TALES FROM THE SCHELDE
Mark Caygill

I arrived in Anwterp at about 6.45pm last night and checked into my B&B, run by Paul Van De Putte and his wife Ann. The have a 4 story town house very close to the Pakhuis brew pub, abut 100 metres from the River Schelde. Pretty basic, but all I needed was a bed and a shower, so it was fine. Address is Verschansingstraat 55, 2000 Antwerpen. Tel : 03 248 0913. 35 Euros per night, or 30 Euros with no breakfast.

So having had a swift shower and change, I was ready to head out into the big city at 7.15pm. My first target was the Oud Arsenaal. I walked through the door at dead on 7.30pm. This is a great little single roomed brown café. Basic bench seating and a linoleum "mock tiled" floor. Loads of old breweriana around the walls. Only about 40 ish beers, and if you don't like Gueueze or Trappists then you are buggered !! All of the Trappists except Achel are listed, as well as Gueuzes from Cantillon, Boon, Cam, Drie Fonteinen and others. Our old friend Mr. D'Arcy is describing this as a "must not miss" café in the most recent edition of his Guide. Not for the first time I have to disagree with him ... yes, the café itself is a great example of a traditional brown café ... but the beer list is too restrictive for me. If you dont fancy a Gueuze or a Trappist, then your choice is very limited. For those who are interested, I had the house beer "Arsenaaltje" from the tap ... brewed by De Koninck and served in a bolleke, this is a darker, slightly beefier (5.8% abv), spicier version of the classic De Koninck. It is not bad, but I would want to drink too many of them.

And then on to the main event ... I timed the five minute walk from Oud Arsenaal to the Kulminator perfectly. leen was just taking the lock off the front door as I arrived ... first customer of the night !! After the usual friendly greeting from Leen, I presented her with a bottle of the BBBabillard Blonde for herself and Dirk. Unfortunately because the drive to Antwerp, plus the walk from B&B to café had disturbed the yeast, we couldn't open it there and then. But Leen was genuinely pleased to receive it and said that they will try it soon. And then it was my turn to get a free beer !! I handed over my 6th annual birthday card (I have managed to claim all 6 so far !!) and from the range of tap beers I chose a Bornem Trippel (9% abv). The tap version is not as good as from the bottle and I found it a bit flat and dry. But it got the evening off to a reasonable start!!

Next I am going to make Steve G. drool ... I went for another bottle of the 1998 Westvleteren 6° Dark (Red cap). Can someone please explain to me why the hell Westvleteren decided to stop brewing this superb beer ?? Yes, the new 6° Blond is also a great beer, but it doesn't match up to the dark version. I would even go as far as saying that this is the best of the Westvleteren beers. Maybe if we hassle the Monks they will start brewing it again???

Continuing the Trappist theme, I went for a 1997 Rochefort 6° (7.5% abv). I must admit that I was somewhat disappointed with this one. It had got old before its time. After only 5 years ageing it had already developed a heavy sherry note and the head retention was very poor. It tasted OK, but not what I would have expected. Might have been bad luck, but if anyone is thinking of ageing this beer, I would recommend only leaving it 2 - 3 years maximum ... unless you want a sherry flavored flat beer of course!!

I was half way down the Rochefort when I was joined at the bar by three fellow Brits ... two men and a woman from the Brighton area (south coast of England). They had been sitting in the corner and heard me talking to Leen, so popped over. This was their first time in the Kulminator and they were like kids in a sweet shop !! The lady of the group (sorry I can't remember the names ... I had been drinking !!!) was just finishing a recent Stille Nacht which she said was excellent. So I told her to try a 1986 version ... the look on her face after the first sip was a picture !! She was in love !! Not with me I hasten to add ... with her new favourite beer !! One of the men said he liked light hoppy beers ... "then you should try a Hommelbier Sir", I suggested. Again he was hooked !! Two down one to go !! I noticed that the other chap had been drinking blond beers ... he had taken a Bornem Trippel and a Piraat on tap. I suggested he try a Westvleteren 6° Blond ... et viola ... three satisfied customers !! Unfortunately they had to get a train back to Brussels, so they left at about 9.30pm ... after paying for may Rochefort 6° by way of thanks for "enlightening them" !! So what to choose next ... I went for a 1995 St. Bernadus Tripel. What a cracker !!! This is definitely one for the cellar boys and girls !! It is probably my favourite abbey beer anyway, but the ageing improves it further. Superb, creamy head and the already malty flavour is accentuated by a few years in the cellar. Absolutely beautiful !! By this time Dirk had wandered into the bar area. I must admit that I have never got very far with Dirk ... I usually chat to Leen while Dirk either sits and scowls or works at his PC !! But then Leen showed him the bottle of BBBabillard I had brought them ... and I had cracked it !!! I havent talked to him so much in the previous million times I have been in the K !!! I almost forgot to order another beer !! I went for the classic, original Oerbier ... 1981 version in the stoppered style bottle. Bloody hell ...what a beer !! Perfect creamy head and the old Rodenbach yeast had worked its magic beautifully ... this probably tasted more like Rodenbach Grand Cru than Rodenbach Grand Cru does !!! But it still had that umistakable Dolle Brouwers fingerprint. And at 11.5% abv, it did it's best to finish me off !!! But I had room for one more!!

Getting chatting to Dirk had payed off big time ... I asked if he would like to share a beer with me ... his choice. And from the deepest recesses of one of the shelves he dug up a real piece of treasure ... a 1982 Stille Nacht ... the original version !! Dirk showed me the label where a little mistake had been made ... instead of saying "11.2°", the decimal point had been missed off ... so it actually said "112°" ... now that would be a seriously strong beer !! So Dirk poured the beer 50 / 50 and ... WOW !!! This is what Belgian beer and De Dolle Browuers are all about. Just the right amount of sourness, balanced by the honey sweetness. And like a classic Stille Nacht should, it almost stuck my lips to the glass it was that thick !!! Absolutely mind-blowing!!

And as I was now Dirk's new best friend, he let me keep the two empty bottles from the two Dolle Brouwers beers ... including the misprinted Stille Nacht bottle ... maybe a collectors item ??? He even washed them out for me !! In fact I was getting on so well with him that I very nearly ... VERY nearly asked if I could have a look in the legendary cellar ... but something sort of stopped me. Do I want to break the myth and legend ... or is it best just left to folklore ?? I don't think he would have let me in there anyway, but somehow I didn't want to ask. Strange ??!! However ... I did ask him and Leen how big the cellar is ... and baiscally it is exactly the same size under the café as it is in the café itself. So there isn't a mysterious pathway leading all across Antwerp after all !! But then Dirk could have been distorting the truth a little!!

So 12 midnight ... closing time was upon us. So a hearty handshake later, I was left to stagger aimlessly back to the B&B. God knows how I managed to find it again, but I did !! Well at least I woke up there this morning!!

Cheers !! Mark.
 

   
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