We love Belgium especially weekends away on the Eurostar to Belgium. We went to Ghent last year and loved it. This year we decided to go to Antwerp.
We usually stock up on train beers in the M&S next door to the Eurostar terminal in St Pancras, however, M&S have decided to scrap most of the beer selection and station it in another store. There’s not much information about where this store is other than it’s “that way”. We walked that way and instead came across Sourced Market which has a great range of London beers both in cans and bottles. We bought some standard train cans (ie Beavertown) and off we went.
It’s safe to say that there is nowhere in Antwerp where you can’t get a good beer. Even the pubs in the main tourist squares have a huge list. I started off with a raisiny, rich Rodenbach Grand Cru in a bar in the Grote Markt. The other half had an Orval which is always good.
There are some great bars for beer lovers. The most well known is Kulminator. If you like beer, like really like your beer, come here. It may look a bit of a mess inside but they have an extensive cellar list with Chimay, Duvel, Westmalle and many lambics from every year going back to the 80’s. They have a very impressive tower of empty Westvleteren bottles by the door. I went with a Lindeman’s Kriek from 1986 which had no acidity and was like drinking liquid cherry drops. Surprisingly it was only 10 euros, I’m pretty sure if I got this in London it would cost a lot more than that! The other half had a Westmalle from 2005 which was very malty and complex.
Another great bar to visit is ‘t Waagstuk. They have 10 taps (including Chimay Blue on tap for the first time in the world). They have a couple of beers they’ve brewed themselves and some guest beers. They do a tasting board which is well worth getting. I had a grappa barrel aged blonde from Brouwerij Hof Ten Dormaal. At 12% it’s a big beer but hides it well, very very tasty. I also tried Waagstuk, the bars own strong Belgian blonde. Again this was a big beer at 11% and well carbonated with a hint of honey. Also very very tasty. It’s very easy to get pissed in Antwerp!
The smallest bar we went to was Billie’s Bier Kafeteria. Billie is a French bulldog who greets you at the door. They have 10 taps, a couple from a brewery called Viven. We tried their porter which was lovely. Nice and rich and reminded me a lot of Anspach & Hobday’s porter. They also have beers from Thornbridge, Tiny Rebel, To ol and Green Flash. It’s wise to reserve a table here, we were very lucky to get one.
The last bar I would recommend is De Pilgrim across the road from the De Koninck Brewery. It’s attached to a very good bike shop and has a lot of cycling memorabilia inside. They have a great range of De Koninck’s beers including Wild Joe, a farmhouse ale. They also have great food, it’s worth popping in like we did before doing the brewery tour.
We popped into the bar first as there was a wedding happening at the brewery. Friends if you are reading, this is the kind of wedding I’d like to go to! When we did return the tour was highly entertaining and unlike any other tour I have done.
It’s very interactive but a bit impersonal as you are not taken around by a guide. Instead it is a bit like a museum. It starts in a shipping container with a video of people from Antwerp talking about how great their city is. After this a wall is removed and you are allowed to carry on. You then come across a room with big copper mash tuns which have videos built into them. The videos are of a mad chap who talks to you about how beer is made whilst burning himself. It has a young level of humour and seems to be more appreciated by the children than the adults.
The next room educates you about Belgian beer glasses, in particular, De Koninck’s which is called a Bolleke (Tee hee). The man who educates you about this seems to be a cross between Len Goodman and Danny Dyer.
There is also a delivery van you can get in. The windscreen turns into a video of you delivering at breakneck speed around the city with the seats throwing you around at the same time.
You walk through a part about the bottling line with small winding corridors with vibrating floors to emulate how it feels to be a bottle. The most educational bit was probably the cheese area. Here they have handy takeaway booklets that explain how to match Belgian beers with cheeses.
At the end of the tour you get a free drink at the bar. You can have either the normal De Koninck, the triple or Wild Joe. All are great. To get to De Koninck you can either walk which takes about 40 mins or you can get the tram to Harmony which takes about 10 mins.
There are a few good shops to buy beers from. There’s Abbey No 8 in Handschoen Markt which is good for rarer stuff and also does beer tastings. For more widely available beers we went to Belgian Beers on Suikerrui around the corner from Abbey No 8. We found it cheaper than most places plus the owner gave us a free mini Duvel.
Here’s our little beer haul:
I noticed while we were out there that a lot of the big Belgian breweries were experimenting with American style IPAs. I tried Vedett’s which was alright, nothing too special. It didn’t come out and grab you hop wise but was pleasant all the same. I also had Leffe’s Cascade IPA which was awful. Completely imbalanced, too estery and couldn’t taste the Cascade at all. Was nowhere near an IPA. It’s interesting to see them trying to grab a bit of the American IPA market but I feel they’ve tried too late and should stick to what they know.
Lastly I want to mention Duvel’s tripel hop series. Every year they produce a tripel hop beer. I think they have used Sorachi Ace and Mosaic in previous editions. This year they have used Equinox to dry hop with. I think this one by far is the best one. The lemon and grapefruit from the hops marries well with the Duvel base. I wish I had bought some bottles back.
In other exciting news I have just been given an early Christmas present from the other half, a SS Brewtech Brew Bucket. So I am now brewing fully stainless steel :D.