WASHINGTON - If you're a beer lover, then a trip to Belgium is likely on your bucket list. If you favor the hoppy flavor varieties, then you'll want to head to Poperinge, home to the Hop Museum.
You start out on a floor that explores the biology and chemistry of the plant itself. After seeing how hops are harvested, you can finally make your way down to the replica of the old-style "brown bars" of Belgium — dark-paneled, cozy spots. If you go with a group, you can arrange a tasting of some of the local brews.
Peter Cleenewerck, a conservator with the Hop Museum, explains that there's more to hops than what goes into your beer. Hop shoots, the early growths that pop up out of the earth in March and April, are a delicacy served in five-star restaurants.
They carry a five-star price tag too, costing roughly $600 per pound. You can't get those in the gift shop, but you can go home with hop tea.
"It's good to drink it before you go to bed," Cleenewerck says. "It helps you get to sleep."
Every three years, the town of Poperinge hosts the Hop Festival. There are beer tastings, parades and the crowning of the Hop Queen.
Given the huge variety of beers in Belgium — there are hundreds — Cleenewerck was asked if he knew of any Belgians who don't like beer. He had to think for a moment.
"Yes, I've met some Belgians who don't like beer, but I guess you also find some people in France who don't like wine," he says.
The museum is interactive. You get a chance to work your way up the ranks of hops harvesters by taking a quiz along the way. For a preview of how you'd do, check out the right side of the screen on the museum's website.
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