An Ode to Antwerp
As the colder darker weather closes in I am reminded of my first evening in that oh so much more than a diamond den of Antwerp. A beautiful medieval city full of things to see and having done some homework its share of fine ale houses too. Making my way down the quiet cobbled streets towards ‘t Antwaerps Bierhuyske I wondered what sort of place I would find. Cozy, friendly and stocked with fine malted libations I hoped. As it turned out I was more than right. It was as though a calm comfort enveloped me as I wandered inside. The warmth of the place, the artefacts, the joyful reverence and wisdom with which the bar woman spoke of and carefully poured each beer into its intended individual receptacle. It felt like a place of worship, someplace sacred.
I began my meditations with the “beer of the moment”, a Bastogne Pale Ale from Brasserie de Bastogne in the French-speaking south of the country. Vibrant, tangy white grapefruit, wild yeasty, with complex lemon oil, and dry bay leaf finish. A real palate waker-upper.
Then I made a choir boy error; I decided to order their house sampler of four draft beers. Now Belgian beer is notoriously high in alcohol and blending a quartet of them on an empty stomach is a risky venture. I calmed myself somewhat by nibbling on some local cheese, but less than halfway through I was pretty tiddly. However, there was more, I felt something… else. It was if some unseen banished cleric had slipped a few magic mushrooms or some other such hallucinogen into one of my beers. I wasn’t hallucinating as such and it was not an altogether unpleasant feeling, but twere as if the top of my head had slipped over into another dimension. I’m not ashamed to say it; I was high on Belgian (& Dutch) beer.
Despite feeling a touch other-worldly, I managed to make a few notes about the beers while I hoped that consuming the aforementioned dairy product would stem a complete mental slide resulting in me singing hymns with the urinal.
Classic Rodenbach Foederbier showed its oak ageing through sour cherry, woody mushroom, lactic black cherry and smooth easy drinking texture.
I most enjoyed Maximus Brutus, an amber/Vienna lager from new Dutch kids on the block Maximus Brouwerij. It had burnt sugar, some piney resin, pithy citrus, a lovely rich yet clean feel and quite complex. Very very good.
I never found out exactly what Struise Brouwers beer I drank as it changed regularly. What I got was all Fernet Branca and boozy molasses. A truly mystical pagan herbaceous brew with tea tannins on the finish. It scared me a little.
Last but not least was Lupulus “Dark”, a brown ale from Brasserie Les 3 Fourquets. It picked up the narcotic theme of the evening smelling heavily of “special tobacco” as my father used to call it. My unedited word for word note at the time read “Like drinking BC bud smoothie with essence of pineapple, passion fruit, camp coffee, hint of pine resin”. Nuff said.
With no more substantial fare than cheese, I was forced to exit stage left for something to sustain me. The place I found was quite inviting, decent food and judging by this photo I thoroughly enjoyed the bread and butter. I managed a couple more beers: La Chouffe Soleil & Patrasche Nello’s but forgotten the name of the restaurant. How odd…
The next night like a good parishioner I returned to ‘t Antwaerps Bierhuyske and having tried all the keg beers the previous evening I endeavoured to find a bottle or two that might be a rare sight in the UK.
My friendly barkeep suggested Westmalle Extra and at 4.8% was a welcome break from the high-octane brews. A good clean mouthfeel held half ripe banana, white pepper, lemon zest, razor sharp acids, faintly grassy, super refreshing and very drinkable.
The final beer of my pilgrimage was the excellent Cuvée des Jacobins Rouge by Brouwerij Bockor. Lovely tart cranberry, underpinned by some oaky grip, fleshy red fermenting fruits, slightly iron rich and a sanguine finish. I really took my time over this beer, it really asked for your attention. Not in a bullish manner but in a silent focused way that made me appreciate drinking it all the more. A Flanders sour red ale of the highest order.
And just like that my fleeting communion in Antwerp was over.
I have been to many cities and drunk plenty of beer, but my time in ‘t Antwaerps Bierhuyske ranks right up there with the very best.