine, which often covers up the cheese's flavors. Beer—with its natural carbonation and hoppiness—will literally cleanse your palate and then bring out the goodness of the cheese, making you want more of both. For every beer there is a cheese to match, but you can create the most wonderful combinations even with beers or cheeses you might not expect to pair well. Try blue or goat cheese with either a Belgian white beer or Brown ale and semi-hard cheese like cheddar or Manchego with a crisp Lager or Belgian Triple and Amber beers.
Q: What are the best off-the-menu beers and where can you find them?
A: Trappist Sixtus 12 Westvleteren was voted best beer in the world many times. Normally, it's only available at the Trappist brewery near the French border in Belgium.
Wait for Black Friday to get your hands on Rare Goose Island Bourbon County Stout or track down a collection of this Bourbon cask matured dark stout beer, which is only released very rarely.
One of the world’s oldest beer varieties, Sahti is a Finnish farm-style Viking beer made with unique ingredients like Juniper branches and berries. Don’t accept imitations, but have the real Nordic stuff.
Laura Itzkowitz is a researcher at Travel + Leisure. You can follow her on Twitter at @lauraitzkowitz.