Years Back – Pubs in Brussels and Antwerp

You’re in for a treat. The Kulminator in Antwerp is the best beer bar in the world.

Down
the street, quite a walk, from the secondary train station in Antwerp is a local
pub with a reputation for 100+ beers. Except for that, inside, this bar could be
in Chicago or Detroit. We can recommend it for the traveling American.

Terry had Hoegaarden Kriek, a blend of Hoegaarden and Lindemans Kriek (both
on tap) with a dash of raspberry syrup. Both the sour and the wheat come
through. It’s like a pale kriek and immediately made Terry’s Top 10 list.


The first half of the Camargue’s menu

In
Brussels the Delirium Cafe opened in
2004. They guarantee 2004 beers available at any time and have had up to 2500.
Of these, 900 are usually Belgian beers. About 10 taps.

There is some upstairs seating but the place is essentially a basement hole
that gets way crowded in the evenings and, we’re told, absolutely packed when
there’s a band. Visit on a dreary afternoon and you’ll find a dozen other beer
geeks pouring over their phonebook-sized and incredibly detailed menu. Blues and
jazz background music is just right.

The staff is knowledgeable and even ready with a suggestion. This place will
quickly become widely known as one of the best beer bars in the world. Was also there on a busy evening in 1999 with a band and probably 75 patrons.


Yep, that’s a beer menu on the bar.
Paters Vaetje is right at the front steps of the Vrouwkathedrall in
Antwerp. There is no better place to enjoy an afternoon.

Be aware, though, the Dames is reached by walking through the Herren.

t’
Waagstuk on the north side of downtown Antwerp is a lovely place with a
mid-square patio and a small enclosed courtyard as well as a small interior.
There’s not much food, of course, but you can get omelets and soup.

They sell their own beer, Zeppelin, which commemorates the night of August
24, 1914 when this square (Stadswaag) was bombed by, you guessed it, a Zeppelin.
Now they’re getting even by getting German tourists bombed on this.

  • Zeppelin – Contract brewed for t’ Waagstuk by Bios in Ertvelde. Ostensibly
    a brune but it’s very dark and seems to be licorice-based. Call it a highly
    bitter, effervescent, imperial brune. The first taste is truly shocking, then
    it calms down to be a unique, quaffable beer.

     

OK,
take a breath now. It’s time to talk about the Kulminator – the best beer bar on
the planet.

Consider a 38-page 1-line entry beer menu. Consider that about half of these
are dated vintage beers. Consider that some of these are priced under 2€,
most are under 4€ (of course some are over 20€).
Consider the only US beer on the menu is Hair of the Dog Fred.

No TVs, just classical music. Plenty of compatriots to share war stories and
compare selections.

They have a big lists of British ales from many years. They make trips to London
and buy a bunch (understatement alert). It’s a privilege to have owners Leen
and Dirk share their collection with us. The bottles smell musty like a first
edition of a Sherlock Holmes book. Some have held up well, some not so well. Go
for the stronger beers of course – I’d hate to think what a 27 year old Sheaperd
Neame Light Ale is like.

The tap menu. TAP!

The Winter beers. Just a half-page of the 38-page menu

The 1978 British beers.

A small part of the fridge.

Some special beers that aren’t for sale as they are the last bottle.
Bass No. 1 Barley Wine
Thomas Hardy’s 1978
Courage Imperial Russian Stout 1976.
And, interestingly enough, an Old Rasputin.
Here’s what I had in the 9 hours I spent there:

  • Barbar Winter – Deep brown. Non-obtrusive big bruin. Nose is of a delicate
    alcoholic tripel, then the bruin takes over in the taste. Recommended. Worth
    importing.
  • Bass King’s Ale 1981. 4€. 8%. Black
    ruby with glass-clingy bubbles. Served in the proper glass. Still a good
    barley wine. Fully matured (!). While the bottle smells musty, the beer
    is wonderfully full and malty.
  • Bush De Noel – Dull brown. (Bush is a
    local Antwerp brewery). Strongly alcoholic brown ale. Not as spicy as
    expected. Actually rather bland, maybe due to the 12% alcohol being
    hidden completely. Just a nice brown ale. Deceptive.
  • Carolus Margriet – Strong Belgium blonde. All the tastes of a triple
    in a 5% size.
  • Chapeau Mirabelle Lambic – Plums. No really, it’s made with plums.
    From De Troch. Doesn’t taste strongly of plum or dark fruit, in fact
    it’s just generally fruity but earthier than apricot. Not as tart as
    most.
  • Courage Russian Imperial Stout 1983. – Black. Has thinned. Big
    barley and molasses notes but has become delicate. I could drink a lot
    of this.
  • Greene King Harvest Sweet Brown Ale 1978. – Stayed well in the
    bottle. Not strong, but a good mature barley wine. Port, wine, and
    grappa still come through.
  • Kwelchouffe Special Blonde 2000. Never have I before seen actual
    turbulence in the effervescence of a beer. This had, for 2 full minutes
    after pouring, eddys and flocks of bubbles going up, down, and around
    like geese in the fall. Bright apricot color.
    Bubbles settled down to a 2″ white head which dropped quickly. The beer
    was brewed as a tribute to, or maybe an attempt to copy, Duvel. Logo on
    bottle includes a 666 above the pitchfork and the gnome has horns.
    Peachy, fruity, salivating without being at all salty. A top 10 beer for
    sure. 8.5%
  • Pere Abbe Bruin – Black brown with a huge head. Yeasty. Butter
    smooth and thick. 6.5%.
  • Roman Christmas Bell 1983. 3€. Pure
    black. No head. Old, old, strong ale. It could well have been a scotch
    ale but it’s way past that now. Still a viable drink. Some molasses,
    some musty aroma and taste. 7.3%.
  • John Smiths Scotch Ale 1987. 6.2%. Actually served in the proper
    glass. Pure black. No head. Old beer smell like an antique book.
    Mouthfeel is thin. It’s completely ancient and drinkable as such. Not a
    Scotch ale any more but has transcended beer.
  • Wadworth Old Timer 1978. 3.80€.
    6%. Obviously not nearly the same beer that was bottled 27 years ago.
    It’s past marrying and improving. Not vinegary but very old.
    I saved this bottle for my bar at home but the hotel maid took it away
    the next morning while I was at breakfast. Waaaaaah.
  • Witkap-Pater Stimulo – Bottle conditioned blond double. Sugar
    (honey?) added to the wort. Sweet, sour, and bitter in balance. Goes
    down quickly.
Museum

The Confederation of Belgian Brewers in Brussels has had a guild house on the
Grand Place since 1695. There’s a small museum in the basement that displays a
few tools, old and new, and has a travelogue style movie about Belgian
breweries.

For 4€ you can wander around for a while
and then have a beer from one of the 2 titles they keep on tap – but they won’t
tell you whose beer you’re drinking. One day there it was a light golden pils
and a Belgian red ale.



There’s just a couple of ancient bar games on display.

Other beers we had in Belgium:
  • Arend – On tap. A home blend at a small, well-known bar in Antwerp,
    the De Groote Witte. Too sour. Turns out it’s a wit with a cheap lambic
    added. Dark red with a flaming pink chunky head that leaves red chunks
    as the foam dissipates. Very little cherry notes. Disappointing.
  • Brugse Tripel – On tap. Blond. Strong stuff. Nice. Right tasting.
  • Brugs Wit – On tap. Whiter than most but not weak. No orange nor
    tartness. Some bitterness.
  • De Koninck Blonde.
  • De Koninck Tripel – On tap. Bright oak blond tripel with lots of
    basic malt and lots of hops to bitter it up. 8%.
  • Floris Fraises – A wit with strawberry added before bottling. Fresh
    and fruity.
  • Gordon Highland Scotch Ale – On tap. Big malt scotch.
    Vanilla. Roast. Concentrated. Dark brown walnut. 8%.
  • Gordon Xmas – On tap. So balanced. Actually in harmony. Like butter.
    Wonderfully quaffable. Could drink it by the quart. OK, maybe one quart.
    At Peters Vaetje sitting at the entrance to the cathedral listening to a
    street string quartet with the sun peeking through the clouds.
  • Haecht Witbier – Somehow lighter in color, body, and presence than
    most wits. A quick-drinking beer.
  • Hoegaarden Grand Cru – On tap. They distill the essence of their
    great wit leaving out all the unnecessary stuff. Like Colman Chapman
    said at Lotus, “add lightness”.
  • Judas – On tap. Big blond worthy of the name. Big belch too. White
    grape in the nose. A bit hot on the tongue but not offensive. All light
    malt. Dark blonde character throughout. From Maes.
  • Petrus Blanche – Bright solid gold.
  • Petrus Brune Double – Served in a proper Brit pint glass. In
    fact a Bavik pint glass. Deep brown. Spicy background underlies the
    malty,
    sharp-edged brown ale with some toasty character.
  • Rodenbach. On tap. Deep brown, black. Sour ale. Roasty sour. Malty
    sour.
  • Rulles Triple – Lots of candy sugar in this one. Has a 14-day
    fermentation using Orval yeast, then 4 weeks in the secondary. Delicate
    sourness with citric and a bit of honey taste also. 8.3%.
  • Steendonk Wit – On tap. Very cloudy. Very white; more so than
    bottled as I remember. Plenty of coriander. Plenty of bitter aftertaste.
  • Tripel Karmeliet – On tap. Blond triple abbey. Bright nose and
    taste. All light malt. Solid.
  • Westmalle Trappist – On tap. Served nicely warmish. Trappist with
    green “fresh” distinct edges between the malt, hops, chocolate, sweet,
    and burnt sugar. Not as strongly alcoholic as I remember.