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Antwerp Babble fest report part 1

Posted by Jeremy Gray on 05/27/2001 10:24:20 AM

Well it was another BBB classic!!

I had left London at 9.15 on Friday morning, and due to a surprising lack of traffic, made it to the Channel Tunnel by 10.45am. My shuttle left at 12.20pm, which meant arrival just before 2pm local time in Calais. A quick blast up the motorway got me to Antwerp by 4pm, and I hadn’t even been hurrying. Found the hotel very easily, and, better still, they had heard of me and had my reservation no problem.......

After checking in, I went out for some food and a wander round the city centre before getting to the Kulminator at 7pm. It was a hot and sultry day in Antwerp, and while the city centre was quite busy, the Kulminator was virtually empty. Strangely, it remained that way all evening – everyone must have been away for the holiday weekend (either that or we frightened off all the customers with our aged beer sampling extravaganza!).

I was first there, followed by Bruno and then all the others a few minutes after that. Steve was indeed very large, but both him and Anne were looking amazingly fresh considering that they had been travelling overnight and had had very little rest, and that they had already been sampling BBs at their hotel and t’Waagstuk earlier in the day after Frank had picked them up at the airport!

Frank and Charlotte had two other American friends staying with them, who came to the bar with them. However, the two American guys were not big beer fans, so Charlotte took them clubbing after a short time at the Kulminator.

I began the evening with a superb Cantillon Gueuze from 1998, then Steve got a hold of the beer menu and cut straight to the chase: he ordered a 1.5 litre Goudenband from 1987!! Leen disappeared for about 15 minutes and came back from the cellar grasping a huge, dusty bottle, and Steve’s smile broadened immensely. The sediment in the bottle was unbelievable – one side of the bottle was totally caked in thick sediment, the head on each of the glasses poured was thick and creamy, and the beer tasted superb. Very sour, but a real treat.

This set the trend for the rest of the evening, during which we sent Leen and Dirk to the cellar clutching their torch for long periods! The other beers I recall that we ordered were:

Stille Nacht 1986: we had several of these – all as good as Mark said they were – a beautiful mix of sweet and sour, with that great old Stille Nacht flavour.

Rose de Gambrinus 1984: not a beer in the best condition, but a treat nonetheless.

Chimay Blue 1981: immense. Did you know that the old label was red, with the beer being identified by a blue cap? In this case, the cap was rusted and the label very battered, but the contents were in superb condition, and this was a great example of how this type of beer improves with age.

Belgissimus 1996: another of Mark’s recommendations: a really unusual golden ale, excellent stuff.

Oerbier/Speciaal Brouwsel 1981: for me, this was the best beer of the evening. I asked Kris the brewer about this beer at the brewery yesterday, and he said it was one of the best ones he has ever done. It doesn’t actually say Oerbier on the label, but ‘Speciaal Brouwsel’ – for their first anniversary as a brewery. Now, if the 20th anniversary stuff ages as well as this, then I’m keeping all my bottles of that one for years to come! (I now have 24 of them! - more on the shopping in part 2!!!)

This stuff was superb – 11.5%, unbelievable flavour and still in great condition. Kris said that this beer was his first attempt at Stille Nacht, which they produced under that name from 1982 onwards – so this was an evolution from Oerbier to Stille – and what a treat this was. I can only describe the flavour as a cross between Oerbier and Stille, both with the old yeast. Kris says he has two bottles left, and, not surprisingly, they weren’t for sale. Anyway, next time in the Kulminator, I’m going to have this one again and would recommend this to anyone.

Another beer we bought on Friday night was a Mighty Duvel!! Yes, in among all those aged classics, the mighty one was produced for our absent friend Mark, who had thoughtfully gone up to Antwerp on Wednesday and left a note for us with Leen. He had also left copies of our BBB photos with her so she could identify us, and told her that when she sees these people she should produce the note! – and after a couple of hours she did just that. Great stuff!

I had brought my own photos of the Brussels event over, and one of Mark was duly produced and set up beside the Duvel – so there you go Mark, you may not have got there in person but you were certainly there in spirit! We considered buying you a Pils, but as you know they don't really do them in the Kulminator, so we had to settle for Duvel!

The evening went very quickly as we worked our way through the amazing Kulminator list, and any thoughts of moving on to other bars soon vanished as we tried to appreciate the sheer scale of the selection available. Much babbling and Burgundianing followed and a great time was had by all. Yet again it was brilliant to meet more babblers and have a night out like this!

Frank, Steve and Anne left around 11.30pm to get the last tram back to Mortsel where they were all based, leaving me and Bruno there until Bruno had to leave around midnight. Bruno lives in Verviers, over in the very east of Belgium, so had a long drive back that evening. After Bruno had left I decided it would be criminal to leave the bar without sampling another of those 1981 De Dolle Speciaal Brouwels, so that one rounded off the evening for me.

I wandered off back to the hotel via the excellent Frituur on Hoogstraat and got to bed by 1.30am…

Part 2 to follow!!

Antwerp Babble fest report part 1 - Jeremy Gray, 05/27/01 10:24:20 AM

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