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Notes from the road: Antwerp


Here for a book fair. My role is to promote the Flemish-language edition of my Great Beers of Belgium (De Grote Belgische Bieren, published by MMC, of Antwerp). In early December, the same publisher is launching a magazine, in Flemish and French, called Bier Passion. (fax 32 for Belgium; 3 for Antwerp; 236-0703).

I greatly regretted not being here for the annual, early November, "24-Hour" beer festival (information for next year, from the Kulminator café: 32-3-232-4538). Nonetheless, while in Belgium, I tasted several new beers:-

De Koninck Antoon Blond

Appetising, with classic hop aromas as well as the yeasty nose that is characteristic of De Koninck. Notably, firm, rounded, body. Malt and vanilla-like flavours, moving to a clean, restrained fruitiness (caramelised peaches?). Again firm in its dry, finish. A dry but well-balanced beer. A less strong (at 6abv), golden partner to Cuvée De Koninck.

Grottenbier Bruin

"Grotto Beer", partly aged (for one to two months) in limestone caves, and turned weekly like Champagne. The caves are in the Belgian province of Limburg but near the Dutch city of Maastricht. They have a natural, constant, temperature of 12C (53-54F) and 95 per cent moisture. The object is to establish whether this "natural" maturation creates flavors more subtle than can be replicated in drier, refrigerated, cellars at a brewery. This project has been a long-term dream of the ever-inventive Belgian brewer Pierre Celis. The beer is made by the De Smedt brewery, noted for its Affligem range. The Grottenbier is a strong (6.5abv) dark ale, in which small quantities of "exotic" spices are added to create a gentle, balancing dryness and crsipness. The beer has a chestnut colour; a huge, meringue-like head (marron glacé?); and big aromas, reminiscent of dry oloroso sherry. It is dry at the front of the tongue, developing a medium to full body, with many layers of maltiness. Huge flavours, drily toffeeish, honeyish. Resiny, slightly medicinal, extraordinarily long, finish. A very big, deep, complex, after-dinner, beer. Perhaps my Beer-of-the-Year.

Petrus Winterbier

Full copper "ale" colour. Big, fluffy, head. coriander aroma. Soft, soothing, start. Lightly sweet clean maltiness in the middle, moving to a firmer, rooty, lingering, dryness in the long finish. A dry beer overall, but very well rounded. Many subtleties of flavour emerging as the beer warms. A sustaining strong ale - rather than the darker, richer, style often made for winter. 6.5abv.

Grimbergen Cuvée Speciale

Distinctively garnet colour - very attractive. Emphatic fresh-cream aroma. Bitter-chocolate and fudge flavours, becoming sweeter in the middle. Fudge. Oaky, sappy, dryness in the finish. Like a diminished version of Cuvée d'Hermitage. 7.5abv

Corsendonk Christmas Ale

Ebony colour. Very fruity aroma (Poire Williams?). Notable dark chocolate flavours. Also toasted nuts, a hint of smokiness. and raisins in the palate. Smooth but soft, medium-to-full body, with considerable depth. Long, warming, brandyish, finish. A big, rich, traditional, Christmas beer. 8.5abv

Leute Bokbier

Tan colour. Peppery aroma. Creamy head. Pepper, ginger and cinnamon flavours. Seems "dusty" on the tongue. Relatively light in flavour, and lean in body, for the style. Slips down easily. Spritzy finish. 7.5abv. From the Van Steenberge brewery.

Van Honsebrouck K8

A Kriek of 8.0abv, aimed at young people. Dark red. Hints of almond in the nose. Sweet start. Soft body. Easily drinkable, but without much complexity. Light, balancing, acidity in finish. For unformed palates, perhaps an easy introduction to kriek as a style.

Published: DEC 5, 1998

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