Travel: Best bars for a bolleking: Simon Calder explores Antwerp, European City of Culture for 1993, while Michael Jackson samples its many kingly ales
Saturday 20 February 1993
This is the bibulously correct thing to do. In Belgium, every beer has its own glass, and the half-spherical boleke is always filled with De Koninck ('The king'), the local brew of Antwerp. it is as soft, spicy and delicious a peachy-coloured ale as you ever tasted, without any of the perilous potency of some Belgian brews.
De Koninck is also available in a smaller, narrower, glass, but this is known as a fluitje (little flute), a word which has phallic connotations in Belgium. If a woman asks for one of these, the company may convulse. This is, remember, the country of Brouwer, Bruegel, Bosch apd their lusty sinners; how it ever got a reputation for being dull beats the hell out of me.
The seductive De Koninck beer is nice enough in the bottle but far more arousing on draught, in which form it can be found at two of Antwerp's best-known cafes.
The easiest to find is Den Engel, on the central square, called the Grote Markt. Among the marble-topped tables and mirrors of this often-crowded one-room cafe; students rub shoulders with politicians and tourists.
For a quieter bolleke, also in the old town, try Quinten Matsijs, at 17 Moriaan Straat (at the corner with Hoofdkerk Straat). This cafe, Antwerp's oldest, dates from 1565, has an ancient board game called Ton, and serves a excellent dish of black and white puddings (culled beuling)i as well as the local pork sausage (gezonden wurst).
My favourite spot for a bolleke is opposite the brewery, at the pubby Cafe Pelgrim (S Boomgaard Str, corner Mechelsesteenweg), in the inner- city neighbourhood of Berchem. The freshest beer, naturally, and the locaIs sometimed use it to chase down a shot-glass fuli of brewers yeast, which is enough to purge anyone's sins.
If you would prefer a holy draught, look out for the ales from the Trappist monastery of Westmalle, ngar Antwerp. The deliciously delicate, slightly salty, golden, 'single' version is usually reserved for the monks; the more widely available 'double' is a stronger, dark, fruity-chocolatey restorative; the Westmalle Triple an extra-strong (9.0 per cent), pale bronze brew, fruity and herbal (a touch of coriander?) aperitif that is one of the world's greatest beers.
The dryish, amber, Ster Ale (the English word is used) and the liquorice-tasting Horse Ale, both at a conventional strength; the strong, fruity, gpiden, dryish; Duvel, another classic; and the raisiny, dark, strong Gouden Carolus are all made in the province of Antwerp.
The famously winey gueuze and cherry kriek of Flemish Brabant are the speciality at the tiny, cosy, 400-year-old cafe Aux Armes de Tiremont (closed Sundays), at 29 Eiermarkt (a main shopping street), on the corner of Suderman Straat (lo&k for a statue of the Virgin Mary on the outside of the building). The innermost of the two rooms, formerly the kitchen, has only one tablet and is the prized spot.
If you really want to sample Belgium's beery variety, try a newspaper office that turned into a bar, Bierland (28 Korte Nieuw Straat, in the old town), with more than 400 brews on its card. Or the ominous-sounding Kulminator, named after a German beer but stocking more thah 500 Belgian brews, including many that have been laid down to mature (32 Vleminckveld, on the southern side of the city-centre. Closed during the day on Saturday and all day Sunday; not open until 8.15 on Monday evenings).
These are my favourites. Tim Webb has more in The Good Beer Guide to Belgium and Holland (Alma Books). Michael Jackson is author of 'The Great Beers of Belgium' (coda)
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