Last week Pauline (gf) and I had our last exams in uni. So I got some flights to Brussels booked up for us and booked Cammelpoorte hotel Antwerp. Flight left Prestwick 8:05 arrive Brussels 11:20. Train straight to Antwerp check in hotel 2:10.
The story starts here. Iíve been to Antwerp before so had a decent idea of where I was, the hotel is on Nationalstraat and anyone thatís been there will know that runs off Gronenplaats, the main square. We wander down knowing we need lunch, so pass the cathedral and Paters Vaetje is sitting in all its glory in what turned out to be the only sunny part of any day we were there. The first beer I had when I went into this place the last time was Boon Oude Geuze Mariage Parfait, so this seemed a good way to start. I couldnít be bothered looking at the food part of the menu too much so just went for a burger. The Boon was as excellent as usual highly carbonated dry as a boon(e). The burger came out with a huge wedge of bread filled with loads of salad with an additional salad at the side. This seemed a key part of any belgiun drinking session that starts at 2:30 with an 8% ale. This is a unique bar in Antwerp in my eyes Ė itís right in the centre, tourists pour in and out constantly, but it has a good homey feel, there are notable regulars and the dťcor is dark aged wood with a narrow staircase (far too common in Antwerp for a drunken man).
After lunch we decided to walk about and get our bearings right. So a walk back across Gronenplatts and head towards the shopping part of the city. We made a few stops, not to buy anything but just because Pauline is a woman and this is needed. We head up another square which I donít know the name of towards a large market. The market itself sold everything but seemed to specialise in fruit and cheese and meat. Iíve never seen cheeses as big as these nor grapes the size of small limes before, seemed a key element for shopping when I go back in a bit of a lesser beer hunt. Naturally I knew where I was and that was across the road from Bierwinkel Den Dorstvlegel, so in we went. The lambic section is on your left as soon as you go in, it has to be said when you go in thereís a central island with loads of flashy gift wrapped beers with matching glasses and thereís things to attract you to every part of the shop apart from the lambic section, which makes me think the owner is as much of a lambic fiend as myself. They only had Westy 8 so I gave that a miss, there are about 100 or so other abbey beers that I havenít had, however I kept going back to the lambic section. In the end it was 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze Vintage (all from 2002-*) only 6:35 euro, 750ml bottle, Girardin Kriek , Girardin Gueuze White Label, Mort Subite Oude Kriek, Boon Faro Pertotale, Lindemans Faro and 3 Fonteinen Oude Kriek . A not bad wee haul for 20:85 euro!
On the way back into the centre of town we passed Oud Arsenaal , we had passed it on the way to the market, however I choose to take little notice so when we were going back Pauline would see my surprise and let me go in for one, hehe! Iíve been in here before but one for one I think but its not an easy one to read its closed at all the wrong times and open when perhaps its not quite the right time to go in, however it seemed the right thing to do at this moment and it was open. It looks exactly as it does in the pic on Ratebeer. It was really busy when we were in and the only place we could stand for a drink was by huge barrels at the entrance. I went for a Mort Subite Oude Gueuze (formerly: Fond) , I didnít realise what I was putting myself in for here. Its got to be one of the finest gueuzes ever made, so quenching, so drinkable and at 7% sent me into a small giggly fit, which such phases as ďseriously this is happiness in glassĒ coming Paulineís way. She was on the old Rodenbach Grand Cru , which also seemed to be the real deal at the time. The only thing wrong with this place is it gets quite smokey inside but a great lambic list makes it a top place.
It was then Paulineís turn to choose where to go, so after the shopping, again, back to the hotel to unload some of my finds and think about diner. Last time I was in Antwerp I stayed in the famous Guest House 26, however I think they are completely refurbishing or else it has shut down, as it was very much closed this time. On the same street as this, Pelgromstraat, there is a restaurant called Pelgrom. It was to be here that dinner was had, after remembering to ask for an English menu rather than have to choose lasagne because itís the only thing thatís similar in Flemish to English, like the last time, I in fact did go for lasagne anyway. This is a monster! Itís got more cheese in it than a platter of cheeses. Its mass must be 140% cheese. It was outstanding just as good as I remember it and well worth a visit if your there. The beer list is none to shabby either. We went for the ďhouse bierĒ Sterkens Poorter; again we had had this on our previous visit and itís a great beer to wash food down with. The building itself is an old dungeon, like the catacombs of Antwerp, red brick tunnels with only 2 or 3 tables in each wee section, entirely lit only by candles. Pelgrom is the kind of place you could get scared in when youíre young but romantic enough to propose to your wife to be. I love it and itís still on my list of must go places in the world.
However now itís time to complete the holy grail for beer geeks - the Kulminator. Any one who hasnít been here canít completely understand the subtleties and immense complexity of beer. It was quite busy when we arrived, however we managed to get seated next to an American couple that were working in Brussels for a year. On the other side of us there was a large group of Americans who were on a ďvisit to Belgian brewersĒ however when I asked them if they were going to De dolle or Struise, few could recall these brewers with others claiming never to have heard of it. We found this surprising considering they were apparently going to over 50 breweries and there was about 15 of them. After getting hold of a menu, I went for a 1999 De Troch Gueuze , something Iíve never had before. Pauline went for a Verhaeghe Echte Kriek, 1999 bottle also. Age was in both but in different ways, the gueuze had mellowed out excellently, the kriek had turned into a super complex aged beast. The place began to empty slightly and they fellows next to us were on Malheur Dark Brut (Noir). They were apparently going to drive to a gig afterwards, but they both seemed rather rosy-cheeked when they left so I hope they arrived ok. I told him to look on the site for me, so big hey if youíre reading this, chin chin! Iíll give a wee run down of the beers that followed the now instead of talking about each one. Corsendonk Xmas ale 1998, Hair of the Dog Fred batch 67, Struise Earthmonk 05, Courage Imperial Stout 1983, Westy red cap 1998, 3 Fonteinen Schaarbeekse Kriek 2004, De Troch Kriek 2001, Hair of the Dog Rose, Abbaye des Roc NoŽl 1998?, Bass Kings Ale 1981, Cantillon Rosť de Gambrinus 1984 and finally Cantillon Framboise 1979. Now I am not sure where to start. The Hair of the Dog Fred blew my mind Ė outstanding. I think it was an IIPA however. Courage was still top notch. Westy red cap! I was soo excited about this like a little boy with a new toy, amazing beer probably never get to try it again, so a true pleasure. Earthmonk really does deserve its place in the top 50, Carlo never stops amazing me with the beers he makes and this is no exception. Schaarbeekse Kriek was possibly the finest lambic Iíve tasted, and should be in the top 10 in the world. De Troch Kriek was a rookie mistake, itís the sweetened version. Bass Kingís Ale reinforced my rating it a 5, and if more people were to taste this it would be higher up in the top 50 than what it is. Now the two bad boys of the trip, something that Iíll never forget. The Rose de Gambrinus Dirk told me was the first batch ever made and we got bottle # 0460. Iíve still got the label, I only had to touch it and it came off. It would be hard for me to describe this beer. It was more the experience and the fact that I was dancing round the Kulminator with Dirk holding a Scotland flag raving about whisky is just something Iíll not forget soon.
By the time we were getting onto these beers, I was a tad rosy-cheeked and fair to say Dirk was in a similar kind of state, who knows how many Stille Nachts heíd punished by this time. He was in quite the mood for a party and so after asking him for the 5th or 6th time he brought out the Framboise. The bottle was a wreck. It looked like he had pulled it out of a part of the cellar where it had collapsed and was covered in dust and small bits of brick, the label was long gone. Poured an amazing pink colour and I stood at the bar and shared this with Dirk and Pauline while he waved the Scotland flag and I continued to take photos and sung parts of Spandau Ballet Ė Gold and Tears for Fears Ė Head over Heels. Luckily no one else was in at this time and Dirk had no idea what I was singing. I wonder if such a party had been had in the Kulminator for many a year and lets hope when I go back again (and remember a bottle of whisky this time) it shall be had again!
But the fact of the matter was it was time to go home. Who knows what time it was. I sure didnít care, Iíd done the holy grail of beer trips; I was in fact The Gold Man Spandau Ballet were singing about. Upon paying the bill which was somewhat over 100 euro, though Iíve no idea how much it was. Dirk called me over an gave me a 6 pack carry case, I tried to refuse what he had given me was way more than what anyone can expect especially when he has give me such specialities already. A bottle of Stille Nacht Reserve 2005, Hair of the Dog Fred and a bottle of Chimay Blue from 1985, the year I was born. I mean come now. Where in the world can you get a selection of beers like that? What sort of genius most excellent capital fellow would part from such beers in the first place? But this is the Kulminator and everyone who enters leaves a better person. My thanks go out to Dirk in ways I canít describe, Iíll probably never get another 1985 chimay blue, itís one for my wedding day or the birth of my first child.
So 10-12 hours had passed since Iíd arrived at my hotel and so again I arrive back to sleep having had one of the finest days of my life.