The Unifying Force
It all started with a beer. As it usually does with me. We met Alex in Ghent through Couchsurfing, as usual, once again. We didn’t need a host at that time because over five people in the city already offered to host us, so he offered to spend his day off with us instead.
First, we ran to a bar to escape the usual afternoon showers. Alex himself has kept track of over 7,000 beers that he’s tasted, carefully peeling off all the labels and saving them in a photo album. When he found that I was of the same inclination, he had an idea. He told me that his friend owned a restaurant and commissioned someone to make a beer for him. Even though Alex had never met this brewer before, he thought it’d be the perfect time for everyone to meet. “It was a shot in the dark,” he said, “but it never hurts to ask.” “That’s my motto,” I responded.
I quickly forgot about this call as Alex showed us all of the best that Ghent has to offer, including a thorough history of Jan van Eyk and his acclaimed painting, the Ghent Alterpiece—the pride and joy of the city. Afterwards, we enjoyed some seriously delicious beers at Gruut. The brewmaster (who was a female, which still excites me to find) wouldn’t even give us a hint of what herbs she used. I won’t hold it against her though.
Alex messaged us the next morning, saying that the brewer could meet up with us that night at his friend’s restaurant, Ette-Ibibio. He’d bring homebrew and we could eat Nigerian food. Homebrew? Yes. Of course, I’ll be there. His friend who owned the Nigerian restaurant was wildly amusing with his dry sense of humor—and wildly impressive with the amount of time and money he invested into his non-profit supporting his homeland.
The brewer, Mathias, brought two tasty beers to share. We wished that we had more to keep flowing to go along with the flowing conversation. I hadn’t talked to a fellow brewer in such detail for months, so I was in my element. And he’s an avid traveler and hitchhiker too. At the end of the night, he offered us a place to stay if ever we needed one. We told him that we had the rest of our stay in Belgium planned already and thanked him profusely for his time and his beer.
It wasn’t even 12 hours later when I called Mathias asking if we could stay with him that night because our host was no longer available. He happily accepted and even offered to give us a tour of the brewery where he works, Brouwerij Van Steenberge, the producers of beers like Piraat and Gulden Draak. One long walk through the city and one enjoyable hitch later, we met Mathias for one of the coolest brewery tours of my life—which included drinking beer directly from the bright tank to my mouth. At his farmhouse, he and his girlfriend spoiled us with lasagna and more beers than I can count. The next morning, his girlfriend dropped us off in Bruges and I was walking on sunshine from this unexpected, powerful friendship.
The lesson here is simple. Introduce your friends to each other. Expand your social groups—aim to include the whole world. Above all, always share your beer.