Greetings one and all!
This time, with the help and suggestions from our fellow ALEien - Johnny B
- I am going back to Belgium, Antwerpen to be specific.
As usual, with Cologne as my starting point, the drive shouldn't be too bad (but winters here have a familiar quality to them that I just don't enjoy much...)
Antwerp's name, besides its modern incarnations, is interesting, and a few diverging sources give rise to some curious theories:
* A nasty guy cutting hands off as a bridge toll
* A town built "on the wharf"
* Romans noticing that it rose from sedimentation (ante verpia) of the river Scheldt - my money's on this one.
At the center of town, lies the Grote Martk - the Grand Market.
It appears to be just as grand as the one I staggered around in Brussels only a few months ago, and I'll be sure to post a picture or two.
As you see from my planned route, I will have quite a bit of ground to cover. I apologize for point "G" being left partially out. That's Google Maps' fault (An Bing did even worse)
So here's the "itinerary"
A: Hotel Cammerpoorte
Nationalestraat 38, 2000 Antwerpen
B: De Pelgrom
Pelgrimsstraat 15, 2000 Antwerpen
C: Den Engel
Grote Markt 3, 2000 Antwerpen
D: Het Elfde Gebod
Torfbrug 10, 2000 Antwerpen
E: Quinten Matsijs
Moriaanstraat 17, 2000 Antwerpen
F: Afspanning 't Waagstuk
Stadswaag 20, 2000 Antwerpen
Vleminckveld 32, 2000 Antwerpen
Johnny explicitly told me to make "The Angel" the first stop, but I'm taking the chance of being a Pilgrim first since it'll save me a bit of back-trekking.
Oh, by the way, if anyone wants to add/subtract from the list, I am more than happy to take suggestions!
BeerAdvocate has a decent little list for Antwerpen as well: http://beeradvocate.com/beerfly/list?&c_id=BE&city=Antwerpe...
Other than letting you know what an over-sized, luxurious vehicle I'll be driving...
(the background is not quite representative of West Germany)
...I think it's interesting to compare BeerAdvocate's stats for beers' reviewed between some of the arguably best beer countries in the world:
Belgium: 361 places/beers registered or reviewed
UK/England: 929 places/beers registered or reviewed
Germany: 1326 places/beers registered or reviewed
and of course....
Norway: 28 places/beers registered or reviewed (wow - check it out in detail on BA and you'll know why I home brew!)
Perhaps it's the relative population of the countries (Belgium = ~10.5M, England ~52M, Germany ~82M) that's reflected in the BA review stats, but I'm far from convinced.
The proliferation of varieties are not adequately represented - from either country. Belgium is known for having around 1400-1500 different styles/brands/varieties available. Germany perhaps more. England, unfortunately, has been known (until recently) for a decline in brewing that looked almost like the US in the 50s-60s-70s.
Anyhoo, folks, it's drawing late here and I have things to do tomorrow (like trying to go very fast before I get in to Belgium).
PS: Here's some extra fun http://www.akustisch-nicht-verstanden.de/bier/laender.htm
I reached the hotel without much of a problem after two hours of driving in a Fiat Punto which was totally under-dimensioned for Autobahn driving. I thought driving on these narrow, cobble stoned city streets filled with bikes and people was challenging - until I realized I was driving on a very big sidewalk!
is a very basic and low-budget hotel, but it is very close to everything I wanted to see, and more, and I got a decent single room for only 70 Euro.
The front desk was very helpful and gave me a detailed map and a bunch of suggested things to see. I laughed out loud when I showed him my printed route with all the different beer places.
Once outside the hotel, it was only a short walk down to Groenplats, close to the Cathedral
I decided to take a look at the shopping street, lined by beautiful buildings and filled with people just wandering slowly along, enjoying the day in spite of the cool and grey weather
Halfway down the Meir street, was the Staadfeztsaal (Town Party Hall). It was gutted by fire a few years back, but one would never know by looking inside!
The Europeans are good at mixing old architecture with modern style, and inside the hall was even a luxurious champagne bar, pretty much shaped lice a flying saucer
The stores were too crowded for me to venture inside many, so I continued down towards the Central train Station
Having had my fill of exercise and sightseeing for one day, I backtracked from where I came and found my way to De Pelgrom (The Pilgrim). From an unassuming entrance you enter down a cavernous staircase into the basement. In small chamber-like rooms are wooden tables and benches and a quiet atmosphere.
I settled down at the table and perused the menu. I was happy to see an old friend, Geuze from Mort Subite, a favorite from my day in Brussells what seems ages ago. It was almost as I remembered it, tangy and sour, but not as envigoratingly fresh as the one I was served before.
Still, I'm not one to argue over minor details when drinking such nectar! It was a nice way to Waken the tastebuds, and at only 4.5% it won't do any long-term damage. I realized I hadn't eaten all day (slept in and hit the road), so I got a little food to fortify my fortitude for a long evening.
My waitress, Nouvella, told me the reason for the wide variety of beers in Belgium stemmed from the middle ages. Plague and illness was commonplace, and the ruler at the time ordered that every family had to brew their own beer instead of drinking the infested water. Thus, a few hundred years later, we find so many breweries and beers in this country that it'd take more than a couple of evenings to explore them all.
Ok, 'nuff babbling, time to make a move!
True to form, one place follows the next within a short walking distance. I shall claim no genius in navigation, but rather that dumb luck and lots of rubbernecking gets me from a to b. Thus, I stumbled upon the Grote Markt, a great square surrounded by restaurants and taverns. I can't say it's as flashy as the Grand Place in Bruxelles, but even the weather couldn't take away from its splendor. Looking around, I couldn't locate Den Engel, which was to be my next stop. With a bit of local assistance, I found it at the corner of the square, hidden away by an elevated ice rink being put up in time for Christmas. It was too rainy to get an outside shot, so I dodged Den Bengel, and went inside. The place was packed, but a nice waitress soon took my order, and I got a local Winter Koninck - Winter King.
It was a Belgian Brown, perhaps amped up a bit for the season. Nothing that made my tongue have an orgasm, which was just as well, given what was to come. Den Engel is a popular place, especially with the working classes of Antwerpen. As often happens for some reason, I get to talking with people, and my new friend, Stavros, and I soon struck up a conversation.
What a friendly chap - we talked about beers in three languages, and I swear sometimes we even understood each other. He was amazed to hear about my interest in beer, could barely believe that someone has a hobby this great, and thus we went on to study the beer menu together.
The choice fell on Kasteel Bier. It poured dark brown, almost black, with no significant hops or other aromas. But my mouth was simply not ready for the explosion of flavors.
I tasted liquid candy infused with a tiny hint of liquorish, chocolate, malts and the yeast profile. It was awesome in one of those god-fearing ways where you just know that whoever made this has the power to eradicate your tonsils and even humanity itself. I wanted to fill my mouth with it, but it forced me into a meek submission and small sips, but each one was an experience to remember.
From this, where could you go? Well, Stavros, my beer-drinking-multilingual-muslim friend, along with a bar neighbor, Paul, who was short on front teeth but long on life's wisdom, decided that I should have the Westmalle Trippel. I may have contributed to this choice by bragging wildly about my next homebrew, expected to hit 9.98%. Thus the Westmalle Trippel arrived.
The first half of the glass was wasted on the remnants of the Kasteel, I simply could not taste it. But then, little by little, the tangy-sweet flavors started to move forward. The glass was gone before I could count from 1 to 8%, and then it was time to move on. Stavros opted to stay behind with a buddy, and I set off for the Elfde Gebode.
Denied! Between 5 and 10pm, the Eleventh Commandment only let's you in if you will eat a full meal. I pleaded with the doorman, but to no avail. So off I went to my next stop, Quinten Matsijs.
The first two beers were the local DeKonink again, only the "normal" and Blonde.
Enjoyable, but fairly nondescript, but what fascinates me first is the place itself.
You can read a little bit more about it here
, but in short the place is close to 600 years old and in pristine condition. A friendly bartender is now taking care of me, and I'll have to report back in more detail when I get more beer.
It turned out to be a nice little session at the Matsijs. I met Andreas who got me a nice Jacobiner Gueuze, which I loved.
Andreas' wife, Lilliane helped me in some selection of beers:
It's time to make a move, so bags are packed and legs are wobbly!
It wasn't just my legs that were wobbly, my brain was beginning to protest as well. Thus, since it was raining pretty hard and I didn't feel like walking much more, I decided skip Afspanning 't Waagstuk and head straight for the Kulminator by way of a taxi. The driver had the hardest time finding it, even with a completely functioning GPS on his dash... But, we found it at last and I entered Mecca.
The Kulminator is the kind of place where beer lovers go to pray. It was a fairly small bar and jam packed with mostly students but also some older guys who were playing games at a table. I couldn't get a seat anywhere, and had to stand crammed up against the bar.
In the middle of the room was what can only be described as a hop tree.
It had a real tree trunk, not the wispy thin strands we're used to seeing on our own hop plants.
Speaking of hops, it was time to peruse the beer list, or beer catalog. A lady was running around serving, while a mad professor with wild gray hair was mumbling to himself behind a counter in an area where you could see hundreds and hundreds of beer bottles. There was also a storage room back there, and I caught a glimpse as he opened the door and it was like a beer sacristy!
I decided I had room for one beer, and felt I had to try the Westvleteren. If you remember from by Bruxelles trip, this is the beer that you supposedly can only lay hands on if you visit the abby itself. A rare treat indeed, and I decided upon the "12", dialing in at around 10% abv. It was amazing, so full and rich in flavor, malty, a little bit of smoke perhaps, and sweeeeeeeet.
Sadly, I must admit that at this point my belly and brain were protesting loudly and told me to take it easy. I left the Kulminator a richer man, and wandered along the wet streets back towards my hotel. Sure enough, though, the walk woke me up, and I tried one more pass at the Elfde Gebod, thinking that they were now past their restaurant hours and would let me in for a nightcap.
Certainly! Not. They were closing just as I reached the door, and I had to settle for a different place nearby where a heavy metal band were doing their best to rip out my eardrums. I bumped into Stavros again, and I repaid him back an earlier beer before we parted into the dark, wet Antwerpen evening.
I returned to the hotel, got a few hours of sleep, and hopped in the car and drove straight back to Cologne. 24 hours of excitement has thoroughly worn me out, so I think I'll be layin' off the beer for a couple of nights!
Thanks for listening!