Last Updated : 02/01/05
I heard it on the Telegraph.
Thursday 4th November 2004.
It all began with a pair of incidents (or should that be incidi?) a couple of days apart and led to the biggest lambic drinking frenzy I’ve had the privilege to experience. Read on and I will tell.
The first instance that the land of milk and honey (why did I say that? I hate milk...) otherwise known as Belgium was mentioned was when Sue and myself were bemoaning the demise of Ryanair’s route to Oostende and the general lack of any cheap method of transport to Belgium. We hadn’t been over since November 2003 and, despite the fact we had visited half a dozen countries since, Belgium means a lot to us both – It was Sue’s first foreign visit and I’ve done over ten trips there. Whilst planning our European trips for 2005 we decided that Belgium had to be on the list somewhere; it had been too long since we had experienced her seductive charms.
The second incident, and the one that led to the trip taking place, was brought upon us by an old mate, Jonesey. He had invited me to sample some of the wares in his "Lambic cellar" and reluctantly (!) I accepted the offer. After supping our way through some superb Cantillon Fou’foune 2000 and Gueuze 2003 along with De Cam Gueuze we made our way to the Water’s Green in Macclesfield for some of the best beer Britain can offer, mostly pale and loaded with hops as most offerings are in this temple to humulus lupus. Oh yes, and Greene King IPA, which is neither.
Whilst supping some delicious Roosters we were engaged in conversation with a friend of Mr Jones who showed us an advert from the Telegraph. I casually scanned over the cutting and suddenly my eyes were wide open – this was a Eurostar special to Brussels! It transpired that to take advantage of this offer of £58 return for two people you had to collect "passwords" from the paper and we had already missed the all-important Sunday one! Fortunately, we managed to locate the passwords with a bit of asking around and that was it – just a few days after talking about it, we could book it!
The weekend of our visit was to be the end of October, but before I could reserve the seats Jonesey rang me with some interesting news. Cantillon were holding their public brewing day on the 6th of November and he was going – were we interested? I raised the matter with Sue, and we both had reservations. We had assumed public brewing days would be full of beer geeks acting important but we decided this was too good an opportunity to miss; after all we’d not been to Cantillon for 2 years and we both really like the place so I said yes, we would be there. We arranged to travel out on the 10:42 from Waterloo on the Thursday before to give us time to warm up before the day itself.
I had assumed that there would be limited availability for the offer, but my suspicions were unfounded as I managed to book two seats on the correct Eurostar for the piffling fee of £58. Seeing as the lowest standard fare is around £69 this is a very good deal! That was the easy bit done, now for the hotels, but I had an ace up my sleeve so to speak. As I work away quite a lot with my job I collect hotel points from a surprising variety of hotel chains and they came to our rescue here, as I was having a job finding anything for under €100 a night, but this was due to our proposed stay being a Thursday which is always expensive in Brussels. I used some of my Marriott points and we were soon booked into their pretentious new hotel right slap bang in front of the Bourse for the grand total of nothing. I then booked the trusty Florida in Antwerp for the Saturday and, of course, the Marion in Oostende for the Sunday.
All that remained now was to sort out getting to the Eurostar. I checked for train prices from Worcester that, although cheaper that I expected, would have over doubled the Eurostar price we had paid. Sue then suggested we drive to my company’s office in Langley near Slough and get the train into town. I rang a colleague at Langley and he said it was no problem – this was coming together far too easily for my liking! All we had to do now was wait 6 weeks, which was greatly eased by the stocks of Belgian beer we had acquired from the Belgian belly off-license in Manchester.
"Delays on the M4 Eastbound"
We needed to leave the house no later than 05:30 as I wasn’t keen on being too late through the Thames Valley stretch of the M4 – I knew too well what it would be like from past experiences driving to our old company HQs in Langley and Slough. We made good time down a quiet A419 and M4 until we hit Reading where everything ground to a halt. We looked at the map and saw there was still 20 miles to go. I calculated that we had about an hour to spare but knew if anything major had happened on the motorway we could still be here at midday. "Cheers then, bloody Tory southern commuting nazi-car owning tossers!" I muttered, studying the lanes of stationary traffic. "If they don’t get a move on we’re going to be in a bit of a flap!"
Thankfully, the delay was only minutes and was caused by the A329 joining, and after that we cruised all the way to Langley at around 50mph, despite the traffic news declaring there was delays on the M4 eastbound – well, having sat in a lot of jams on various motorways, I can honestly say these were a lot less jammy than I thought they would be for 08:00 on a Thursday morning heading into London!
We arrived at our office at Langley, abandoned the car, then walked to the train station which is right behind the offices and, as if to prove it, HST’s screamed past at a fair rate of knots at regular intervals. The only problem is that there is a big fence in the way and to reach the station from our car park is a 5-minute walk via the exit road, under the bridge, and up the approach road rather than a 1-minute (albeit dangerous) stroll if the fence wasn’t there. Despite all this, we were on the platform at 08:20 and, just as we bought the tickets, a train pulled in and I risked a glance inside. I was expecting to see people crammed in to some high order but, amazingly, the train was almost empty and we had a choice of seat. It filled up more towards Paddington, but all was well and we arrived just after 09:00. This was all going too well!
As we joined the crush for the underground station I saw a sign shouting important gen about the Bakerloo line – and it looked like no trains were running! Cheer then, this would mean a difficult trip down to Waterloo and I cursed our luck, but as the crowds milled past more text became visible and it became clear that it was only the northbound service that was affected. Breathing a sigh of relief, we headed down into the labyrinthine depths and eventually arrived at the platform. The screen claimed 6 minutes until the next train, but it must have been set to "Microsoft time" as after what must have been about 30 seconds one arrived and we piled on, once again easily finding a seat. After a 15-minute ride under the heart of London we arrived at Waterloo with 70 minutes before the train was due to depart – what a result!
Sue decided to get some reading material for the trip, but whilst stood in the queue for a till some ignorant southerner decided she was obviously far more important and tried to push in. Suffice it to say she got ranted at by both of us – result one withered and very pissed-off looking southerner! We then checked in and sat down with a double espresso; we were both very tired after the journey from Worcester and felt a shot of caffeine was very much in order. I texted Jonesey who replied that he was just crossing the Thames and would be in the terminal within 15 minutes, so we bagged some seats and waited for departure.
After a short wait Jonesey and "Milko" arrived. They were booked into coach 14 whilst we were in coach 5 near the back so we decided that we would walk up to join them after Lille, but it turned out that their coach was half empty so, just after Brixton, we walked up the train to meet them. What we hadn’t bargained for was that the first class was in the middle, and there was a lot of it. This in itself wouldn’t be a problem apart for the trolleys doling out breakfasts and champagne to the company account occupants that impeded our progress. I mean, how many bloody trolleys do you need to feed a few first class passengers? Quite a lot, obviously.
Eventually we arrived at coach 14 and found that it was indeed half empty, so we selected some seats next to Jonesey and relaxed. The train was routed via the new fast link as we didn’t stop at Ashford, and I was impressed by the speed we reached compared with the 30mph clattering through the Kent countryside of a few years back. Pity it’s 10 years late but it’s here now, and it certainly cuts 15 minutes off the journey time. All we need now is Eurostar services to Birmingham and Manchester and we’re catching up with Europe’s railways!
Soon we were entering the tunnel and it felt like the move was on at last. Tim Webb’s Lambicland book was soon being perused and possible lambic moves planned. As we hurtled through Pajottenland Jonesey pointed out the small village of Lembeek where Frank Boon’s brewery was located but, before we could even look for the brewery, we were rushing through Halle with the hill of Beersel in the distance. We were now in the heart of Lambicland and it felt like I’d never been away even though it had been 2 years since we had last visited the region. As we slowed to enter Brussels Zuid I felt a tingle of anticipation flow through me and realised that I had been away too long from this land of the best beer in the world. Let the spontaneous consumption commence!
The first thing to do was to check into the hotels and to dump the superfluous baggage. Jonesey and Milko were staying at the Ibis whilst we were larging it at the Marriott, although our hotels were only around 250 metres apart. After a quick check-in we decided on our first call of the day; the Zageman on Rue de Laeken. We’d not visited this establishment before and it sounded good from the descriptions and, even better, allegedly stocked the ultra-rare Cantillon Faro that Sue still required. As Jonesey had been before, he was assigned to piloting duties and a quick 10-minute walk led us to the bar with a huge mural up one side. "Right, here we go then" I thought - and in we went.
Very Dodgy Launderette near Zageman in Brussels! 04/11/04
Inside, all was quiet apart from some locals clustered around the classic old wooden bar that reminded me of something from one of Edinburgh’s hostelries. We commandeered a table next to the bar where we examined the beer list, but I didn’t really need to as my decision had been made when I’d seen a chalkboard proclaiming Cantillon Faro was €2 a glass, and when Jonesey saw this he agreed. Four faros were quickly delivered in their peculiar pot-bellied dimpled half-pint glasses with handles and Sue had scored her last regular Cantillon beer in our first visit of the trip!
The beer was superb; the typical Cantillon musty, lemony tang mixed with a sweet toffee/caramel body and it was supremely drinkable. Being our first beer of the trip it was going down quite well when a Chinese woman appeared in the bar carrying a large sports bag. After loitering around suspiciously for a while, she rummaged in the bag and produced a doll that walked around and sang a song – we were all totally withered by the absurdity of the ludicrous object but then she bettered it – next out of the bag was a remarkably unrealistic polyester parrot that repeated phrases shouted at him. This had us in fits of laughter as the woman yelled strange French expressions at the bird and it squawked them back with an annoying electronic voice. Tempting though it was to grab the bird and yell, "now fuck off!" at it to see if it did English, I was too late as next she produced a hairbrush from the bulging sack of tat.
"What can be so funny about a hairbrush?" I asked, but then she rubbed me on the back with it and I understood. It was an invention that surely deserves the award of the most pointless object ever – a vibrating hairbrush! I mean, if anyone can explain to me, in a convincing way, exactly why you’d want a hairbrush to vibrate then I’ll buy him or her a beer (no rudeness please!). We were most amused by the assortment of absolute tat she had shown us but, after offering us a lighter disguised (very badly it must be said) as a mobile and a shoddy looking torch, she departed having made no sale but cheered us up by several notches. I mean, a vibrating hairbrush?! Now that is real tat!
Our beers finished, we were soon marching out of the door towards the metro when I saw a really massive beer; a 75cl bottle of Cantillon 1904 (a recent special) was displayed in the window! I grabbed the bottle and rushed to the bar to ask if they had this whopper for sale as it would be a massive winner, but the barman replied in the negative.
"No, we got it as a souvenir! It’s the only one we have" he explained, looking a bit nervous as I clutched the bottle. He seemed to be thinking that at any minute I’d make a dash for the door with his precious lambic and, I must admit, the idea did cross my mind but I thought better of it and replaced it in the window and away we went. Jonesey was cursing at missing out on such a big scoop but I thought that we’d see it again now we knew it existed. No such luck!
We then headed off to Brussels Zuid station to catch a train to Lembeek to sample some of Frank Boon’s efforts at his unofficial brewery tap. After a quick dash to the GB supermarket for a butty, we took the first train to Halle where we discovered we had a 50-minute wait for the connection to Lembeek! Cheers then! We considered amending the move by going to Beersel instead, but decided to press on to Lembeek and, whilst we were waiting, to visit a bar in Tim’s guide which sounded quite good. Jonesey knew where Halle town was so we sauntered off over the river and into civilisation. After a short distance we found the bar, the Gambrinus, which to me looked like an old country pub stuck in the middle of town – which is probably what it is as I’m sure it predates a lot of it’s modern neighbours.
We colonised the table next to the door and, without reading the list properly, we ordered 4 draught Boon krieks. Unfortunately, when I looked more carefully, I realised that the beer was only available in summer so 4 bottles of Boon’s ordinary kriek appeared from the fridge. I’m not a big fan of Frank’s ordinary beers; they are too young and I feel the taste appeals more to youngsters than beer enthusiasts, but I suppose that’s why he does two ranges of beers! I sipped the bright red beer and, although the cherry flavour was very good, the lambic was sweet and very young. Not my sort of beer, but Jonesey and Milko liked it more than I did. Sue likes very cherried beers so I was outvoted but consoled myself with being the most traditional lambic lover in our party!
We then returned to the station, although Milko had to visit a phone shop to buy a SIM card as his wasn’t working. All very well and a good idea and all that, but unfortunately for him he had to ring a helpline - which was in French only – to get the phone functioning properly! He settled for getting text messages and incoming calls working. Back at the shack, Jonesey interrogated the bus timetables and found a timetable for Gooik, home of the new Cam gueuzesterkerij, which he and Milko would be visiting the next day. Sue and I decided to stick with our plan of going to Liege and visit Cam (and more of Lambicland) the next time we visited Belgium.
After a spot of mild confusion, caused by the non-labelling of platform 5, we were soon on the train to Lembeek and retracing our tracks where we had passed on the Eurostar only four hours previously. As we alighted at Lembeek station a sweet, fruity smell hung over the village and we all knew what it meant – Frank Boon was brewing! With this glorious aroma filling our nostrils we walked the short distance to the Kring café next to the hulking brick church in the centre where all the Boon beers could be sampled – hopefully including the rare millennium framboise, I hoped.
Gazza, Jonesey, Sue and Milko in the Kring, Lembeek. (taken by a local!) 04/11/04
The café was very rustic and welcoming and a lot larger than it appeared from the outside. We sat at a large table and examined the beer lists, which categorised the beers as Boon and the rest! Best of all, the 75cl framboise was on the list so we ordered one with some relish. A minute later, a huge cork-leaving-bottle explosion was heard behind the bar along with a burst of merriment from the locals sat there that we assumed was our framboise arriving. When it appeared, minus a few inches of beer that was presumably dripping off the ceiling, we saw it was the rare 2000 vintage! I sampled the salmon pink liquid and immediately a huge taste of raspberry pips, acidity and sour lambic assailed my tongue. This was some beer, probably the best Boon beer I’d ever had!
We had planned to have 40 minutes there before taking the train back to Beersel but, after this excellent bottle of lambic, we reluctantly decided to miss out on Beersel’s beery charms and stay an extra hour in the superb Kring. As I sat there drinking a bottle of Oude Gueuze, I realised that I was extremely fortunate to have acquired a taste for one of the world’s great beer styles and even luckier to be drinking it just over the road from the gloriously smelling brewery! With an extra hour to kill, we sat back and relaxed and tried more of Mr Boon’s extensive range, but for me nothing matched the Framboise we had first although the Oude Gueuze came quite close. The locals must be used to strange foreign fellows turning up in their local and noisily swigging lots of lambic as, when we were taking the customary "seminars", one of them offered to take one of all 4 of us with the array of empty bottles we’d accumulated. Overall, a superb place, well recommended.
Alas, it was soon time to decamp for the train so, after paying the remarkably small tab (the 75cl millennium framboise was only €6.80!), we walked the short distance back to the tiny station with the aroma of brewing still draped over the village like a sweet cloud. Our plan now was to visit the new brewpub at St Job then do the tram back into Brussels – unfortunately, owing to our extended stop in Lembeek, we had to stay on the train at Beersel which was a bit of a disappointment but as I’d not done the new brewpub at St Job, l’Imprimiere, I felt that we’d be achieving something new. Anyhow, you can’t drink lambic all night… can you? Actually I can, but that’s not the point!
Back to Brussels.
St Job was soon reached and we walked down the hill into the centre. After a quick food stop at the frituur, which turned out to be very acceptable indeed (especially the stoofvlees sauce), we piled into the bar and colonised a table near the bar where Jonesey found a large rocking chair which blocked access to the toilets when he rocked it! A rapid scan of the blackboards revealed there were 4 beers available; wheat, pale, double export (whatever that is) and a stout. All 4 could be sampled in a tasting tray for €5 so we ordered one of those but the other two had been here before so just had a glass of the wheat. The tray arrived with 4 20cl glasses of beer and one full of pale malt which we tasted just to see if it was fresh – it was, although the husks stuck in our teeth all night!
Jonesey's rocking chair in l'Imprimiere, St Job. 04/11/04
The beers were a lot better than I thought they would be, particularly as they were from a very new brewery. Surprisingly, the wheat beer was felt to be the best of the four with a lovely sweetish grainy flavour. The Stout was good but Sue and I felt it was too "clean" with no rough edges, just polished flavours; technically perfect, but a bit boring in the real world. The "double export" was a strange malty brown ale of uncertain style and the pale ale was the usual bland dry type that I don’t like at all. All in all we enjoyed the beers, which is more than can be said for the strange music being played which may have been an attempt at "trance" or something equally unsuited to a brewpub. It didn’t seem to be dissuading the customers though as, when I took a look around after finishing our tasting tray, the bar had filled up with youngish types on a night out. A very unusual interior for a brewpub, but it works a lot better than some others I’ve visited and it’s popular, so who am I to argue?
After a final glass of the stout just to confirm how "polished" it was we headed off to the tramstop for the journey back into the centre. By a nice twist of fate, the 92 tram would drop us off within 100 metres of the Bier Circus – how very sociable! We jumped on the next tram and enjoyed the long ride back into the centre, seeing the Brussels that most tourists never see; endless suburbs and roads of cafes and bars with "Jupiler" above the door (well, maybe they do see that bit). I was also surprised at the amount of hills we rollercoasted up and down; Belgium always seems so flat from a train, I’ve no idea why these hills aren’t visible! (Actually, I saw Beersel hill from the Eurostar so maybe this last bit isn’t really true but you get my point).
Within 20 minutes we were alighting at the Cirque and walking the short distance to the Bier Circus which, we hoped, hadn’t moved to it’s new location yet as we didn’t know where it was moving to! Thankfully, it was still in it’s old place so we trooped inside and squeezed into a table by the bar. Within a few seconds we had decided on a beer, which must be a world record time in here – Cantillon Lou Pepe Framboise on draught! What an unqualified whopper – Lou Pepe on draught was a totally unknown occurrence to us and I’d never suspected it even came on draught!
We quickly ordered 4 glasses of the superb beer and savoured it’s acidic, tongue-curling sharpness balanced with loads of fruit and musty old sacks – what an absolute beast! I leafed through the menu and saw that the bar had caught "Vintage ale" disease with a long list of deceased and/or aged bottles for sale at what seemed at the time to be inflated prices, although the ordinary beer list still gives plenty to go at with a lot of rare stuff so the wallet needn’t suffer that much.
I used to visit the bar a fair bit when I was going to Belgium a lot more regularly than I do now and I was pleased to see the owners still recognised me. I was told they were moving about 100 metres down the road and, when we walked past the site on our way to the famed Delerium, I had one of those strange double-take moments. The building they were moving to had been in a poor state for all the years we had been walking up here and, strangely enough, we’d always said it should be a bar – and now it was going to be the best bar in town! As that bloke from the A-team says, "It’s great when a plan comes together".
We’d read a lot about Delerium and most of it seemed to indicate that we wouldn’t like it; Huyghe beers, poor service, expensive, noisy, crowded… the list went on. However, despite all these damning rumours, we’d decided that we had to visit if only to confirm it was all true and make our first visit our last. We walked down past the legendary Morte Subite, which was full of people sat at the long tables bathed in a strange yellow light enjoying the rare traditional Gueuze and, if the time hadn’t been against us, we may have nipped in for a swift bottle ourselves but it was now pushing 21:00 so we carried on. Through the galleries St Hubert we went and straight into the restaurant area where tables crowded the narrow cobbled streets giving an almost oppressive feel akin to something out of a far eastern travel channel documentary. The waiters, ever keen to drum up business for their respective establishments, shouted across at us as we hurried past even though they were only a few metres away owing to the tables spilling out into the streets and had no real need to shout.
"Lovely table for you!", "Free wine!", "You are English? We have lots of cod!", "Fresh Lobster!" and the like. Thankfully, the small impasse that contained the Delerium was only a few metres along this noisy graveyard of sea invertebrates and I’m not sure if we’d have found it without Mr Jones as our guide. With a feeling of relief we turned down the alley but then my relief turned to disbelief – the sound of a very bad Dire Straits cover band was wafting out of the bar!
"Oh for f**k’s sake…" I moaned as we descended the steps into the bar. Inside, it was even worse – a gloomy dark slightly seedy looking bar with the aforementioned band on stage getting stuck into "Sultans of swing" with much gusto. The bar was full of youngish customers drinking out of pink elephant-spattered glasses and suddenly staying all night in the Bier Circus seemed like a very good idea. Mind you, at that moment being just about anywhere else seemed like a very good idea such was the noise and nightclub-like atmosphere. This wasn’t what I had expected from a specialist beer bar at all and I was very disappointed; where was the respect and reverence of serious beer? It had drowned in a sea of badly played Dire Straits’ greatest hits and was missing, presumed drowned.
I spied a Drie Fonteinen mobile bar with handpulls on standing by the main bar, but getting to it would be a problem with the amount of customers milling around and as for getting served – well, I’m sure a place like this needs more than 2 or 3 barstaff! Given these problems, we took a straw poll and decided to give it up and decamp somewhere else; this was without knowing live music adds 25% to the bill…. I’m not paying a euro a bottle more to listen to a crap Dire Straits cover band, what a lucky escape that was!
Now where? We were very close to the Brasseurs on Grand Place but as none of us rated the beers there we decided to pass on that one so Jonesey suggested the Poechenellekelder, opposite the slighty disturbing naked pot-bellied midget taking a leak. Having never been there before we agreed and wandered off through the gorgeous Grand Place which is surely one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, especially so at night when it is lit up like something out of a fairy tale and there are far less tourists gawping around to trip over. The Mannequin Pis was, as usual, surrounded by tourists taking photos and laughing so we hurried past without laughing once – we were on a mission!
We were soon herding into the Poechenellekelder and a strange little place it was too – very "brown café" in style but with an upmarket edge. The usual Belgian paraphernalia of puppets, witches and brewery adverts hung from the walls (and everything else) and it was larger than it looked from the outside. We spotted an empty table and arranged ourselves around it before scrutinizing the beer list, which was surprisingly well endowed with lambic beers for such a touristy place. Sue decided on a Lindemans Faro and, foolishly, I followed suit as I’ve never had it on draught. And I never shall again after that experience! Imagine liquid sugar with caramel and you’ll be getting close. Yeuch.
After that poor choice of beer we decided that enough was enough as it was now around 22:00 and we’d been up since 04:30 that morning so, after walking back to the hotel with Jonesey and Milko, we left them to consume a dodgy looking kebab from over the road and retired to our ultra-posh room in the Marriott. There we found a note through the door – the public transport of Brussels was on strike the following day! This didn’t affect us as we were off to Liege, but I texted Jonesey as we knew he was doing a Pajottenland tour and may be withered! With the admin done we washed a t-shirt each (which saved carrying another one over from home!) and settled down into the very comfortable bed for some much-needed doss after a very productive first day on the lambic.
Friday 5th November 2004.
If you were going to spend over a hundred quid on a hotel room you’d expect the bed to be comfortable. Seeing as we’d spent nothing it felt like an extra bonus – it was certainly one of the best beds I’ve slept in since the Comfort Inn at Århus, Denmark earlier in the year. Reluctantly we abandoned its soothing charms and ambled over to Centraal station via the Grand Place where the morning sun lit up the guildhouses with a golden, ethereal glow, adding to their stunning impression. We looked in several takeaways with the aim of buying some breakfast but none grabbed us enough to part us with our euros; we hoped there would be something open at Centraal this early in the morning to provide much-needed sustenance for the journey to Liege. And a coffee would be nice.
Les Brasseurs, Grand Place (or thereabouts), Brussels. 05/11/04
At Centraal station we discovered that more shops were open than we remembered; maybe it was the early hour? We bought some butties and waffles from one of the shops and got a coffee from the little bar alongside where, as I waited to be served at the bar, a fellow traveller tucked into a can of Bellevue kriek (I kid you not!) with unabashed gusto and Sue was hassled to buy a paper from a slightly shady looking character. At 10:00 in the morning coffee seemed like the best option to us and good stuff it was too with the accompanying speculaas biscuit having cinnamon bursting out of it to some high concentration. Just the job to start a day on the beer!
Feeling more awake we descended into the murky depths of the station (imagine Birmingham New St with half the lights turned off) and awaited the train to Liege. We were using the outward portion of our Eurostar tickets as, with incredible generosity, Eurostar tickets are now valid for onward travel to/from any station in Belgium with a 24-hour stopover allowed in Brussels. That’s what I call sociable! We were soon onboard in the comfortable surroundings of an almost empty carriage with a trip over the new fast line at Leuven to look forward to and we slipped out of Brussels with the atomium shining in the distance under a sky set fair for the day.
The new fast line around Leuven managed to slip by without us really noticing and, after a brief holdup at the top of the worryingly steep hill into Liege due to engineering work, we pulled into a station which looked like there had been a platoon of Americans on a regime change mission passing through. Most of the platforms had been reduced to rubble and a vast array of mechanical machinery was busying itself moving things around the site that somehow still had a normal train service – imagine this happening in the UK, the line would be closed for years!
However, owing to our 8-minute delay, I was most put out as I had fully intended to get a takeaway sausage butty from the king of takeaway butty vans outside Liege station, but now we didn’t have enough time. For those who haven’t experienced this gastronomic nirvana, leave Liege Guillemans station by the main exit and if you carry on walking then with all certainty you’ll join the queue after about 5 metres. They sell saucisse de Campagne (long thin "country" herby pork sausages) or the hellfire Merguez (long thin highly spiced lamb sausages) in huge French bread sticks with fields of fried onions on top – all for €2,90. Absolutely superb they are too but, as I said, we didn’t have the time to queue for one so reluctantly we made our way across to the platform for the train which would take us on the short hop across the river to Liege Angleur station.
Five minutes later at Angleur we checked the times of the trains back and the location of the ticket office, as we would have to buy a ticket for the return trip. Formalities completed, we began the dispiriting traipse up Rue Val Benoit towards the Vaudree – it always seems further than you remembered it to be and the road seems to have a micro-climate of its very own with a predication to precipitation. The sun was shining on us today however, and within 8 minutes (we timed it for the walk back!) we were entering the Vaudree for, I hoped, more old lambic and discontinued beers.
We bagged the last free table just in front of the bubbling tanks of trout, lobsters and oysters and examined the huge beer list. Unfortunately, we were in for a shock – it seemed like all the old beers had vanished from the list! I hurriedly scanned the menu in case a "vintage" list had appeared, but it seemed like the older beers were simply missing without trace leaving a substantial but not half as interesting list. Never mind though, as they now have the latest rancid concoction from Huyghe – cactus beer, said to be done for the Vaudrees and, strangely enough, Delerium in Brussels. Great.
We found some beers to drink and made a more thorough examination of the list but it was no good; the old beers were simply not there. I could understand some of them having sold out, but all of them? This was strange! All this searching of the list had one benefit though as we realised we were starving hungry and found the ideal solution – degustation exotique! This phrase is French for "Exotic tasting" and it certainly sounded unusual. The meal seemed to be portions of raw meat from Bison, Guinea Fowl, Kangaroo and Springbok, which were supplied with a hot stone for cooking purposes. This sounded too good an opportunity to pass up so we put the order in immediately!
In the meantime we ordered some more beers, although we decided to sample some unusual ones in the shape of UK beers brewed in Belgium! A bottle of Whitbread Stout and glass of Watney’s Scotch were ordered and were found to be pretty good – they certainly put the brewing efforts of our nationals to shame with their brewing. The Scotch (since when were Watneys in Scotland?) was sweet, full and caramelly whilst the stout was a good dry Guinness-type roasted stout. However, the degustation soon arrived and all beer drinking stopped – it was time to scoop some animals in!
Gazza with Watneys and Whitbread in the Vaudree, Angleur! 05/11/04
Those of you who know me will be aware that I like to eat different animals. This doesn’t mean I go around randomly gnawing legs off unfortunate creatures in zoos (although that sounds like an excellent way to bump up my total!), rather the animals need to be on a menu and available for consumption as part of a meal. For the record, Bison is like a strongly flavoured beef with an open grain, Springbok is very venison-like and gamey, Kangaroo was marbled and had a strange but distinctive taste and close grain and the Guinea fowl closely resembled turkey. Of course, I haven’t overlooked the fact we could have been fed beef, venison, turkey and something else… but I trust the Vaudree. I think.
We had another round then decided that the lack of old beers on the menu had made the trip less useful than usual so it was time to go. We trudged back down the road to the station and, using my best Français, I bought two singles to Brussels for the very reasonable sum of €11.40 each. I trotted back into the underpass where Sue was beckoning frantically – I realised a train must be waiting so we ran up the stairs and along the platform… just as it departed! Fortunately, we had ensured there were two trains we could catch so we waited for the next one.
Those who know me will already be aware that I am a rail crank and used to visit Belgium a fair bit to travel round on their old diesel locos which, unfortunately, no longer work passenger services. Therefore, when a train pulled into the station at the wrong platform 5 minutes early, I knew this was the one we were catching! "That’s it!" I bellowed, and off we ran again along the subway and up the steps. This time there was no mistake and we boarded the train which proceeded to leave 4 minutes early. After the short hop over the river we were soon in Leige Guillemins station – a minute before we were due to leave Angleur!
An evening of Faro.
I was again frustrated in my attempts to purchase a merguez butty from the world’s best butty van as, predictably, I was still full of degustation exotique and, anyway, we only had ten minutes before the Brussels train arrived. The train arrived early (a pattern forming here!) so we easily got seats and almost before we knew it we were pulling into Brussels Noord. We had discussed the move on the train and had reluctantly decided not to visit Beersel but to try the Delerium again – surely the Dire Straits covers band couldn’t still be murdering the solos now?
As we trooped down the hill towards Delerium, passing a hilarious bus on the way (Fuckerbus, what a superb name!), we spontaneously decided to visit the Morte Subite, as we would be walking right past it and see if their faro and/or lambic was available; if not, we reasoned, the very acceptable Oude Gueuze would be! We gingerly looked through the window into the lively old bar where the lights cast a yellow glow over the rows of long tables filled with customers and saw a table free just inside the door - about five seconds later we were inside and looking at the beer list. Faro was listed, but unfortunately no draught lambic, although Wit lambic was. I had tried the Timmermans version of this horrible concoction and wasn’t impressed, but as Sue hadn’t had the pleasure when the efficient waiter arrived we ordered one faro and one witlambic. We’d see if this version was better!
A highly amusing bus in Brussels! 05/11/04
I’d be a liar to say I was expecting great things of the Morte Subite beers, but the faro surprised me. It had a very acceptable lambic flavour with just the right amount of caramel and sweetness lying over the top. OK so the lambic could be a bit older, but all in all it was a very pleasant beer – which is more can be said for the witlambic. It’s not often we don’t finish a beer but this one was so horrible that we left most of it. Jonesey had texted me to say he’d be in the Delerium shortly after a successful tour of Lambicland so we reluctantly paid up, which was a shame, as I was up for another faro and a bottle of Oude Gueuze!
Gazza scores the new Faro in Morte Subite, Brussels. 05/11/04
We walked the short distance to Delerium, once again being hassled by the waiters stood mantis-like outside their cafes, but this time there was no bad music coming out of the bar’s entrance. With a palpable sense of relief we descended the steps and found the bar to be quiet with no more than ten people scattered around the tables. Having picked up a copy of the huge 3-inch thick beer list we bagged a table at the back of the previous night’s stage and began to study the monstrous document. It soon became clear that the list could have been made about 50 pages long if they’d wanted to but that wouldn’t have looked half as impressive, would it? The long list of "vintage" beers had prices which made me laugh - €50 a bottle for an old beer? Come on, be serious – some of these will be in crap condition and I’d bet you wouldn’t get a refund if that were the case. If you want old beers, go to Kulminator in Antwerp where realistic pricing is the order of the day.
Whilst we were evaluating the excessively large beer list both of us arrived at the same conclusion independently – the Vaudrée had sold it’s old stock to the Delerium! The link between the two was in the Huyghe cactus "beer", but the list contained items like De Troch kriek from a number of years ago in 37.5cl bottles – the only place I know that had stocks of this was the Vaudrée and now they were gone from their list. Was this too much of a coincidence? Whatever, we weren’t going to pay the silly prices being asked for the old beers so we selected two from the ordinary list and I waited 15 minutes to get served by the one member of staff on duty – it’s not table service here which leads me into thinking the bar’s raison d’etre is to drag in the rich tourists who don’t understand Euro currency conversion. I asked what was on the Drie Fonteinen bar and was amazed when it was revealed that draught faro and kriekenlambic were available – they were our next two beers!
The first two beers were fine, the Alvinne brune being acceptable but the Strubbe Callewaert Stout was particularly good. Jonesey and milko soon arrived with tales of having been to Cam and Schepdaal where lots of lambic consumption had taken place. Seeing a gap at the bar, I hurtled down the room and grabbed the solitary barman before he could wander off. "One faro, one kriek" I requested, gesturing towards the Drie Fonteinen bar just in case he thought I meant some of the commercial crud that cluttered up the bar. The beers were soon pulled through the handpumps (I kid you not – real angram ones!) and I returned to our table triumphant with the glasses.
I sipped the faro. It was so sublime, so gorgeous, that I must have made a strangulated noise as the other three looked at me as though I was choking. "That’s the best beer I’ve had this year!" I enthused, taking another swig just to make sure I wasn’t imagining things; it was so perfectly balanced between the sour lambic and sweet toffee sugar I could have drunk pints of it. Sue was having a similar experience with the kriekenlambic which she described as "the best kriek I’ve had" owing to it’s intense cherry flavour but with a deep lambic sourness. We swapped glasses and both agreed that these beers were absolutely superb. They were so good we ignored the 2,000 beers on the list and had another round of Drie Fonteinen, which gives an indication of how good they were.
It would have been good to stay drinking the Drie Fonteinen beers all night, but the bar was now filling up and getting served would have been a problem so we decided to return to the Zageman and compare the Cantillon faro there against the one we’d just enjoyed. We arranged to meet the other two at t’Spinnekopke later on and marched off northwards past the Bourse. We were at the bar within ten minutes, and it was only 20:15 – excellent, the place was due to stay open until 22:00 tonight being the first Friday of the month, plenty of time to sink some Cantillons! Or so we thought. As we walked through the door, the landlord gestured that they were closed to our intense disbelief – now what? Dejectedly, we left and decided that we may as well get to t’Spinnekopke first and have a few beers whilst we waited for the others to appear.
Another ten minute walk back the way we’d just come led us to this little bar looking just like ye olde Englishe pubbe dropped in the middle of suburban Brussels. I’d been here once before a number of years back and had enjoyed the Cantillon lambic on draught but knew it got busy, so I hoped we would be ok to have a drink. One look inside the windows blew that idea out of the water – the place was wedged with normals tucking into all manner of delicious food and, sadly, bottles of wine. I decided that as we’d come this far we may as well have something to eat and this was as good a place as any judging by the excellent gastronomic reputation it had. So, in we went.
We had barely got through the door when we were accosted by one of the waiters. "Do you have a reservation?" he enquired, looking hassled and overworked. That settled it, I thought, it’s food or nothing in here! I admitted that we did not and honestly believed we would be shown the door, but he thought for a minute and with a "un moment, sil-vous-plait" he scuttled off to prepare a table for us. Within a minute he was back. "M’sieur, madame" he said, inviting us into the back room where a cracking little corner table had been set. Beaming my thanks, we sat down and studied the menus of delicious sounding food. We grinned at each other and knew this had been a good move.
A waiter arrived at our table to take our order, and he had an interesting manner. He must have been in his late 50’s but has the energy of a 30 year old and his English was unusual, peppered with phrases such as "yes, I dig that" and "yes, yes, okay, okay". He was also quite tall and when he moved his limbs seemed to be at odds with each other, but somehow he seemed to be able to co-ordinate them into a shambling gait that suited him well. Sue chose the carbonnade and I decided on the Brussels’ special, stoemp with saucisse. With a drinks order of a lambic and a faro the waiter rushed off for a short while before returning with the beers and with a hasty "M’sieur… madame…" he was away again. Looking around the room, I assumed the food would be a while owing to the number of people eating, so we relaxed in our chairs and drank the lambic.
The beers were excellent with the lambic being a young example and the faro very dark and caramelly. Within a remarkably short time considering the amount of custom present, our food arrived with Sue’s carbonnade being in a cute little casserole dish whilst my stoemp was a large mound topped with a very real looking sausage. We tucked into the food and, just as the reports of the cooking had said, it was excellent. We were particularly pleased as we realised our home-made attempt at carbonnade/stoofvlees was very similar to this one. The sausage was full of meaty chunks and herbs and complemented the stoemp very well, especially with a bit of Sue’s gravy!
We ate and drank with great pleasure when all of a sudden Sue looked startled. With a grin she pointed at the window and when I turned round there was Jonesey, hanging on the railings and trying to tell us something! What the other customers must have made of him leering and gesturing wildly through the window is anyone’s guess, but after a few reappearances at the window he gave up and went; all we could assume was he’d been denied entry and was off to the Kafka, the little brown bar down from the hotel which served Cantillon for very reasonable prices.
We finished our delicious food and decided on an orange waffle between us for pudding. "yes, yes, you share, I dig it" the waiter enthused and brought us two more glasses of lambic while we waited. When the waffle came it was a large specimen on a huge frosted glass plate over which the waiter poured flaming Grand Marnier. This impressed us both – little things and all that! Like the rest of the meal it was delicious and we sat back, draining our lambic glasses, with a feeling of great fulfilment. This place was definitely on the tour next time we were in town!
With the remarkably small bill of €40 paid we slowly made our way to the Kafka which was on the road behind our hotels. We couldn’t see Jonesey inside, but he texted me to say he’d be there in a few minutes. Sure enough, he and Milko arrived and over a bottle of Cantillon kriek he said that they’d been denied access to the Spinnekopke as they weren’t eating so went to Morte Subite instead to scoop the rare faro there. As it was now pushing 23:00 and we had an early start in the morning to get to Cantillon by 06:30, we decided to forego another kriek and get some sleep. Milko said he was going to have a lie-in, but Jonesey arranged to meet us in front of the hotel at 06:15.
Loerik, Cuvee des Champions and all that stuff.
Saturday 6th November 2004.
The alarm went off at 05:30. "Bloody hell, it can’t be that time already?" I groaned whilst the comfy bed caressing me with it’s springs. "Stay here, it’s nice and warm!" it rustled seductively and, I must admit, it was tempting to roll over and go back to sleep. However, we’d come here for the Cantillon public brewing day and I was determined we’d be there for opening. We were checked out and waiting for Jonesey by 06:10 in front of the hotel whilst early morning Brussels happened around us; a few people out for a run, the odd bus, some earlybird workers and that was about it. We waited until 06:20, but Mr Jones didn’t appear, so we took an executive decision to head off and meet him there so, with Sue navigating, we trudged through the deserted streets towards the brewery. During the walk I had a text from Jonesey saying he’d overdosed and would see us there shortly for his morning drink!
Twenty minutes later we were there. I wasn’t sure how many people would turn up and I was quite relieved when we opened the door to find only around 20 people inside. Mme Van Roy was delighted to see us, despite us not having visited for a couple of years, and we got an extra coffee and croissant voucher! Jean-Pierre also recognised us and beamed a greeting. "Bonjour! Ça va?" he welcomed. "Bien, merci" we replied. We got a cup of coffee and a croissant before asking the whereabouts of Emile, the brewery cat. Mme Van Roy had sad news that Emile had died a few years back but seemed pleased we remembered him.
We bagged a table in the seating area and waited for Jonesey to arrive. He didn’t take long and was there around 07:00 and ready for a lambic, but had to make do with a coffee for starters. We then did a tour around the brewery and watched the mashing-in which filled the building with a luscious sweet malty smell carried on billowing clouds of steam. I leant into the tun and inhaled the succulent aroma deeply – this was one of my favourite smells and I wanted, to use a horrible American phrase, to "max it"! We wandered around the rest of the brewery and, in the process, finally found out what the letters on the casks meant; a letter denotes the year, 2004 being H.
Cantillon's copper. 06/11/04
Back in the reception area at our table we had another coffee and croissant before deciding it was time for a beer – after all, it was 08:30 by now. We decided to start with the faro so I got two glasses and we were surprised to see that it was a golden colour – that was three different glasses of faro and three different colours within two days! The good news was that it tasted as good as the others so we supped the sweet and sour liquid whilst we watched the crowds going on tours of the brewery.
As there were so many people visiting, the tours were going every half hour, usually in French or Dutch but sometimes in English and once in German! The usual tour guides all had a go then it seemed to be a free-for-all with guest guides cropping up to take the groups round; it was all done with a great deal of informality and enjoyment all round which was good to see. One of these turned out to be Lorenzo Dabove who, having been told we were English, rushed over to meet us.
"Hello, hello!" he bellowed, greeting us enthusiastically. How can anyone be so awake at this time of the morning? I wondered. "Are you all in CAMRA?" Lorenzo asked which, thinking about it, is a fair question – I suppose he equates CAMRA=beer lovers, instead of CAMRA=tossers as Jonesey and I think! There was a mass chorous of denial from our table, which seemed to momentarily confuse him, but he soon regained his bouncy enthusiasm and hurtled off to conduct a tour. It had been good to put a face to a name from the Belgian e-group but, on reflection, maybe we should have explained to him why we didn’t want to be associated with CAMRA! Maybe next time.
After the faro, we had got the taste for lambic and it was time for something else – but what? Luckily, Jean (Jean-Pierre’s son) was connecting kegs up to some taps and I took the opportunity to speak to him about his latest limited edition beers and hoped I could blag some of the 1904 and Cuvee des champions from him; I could but try!
Jean Van-Roy by the mash tun. 06/11/04
Jean told me that there was no 1904 left but he had some Cuvee, which wasn’t really a Gueuze but a bottled lambic as it was from a single cask. "The beer, he is dry hopped for a few weeks then bottled with a small amount of sugar liquor to encourage him to ferment" he explained. I think he said it was a two-year old lambic but I could be wrong…! I then asked him about the elusive Loerik beer which I had never managed to sample. "Yes we have some left" he replied, and the day was getting better and better! Ever keen to talk about lambic (just like his dad!) he explained that it wasn’t actually brewed per se, it was a result of the very rare occurrence when a batch of Gueuze doesn’t re-ferment properly in the bottle, hence the name, which means "Lazy Bones".
I reported back to our table the news that 1904 had gone but there was still some Cuvee and Loerik around which whipped Jonesey into a lambic frenzy. He immediately stormed off to the bar to acquire some bottles of these massive winners and came back all smiles a minute later with news that 3 bottles of Cuvee were on their way, one for consumption immediately, and the last bottle of Loerik! Five minutes later we were the proud owners of a bottle of cuvee each to take home and one laid down in a basket ready for drinking.
Jonesey and Gazza scooping Cuvee des Champions at Cantillon. 06/11/04
We drained our glasses of faro and poured the cuvee, which had an obvious aroma of hops drifting out of the bottle. It was a deep amber colour and fairly flat but the fruity, citric hops contrasted well with the fine oaky, lemony and quite sour lambic flavour – in short, it was an excellent beer which didn’t taste like anything else Cantillon do with the possible exception of the Iris. We supped the excellent beer whilst some Americans at the next table looked on with surprise. "What’s that beer then? How do you know which beers to get?" they drawled. We replied that we had the gen and showed them the bottle so they could order one too. I’m not sure that they understood what was going on to be honest as they sat at their table looking even more confused…
The cuvee consumed, we now wanted the Loerik. Jonesey was on a mission and off he went again in search of one of the Van Roy’s daughters who had promised the bottle to him. I harboured doubts that we’d get any, particularly as it was the last one and my past luck with the beer, but Mr Jones did us proud and returned with a bottle of the beer opened to drink! After a short technical problem where I had to go and get the cork’s bottom half removed from the neck of the bottle, we were pouring the 1998 Loerik into our glasses. Jonesey had received a text from Milko who would be arriving shortly so poured him a glass too. Two massive scoops and it was only half nine in the morning! After so many near-misses, the Loerik tasted excellent – it was smooth, rich, mellow but still with that acidic, grapefruity backbone. The Americans on the table next to us looked at the Loerik, looked at each other, and appeared even more confused at what was going on next to them…
Jonesey and Gazza score the massive Loerik at Cantillon. 06/11/04
I had another wander around the brewery and asked Jean-Pierre about the weather and whether it would be OK for the brew. He shrugged his shoulders. "We brewed for the first time on Wednesday" he said with a shrug, "and really it was too warm. Tonight, it may be too cold! The season gets shorter and more unpredictable each year" he stated with an air of resignation. It sounded like he was saying it wouldn’t be silly food safety rules which would kill lambic, but global warming – and he wasn’t happy about it. "Some of the casks have started to ferment from Wednesday," he added, looking happier all of a sudden, "They’re up above the cask washer if you want to see them". I thanked him and rushed off to study the fermenting casks.
The first brew of 2004 starts to ferment at Cantillon. 06/11/04
I paused to watch the cask washer in action. A cask was attached to it, filled with what looked like stones to, presumably, scour the inside and the whole contraption spun round like a whirligig. It’s the strangest cask washer I’ve ever seen! I soon found the row of casks labelled H1; the first brew of the season. A crisp white foam was creeping out of the bungholes of several of the casks and I sniffed it for a while; being a home brewer myself there is something mystical and compelling about beer that starts to ferment by itself and I watched the little bubbles creep from the spile with a sense of awe at the alchemy of taking grains and water and letting it transform itself slowly into beer.
Casks of maturing lambic from the first brew of 2004 at Cantilon. 06/11/04
The morning progressed quickly and before we knew it midday had arrived. We’d been in the brewery for over five hours although it didn’t seem like anything near that. After the Loerik we had indulged in a bottle of Kriek 2004, Lou Pepe Kriek 2002 and a Fou Foune 2004 so, as you can imagine, we were feeling quite relaxed by this time. Unfortunately, although I’d have loved to stay and see the receiving tray being filled with the wort, we had arranged to go to Antwerp that night and I also wanted to visit the Warm Water café to sample their Girardin oude lambic on draught. Jonesey and Milko left a short while before we did and we arranged to meet them later in the Kulminator for some rare old beers. After eating a butty kindly provided by Mme Van Roy we made our excuses and left with the consolation we’d be back on Monday to buy some takeouts.
Jean-Pierre keeps an eye on the wort pump at Cantillon. 06/11/04
A 20-minute walk later we’d found the Warm Water and it was nothing like I’d imagined it to be. Rather than a small bar it was a wholefood type café that just happened to serve draught lambic and faro from Girardin! They also serve the ultra-rare Girardin Ulricher lager… maybe next time! We ordered a glass of the faro, one of the oude lambic and a portiekaas whilst we settled into our chairs. It was only 13:00 but we’d been on the beer for 5 hours already and we were feeling a bit washed out, but I stoically tucked into the lambic in the interests of research. It was superb; old, winey, very woody and with a mushroomy, cobwebby old barn flavour and a sharp, lemony bite. The faro was very caramelly but the lambic shone through well to give a balanced and tasty drink. After we’d drained our glasses and finished the last cube of the delicious, buttery cheese we headed through the drizzly streets to Brussels Zuid station to catch a train to Antwerp.
"Drinking too much Lambic may damage your health"
After the customary butty from the GB supermarket we caught the first train to Antwerp, which only cost around €7 each. The journey passed quickly, probably due to all the lambic we’d consumed, and soon we were alighting at the magnificent Antwerp Centraal station. This cathedral of a station (it was designed by a church architect, and it shows!) has been extensively renovated over the last five years as, during the digging of the tunnels underneath for the trams and new fast train line, the whole structure began to sink and needed huge investment to prevent it collapsing! Rather than just patch it up, NMBS have done a fantastic job and the whole place gleams. The construction work can still be seen if you look down the unnervingly deep hole between the two platform areas!
I’d booked us into a hotel which offers adequate comfort but a great location and excellent breakfast just opposite the station; the Florida. Beer enthusiasts have used this place for years and I’ve stayed there around five times now. The rooms in the old section can be a bit dated and the drains may reek a bit but the positives more than outweigh these minor niggles in my view. The beds are comfy too, which is always a bonus, and the help yourself breakfast buffet is excellent.
At this point in the report I suppose I’d better introduce you to one of the hazards of lambic drinking – the hitherto unknown medical condition of "Lambic arse" or "Pajottenland ring". This painful affliction manifests itself as a feeling of extreme acid indigestion accompanied by excessive flatulence, followed by a bout of severe dysentery which (so I’m told) feels like pure acid is being expelled from the arse. Maybe they should put warnings on the bottles – "Drinking too much Lambic may cause Lambic arse. Enjoy responsibly"… or is that the nanny state gone mad?
After a brief rest we wandered down a drizzly Meir towards the Oude Arsenaal, a classic little pub which reminds me of pictures I’ve seen of Salford locals c.1960’s. The main reason for going there is the extensive range of lambic beers with, usually, a few on draught. Tonight we were unlucky as there was no draught lambic available, although neither of us really felt like it having been consuming it liberally since 08:30 so I had a Proef Troubadour obscura which was a pretty good dark brown porter style beer with lots of malty, caramel flavour
We were sat in a corner near the bar and the local next to me seemed to delight in speaking to visitors to the pub. "Ah, you are English!" he beamed, clapping me on the shoulder. "I have been to England many times – Coventry, Nuneaton, Birmingham, Shrewsbury! The beer is good there too!" he continued and I felt a stab of pity for him as, with the whole of the UK to explore, he managed to visit three of the biggest dumps in the country. And Shrewsbury; well, that was all right. He kept up the chatter, veering into football, conspiratorially whispering to me that Ruud van Nistelrooy was from Friesland in the far north of Holland which, it turned out, was where he was from too. "More cows than people!" he bellowed with a great laugh, "There’s nothing to do there, that’s why we have all the cows!". He didn’t seem at all surprised that two English people were doing a bar crawl of Antwerp, although I suppose the people of Nuneaton would think differently about a Frieslander doing a pub crawl of their town. Thankfully, some friends of his arrived and he turned his attention to them so we finished our drinks and made a quick getaway to the Kulminator where Jonesey and Milko were already settled into a large table talking to some locals.
I’d been looking forward to this visit as, according to reports on the Belgian e-group, Liefman’s unsweetened kriek was on draught here and as we’d missed it in Brugge the previous year I was determined to scoop it in this time. A quick look at the beer board quickly affirmed the rumour – there it was, what a result! I didn’t know what to expect from it as the usual Liefman’s kriek is very sweet, but how much of this is added and how much is natural? Beige Phil had informed me that the example he’d tried in Erasmus, Brugge had been good and sour although very cherried. I took a tentative sip from the glass and the tartness was immediately obvious. There was a bit of sweetness, true, but the almondy cherry flavour and sour, tart edge made it a lusciously drinkable beer – so why the fuck do they go and tip a ton of sugar in it? At least the real stuff is getting out now, and maybe the more people try it the more it will sell; some Dutch bus drivers who were sat at our table tried the beer and all seemed very impressed by it. Go spread the word; we want Liefman’s kriek sugar-free!
After my first visit to Kulminator in 1998 I wasn’t a big fan at all. My visits over the last few years have brought me to the conclusion that I actually quite like the place although not as much as some people who seem to think it’s heaven on earth. Maybe it’s the fairness of their pricing policy which has brought me round and, after seeing the list at Delerium, hope Dirk and Leen don’t follow suit and bring their prices into line. Somehow, I don’t think this will happen; it’s not in their nature!
We sipped our way through the lovely kriek then decided to have an old beer from the extensive list. After failing on Drie Fonteinen Schaarbeekse kriek (not in stock) and Eylenbosch Framboise (buried in cellar!) we settled for a 1986 Clarysse Felix kriek. When the beer was poured, Milko refused it on the grounds of the floaters in it, so we shared his glass. To be honest, the beer was past it’s best with a fragile flavour overwhelmed with maderia nuances from the slow-motion yeasts, but was still interesting to drink. Jonesey downed his in one for some unknown reason; that’s his €4 well spent!
Across the table from us was an elderly couple that seemed to have a remarkable capacity for both drinking and talking. Whilst Bert gibbered on about Antwerp football club and how he couldn’t pronounce any of the player’s names any more, Ada flirted with the Dutch bus drivers and showed everyone who would look her CD of Latin music which, she said, she’d written and sung 10 years previously. She eventually sold it to one of the bus drivers who I think paid the money to get away from her! She was also collecting the tokens you get in the Kulminator and had a fair wad of them already that was bolstered by both Jonesey’s and the Dutch bus drivers’ tokens. We never did find out what they were for! On the drinks front, they had a unnatural penchant for Delerium beers and consumed a vast number of all three variants whilst they gibbered away, and finished with a strange German example called EKU which had a strange flavour reminiscent, to me at least, of lighter fuel mixed with liquefied boiled sweets and solvents. We all grimaced and said it was "Okay" as the glass circulated round the table whereupon Bert and Ada drained it and staggered off, clutching their huge pile of tokens.
The cult of Gazza, as seen in Antwerp.
As Jonesey and Milko were staying in Brussels they soon had to leave too so we said our goodbyes, deciding that we may meet on the Sunday, as we’d all be in Gent at some point. The time was now around 20:30 so I decided to have one more glass of the Liefman’s kriek and Sue had a gloriously aged Westvleteren 6 which had developed honeyed notes with keeping. We aimed to finish these beers then go back to the hotel for an early night, but we drank the excellent ales two youngish blokes sat at the end of our table and one industriously scribbled notes in a book whilst tasting his beers; if he wasn’t a scooper then I was Bernard Cribbins!
Before the opportunity came to ask him, he suddenly approached us and enquired, "Are you Gazza Prescott?" I was amazed. "Erm… might be!" I ventured, wondering how he knew who I was. The mystery was soon resolved as he introduced himself as Daniel Brown from Birmingham; a ratebeer member whom I remembered had said he’d be in Belgium at the same time as us. I gathered this was his first visit to Belgium so, now I knew who he was, I admitted that I was indeed Gazza and launched into a huge spiel about beers to try and places to go. I don’t know if all this gibbering meant anything to him on his first visit, but he seemed to be having an excellent time and he was soon back to his rating, leaving us feeling energised for a few more beers. It was good to see a young person so fired up and interested in beer; most of us scoopers aren’t getting any younger and we need some young blood in the hobby! We wished him good luck in his search for Regenboog beers and pondered the list again, trying to decide what beer would follow the Liefmans.
There were adverts for a new beer everywhere called "Pannepot" which, apparently, is a local boat that looks a bit like a Norfolk Wherry although as I’ve never seen either in the flesh (or should that be wood?) I’m only going off pictures no they may be totally unrelated. As we had no idea who brewed the beer or what it was I had written it off as a typical house beer (i.e; a rebadge), when I saw a poster extolling it’s virtues. It seemed to be a 10% sweet stout brewed at Caulier and with that we ordered a bottle and I’m so glad we did – a gorgeous full, rich, sweet stout, which somehow managed to be very drinkable and not at all cloying. It was so good we had another one!
The bar began to fill up and we decided to call it a night, so I paid up and off we went into the drizzle. It’s only a 10-minute walk back along Meir to the Florida, but we wanted some frites after all that beer. We tried the road behind our hotel and a new side of Antwerp presented itself – it looked like Las Vegas with uncountable amounts of flashing neon signs and noisy bars. This was an education! There were even some curry houses although none did Nargis kebabs. We eventually found a frites shop where we got some average food (although it was better than I thought it would be!) including the surreal "curry ketchup" then decided to doss for the night so we returned to the very comfy beds.
Camels everywhere (and Alpacas).
Sunday 7th November.
We had a bit of a lie-in planned, but 09:00 still came round far too quickly for me. I was up first and gazed out of the window at the cathedral-like station and environs, watching Sunday morning unfold in Antwerp. Our room was round the side of the hotel and we had a view of the zoo which I’d never seen before and I was greatly amused when I glanced up at the top of a building next to the entrance. Most cities are infested with statues of blokes sat on horses looking pompous, but here was a far better one – a bloke sat on a camel looking pompous! Ever since we’d seen camels grazing near Zottegem a few years back Belgium and camels had become indelibly linked in my brain and this statue categorically proved that, for some reason, Belgians are obsessed with camels. I’ve no idea why; there just seem to be more camels per head of population than in the UK, and now a statue…
We had a good feed on the excellent breakfast buffet, so good that we were almost the last out of the room and had to leave via the patio as the doors into the room had been locked! Despite this minor scenic diversion we were soon checked out and purchasing a ticket to Oostende via Gent where, despite my best attempts to speak Flemish, the clerk insisted on speaking English to me! That’s the trouble with being a tourist in Belgium; the locals are just too polite to speak their own languages!
We had 20 minutes before the train left so we explored the underground tram station which is linked to Centraal by a new stairway in the concourse area beneath the platforms, although the underground station hasn’t been renamed – it’s still called "Diamant". Our train arrived early and we grabbed the small compartment near the end for some relaxation. Right on time we departed along the fairytale viaduct with it’s cute little gothic towers, each with a number painted on the door. The work for the lower levels of the station was still going and I remain amazed they managed to keep a train service running out during the years it’s been a building site – maybe I’m just used to British Rail!
As the train slipped along through the flat Belgian countryside, we scanned the fields for wildlife to keep us entertained. Near Mechelen I saw something ahead in a field and, as we drew closer, I realised it was more camels! We looked at each other in amazement and I made a mental note to the effect that Belgians have an unnatural fascination with humped dromedaries. That wasn’t all though, as the next field held an assortment of Alpacas! The rest of the journey passed quickly and we were soon pulling into Gent where we intended to do some tram scooping and maybe some beers too!
Trams and beer.
We soon discovered that quite a lot had changed on the Gent trams since we were last here. Route 40 had been renamed route 4 and although it kept the same destination it now terminated in the loop in front of St Pieters station. Route 1 was now extended to Maalte down by the exhibition centre in the south, and all the 1x series services seemed to have vanished, although 21/22 were still in service. We bought our day tickets for a very reasonable €3 each and off we went to find a network map, which proved more difficult than we thought. Eventually I got one from the staff room at Korenmarkt, where we hoped to catch a trolleybus on route 3. No such luck, as everything on route 3 turned out to be ordinary buses – cheers then!
I shan’t bore you with all the moves we did on the trams, but suffice it to say we got our money’s worth out of the day passes! We also decided that the trolleybuses still ran in the week, but the depot was locked up when we passed – maybe they have spare buses on Sunday so use those to save opening the trolleybus depot? We’ll find out next time! After scooping almost all the lines except for the last bit of route 22 and the huge northern route 1, it was time for some beer in the best bar in town, het Waterhuis aan der Beirkant. We’d wanted to visit the trappistenhuis but, being Sunday, it was closed so we alighted our tram at Gravensteen castle and walked back over the delightful little swing bridge to the bar, stopping for some pictures of the canals and buildings draped along them.
Het Waterhuis aan der Bierkant, Gent - 07/11/04.
The bar was wedged with people so reluctantly, as it was dusk and there was a nip in the air, we sat outside and examined the menu. Sue wanted something rich and warming so chose Regenboog dubbel but I was a glutton for lambic arse and chose De Cam Oude Lambiek 2000 which I had enjoyed from Belgian Belly in Manchester. Although the canal’s rancid aroma wafted over us at regular intervals, the architecture made the patio a pleasant place for a beer. We debated ordering another but decided that we should head over to Oostende, check into the Marion, and get some nice ales in for our last night in Belgium. After a brief visit to the toilets, which unfortunately weren’t spinning round (the seats spin round to clean themselves – honest!), we trammed it back to the station just in time for the direct train to the coast; when you’ve almost got there it’s a right pain to have to change at Brugge, losing your seat and all that. The direct train is a lot more sociable!
A baby compo.
It was now almost dark as we sped along towards Oostende, and we were both feeling a bit jaded through 4 days continuous beer consumption. I hoped we’d still enjoy the night in Oostende as I really like the Botteltje as a bar, especially if you’re sat in one of the window "compos"! Five minutes after arrival we were walking along the quiet streets past the ghostly-lit cathedral and the surreal dog toilets, complete with signs featuring a very happy looking dog who has presumably just taken a dump in said conveniences. Five minutes later, we were checking into the Hotel Marion and cramming ourselves into the miniscule lift with no inside door – I’m amazed it still passes public safety muster to be honest, but it does make ascending floors a lot more fun with the ever-present risk of having a limb torn off by a passing sharp corner.
Oostende cathedral. 07/11/04
We discarded our packs in the room and immediately headed off to the Ostend Bierhuis over the road, which is run by Tim, an Englishman from Bristol. The beerlist was very similar to what it had been a year earlier but, as we weren’t there for the scoops, we chose a Leroy stout and the superb Verhaege Duchesse de Borgogne and sipped these with satisfaction; it was now 19:00 and it was only our second beer of the day! We were going to stay for a second but couldn’t decide on the beers so we trailed back over the road to the Botteltje. The distance between the two best bars in town is only about 10 metres which makes it a great crawl for lazy gits and, rather amusingly, actually makes it physically crawlable although I must stress I haven’t tested this out for real.
Back in the familiar surroundings of the Botteltje we had to make do with one of the smaller "compos" at the back as all the window ones were taken by tourists drinking Kwak from it’s ridiculous tall glasses. We tried our best to get into the drinking mood, but after four days of supping our drinking urge had got up and gone. A boring blonde beer from Strubbe called Ketje didn’t help, and even after playing our trump card of the superb macaroni with ham and cheese sauce we still didn’t feel like drinking – which was a shame, considering the quality beers on the list!
Deciding to call it quits and go for an early night, we had a vertical tasting of Dolle Brouwers’ Stille nacht with the 2001 and 2002 vintages being sampled. These were good, rich and tasty beers but, as much as we waited, our drinking urges resolutely refused to return just like a cat who you’ve let out for five minutes just before you really need to leave for work. I bought a 750ml bottle of 2001 Girardin Black Label Gueuze to take home as it was being offered at the silly price of €4.60 before we plodded back to our room for some well-deserved sleep.
A shopping frenzy in Cantillon.
Monday 8th November.
We awoke quite early and decided to get the earliest train possible in order to make the most of our last day in Brussels with a bit of tram bashing. We boarded the fast train to Brussels and, happily, the guard knew his job and our return Eurostar tickets began earning us money at 09:48; considering they only cost £14.50 each way and the Oostende-Brussels portion would have been at least €12 - we’d definitely had our money’s worth out of them!
We passed through Pajottenland once again before arriving into Brussels Zuid station and disembarking to buy a day ticket – at €3.80 for the whole Brussels region these are excellent value. We visited the Atomium out of curiosity as we’d always looked at it from the train going north out of Brussels and wanted to see if it really was as big and shiny as it looked – it was. We then took a tram round the outskirts of the city and eventually we arrived at Cantillon to purchase some takeouts to stock up our cellar. However, on the last tram, I saw a newspaper on the floor and, although it was in Flemish, the photo told me all I needed to know – an HST had come a cropper in a spectacular way and, more worryingly, it was in the Reading area. Would there be any trains back to Langley and our car? Suddenly, the "driving to Langley" move didn’t seem such a good idea…
Gazza by the Atomium at Heysel, Brussels. 08/11/04
As usual, the greeting from Jean-Pierre and Madame Van Roy was warm and we were soon enjoying a (free) glass of 2004 kriek and superb it was too, with a vibrant, fresh, sour fruitiness. I always feel like the proverbial kid in a sweetshop in Cantillon and I defy anyone else who loves lambic to tell me they don’t too. I gazed at the crates of bottles – Bruocsella 2001, all types of Lou Pepe, Iris, Kriek, Rose de Gambrinus, Gueuze, Fou Foune… how could we possibly choose what to take back and what to leave? It was like being faced with a cagefull of kittens at an adoption centre, all with huge pleading eyes and calling "me! me! me!"… I shook myself out of this vision and inspected the bottles, but they appeared to have no obvious physical feline characteristics although they still all seemed to be pleading for us to take them home. How could we choose? Luckily, we had a plan.
We decided that we had the capacity to carry 12 more 75cl bottles back and the first 4 were easy – Bruocsella Grand Cru 2001, as it was the only beer we didn’t have any of in our stash. We then grabbed two each of the Lou Pepe range and, after a minutes’ agonising, decided on two bottles of 2004 Fou’ Foune to finish. I suppose we physically could have carried some more home but this was getting close to the edge of the comfort zone, especially as we already had a 75cl Girardin and a Cantillon Cuvee des Champions nestled in our bags from earlier in the trip. I continued the shopping frenzy with a new Cantillon t-shirt and we even got two lambic glasses thrown in free!
A heritage crate at Cantillon, Brussels. 08/11/04
Reluctantly, we paid up and headed back to the station feeling like a pair of pack mules with our weighty rucksacks although, cleverly, we had bought six of the bottles in three-pack cartons to save the strain on our shoulders. After buying some snacks for the train home we checked in and I made a beeline for the shop to check out the English newspapers for some news on the HST. It transpired that a selfish bastard committing suicide had derailed it and several people had died, although it had occurred near Newbury which, hopefully, would mean we’d get as far as Langley.
As the Eurostar sped through Pajottenland for the last time, we ruefully observed the hill of Beersel which we’d not managed to visit this time; next time we’d be there! We flew through Halle and Lembeek and I realised that there always seems more to do in Belgium – Pajottenland was the next target in our sights and we’d still not done the Biermuseum at Lustin… The time passed quickly and we were soon in Waterloo only a few minutes late. Despite the crush on the tube and at Paddington, we easily got a train back to Langley and, as would be expected for 19:00 on a Monday, the drive back to Worcester was quiet. We arrived home exhausted but pleased with our trip but there was no time to rest – in less than two weeks we were off to Bavaria for five days of scooping! It’s such a hard life being a Euroscooper…
(See my scooping guide for more info on Belgian beer scratching).
We travelled to Belgium with Eurostar which has recently revamped it’s online booking system and it now parallels the cheap airlines – book early and at crap times to get the cheapest fares which, currently (11/04), are £59 return. If you live near London it’s a bargain, if not then you may be advised to check out the other methods of getting there. Apparently, Virgin trains do a combined ticket with Eurostar for £89 from Manchester which isn’t too bad – if you trust Vermin to get you to London, that is! (On my last use of Vermin to get me to London for a flight to Zagreb, the wires came down at Bletchley we staggered an hour late into Milton Keynes where the train terminated. I had no option but to get a taxi to Heathrow whereupon the driver gleefully relieved me of £100 for the pleasure. Luckily, I had travel insurance that covered most of it, but after that experience I decided to drive instead).
Belgium is poorly served by cheap airlines – Ryanair’s Oostende route has been discontinued, and the flights to Charleroi are now only from Glasgow and Dublin. Easyjet, HLX, and Germanwings fly to Köln, which may be useful as you can then get a Thalys to Brussels in around 2 hours, and a stopover in Köln drinking Kölsch sounds very appealing to me. Apart from that, it’s the rip-off flag carriers into the very convenient Brussels Zavantem airport that has loads of direct trains into the centre of town. Try SN Brussels airlines for some fares at the margins of decency.
Within Belgium, unless you are going to do more travelling than drinking, it’s cheaper to buy tickets for each journey. The railways are still relatively cheap; for example, a single from Liege to Brussels is around €12 and Brussels to Antwerp around €8. Buying returns can be a lot cheaper, as at weekends your companions get 50% off the fare on some routes and there are various weekend offers available, such as "tickets to the coast" and the like. Full details on www.nmbs.be, which has some parts in English including the important timetable and ticketing system that is very good and allows you to print "E-tickets". Beware if you are travelling from, say, Antwerp to Oostende and wish to stop off in Gent. You need to specify that you need a "via" ticket or else you may be liable for a hefty fine, although as you can change at Gent for the journey I don’t see how they can police this one. Being sensible is the order of the day here – it only costs about 30 cents extra for the "via" bit of the ticket and is probably worth it for the peace of mind.
Public transport isn’t just trains – there are buses too and, in some cities, trams. Transport in the Flemish north is operated by De Lijn, and by Tec in the Walloon south. The transport in Brussels is operated independently by a separate company which has a day ticket (dagpass) available from the machines for €3.80 – this allows travel almost to Beersel and includes most of the city. The Brussels trams are a bit surreal in the way they sometimes dive underground and play at being subway trains, then emerge again as a tram. The network is extensive and fairly frequent and a good map (netplan) can be got for free at metro station kiosks along with the day and week passes.
De Lijn have a day ticket which is available on all their services for the small sum of €5. I assume Tec have the same? The larger cities have their own day passes, with Gent’s being €3 from the machines at St Peiters station and is essential to avoid the long walk into the centre – take tram 1 from underneath St Pieters; don’t take the 21/22 unless you want to take the scenic route, or the 4 from the front of the station which goes via the Hopduvel but then winds round some forgotten docksides before arriving in the centre. Antwerp’s trams aren’t as useful, although they can be used to get to the Pakhuis brewpub and to the centre if you’re too lazy to walk the mile along Meir via the Oude Arsenaal. Charleroi’s trams may be useful if there is ever anywhere worth going to in the city.
Beers and bars.
Listed below are the bars and other establishments we visited in the order they appear in the report, as this seemed the easiest way to categorise them and someone reading this tale can follow through the bar list too. I’ve included all available information I have to hand, including opening times and beer ranges, although bear in mind that these may change without any warning whatsoever.
Zageman, 116 Rue de Laeken, Brussels. (Mon-Fri 1100-2000, Sat & Sun closed). Classic little bar, all brown wood and lambic; Cantillon faro at €2 a mug! Allegedly opens until 22:00 on the first Friday of the month, although not when we visited at 20:15. Well recommended and only ten minutes north of the Bourse.
Gambrinus, Bergensesteenweg 16, Halle. (Hours unknown). Good "pubby" bar, looking like an old bar dropped in the middle of 1960’s concrete suburbia. Has a good range of Boon lambic, including draught kriek in summer, and a selection of other beers. Around 8 minutes walk from the station.
Kring, Steven Dewaelplein 15, Lembeek. (Mon closed, others 1000-?). Cracking lambic bar right slap by the hulking brick church in the centre of the village, within sniffing distance of Boon brewery. Sells just about everything Boon produce, including the excellent millennium framboise in 75cl bottles for just €6.80 – worth visiting just for this!
L’Imprimerie, Chauseé de Saint Job, St Job. (Hours unknown). Strange new brewpub on the edge of Pajottenland but still with a tram and train service. Modern and unusual inside but the beers are OK – nothing exciting but what you’d expect from a modern brewpub; clean and safe. Walk down the hill from the station and it’s on the left just before the square, and the frituur close by is well recommended.
Bier Circus, 89 Rue l’Enseignement, Brussels. (Mon-Fri 1200-1430 & 1800-close). Superb bar close-ish to Centraal station which has over 200 beers on it’s list split between the ordinary one and a "vintage" list of more expensive, rarer beers. Will be moving in 2005 about 100 metres towards the station into an excellent old building which is currently being refurbished and should then open much longer hours including weekends. Well recommended for some excellent beers and scoops, the owners speak some English but don’t like large groups of people – be discreet!
Delerium, Impasse de Fidelité, Brussels. (1000-0400?). New Huyghe-sponsored bar in a side-street in the restaurant area, hard to find. Has a massive list of current and vintage beers which are mainly priced to give you a mild heart attack. Bar service, which can be very slow, and a crap atmosphere didn’t endear it to me but if you really must scoop some rare beers, come here. Then go to the Bier Circus and see how to run a bar properly.
Les Brasseurs, 23 Rue de la Colline, Brussels. (1100-0400). Just off the Grand Place at the corner where you exit to walk to Centraal station, but very obvious. Inside you could be anywhere with the standard Euro-brewpub feel and bland, safe, polished beers, if you can afford them.
Poechenellekelder, Rue de Chêne, Brussels. (1000-0200). Opposite the Mannekin Pis, this bar is surprisingly good and serves a good range of lambic beers as well as a good selection of other stuff too. Puppets hang from every beam.
Vaudree, 109 Rue Val Benoit, Angleur. (24/7). An institution which, apparently, has never closed in over 8 years. This may sound impossible, but I’ve been there several times at 03:00 (don’t ask why!) and the place has been packed; I’ve also been there whilst they replaced the bar! A huge list of beers which, unfortunately, seems to have lost most of it’s old stuff recently making it a lot less interesting in addition to being uninformative. The food, however, is excellent. Still worth a visit. Leave Angleur station by the back entrance, turn right, and it’s about 400 metres on your right.
Morte Subite, 7 Rue Montagnes aux Herbes Potagères (1000-0100, Sun 1200-0100). Classic old Brussels long bar that is always busy serving the beers named after it. You’d expect, knowing who owns it, a lot of tacky falseness but it’s real enough and so are the draught faro and oude Gueuze served here. An essential stop to appreciate the city and not far from the new Delerium bar – if you can find it – and the galleries St. Hubert.
In t’Spinnekopke, Place du Jardin aux Fleurs, Brussels. (Mon-Fri 1100-2300. Sat 1800-2300, Sun 1200-2300). I must say that the name conjours up something which the location doesn’t really deliver, but this place is a must-visit if you want some decent food whilst in town. It’s really a restaurant rather than a bar although you should be OK for a drink in the afternoon. The food is excellent and very reasonably priced and the added attraction is the draught lambic from Cantillon to wash down your food. A bit of a hike from the centre though.
Kafka, Rue de la Vierge Noir(?), Brussels. Basic, dark brown little bar behind the Marriot hotel and close to t’Spinnekopke, it is included as it serves Cantillon Gueuze and kriek for less than €3!
Cantillon Brewery, Rue Gheude, Brussels. (0900-1700, closed Sun). Not technically a bar, although as you can taste the superb beers there, buy some to take away, and sometimes buy a 75cl bottle to consume on the premises I’ve included it. Add to this it’s one of the most amazing places a beer enthusiast could ever hope to visit and the iconic Jean-Pierre and his wife are totally sociable and welcoming and, well, there’s really no excuse… apart from not liking lambic, I suppose!
Oude Arsenaal, 4 Maria Pijpelincxstraat, Antwerp. (Sat-Sun 0730-1930, other days opens at 0900). Classic old bar which feels like it’s stuck in a timewarp and inside looks like those old sepia photos you see of Salford bars c.1900. Good range of beers with a cracking lambic list and, usually, draught lambic on the bar. Highly recommended. If walking along Meir from the station towards the centre, turn right into Wapper and it’s on the right, opposite the huge Café Horta which was made from remnants of one of his works and serves unfiltered Palm.
Kulminator, 32 Vleminckveld, Antwerp. (Mon 2015-?, Tue-Fri 1200-0030, Sat 1700-?, Sun closed). Strange place which is something of an institution and not just in Antwerp; the list of "friends" testifies to it’s international appeal. A huge beer list of aged and current beers at very sensible prices makes it an essential visit for scoopers – there are more "dead" breweries still available here than most other places around! I like it more every visit! Reasonably close to the Arsenaal, but you need a map to find it easily.
Het Waterhuis aan der Bierkant, 9 Groetenmarkt, Gent. (1100-0200). Excellent bar on the canalside in Gent with a stunning range of quality beer available, including a lot of lambics and some other unusual choices along with 10 on draught. Probably the best bar in town; tram 1 from the station to Gravensteen.
Ostend Bierhuis, 14 Louisastraat, Oostende. (1400-?, Closed Tuesday). Opposite the Botteltje, this bar is run by Tim who originally hails from Bristol. Not an English bar, unlike Ron’s pub just down the road, but a real Belgian café offering 150 beers in sociable surroundings. A varied list contains examples of most styles, including real lambic and some of the better West Flanders brews.
Botteltje, 19 Louisastraat, Oostende. (Mon 1630-0100, Tue-Thu and Sun 1130-0100, Fri and Sat 1130-0200). The classic bar in town with well over 200 beers on it’s mammoth list which manages to be what many Belgian lists aren’t – informative and well organised. Loads of lambic, as well as loads of everything else worth selling along with some stuff not worth selling, if you want scoops or just decent beer come here. The hotel above is cheap and comfortable.
There are many, many more cafes and bars worth visiting, so get out and buy Tim Webb’s superb Belgian Beer Guide from Camra (the best guide they produce, by far) and his Lambicland book and get over there and explore this paradise for the beer lover. That is, unless you only like safe, boring beers – if you do, then go and drink Staropramen in Prague, it’s a lot cheaper.
© Gazza 2004. V1.2 02/01/05
|Gazza, Jonesey, Sue and Milko||Jonesey||Gazza & Jonesey||Les Brasseurs||Gazza with Watneys and Whitbread|
|Kring, Lembeek 04/11/04||l'Imprimiere St Job 04/11/04||Dodgy launderette in Brussels 04/11/04||Brussels 05/11/04||Vaudree, Angleur 05/11/04|
|Fucker Bus||Gazza||Cantillon's copper||Jean Van Roy||Jonesey and Gazza scooping Cuvee des Champions|
|Brussels, 05/11/04||Morte Subite Brussels 051104||Cantillon, Brussels 06/11/04||Cantillon, Brussels 06/11/04||Cantillon, Brussels 06/11/04|
|Jonesey and Gazza with the massive Loerik||1st brew of 2004 fermenting||Casks of lambic||Jean-Pierre Van Roy||Waterhuis, Gent|
|Cantillon, Brussels 06/11/04||Cantillon, Brussels 06/11/04||Cantillon, Brussels 06/11/04||Cantillon, Brussels 06/11/04||07/11/04|