Antwerp is just a short railway jaunt from Brussels, where I often find myself these days, and last Saturday we headed off on a little day trip to meet the ‘Twerps (we never called them that so I’m not sure whether they find it acceptable or not). Arriving in Antwerp is pretty spectacular, it has one of the most beautiful railway stations I have been in. Walking in to the city it became apparent that it’s a pretty trendy city, there were a lot of design shops, and their
city bikes are this excellent cross between a BMX and a chopper with the high handles. It’s like they have a city council stuffed with hipsters. Added to that, there were almost as many people riding fixies as there are back at home.
The main square rivals Brussels (and any in Europe I’ve been in) for beauty, plus it has a fountain in the middle which features a beheaded giant, and the water spout feature is cunningly used to recreate the blood spewing forth from his neck. Cute! The beer in Antwerp is local brew, De Koninck Belgian Pale Ale, which is a reddish coloured beer, but with enough bitterness to make it a bit of a quaffer. It seemed pretty popular, it’s always nice to see a local beer hold its own. I found it quite nicely balanced, and if I lived in Antwerp I’d have no problem with it being my everyday drinker.
Beyond the workingman’s delights of De Koninck though, I checked out two speciality bars, the Oud Arsenaal, and Kulminator. Oud Arsenaal is a lovely little bar, it seemed to draw more of a local crowd than a tourist one, plus, it’s very much an afternoon bar. It opens until 22.00 on Friday, but on Saturday it closes at 19.30. On Monday and Tuesday it’s closed. It’s a relatively small bar, square, open, with the walls covered in tin beer ads. It had a couple of taps, among them Rodenbach, but I decided to go for the ‘huis’ beer (unspecified), just for fun. It turned out to be a lovely drink, it had the spicy caramel sweetness that I associate with many American beers, but, it well enough hopped as to produce a very pleasing beer, with a really rich mouthfeel, full of caramel but not cloying. We didn’t have time for another, but I asked the barman what it was before I left. He told me it was Troubadour ‘Special Belge’. Some years back, the bar asked Troubadour to brew an old recipe that used to be brewed by a now defunct brewery attached to the Oud Arsenaal. It was successful, and Troubadour released it as ‘Special Belge’. I hadn’t heard of ‘Troubadour’ before, so I took him up on the offer of a four-pack of different Troubadours for €7.50. Why not? (but more on that in another post).
We made our way to legendary bar ‘Kulminator’, which appears at the top of all of the nerd-sites, for what that’s worth. I can see why, it’s a beer-nerd’s paradise. Their speciality is aged beers, such as particular vintages of Lambic beer and Trappists. But at the prices, I’d rather just wait it out. I had an Oerbier instead. While I was perusing the magnificent beer list, a Belgian teenager flicked a Westvleteren cap on to the menu in my hand. I looked up, slightly taken aback. “Very good beer” he confided. “Very expensive beer”, I returned. “Yes, but it’s my favourite”. I couldn’t resist. “Oh, do you drink it often”, I asked? Chortles from his companions. They asked me where I was from. “Dublin”, I replied. “Ah”, nodded one of them, before sagely adding, “England”. A third one apologised that his friend’s geography was not great. No, nor his politics, I thought.
Kulminator is higgledy-piggledy place, with tables strewn about, hops dangling from the roof, and crates of beer stacked everywhere. I don’t think they had any sort of food. Their selection is almost paralysis-inducing though, it’s cosy, and the proprietress was very friendly. I’ll certainly be back.