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Weekend in Belgium - a few notes from Essen, Brussels and Antwerp

Posted by Jeremy Gray on 12/17/2002 08:16:22 AM

A few notes from the weekend, during which we spent a night in Brussels, a night in Antwerp, and of course visited the Kerstbier festival in Essen.

Bier Circus: babblers present were Thom & Paulette, Mike K & Denise, Marcus & Briony, and me and T. We were joined by one other babbler, ex babbler or possibly lurker, who ended up falling asleep in his beer and with whom we exchanged few words…..

Now, a word or two about the Bier Circus. Firstly, the beer list – has anyone got any idea what has happened to the list? Before I say any more, I will say immediately that the BC beer list is still very good. Virtually everything on it is first class and you will always get a great choice of beers. However, it has definitely got shorter! I counted just over 120 beers, plus there were a few extra Christmas ones in stock. I didn’t get hold of the aged beer list, but I doubt that it would make the difference up to the 200 listed in the new Tim Webb guide.

From my own recollection, I remember many, many more beers on the list on previous visits. It was the BC that introduced me to some great little Wallonian micros such as La Rulles, and the people who make the Hesbaye beers (Br Oleye?). You could also usually find up to six or seven Fantome beers, plus others from breweries like La Co-operative de la Basse Semois, St Helene and Trois Brasseurs. Unless I missed them, on this visit I could see only one Fantome beer and none from any of the others I have just mentioned. It looks to me like they’ve drastically reduced their range, which is very disappointing. Perhaps, and hopefully, this is only a temporary setback, but I hope that their new focus on foodie stuff has not been to the detriment of what used to be an outstanding selection of beers.

Anyway, despite this, I did find a few pretty tasty beers, as follows:

Kameleon Amber

Quintine de Noel

Kerkom Winterkoninske

De Troch Xmas Gueuze

De Bie Kerstbie

Binchoise Brune

Picks of the bunch were the Kameloen from Den Hopperd and the Quintine de Noel, although the De Bie Kerstbie was from 1998 and had that superb distinctive old aroma which sadly was not so prevalent when I had a more recent version. I was also very impressed with the Winterkoninckske; the Kerkom brewery is very high on my list of places I really must visit, they are doing some great stuff.

Anyway, the evening was excellent and the company wonderful and we all had a great time long into the night. Thom, Paulette, me and T were staying at the excellent Congres just round the corner, so at least we only had a 2 minute stagger back to our lodgings! Definitely check this place out if you are looking for a good hotel near the BC.

One other odd thing: Patrick was there with one assistant who I had not previously met (a woman). At first we ordered a round for our table of six or eight babblers. As you would expect, we were drinking at different speeds, so some of us finished our beers earlier than the others. Those who had finished then wandered up to the bar to ask for another beer. However, this really upset Patrick, who told several of us off for doing this, saying that as it was ‘so busy’ we had to order a whole round at a time, and not to go out of turn!! Now, if it was really busy I would have understood this, but there were precisely twelve people in the front bar and one table of about 5 people down the back. Not exactly THAT busy. Anyway, it was no big deal, and Patrick did mellow out a bit later on, but as just 6 of our group spent over 150 euros in total, we didn’t really appreciate being told off……ho hum.

Next day one of our party had a stonking hangover (for a change this was NOT me!) but we set off bright and early for Antwerp, dropped our stuff off at the Eden hotel and, after a quick bite to eat, headed straight off for Essen.

Essen is in the middle of nowhere, right out in the flat stuff on the Dutch border. The small but atmospheric hall is just round the corner from the station, the selection of beers is excellent and the atmosphere very friendly. There was plenty of seating for us all, and there was none of the crush and lack of space of the 24 Uur. We exchanged beers with Gunter, who is a really decent and friendly guy, and all the babblers who were at the Bier Circus arrived en masse to find Joris, Filip and Catrien already in situ. Ian rolled in some time later to join us.

Beers I sampled included the following:

De 3 Wijzen – Achel

Stella Artois de Noel

Biere Special des Fetes – St Monon

De Ryck Christmas Ale

Deus – Bosteels

Facon Scotch Christmas

De Schuur Kerstbier

La 1900 Speciale Bonnes Fetes – Gigi

La Binchoise Special Noel

La Moneuse Special Noel

La Rulles Noel du Coeur

La Speciale des Fetes – Br de Bouillon

Noel de Silenrieux

Liefmans Gluhkriek

As per usual, I had a few other samples from other babblers but I can’t remember exactly which. The best of the bunch were the De Ryck, the Deus, the Facon, the De Schuur, and the excellent new Achel offering. Those from La Rulles and Brasserie de Bouillon disappointed me somewhat, I think I was expecting better efforts from two of my favourite small breweries. The Bouillon beer, especially, was very over-spiced, nothing subtle about it at all. The Rulles beer just didn’t seem quite right, but I can’t exactly put my finger on what was wrong. And the Gigi? – hmmm, it had the house thumbprint hitting me right away, unfortunately it was the print of their ‘interesting’ table beers I recently sampled, none of which I finished……

Thom and I bravely shared the Stella Noel offering – which was ok on my first sip, but not great later on. One 15cl taste between us was enough.

We left mid evening, got to Antwerp early enough for dinner and then hit the Kulminator around 10pm. This turned into an excellent Kulminator session, with Mike K, Thom & Paulette, Briony and Marcus, plus a few other Essen refugees, including Alex from West London CAMRA, once referred to by another name here by Mat W! The bar was mellow and relaxed with a superb ambience. Dirk and Leen were both in very good form, as was the Hund, who made several noisy contributions.

This time I had a 1985 Stille Nacht, a 1987 Abbaye des Rocs (75cl) and a Chimay Blue from 1982. The first two of these were both superb, especially the Abbaye des Rocs, which poured with a great, lively head. As Theresa had ordered a fresh Stille Nacht (actually last year, but fresh by comparison) we were able to do a side by side of the two very different Stille Nachts, which proved very interesting. One much darker and sweeter, the newer one lighter and drier, both great. The Chimay Blue was a waste of time, it really was pretty poor, but hey, I am aware of the risks of drinking ancient beers. For a complete contrast I also had a K8, the new, slickly packaged alcopop lookalike from Van Honsebrouck, which Tim W gives four stars in the new Guide. I would give it three and a bit, perhaps – not bad, but not that brilliant either. At 8% for a cheery juice infused beer I can see what market they are aiming for with this one.

One small point about the K: when on earth are they going to produce a new beer list? Those that they have are way out of date with loads of beers unavailable, and they are all over the place, with pages falling out and the whole thing completely disorganised. Every time you go to order a beer you need at least two reserve choices, due to so many being out of stock. Am I right in thinking its at least two years since their last update? Anyway, if Dirk or Leen want some help with producing a new one, I would be very happy to help – and I am sure other babblers would willingly assist!!! Anything to get in that cellar, eh?

In time honoured tradition, after the K we ended up in the Hoogstraat Frituur in the middle of the night before rolling home in a taxi, complete with singing driver and a very loud rendition of the Pointer Sisters! You had to be there, I think!

Next day me and T decided to take it easy, so after our cold shower in the Hotel Eden (oh yea, that reminds me – don’t stay at the Eden. We tried to use the shower just before 10am. It was cold. We rang reception, and the bloke said 'there is nothing I can do, you just have to wait till it heats up, there are too many people using the water just now’. Which was not a helpful response. Having given it another 20 minutes we decided to get on with it and just get cold. We survived, and I have had worse experiences. But what a pathetic response. How about an apology, and a promise to sort the boilers out? Presumably they have this problem like just about every day, or at least every day the hotel is in anyway busy. What crap customer service. Grrrrr!)

Anyway, after the shower, first stop was Den Engel, a great locals café on the Grote Markt, then lunch at Van Dyck café (by Oud Arseenal) then an afternoon holed up in Oud Arseenal. This was our first quality time spent there, and we had a great time. What a brilliant atmosphere in this super little brown café. Fab collection of breweriana all over the walls, a good list of about 60 beers, friendly staff and good service. And lots of locals. We will definitely be back. I had an Arsenaal (house beer from de Koninck), an Oud Beersel Kriek (sigh) and a Westvleteren 8. Added to the Westmalle Tripel I had had earlier and this was a good day of revisiting some old favourites.

After a few hours at the OA, we headed off for a final beer in the Stamineeke. Or so we thought. We arrived there to find it all closed up with a big ‘for sale’ sign showing an agent’s number. So when TW said that ‘the effects of the recent change in ownership had yet to be seen’, he was right to be concerned. What a real shame, this was another super Antwerp café. Pity I don’t have a few 100000 euro spare!! Also found no sign of life at Kleine Kous, one of Tim’s new entries, which was apparently closed for refurb earlier in the year. Anyone been in there recently? Anyway, having a few minutes to kill, where better but the Frituur?

After this it was back to Brussels in plenty of time for a snack and a final Duvel on the train, arriving home late evening, exhausted but very happy!

Thanks to all who we spent time with over the weekend, it was great to see everyone again. Now looking forward to the next one!!

Cheers!

Jeremy

Weekend in Belgium - a few notes from Essen, Brussels and Antwerp - Jeremy Gray, 12/17/02 08:16:22 AM
        Winter Konninkse, Kerkom - Perkeo, 12/19/02 01:30:15 AM
                Re: Winter Konninkse, Kerkom - Lyle Ostrow, 12/19/02 08:06:33 AM
                Re: Winterkoninkske - Joris P., 12/19/02 02:01:46 AM
                        Re: Winterkoninkske - Chuck Cook, 12/19/02 10:48:02 AM
                                Re: Winterkoninkske - Joris P., 12/19/02 12:11:28 PM
        Re: Weekend in Belgium - a few notes from Essen, Brussels and Antwerp - Gunter, 12/17/02 03:16:58 PM
        Re: Weekend in Belgium - a few notes from Essen, Brussels and Antwerp - John Sturm, 12/17/02 02:14:01 PM
                Re: Weekend in Belgium - a few notes from Essen, Brussels and Antwerp - Jeremy Gray, 12/18/02 05:02:22 AM
                        Re: Weekend in Belgium - a few notes from Essen, Brussels and Antwerp - John Sturm, 12/18/02 10:47:37 AM
                Re: Weekend in Belgium - a few notes from Essen, Brussels and Antwerp - Marcus M, 12/18/02 02:39:11 AM
                        Re: Weekend in Belgium - a few notes from Essen, Brussels and Antwerp - Jeremy Gray, 12/18/02 04:59:07 AM
        Re: Weekend in Belgium - a few notes from Essen, Brussels and Antwerp - Aaron, 12/17/02 12:38:01 PM
                Re: Weekend in Belgium - a few notes from Essen, Brussels and Antwerp - Jeremy Gray, 12/18/02 05:07:15 AM
                        Re: Weekend in Belgium - a few notes from Essen, Brussels and Antwerp - MikeK, 12/18/02 10:10:07 AM
        Re: Weekend in Belgium - a few notes from Essen, Brussels and Antwerp - Marcus M, 12/17/02 12:14:49 PM
        Re: Weekend in Belgium - a few notes from Essen, Brussels and Antwerp - Filip Geerts, 12/17/02 11:56:13 AM
        Re: Weekend in Belgium - a few notes from Essen, Brussels and Antwerp - John White, 12/17/02 10:44:39 AM
        K beer menu - Chuck Cook, 12/17/02 10:21:26 AM
                Food at the Circus - Jeremy Gray, 12/17/02 11:47:34 AM
                        Re: Food at the Circus - MikeK, 12/18/02 10:16:33 AM
                                Re: Food at the Circus - Thom Aikman, 12/18/02 10:31:39 AM
                                        Bier Circus observations - Dick, 12/18/02 09:00:48 PM
                Re: K beer menu - John White, 12/17/02 10:51:19 AM
        Re: Weekend in Belgium - a few notes from Essen, Brussels and Antwerp - Joelle, 12/17/02 10:06:55 AM
        Re: Weekend in Belgium - a few notes from Essen, Brussels and Antwerp - Bob Johnston, 12/17/02 09:35:16 AM
                Re: Weekend in Belgium - a few notes from Essen, Brussels and Antwerp - MikeK, 12/18/02 10:18:23 AM
        great notes! (as always) - , 12/17/02 08:39:06 AM
                oops - that was me (Lyle).nfm. - , 12/17/02 08:43:11 AM

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