Last thoughts on Antwerp

We’ve got one more bar to report on from our recent trip to Antwerp, as well as some final thoughts on the city.

Paters Vaetje is next to the cathedral.  It’s a friendly place and has a nice but manageable selection of beers.  It’s obviously popular with tourists but there were also plenty of younger locals there on our visit.

First, we went for Dikke Mathile.  We’re not ashamed to admit that its comparative weakness was the attraction.  It turned out to be a pleasantly sweet and fruity Amber, with a beautiful art nouveau inspired glass featuring a naked lady (tee hee).

Next, a matching pair, Boerken and Boerinneken, both 9.5%, from Den Ouden Advocaat, although brewed by someone else on their behalf.  Boerinneken was a golden yellow triple which managed to be intensely sweet, bitter and sour all at once.  There were all sorts of flavours popping out one after another, including orange, caraway and toffee (it tasted darker than it looked).  Very complex.  Boerken, the dark one, was also impressive, although less complex, reminding us of chocolate covered pretzels.

So, what did we make of Antwerp?  We want to live there.  It’s not as twee (nor as touristy) as Bruges, but much less grotty than Brussels, and there are nice looking bars everywhere.  The only real disappointment was De Koninck, which, although a great institution, was not, as promised by various sources, any more brilliant in Antwerp than anywhere else.

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Ancient beer and charming clutter

The Kulminator Beer Cafe in Antwerp is a great little place, full of tat, and with a cellar full of interesting aged beers. We turned up the night before they closed for their two week summer break and the owners were in a very relaxed mood as they began to wind down.

Boak had been jonesing for a proper sour Kriek, and so went for Boon Oude Kriek — a mere youth of a beer compared to some on the menu, from 2004. This tasted like cherry drops in lemon juice. Interesting, but not necessarily all that pleasurable, and a bit of struggle to get through.

Bailey went for a Hoegaarden Grand Cru from 1987, which came in a dusty, rusty bottle, with a vintage glass. This smelt incredibly malty and tasted like barley sugar. There was no hop character, and none of the characteristic spiciness, although a hint of acrid bitterness remained. Oddly, it reminded us of Fuller’s 1845, but with a thinner body. Probably not a beer, then, that stands up to 23 years maturation.

We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to drink some extinct British ales, although it seemed weird to go to Belgium to do so. Gales’ Prize Old Ale (1982) had no head at all. It smelled like an amontillado sherry, which was also the main flavour at first gulp. There was also a little saltiness. It had an extremely long aftertaste, with notes of cocoa, liquorice, marmite, orange peel…  we could go on. There weren’t many flavours that weren’t in there somewhere. Again, an experience rather than an absolute pleasure. And you can get a whole bottle of sherry for €9.

Courage Imperial Stout, actually brewed at the Anchor brewery long before it became yuppie flats, was beautifully served in a nip glass of an appropriate vintage. Even after all those years, a nice off-white head was present. The aroma was, again, like sherry — this time, something raisiny and sweet. The first taste was of raisins and chocolate, giving way to oak, smoke, burnt cream and coffee. Unlike the Gales, it still had some hop flavour and bitterness. In fact, it tasted amazingly fresh and alive — there was a real prickle on the tongue — plenty of zing.

The cellar, which is behind glass and gently lit, offers tantalising glimpses into the future: some special De Molens, not on the menu, “will mature for 25 years”.

This place is absolutely unmissable for the beer geek. Just remember to bring plenty of cash. The above set us back €38, and they don’t take credit cards. Probably just as well for our sakes.

See also:

beer reviews Belgium

Nen Bangelijkes at T'Pakhuis (eh?)

T’Pakhuis is a huge, 370-seater brewpub in an old warehouse in the arty part of Antwerp to the south of the Grote Markt. At 2pm on a Friday afternoon morning, we had the place to ourselves.

They make three beers. The 5.1% beer was very light and refreshing, but with very upfront spicing. It was cloudy but had enough character to avoid being mistaken for a Boring German Brewpub Zwickl™.

The 5.5% bruin would probably be pretty dull out of a bottle, and certainly isn’t the most exciting beer in Belgium, but its freshness did it a lot of favours.

Finally, the main event: Nen Bangelijkes. It was a 9.5% triple and is dangerously drinkable, as the barman explained. “Guys come in and they think they’re pretty tough, they can handle their beer, but after a few… wow… I’m having to, like, throw them out in the street.” The name is Antwerp dialect and (so we were told) means both scary and fantastic. With this beer, Pakhuis have successfully pulled of the Duvel trick — it was strong and powerfully flavoured, but with a champagne-like fizz and body which meant it seeemed to slip over the tongue rather than coating it.

If we weren’t ready for our afternoon nap, and hadn’t needed to recover for an evening session, we’d have happily had another.

Belgium pubs

Night falls on St Mystere

We were twitching to get back to continental Europe a couple of weeks ago and so arranged a relatively spontaneous long weekend in Antwerp.  It’s a very Flemish Belgian city, which you can reach in less than three hours from London, if your connections work out.

We spent our first evening at Groote Witte Arend near the Grote Markt, in a lovely, tranquil courtyard full of twinkling lights and distant classical music.  It boasts of 80 beers, although we spent a while dealing with sheepish waiters until we found anything they actually had in stock.

On tap, there were a couple of interesting beers we hadn’t had before. Moeder Overste has a pronounced bitter-orange flavour and reminded us a little of Young’s Special London.  We don’t have much more specific to say other than that we really enjoyed it.  Arend Blonde (the house brand) is much as you’d expect from the name, except perhaps crisper and lighter than you’d normally expect from a 6% Leffe-alike.

As night fell and the time came to leave, we asked ourselves, somewhat wistfully, where in Britain could we hope to drink in such peaceful surroundings?