All posts by rschollaert

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).

Diageo Worldclass Competiton Belgium Final - Brussels - 01/06/2015
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!

1600

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!

Jigger’s launches Belle Fleur Apple Eau De Vie!

And you know what they say, an apple a day... Olivier Jacobs from Jigger's (Ghent) wanted to make a spirit that is honest and responsibly made. A product which he followed from apple to bottle. Distilled by Biercée this results in an eau de vie that is an absolute jewel and there's only 2000 bottles...

Olivier really loves apples and right he is, I mean apples are a big deal. Catholics have built their entire faith around it, Newton discovered gravity, the Greeks went to war for more than ten years because of one apple, we have named cities after it and stuff that takes pictures of you! Apples are good!

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The beautiful bottle. Take a note of the label, designed and drawn by Olivier himself.

After all it is not so surprising that at one moment some people are going to stand up and say: “everybody’s making gin, well to hell with that, I’m going to make an apple eau de vie!”. So one year ago some 40 people started to pluck apples from an orchard in Namur and they did an incredible job, because after some calculation Olivier deduced that they must have used around 40.000 apples to make 1000 litres of apple eau de vie! When he said that, I tried to picture that mount of apples and 40 very tiered people.

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Bart Capoen from Jigger’s, working on one of the beauties.

The apples are from different varieties, but mostly Belle Fleurs, whence the name. They thought of calling it iApple or Eye Apple, but quickly abandoned the – rather cheesy – idea. So Belle Fleur it is and it’s lovely! We’ve always loved apple schnapps, it reminds of winter, snow and après ski get togethers. And God know’s I have left a rib on every piste in Austria that I visited. Speaking of ribs, Eve in the Garden Of Eden shouldn’t have bit the apple, she should have distilled it and probably ended up with Belle Fleur.

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Delicious Belle Fleur cocktails

It is neat as well as in cocktails and we tasted two examples of it: a wonderful sour with liquorice syrup and a brilliant thirst quenching long drink with ginger and cider.

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The crew from Jigger’s and Biercée. It’s a crazy, happy bunch and they certainly know how to make a good drink!

So, if you like apples – and who doesn’t- you should definitely try to lay your hands on one of those bottles. Cheers!

 

 

 

Black Smoke Rising!

Black smoke, pieces of trees and lots of dead animals smouldering! 
It sounds like the beginning of a war movie, but it's actually a brand new BBQ restaurant in Belgium. Situated in the old 'De Koninck' brewery, founders Kasper Stuart and Jord Althuizen couldn't have picked a better spot. 
Black Smoke is the name and it's all about beef, beer and brimstone! 
Read our review below.

Don’t call it a ‘family grill’ or they’ll smoke you! Hell, they smoke anything there! Whether it’s got hooves, wings or tentacles it ends up in the smoker, left there to smoulder for hours and hours until it melts on your tongue and whilst you are enjoying this most ultimate carnivorous ecstasy, they’ll put craft beer after craft beer under your nose. I’m in heaven, sheer beef bliss!

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The entrance. As you can see they left most of the old brewery intact.

The Pyromantic Duo

As we said, they didn’t want a family grill, they wanted the true American BBQ experience with a Belgian twist. So they grabbed the proverbial beef by the horns and embarked upon a road trip to the States of no less than 4500 miles, visiting more than 42 of America’s best BBQ joints. Who are ‘they’, you say? Kasper Stuart is a well known rock ‘n’ roll horeca  (short for hotel-restaurant and café) guru based in Antwerp who created an insane number of successful bars and restaurants in the city. Amongst them, The Dirty Rabbit, where Dries Botty is behind the stick. Next to Kasper stands the Sultan of Low and Slow, the Csar of Charcoal, the Emperor of Grill, the Grand Vizier of Smoke, the World Champion of BBQ’ing: Jord Althuizen. We thank this man’s pyromantic passion to his girlfriend, who happens to be American and took him to a small mountain village where he experienced his first American BBQ.

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The Pyromantic Duo: in the red shirt Jord Althuizen, next to him: Kasper Stuart.

A grill too far

After 42 BBQ joints, you’ve probably seen one grill too many, I asked Kasper.

’42? After 10 I was craving for a salad!’ ‘I don’t know where he puts it, but Jord can eat like ten times his own body weight or something while I was running marathons trying to burn some calories!’

What impressed you back there?

‘Lots of things. The food and everything, but maybe more the people there and how passionate they are about bbq’ing!’ ‘You know there are places where people stand cueing the line from 06:00 AM to make sure they have a seat at 11:00!’

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The different kinds of wood they use to smoke the meat.

‘It was an epic ride. People were very friendly and openhearted, everywhere we went we could take a look at the kitchen, the grills and the smokers. Never a problem. And they’re very enthusiastic, we literally got stuffed with smoked meat.’

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A view on the custom Parrilla Grill and a small smoker, one of the pit masters on the left just scuffled away to get more meat.

The Pitmasters

So after the trip Kasper and Jord took everything they learned back to Belgium and started to put together his dream team . The team is experienced and know one another very well. In the kitchen – aka the pit – stand the pitmasters: Vadim Vesters and Matthias Jacobs. They have two different styles of cooking: low & slow in the smokers and hot & fast on a custom Argentinian Parrilla grill. And the pit spews forth the loveliest dishes!

We started the day with grilled octopus served with fire roasted bell pepper hummus, Argentinian chimichurri en roasted quinoa. So you see it’s not always meat too and it tasted delicious.

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Grilled Pulpo galore!

Followed immediately by a bruschetta with Saint-Maurin goat cheese smoked on cherrywood with a micro salad and orange-apple-parsley dressing. A vegetarian dish and very tasty indeed. So it’s definitely not meat only, it’s meat focussed and even the vegetarian dishes are thought through. You know, it’s not just a portobello…

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Goat cheese smoke over cherry wood, amazing!

Next was the BBQ Bonanza. A large platter filled with, well…everything! Half a smoked chicken, full slab Memphis dry rub style ribs, a whole beer sausage, a royal serving of pulled pork and brisket. I had never heard of brisket before, in our language it’s called ‘puntborst’, and was very curious to taste it. Apparently it’s a kind of chest muscle of the cow and when standing almost the entire weight of the cow is weighing on this muscle. So it’s a very tough muscle, but with a particular taste. To dominate the brisket into tenderness the pit masters put in the smoker for no less than 18hrs! As I said before: sheer beef bliss!

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The BBQ Bonanza! Served with different homemade sauces as you can see below. (nice skulls)

The dessert was called The Heart Stopper. It’s an eclair filled with bourbon-creme suisse, glazed with dulce de leche and bacon-pecan nuts crumble.

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The Heart Stopper

We recommend Black Smoke as a must visit for anybody and rate it a whopping 4 skulls! Info on: www.blacksmoke.be

And with this final comment we leave you to your grill:

 

 

Maison Ferrand & The Launch Of The Belgian Cocktail Book

Every year Maison Ferrand launches a cocktail book in a different city, this book  represents the (cocktail) culture and bartender scene of the country the city is located in. It started 5 years ago in Paris, followed by Berlin, London, Singapore, NYC and now Antwerp, Belgium. The good people of Maison Ferrand immediately spotted how surreal our country is and decided without a single drop of hesitation to adopt the famous painter Rene Magritte as inspiration and leading theme. 
'Ceci est un cocktail book." was born. Location: Ben Belman's beautiful bar 'Bijou'.

After introductions Alexandre Gabriel, owner and master blender of Maison Ferrand took the stage. Well, stage is a big word, we cramped him in a corner where at least 75% of the attendees could see him. I mean this bar was filled to the brim with Belgian bartenders… and some press. A few exceptions give or take, I believe that everybody ever mentioned on this blog was there. The place was vibrant with enthusiasm. Just like Mr. Gabriel, this man was on fire. Not literally of course, but he was the proverbial waterfall of passionate fact- and storytelling, all of it interlaced with brilliant quotes. He started off immediately with: ” A good spirit is like a great book. Not a good book. ‘Good’ is not good enough, it has to be memorable!” Meaning that you need not necessary like the spirit, but it has to leave an impression on you. By that he wasn’t referring to splitting headaches, a hole in your tongue or diabetes, but more something like, you know, worth remembering.

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Mr. Alexandre Gabriel, Master Blender and Owner of Maison ferrand. This man is very high spirited!

When asked to describe Maison Ferrand, he replied: “We’re one of the oldest cognac houses in the world. The family goes as far back as 1610.” Quickly followed by “We’re also a bunch of misfits who like doing things differently!” How exactly? “By don’t sticking to the guns, as a Master Blender I always wanted to revisit the spirits, approach them from a different angle and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish with our little company.”

Don’t walk the beaten path is basically what they’re doing and I love that. Next there was a tasting of their spirit range and we started off with the 1840 cognac (not a bad start don’t you think?). “I love young cognacs… that are made more than a hundred years ago!” said Mr. Gabriel and we couldn’t agree more. If your spirit needs to retire for several generations in a barrel before it starts to resemble something palatable then there must be something wrong with your distillation method. There’s a lot of spirits these days that taste like a wooden plank dipped into some sort of marmalade or fudge, soulless junk in my opinion. Not so with the 1840 cognac, I loved it, it’s all grapes and standing on rolling green hills with the occasional wild flower under a summer sun, finishing with the distant humming of a single bumblebee. For the record, it is not made in 1840, but it is made in the fashion and style of an 1840 cognac (in this case a Pinet Castillon).

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Tasting in progres

Next up was the Cognac Pierre Ferrand with Banyuls finish. Although not our favourite, again a good example of Maison Ferrand ‘doing things differently’ and you gotta love them for it. For ages people thought it was illegal to store cognac in wine barrels, but Alexandre and some other people started to dig in the past and question this. After extensive research they concluded that: “it is legal, but you better not tell anybody.” That’s exactly why they put “Banyuls Finish” on the label… are you beginning to see why I love these people?

The following bottle was a familiar friend: Dry Orange Curaçao. This is amazing, you have to try this, it’s an absolute wonder potion in cocktails, but also nice to taste neat. Somebody once said when asked to describe it that it tastes like Cointreau only less sweet. That does not nearly begin to describe it! Less sweet, sure, but also the cane sugar is toasted and barrel aged and the liqueur is distilled in the same pot still as the cognacs. Taste and try!

Next up Citadelle Reserve Gin. I always liked the Citadel range, it’s straightforward and delivers the goods as a good gin should. Very unlike some of the neo-gins which are described a lot like shampoos containing strawberries and lychee or lapsang and yuzu. That’s not approaching a spirit from a different angle, that’s running away from it. Actually yuzu is in the recipe of Citadelle Reserve, but you know, it’s done differently! Alexandre said: ” a great gin is not a Caesar’s salad!” And right he is. The Reserve is a ‘yellow gin’ , meaning that it’s aged for a while. In this case exactly the amount of time it would take you to smuggle a barrel out of the port of Dunkirk ( in what we now call France, but used to be Flemish and a real pirate hole too) and bring it to London. Why? Because it happened on a regular basis after 1775.

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After the tasting all the bartenders jumped behind the bar and made their cocktail from the book. Here from left to right: Ben Belmans (Bijou), Olivier Jacobs (Jigger’s), Vitas Van de Cauter (Uncle Babe’s)

After that it was the Plantation Jamaica 2002, which is a fine rum, very intense. A real slice of Jamaica. And last, but not least, we tasted the famous Plantation Pineapple Rum: Stiggins’ Fancy. It is a rum created by Alexandre Gabriel and none other than David Wondrich. Pineapple rum was already a thing in the 19th century to such extent even that was mentioned in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers where a reverend named Stiggins enjoyed a sip of pineapple rum before and after every sermon so to speak. This spirit is an absolute delight, it’s good in cocktails but we equally enjoy it neat. It is made by infusing the skin of Victoria pineapples for one week in Three Star Plantation Rum and afterwards distill it in the pot still. In the meanwhile they have infused the fruit of the pineapple for three months in the Plantation Original Dark, then they marry the two spirits together into Stiggins’ Fancy. Sheer bliss!

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Bruno Simons (Mixing Tales) and Ran Van Ongevalle (The Pharmacy).

The cocktail book, you ask? Well it’s a booklet of a hundred pages long, filled with beautiful pictures by Evy Ottermans and recipes from about every self respecting cocktail bar and their best bartenders in Belgium. A must have, we believe.

As a conclusion I must say that Maison Ferrand is a house that I could call home. It’s small, cozy, visionary and passionate. It rebels, does things differently, producing a unique vision on spirits and a range with character and history. A toast to you, with this fine Plantation Angels Share. Cheers!