All posts by rschollaert

Bro’s Gin is a real pro’s gin

A new gin? Yes. Really? Yes. Belgian? Yes. Any good? In one word: fantastic! 

It is one of the rare examples when the all too familiar story of 'X-number of friends come together and decide to make gin' really turns out to be a good idea! Bro's gin is a magnificently well balanced London Dry with its own personality. A straightforward and honest gin, no bs. Also, this gin is so good it's actually slowly conquering every Michelin Star restaurant in Belgium.

Well it’s Bro’s gin and the origin story is as follows: three bro’s – who happen to love gin – decided to make one for themselves. And we can see the reason for this. Being bro’s they most probably live according to the Bro Code and considering rules 25, 30, 109 and 114 you might as well come to the conclusion after a while that it will be cheaper to create your own booze. And you know, we kinda like this origin story. Why? Because it’s honest and it did really happen. For once it didn’t include the fortunate discovery of a family gin recipe dating from just after the creation of the juniper berry.

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How neo-gins are made: “Finally, my great granddad’s lost recipe! I knew it was in the attic all the time!”

These guys just wanted to make gin, but in stark contrast to their countless predecessors, these friends are really serious about it, even more they’re dedicated and passionate about gin. So one of the bros bought a make-your-own-gin-at-home set and they started off their adventure, experimenting with recipes for more than 365 days. Oh, happy days!

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“Day 353! We’re nearly there! Chances are I’ve lost the cat in the proces, but hey, sacrifices have to be made!”

Upon finally reaching a recipe they all agreed upon the Bros went to Vibe Distilleries in Herentals (Antwerp) and asked them if they could produce this. The result is Bro’s Gin and the result is doing very well. Here’s some of the star restaurants that immediately put it on their menus: Restaurant Philippe Meyers, Het Gebaar, De Kromme Watergang, ‘t Kreukeltje, Hof Van Cleve, …

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Bro’s Gin is a very nice London Dry, full of flavour and not just for tonic. Considering the name it’s the ultimate birthday gift for a good friend. We immediately made the remark that it is quite “male oriented” and that they should make a female version too. Let us conclude that the first names for this would-be experiment came out quite wrong 😉

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Bro’s Gin is infused with 13 botanicals including: juniper berry (thank God), rosemary, lemon, orange peel, cardamom, Java pepper, basel, coriander and even apple. Distilled in copper pot stills.

Serving suggestions you ask us? Anyway the Hell you want it!  😉

 

Cheers!

 

 

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Gold Gin 999.9 Competition

In every aspect Gold Gin would be the perfect gin for a Bond villain. I mean take a look at that bottle, it utterly demands to be looked at, you can’t miss it, but at the same time you can’t read what’s on it. It’s complex and mysterious. Just like its origin story, listen to this:

 

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Gold Gin demands to be sipped while sitting in an Eames chair, stroking a cat on your lap and saying things like: “I expect you to ‘tching’ Mr. Buund!”

“At the beginning of the 20th century, as excavation works were taking place in the Alsace region, a site containing antique valuables was found. Amongst them, there was a gold pot still. After these objects were proved not to have any historic value, they were put on sale.

One of the buyers was an amateur distiller, a man who immediately fell in love with the gold pot still and acquired it. This man had spent years of his life looking for the perfect spirit, the perfect distillation, an elixir as valuable as the material the golden pot still he had just bought was made of.

He finally created a gin with tangerine reminiscences and a delicate memory of vanilla and almonds. He named this special spirit Gold 999.9 as he considered it to be his liquid gold, the purest one.”

📸 by @[193727857489517:]

We don’t know about you, but our imagination runs wild when we read origin stories like that. Apparently the archaeological dig had stumbled upon the hidden stash of a local pharmacist who – due to the Franco-Prussian War – had put his valuables there out of fear of being looted by the Germans. Something terrible must have happened because the pharmacist obviously never returned to dig it back up again. Nevertheless all of these events culminated into Gold Gin.

The Belgian Finals of the Gold Gin Competition took place in the famous BarZar in Antwerp. Owner and head bartender Maxime Biot joined us in the jury together with Yannick from Njam. There were three finalists: Saif El Ouachem from Cocktail Dreams, Donald Simons from Black Smoke and Bruno Simons from BarZar.

📸 by @[193727857489517:]
Bruno Simons making his Gold Negroni
We will not bore you with details and go straight to the results: Bruno won with an excellent Negroni style cocktail based on Gold Gin and Suze Aperitif. The drink fitted the bill perfectly! Honourable mentions go to Donald who made a very nice Gin Sour in which he added marjoram (that’s a herb). The herb did wonders with the gin. And let’s not forget Saif who made us an unusual cocktail made out of rocket salad…

Cheers!

Brussels Cocktail Week is coming!!

Europe’s capital is preparing for some serious mixing! Finally, we say! From the 12th till the 17th of September no less than 20 cocktail bars in Brussels will seduce you with great cocktails, mind blowing workshops and spectacular guest bartending. So join the party and celebrate a passion for bartending and mixing drinks!

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“We really wanted to organise something to bring everyone together in our own city,” explains Sophie Fence. The brilliant initiative comes from Leslie and Pierre from Green Lab Bar in Brussels. Apparently the idea grew after visiting BCB (Bar Convent Berlin) a few years in a row. “We always had a great time there and in the end we were a big crowd of bartenders from Brussels, ” says Sophie.

Well, putting bartenders together is always a good recipe for fun of course and BCB is obviously great. Seeing, meeting and getting to know your colleagues is vital for a local cocktail scene. You learn so much from each other, every bartender always has at least one tip or trick you’ve never heard of. And the stories, my god! Let three bartenders sit around one table and you can write a novel.

So, the idea as we see it is to unite the Brussels bartenders as one happy family that invites their Flemish and Walloon cousins to a seven day party of bartending passion. We’re very excited about that!

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The Brussels Bartenders Bunch that will be serving you.

Here’s the program:

Monday 11th:

Opening Night @ GREEN LAB

You know, just warming up for the rest of the week.

Tuesday 12th:

Marco Mathieux guest bartending @ GREEN LAB

Marco Mathieux is the Belgian Commander of The Legion of The Cucumber (that means he represents Hendrick’s Gin) and has always been a great inspiration for the Brussels bartenders. Or as Sophie says: “he has always done a great job keeping us together and happy (and drunk).” Marco is very efficient about that, we’re a big fan!

La Prima Donna @ GREEN LAB

A new experience that mixes opera with cocktails by opera singer Diana Aivia.

La Flandre à Bruxelles: Naushad Rahamat guest bartending @ VERTIGO

Naushad from Cocktails at Nine is currently mixing his socks off in Mexico at Diageo World Class 2017 representing Belgium. Godspeed, mate!

La Flandre à Bruxelles: Olivier Jacobs guest bartending @ LA PHARMACIE ANGLAISE

Olivier Jacobs from Jigger’s needs no introduction I’m sure. He is one of the best and certainly the most influential bartender in Belgium.

Food & Cocktail pairing @ YI CHAN

Believe me, Yen Pham knows how to pair delicious food with great cocktails. We can still taste the Wagyu beef sushi and Eastern style Old Fashioned. Hell, we’re salivating on our keyboard again!

Wednesday 13th:

Alfonse Caravan Bar guest bartending @ GREEN LAB

Alfonse is a petite, charming caravan turned into a hip & trendy mobile bar.

Forgotten Spirits workshop by Hortense @ HORTENSE & HUMMUS

When Hortense arrived it was a real eye-opener for many bars in Brussels. The passion, creativity and attention to detail turned Hortense very quickly into an important influence for the Brussels cocktail scene.

L’Apéritif @ BAR AMIGO

This is self explanatory, it’s cocktail hour at Bar Amigo. The menu will focus on Italian liqueurs by Nardini. Ciaooo

Ladies Night with guest bartending by Marine LeBlanc @ ALICE COCKTAIL BAR

Marine, originally from France, now has a cocktail bar in Doornik called: Check-in Bar.

It’s ladies only, but I’ll be wearing my wife’s knickers, is that ok?

Afterwork en Ville @ ODETTE EN VILLE

This needs no explanation. A bartenders job is hard work and a large part of it is tasting of course! 😉

Thursday 14th

Olivier Delaunoy guest bartending @ GREEN LAB

Olivier is bartender at the Volga Bar in Liege and we must admit we haven’t visited it yet, but after seeing some photos it’s definitely on our list. Olivier will mix some curious Hendrick’s cocktails at the Hendrick’s in Wonderland event.

Craft beer cocktails @ DE HAUS

It is trending for a while now and it’s delicious, but it’s not easy to make beer cocktails. If you want to know and taste more drop by at De Haus.

Jameson Masterclass @ BLACK SHEEP

This needs no explanation, if you don’t know Jameson Whiskey you’re not from this planet, period.

Food & Cocktail Pairing @ CHEZ AUGUSTA

Also pretty straightforward. Augusta, by the way is European Restaurant in Brussels.

Friday 15th

Marino Karinja guest bartending @ GREEN LAB

Marino normally works as a bartender in the Bokamorra Pizzaurant & Cocktails in Split, Croatia, but just for once he decided to join the Cucumber Legion and comms to our country to join the Hendrick’s in Wonderland event. By the way, if you have never visited Split before you should put it on your bucket list. It’s absolutely beautiful.

Tiki Night starring Guillaume Leblanc @ STOEFER

Believe me, this is going to be batshit insane! In a good way! Guillaume hails from France’s most famous Tiki bar: Le Dirty Dick. I’m not going to make jokes about the name, I’ll leave that entirely to your own imagination. Ready to have some liquid Tropical Exotica in your glass? Then you better save a seat.

Notte Italiano con Leonardo Leuci @ CIPIACE

Rather fancy some Italian style? Join the Notte Italiano at Cipiace. We all know Italians can party like no other, they’re professional pleasure seekers. I mean look at the ancient Romans and their parties! Leonardo is modern Roman and comes from the most famous speakeasy in Italy: The Jerry Thomas Project. A must visit.

Saturday 16th

A big party @ BIP called: Tap My Cocktail

With – believe it or not – craft cocktails on tap!

Sunday 17th

Blend @ HOTEL MARIVAUX

BLEND is a special event to showcase and bring together all the talents Brussels has in food, drinks and music. A sensory feast to close this exceptional week.

 

More Info

If you want to know more about the Brussels Cocktail Week please visit their Facebook Page here.

 

Beer, Bourbon And Barbecue, a mix grilled in heaven.

Tom Bulleit introduced his 10 years old to Belgium and we don’t mean his grandson, we’re talking about his ‘Bulleit Bourbon 10 Years Old’. The place to be was Jord Althuizen’s grill tower, ‘Black Smoke’. Actually it was the grill tower’s rooftop, bathing in sunlight, were we spent a very pleasant afternoon, soaked in beer, bourbon and barbecue.

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The Black Smoke rooftop is amazing and I don’t know if it was for the occasion, but the entire interior is drenched in Bulleit colours: orange, amber and of course, lots of wood. We were welcomed immediately with a Suffering Bastard – the drink, we mean, not Jord or Kasper – and some finger food.

The original ‘Suffering Bastard’ was invented by Joe Scialom in the Shepheard’s Hotel in Caïro in 1942 and was meant as a hangover cure. It contains a curious combination of gin and brandy, lime juice cordial, Angostura bitters and ginger ale. Depending on the size of your hangover he later also invented the ‘Dying Bastard’ (adding bourbon) and the ‘Dead Bastard’ (adding bourbon and white rum).

What we were drinking was a variation on the Suffering: Bulleit Bourbon, Tanqueray Gin, Angostura bitters, lime juice and maple syrup, topped up with ginger ale. Quite nice, no suffering at all.

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After much hello-how-are-you, kissing and shaking hands we were invited to take a seat at the table. Our first dish was a beautiful home-smoked salmon accompanied by a Duvel beer. The main course was a delicious, very spicy brisket paired with a new beer of which I forgot the name. If this lunch was to continue on the same course I would definitely be needing a Suffering Bastard afterwards!

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Beer, bourbon & brisket @ Black Smoke

Next we got to taste the Bulleit Bourbon 10 Years. Tom Bulleit was his charming self, not going into a lot of detail, but basically just saying “Drink the stuff… and? D’you like it?”. Apparently some folks had had the brilliant idea to take him with them to the Nomads Music Festival in Amsterdam the day before and let’s say it made a lasting impression on him.

So we tasted. Well, it’s definitely Bulleit Bourbon and we’re happy for that. We like Bulleit Bourbon. But to be honest I actually didn’t taste much difference with the regular Bulleit. A bit rounder maybe and an extra touch of honey/vanilla. Maybe an extra 4 years of ageing to get it up to 10 isn’t enough? Or maybe it was the beer, the Bastard and the brisket speaking? Don’t get me wrong, it’s still yummy, but in the store, considering my wallet, I’d go for the regular Bulleit.

 

That being said we were being served an excellent Bulleit Old Fashioned paired with Jord’s signature desert dish “the Heartstopper”. You’ve got to eat this to believe this. It’s an eclair with a Bulleit Bourbon cream filling and salted caramel and chocolate on top.

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Nick Bril talking about eating snakes 

What a beautiful afternoon it was. Also I had the pleasure to sit next to Nick Bril, Master Chef at the famous star restaurant: The Jane, who had just made a trip around the world for a television show, discovering new foods and dishes. Apparently when you order snake in some countries they put some blood, the heart and its brain as a side dish next to it. Not surprisingly it didn’t go down so well. Well, those are the risks of the trade of course, but imagine the sacrifice these people make to produce good food on your table and I mean Nick Bril of course, not the insane snake killers.

Cheers!

More info:

Black Smoke

Boomgaardstraat 1, 2018 Antwerp

Home made vermouth by De Lijsterbes

De Lijsterbes is a famous star restaurant in the little Belgian village of Berlare where master chef Geert Van Der Brugge composes culinary masterpieces in a cosy, laid-back atmosphere. Natural, healthy and approachable are the keywords of his concept. Fine dining is for everybody and so De Lijsterbes becomes an openminded food sharing community. Now, Geert knows that the best thing to accompany a beautiful dish is a wonderful drink, so the master chef decided to make one. His own home-made vermouth.

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We like the rather atypical bottle design. It reminds us of the large medicine bottles in a pharmacy. The label is very minimal, at the back we can read some of the botanicals included in the vermouth. The label round the neck offers a serving suggestion, in this case: vermouth and tonic. Honestly not the first combination that sprang to my mind when I tasted it.

The nose is very herbal, medicinal almost, flowery and fresh. It reminds me of the smells you get when you’re running through the fields in spring time and especially at the forest edge where the meadows start or otherwise a very, very wild garden.

The taste has a distinct freshness, a pleasant and delicate tartness with the slightest hint of anise and a bit of ginger. It’s not sweet at all, well it has a certain sweetness, but far less than expected seeing the luscious golden, orange red colour of the drink. It has his own character and personality, which makes it difficult to categorise, it’s not sweet red vermouth, it’s not a ‘bianco’, it’s not exactly a ‘dry vermouth’ either.

Actually the first thing that sprang to mind when I took a sip was: “a refreshing, modern, dry Hippocras” with the slightest hint of wild honey and lavender even, but apparently there’s not a drop of honey in it. Also you’d expect the typical bitter tang of the wormwood, but it isn’t there. There is a bitter in it, but it’s different and we tried very hard to find out what it was, but after much ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth’ we had to ask Geert and the master chef disclosed to us that it was ‘rue’ (‘wijnruit’ in Dutch).

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In this picture: a humble cocktail writer to the left and master chef Geert Van Der Bruggen to the right, judging some World Class cocktails.

Now rue is a very fascinating herb so it seems. I had never heard of it before and had to look it up, what I found was very intriguing. Apparently it is the origin of the word ‘ruefulness’, which if I’m not mistaken means nothing less than ‘bitter regret’. It was very popular in ancient near eastern and Roman cuisine. In Istria and Italy it is used to flavour grappa, which is called ‘grappa alla ruta’. Also, it is the only medicine that could protect you from the lethal gaze of a basilisk!

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A basilisk (on the right) and on the left a weasel wearing a tutu made of rue! 

Apart from that the herb was extremely popular in witchcraft and spell making. Probably because of the peculiar characteristic that the leaves and stem can cause an irritation which results in blisters when the irritated spot is exposed to sunlight. Cats hate the plant and take a wide circle around it. The Romans believed that this was also the case with werewolves. Harry Potter would love this herb, hell he probably drinks Lijsterbes vermouth as breakfast.

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It really is a magical drink, wonderful aperitif. We love it pure over ice with a wedge of orange. We did try it with tonic and it was surprisingly good, but we believe some of the delicate herbal notes of the vermouth disappear under the tonic. We have made a particularly yummy Negroni variation with it:

  • 3cl Baelegemse Genever
  • 3cl Lijsterbes vermouth
  • 3cl Cynar

Cheers!

 

 

Campari soon opens new piazza of pleasure in Antwerp: Gaspare La Piazza Dell’Aperitivo

We were invited into an old courtyard right in the centre of medieval Antwerp where Campari will open a new bar on May 5th called: Gaspare La Piazza Dell’Aperitivo. The moment we set foot in it, we fell in love with it. Tucked away from the commercial chaos of the city and her typical traffic infarct this courtyard offers the ultimate sensory experience of a relaxing aperitivo time.

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And they take this quite literally, sensory experience, we mean. Professor Doctor Malaika Brengman from Brussels University VUB, was asked to turn the courtyard into a real Italian piazza of pleasure. So every flower, plant, colour, texture, sounds or scent you might experience is especially there to relax and re-energize you, all in Italian style.

Famous bartenders and Campari Ambassadors Jan Van Ongevalle and his daughter Hannah Van Ongevalle from The Pharmacy, Knokke, designed two Campari cocktails especially for Gaspare Bar and apart from that you can of course enjoy what is now definitely this summer’s drink: the Negroni and a refreshing Campari Tonic.

Also aperitivo is nothing without food, so antipasti will be plentiful!  There will even be a shop where you can buy everything you need to aperitivo at your own place.

One more thing, when you’re in that courtyard sipping your Negroni, imagine that maybe – just maybe – 400 years ago the famous owner of this place might have sat at a table on that very same spot, discussing art and paintings with some Italian visitors…

Open from May 5th until June 30th, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Doors open from 16:00h till 22:00h.

Reyndersstraat 6, Antwerp Belgium

Ciao!

 

 

Have a Teeling Irish Whiskey on St. Paddy’s Day

There's a thing about Irish whiskey that makes it very...well, Irish actually and because of that definitely a distinct category within the whisky sphere. It was once much more popular than Scottish whisky and it's doing its best to reclaim the title. Teeling Whiskey is relatively new on the field here, but in less than three years it made sure that it's in the vanguard of this Irish comeback. So 17th of March, have some of this and remember: "everyone's Irish tonight!"

Irish whiskey was the first whiskey we ever tasted and as a young lad we fell madly in love, especially with Tyrconnell whiskey. Irish whiskey is very Irish and by that we mean it’s apart, it’s different, it’s special, fuelled with emotion, both harsh and mellow at the same time. Our favourite Irish philosopher has a great description of what Irish people are often seen as, but definitely are not: “We’re not the twinkly eyed f***ers with a pig under our arm who say they will paint your house, but might steal the ladder! That’s only half true!”

Irish comedian Dylan Moran about the Scottish, English and Irish

That poetry and emotion is what makes Irish people in our mind’s eye. And their soul is in their drink. Now back to Teeling. It’s a very young distillery, only a couple years old, putting itself at the forefront of the Dublin Distillery revival and showing it’s serious about this by bearing a phoenix rising from a flaming potstill in its logo.

We received a bottle of the Teeling, Small Batch Whiskey and at first we didn’t quite know what to think of it, but after a few sips we knew: it’s Irish! It’s different, both harsh and sweet, mellow at the same time. Teeling really toys with your tongue here: rum, whiskey, whiskey, rum, what’s going on here? After close examination of the bottle we quickly understood: it has a 6 months finish on rum barrels. A daring (very Irish) move! But it works, I think, at least for me. Bottled at 46% abv, non chill filtered and finished on rum casks this drink both kicks and kisses you at the same time. It has both vanilla, chocolate and grassy, lemony things in it. We like it, it has a personality. It is the kind of bottle that will be empty the 18th of March.

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There were lots of tasteful surprises in the box like chocolate, truffles, marmalade and even Jamaican jerky crisps, but the most amazing was the Irish, whiskey smoked, mineral, sea salt. Guess what was the first thing we did with it? Yes, indeed we put a pinch of it in the whiskey! And it’s f***ing amazing, the purest leprechaun blood you ever tasted!

So, have a Teeling on St. Paddy’s and try to chase the snakes away the morning after!

And remember…

Cheers!

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The Torino Temple of aperitivo returns to Belgium with a spectacular lineup of Negronis

Last year in Ghent, Martini's Caffè Torino was a happy discovery for many visitors. The Italian style aperitivo bar focussed uniquely on Martini's recent re-interpretation of vermouth accompanied by succulent side dishes. In short, a place where you inevitably lost track of all time, aperitivo all night long! This year, 30th of March until the 24th of April, Torino lands in Antwerp transformed into a total Negroni bar with a dozen different style Negronis. Torino's opening night features none other than Naren Young from Dante NYC (voted one of the 50st best bars in the world) behind the bar.

Ever tried Martini’s Rubino and Ambrato vermouth? You should, they’re great. Ever tried a Negroni made with one of them? You should, they’re great! If Negroni is your thing you should definitely visit Caffè Torino – the first Belgian Negroni Bar – this April in Antwerp, here’s why:

Caffè Torino - Martini - Gent, Belgium - 28/06/2016
Well, she’s not the (only) reason, but it helps doesn’t it? 😉

Negroni around the world

‘Play with time’ is one of Torino’s mottos and they take this quite literally. They asked 6 famous bartenders to produce their signature Negroni for the menu of Torino. 6 Famous bartenders from 6 different countries…6 different time zones even. Get the gist?

Including Naren Young from New York, you will be able to choose a Negroni from Chili, Bologna, Indonesia, Dubai or Singapore. I can’t wait to try a Negroni Singapori! It sounds delicious. The Negroni, of course, is a very versatile cocktail. So much, actually that we’ve asked ourselves before what really does make a Negroni, a Negroni? At the very least we’re expecting a lot of diversity. Now, apart from these great international Negroni twisters, there’s also part of our Belgian pride, happy to conjure the Count’s favourite libation.

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Pretty sure this is Bologna! 😉 Daniele Dalla Pola serving his Bolognesi. Beware people, at first the people from Bologna conquered the world with spaghetti, now with Negroni!

Belgian Negroni of The Future

Since Torino lands in Antwerp, they have asked 4 Belgian bartenders to come up with their interpretation of “the future Negroni”. So each week the menu will feature one Belgian special made by: Charly Lebrun (Bistro Des Anges), Didier Van den Broeck (Dogma), Jurgen Lijcops (Bar Burbure) or Manuel Wouters (SIPS). I’m always very curious about “future” interpretations considering how much so many classics have changed over time. Indeed, as far as my opinion is concerned the current recipe we use today for a Negroni is definitely not the recipe from the 1920’s. So trying to project today’s recipe into the future is definitely not easy. Then again it’s always fun to see the bartender’s creativity gone wild.

There’s food and it’s Italian!

Now this should be self explanatory. It’s food and it’s Italian. If you don’t like Italian food there must be something wrong with you, really, you fell down the stairs and can’t chew properly anymore or something. You took on a hobby of fire eating and torched your tongue or it was removed by terrorists during your annual holiday in Aleppo. Italian food is great and if it only resembles a tiny bit of last year’s food, it will be delicious! Pulpo for the win!! Food is provided for by Francesco & Julia, two well known ‘Italo-Antwerpians‘!

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The battle was fierce, but in the end she won! Pulpo, Caprese with filled tomatoes and I think chestnut and mushroom cream on toasted ciabatta. This was absolutely delicious!

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That’s basically the only thing you should remember. It’s the opening hour of the bar, 16:00hrs. The adres is 2 Sint-Antoniusstraat, Antwerp. We’ll be there at the opening night, if you want to meet me, I’ll be the guy with 7 different Negronis and a plate full of pulpo in front of him, tasting and tasting and tasting and tasting… 😉 Yummy!

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If you’re lucky you might get an invitation like this.

Negroni Wars

On a sidenote and for those interested, we notice a possible upcoming Negroni War here. In the red corner you have Gruppo Campari, being the first brand claiming the Negroni as their own and in the blue corner you now have Bacardi-Martini deducing (somehow correctly) that if an amaro can claim a cocktail, so can the vermouth in it! Please people, let personal taste prevail, so do we and nobody stops you from being a diplomat and make your Negroni with Rubino and Campari!

Practical information

Caffè Torino

Sint-Antoniusstraat 2, Antwerp

Thursday 30th of March – Sunday 23rd of April

Open every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 16:00

Including Shopping Sunday (2nd of April)

Ciao and cheers!

 

Belgian Steam Gin Gets Your Engine Rolling

Another gin, you say? Yes, people don't seem to get enough of it. Which recently lead to the quaint discovery that our blood vaguely tastes of juniper. A fact which largely broadened our Transylvanian fanbase by the way. Read below why you should try Steam Gin.

Steam Gin is the product of a unique cooperation between the Van Damme Distillery, Small Distillery Lede and VDS Distillery. And there is at least one reason why we got interested in this gin, namely, it’s distilled by Van Damme Distillery…

Van Damme is better known for its fantastic genever products, especially Balegemsche Graanjenever 54° – aka: Ol’ Blue One. Further more Van Damme distillery is the only farm distillery left in Belgium. We used to have hundreds, but one law and two world wars later, there’s only one left. What’s so special about a farm distillery you wonder? Well, a farm distillery produces its spirits entirely by itself. So everything, except for the bottle, is made on the farm, beginning with the grain. They have one expression which sounds great in Flemish and much less so in English nevertheless I will enrich you with it: “Van de grond tot in de mond!”, translated this becomes: “From the soil to the mouth!”

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Van Damme Distillery Column

So, apart from growing, malting and distilling their own grain they also have on or two other special features. They use open fermentation and next to this barrel stands a huge f***ing steam engine that heats their column! It dates from 1862 and was recently completely disassembled, cleaned, lubricated and put together again. It’s quite an impressive sight and it rolls like a dream! It’s also – like you might have guessed – the origin of the name for this gin.

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A 155 years old steam engine, looks like new to us!

We especially like the bottle design, which is custom created in Italy and took longer than Caesar to arrive in Belgium apparently. The scorched cork and pewter seal are nice details. We couldn’t fathom, though, the need, reason and meaning of the motto: “we saw taste”. It’s only later, when you turn the bottle around, and read the poem on the back of the label that you see the origin – yet still not the reason – for it. In light of good taste we suggest to dispose of the motto, as well as the poem.

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Steam Gin gift box, rather nice.

The taste is rather good and well balanced, a nice mixture between flower and spice with distinct juniper and cardamom notes. It works very well in G&T with a grapefruit twist, less suitable for Dry Martinis, but surprisingly superb in Negronis and very nice neat over ice. So get steaming!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bijou Bar (Antwerp), timeless perfection

Bijou, a diamond in the rough? No, it's definitely well cut and polished! A hidden jewel then? No, not really hidden, just rather modest. This bar created by cocktailian veteran, Ben Belmans and the bearded ginger sultan of drinks, Dieter Van Roy is a sparkling stone amongst pebbles! Even so that - not entirely unexpected - it won a Venuez Hospitality Award for Best Belgian Cocktailbar, within one year of its own existence.

As a young dad I can assure you that a babyless evening out feels like a million holidays. So after finishing off several bottles of milk we dropped our beloved baby daughter into the care of her grandmother, promising not to be late again to pick her up, etc, etc…

We set course for Antwerp and putting the pedal to the metal we arrived there without major traffic incidents (apparently that only happens when we have to take the baby to the doctor). Upon arrival in the big city, the adrenaline started to kick in, not a word was spoken, tension filled the cockpit, four eyes locked on both sides of the road, the 1000 yard stare, like a soldier in a trench. We were trying to find a parking spot and as we all know finding a parking spot in Antwerp is “damnation without relief”. It all comes down to luck, so we came prepared: I had put three horseshoes in the glove compartment, two rabbit’s feet on the rearview mirror, we were chewing four-leaf clover whilst throwing salt over our shoulder and before departure I had kicked a goblin in the nut sack, just to be sure.

And lo! A parking spot! After checking GPS, no more than 10 yards from the Bar itself, how lucky can you get (on a Saturday night in the City)? In gratitude I slaughtered a black hen, singing blessings to the entire Babylonian pantheon.

We were on a tight schedule: less than two hours for the bar and then off to the restaurant where we had booked a table (booking tables on a Saturday in Antwerp is “damnation without much hope for relief”). My wife inquired on the proximity and exact location of the bar, I decidedly pointed my finger at two lamps, a billboard and a glass door with a logo, “there it is”. As I said it’s not hidden, but very modest. You could just walk past it and never know you’ve passed the doorstep of Bijou.  It kind of fits the personality of the bar, I think. Bijou is like the mysterious femme fatale, seductive but taciturn or the tall, dark stranger burning a match to light your cigarette.

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Look at these beautiful titular fixings! Sheer libations bliss! And the crisps are quite nice too.

We entered and made our way to the bar through a corridor lined with seats and tables, empty now, all occupied within three hours from my visit. I always try to visit bars early in the evening, you know within one or two hours after opening. It’s a special atmosphere, like greeting somebody at the breakfast table or watching a person waking up. You can discover a lot of the bar’s personality at that moment and it’s much easier to have a chat with the bartender.

At the far end of the corridor was the bar. The rather dark room bathed in a golden light, as if a fireplace was burning. And with the cold outside that was a welcome sight. We were welcomed with smiles and polite gestures towards a table. Our coats were taken and we were offered a glass of water. Then there was the menu and with it came a large circular card.

The menu is filled with classics and a few personal inventions like the Lazy Red Cheeks – which actually has become a classic a long while ago – and the Geraldine amongst others. What struck me immediately is that there is a large list of bottle-aged cocktails. Now we all know the small hype a while ago to barrel age everything, which was nice for some cocktails, but in many cases unnecessary or even uncalled for. I remember some very nice barrel-aged Negronis. But bottle-aged is rather uncommon and in these quantities unseen before. One also wonders: how does it taste, what difference does it make?

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The bottle aged El Presidente and Geraldine.

We decided to ask the bearded drinks wizard who joined us at the table. He answered us that besides the taste, there were several other reasons to go for bottle ageing. Taste wise the cocktail becomes very smooth and has a rounder, more intense taste. Apart from that, it is bottled months ago so you can serve cocktails extremely quick. That’s why there’s two huge freezers besides the backbar. They’re filled with glasses that already have iceballs in them, so basically you just take out a glass, open a bottle of cocktail, pour in the requested quantity, give it a little stir, garnish on top et voila! And finally, in the not too distant future, they think of selling the bottled cocktails commercially.

Sounds like a plan to me. Now we were curious about the taste of course. There was Cuban music playing and since Castro had passed away recently my wife decided to go for the El Presidente. I chose the Geraldine, from the description this looked amazing: Pierre Ferrand Cognac, Sherry, Amaro Montenegro and other ingredients. Perfect for me. The drinks arrived in no time, really immediately. And frankly, they’re excellent! Super smooth, like silk almost. Great and enduring rich taste.

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Dieter Van Roy, conjuring a custom drink for your favourite author, based on Vida Mezcal.

I had to ask Dieter: ” don’t you really become quite bored when you pour everything from one bottle?”

“No, not really. We’re not limited to our menu and can make custom cocktails for our guests too, depending on their likes and taste. So in the quieter moments you can see me shaking and stirring quite often.”

“So, it’s actually the best of both worlds. When it’s busy you can serve extremely fast and when it’s quiet you can freewheel all that you want?”

“Basically, yes.”

“What’s with the circular menu card?”

“It’s actually our range of exclusive spirits and wines. As you can see they are sold by the centilitre. This way you can taste a very exclusive whisky, bourbon or rum for example, without burning a hole in your wallet.”

“Or instead of a regular sized one, you can go for several smaller samples.”

“Indeed.”

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See the colour of the light? Now imagine it’s freezing outside and this bearded spirits sorcerer is making you a hot buttered rum.

There’s also a separate  ‘fumoir’ where you can enjoy the finest cigars and they do serve a delicious platter of finger food!

As a final remark about Ben Belmans and Dieter Van Roy’s Bijou Bar – and it summarises everything actually: we didn’t want to leave! It’s cosy, comfortable and timeless, plus the drinks are near to perfection and so is the hospitality!

Four and a half skulls out of five, well done Bijou! Cheers!