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:
“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.”
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.
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…
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!
“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!
You know, just warming up for the rest of the week.
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!
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.
This needs no explanation. A bartenders job is hard work and a large part of it is tasting of course! 😉
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.
Also pretty straightforward. Augusta, by the way is European Restaurant in Brussels.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?”
“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.”
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!
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.
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).
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.
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!
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!
Ever dined in a 25 star restaurant? No? Well, neither have I, but if you're free on the 5th of July 2015, you can! A grand total of 40 chefs, together good for 25 Michelin stars and no less then 20 bartenders from the top 50 best bars in the world will gather at Oostduinkerke Beach in Belgium and seduce you with what is probably the most sensual food & booze orgy on the globe.
It says Flemish Food Bash, but it’s not only Flander’s finest you will meet. Actually it’s quite the international crowd. An impressive global line up which turns this event in a must visit for anybody who can chew. Apart from star chefs and top bartenders, there’s also baristas, butchers, bakers and beers galore to fulfil every “burgundian” fantasy you’ve ever had.
Let’s have a look at the bartenders:
The Pharmacy, Belgium
Marian Beke from The Nightjar, UK
Erik Lorincz from The Savoy, UK
Steve Okhuysen, Old Fashioned, Belgium
Sofie Ketels, Belgium
Didier Van den Broeck, Dogma, Belgium
Maxim Kilian, The Parlour, Germany
Roman Milostivy, Chainaya, Russia
Paul Morel, Belgium
Rémy Savage, Little Red Door, France
Gegam Kazarian, Kazaris Project, Spain
Steve Schneider, Employees Only, USA
Jurgen Nobels, Belgium (winner of Diageo World Class Belgium 2015)
Laura Schacht, Hiding In Plain Sight, Netherlands
Zoltan Nagy, Boutiq’Bar, Hungary
Gobo Hansen, Ruby, Denmark
Julia Momose, Green River, USA
Massimo Stronati, The Doping Club, Italy
Matthew Bax, Trink Tank, Austria
Check out that list, quite impressive isn’t it! And if you don’t know them then come down and meet them, because you should (especially if you’re into cocktails).
Prices for the food or a cocktail are ridiculously low, because the whole thing is a not for profit event. The value for them is to watch and learn from each other…and a killer party of course.
Well, you know where I will be on the 5th 😉
P.S. There’s also barbers, hairstylists, tattoo artists, cheese aficionados, patissiers and street artists, … Chances are very high people won’t recognise you anymore after ‘the bash’.
Belgium's best cocktailbar Jigger's has invited 4 worldstar bartenders - each belonging to a bar from amongst the top 50 best bars in the world - for a two day guestbartending. This is your chance to meet the best of the best in the world and compare cocktail culture from Italy, Moscow, Chicago and Amsterdam with Ghent, Belgium.
Jigger’s (in The Cocktail Nation currently known as: “The Black Panther Club” and their bartenders as “The Bagheera Boyz” 😉 ) has a special program for you on Wednesday the 1st and Thursday the 2nd of July 2015. And if you like cocktails (even modestly) you should grab this chance to meet the best of Milan, Amsterdam, Chicago and Moscow’s bartenders.
Wednesday 1st of July
Massimo Stronati, The Doping Club, Milano
This fine gentleman will do the “Italian Job” at Jigger’s and that doesn’t mean running away with your paintings in a Mini Cooper… it will be a Ferrari at least. Massimo will show you how Milan, a city with hundreds of years of fine drinking experience, stands tall amongst the greatest in the world.
Danil Nevsky, Tales & Spirits, Amsterdam
Daddies don’t bring your daughter to the slaughter! This Scottish raised Russian gentleman has a reputation to be the honey to your bumblebees. This man tickles all your senses with the fantastic drinks he makes at Tales & Spirits in Amsterdam, voted one of the best 50 bars in the world. Don’t miss him at jigger’s.
Thursday 2nd of July
Julia Momose, The Office, Chicago
This passionate lady can make hurricanes disappear by just smiling at them. She recently worked in The office, a speakeasy hidden inside of the famous Aviary in Chicago. I don’t know about you, but I am very excited to meet her and taste one of her drinks.
Roman Milostivy, Chainaya, Moscow
Moscow’s China Town is a very special place and this wizard of tea and cocktails know why. This charming bartender like no other knows how to mix two worlds in a glass.
Wow! Ladies and gentlemen, what a match! If you think bartending is easy feel free to enlist next year in what is commonly known as 'the Olympics of Bartending' - Diageo World Class! After more than 10 hours of competing, Belgium finally has a candidate to send to the Global Finals in South Africa: Mr. Jurgen Nobels!!!
Photography by Johan Van Droogenbroeck
Monday 1st of June 2015 was D-Day. All Ten Finalists gathered at the amazingly charming Vaudeville Theatre in Brussels to show their passion and skill set by conjuring the best drink they can under tremendous amounts of stress and a hawk-eyed jury. Mind you, making drinks is not the only thing a bartender must excel at. Besides cocktails, also drinks knowledge, tasting skills, presentation, creativity, technique, complexity and expression of spirit are put to the test.
At 10:30 the candidates started a written examination on common knowledge about cocktails and spirits of the Diageo brand. 40 yes or no questions to answer, 40 points to earn. And not only your knowledge is challenged, but also your attention – we all know that attention and observation are prime skills for a bartender – for example: “Mr. Vasquez, master distiller of Zacapa, has constructed one of the most complicated solar systems world wide“. True or false? Well, everything seems all right with this one, except for one small detail… it’s Mrs. Vasquez not Mr. And if you ever met her, you would have remembered. A most charming lady, with a profound knowledge on distilling.
Next up was the blind tasting test. Three drinks of each base spirit – gin, whiskey, rum, tequila – and you had to be able to pick out the Diageo Reserve Brand. Extremely difficult. Only 4 bartenders out of 10 managed to score a 4 out of 4 on this one, which is amazing!
Then at 12:30h the first public round was about to start: the speed challenge: create 4 different drinks under 6 minutes, while scoring not only for speed, but also for taste, balance, presentation, creativity, complexity, etc… It’s a challenge that separates the boys from the men so to speak and only 5 candidates would go through. This is a very difficult challenge, I mean try this at home and see how difficult it is and then try it in a theatre with 200 people watching you, amongst them 4 judges busy breathing over your fingers, a daunting task. It is very important to keep talking while you’re at it, which isn’t easy. If you stop talking, you lose out against anyone who doesn’t in presentation (most of the time, unless the speaker was blurting out gibberish or just plain bullshit) and maybe more important, because you stop talking all the judges’ attention goes to your technique and you don’t want that in a speed round I think. Also, mind you from speed pouring, it might help you making your drinks faster, but it’s even more difficult to get your drinks right and balanced out.
And there it was, the first elimination. These 5 remained: Hannes Desmedt from Hertog Jan ***, Didier Van den Broeck from Dogma, Ran Van Ongevalle from Pharmacy, Dries Botty from Josephine’s and Jurgen Nobels formerly from Old Fashioned. Next up is one of my favourite challenges: the mystery box.
All candidates are put in front of a mystery box filled with ingredients and they have to make 2 contrasting cocktails with it. They have 30 minutes to come up with 2 good recipes, stories, names and presentations. This tests the bartender’s creativity and skill to improvise. Like Didier for instance, who made a Dolphin garnish out of a banana for his Tiki drink. It was Jurgen however who made the perfect contrast between his two drinks.
There was only place for three candidates in the final round so two had to go. At this point as a jury, you become very nervous, because if there’s any discrepancies between scores you’ll end up discussing for hours.
So there’s a little bit of nail biting involved when the scores were added up (without pre discussion). The jury consisted of the amazing Spike Marchant (Global World Class Ambassador), Carl Van Droogenbroeck (Reserve Brand Ambassador & Belgium World Class winner of 2013), Geert Van Der Bruggen (Michelin star Chef) and yours truly from The Cocktail Nation.
Spike really is amazing, the man has been in the business for so long and has judged every Global Final there is, I think. Also, I’m sure that he must have swallowed an amplifier at one point in his career, because his voice booms so loudly that microphones cringe in fear when his head comes near.
Carl also deserves a lot of respect, not the least for enduring my company for more than 5 weeks and crossing the country several times in order to finish 2 bursts of in-bar judging to be able to select the 10 finalists. This guy’s thorough and dedicated insight in the profession of a barmanager is truly impressive. Also his unshakable calmness (at least in perception ;)) is so characterising that it should get a Facebook page in itself.
Geert is a very charismatic person and an excellent star chef. Although not very experienced in cocktails, he has an uncanny experience in flavours, aromas and textures. I truly believe it’s always a plus to have a non-cocktailian in a jury and score everything from a specific point of view. And he did perfectly. Also, I don’t think he will ever drink a Moscow Mule again 😉
And I was there too… Now, amazingly there were no discrepancies and we ended up with the same top 3, unanimously. Much to our own relief and after a lot of eyebrow sweat wiping, Spike announced the 3 finalists: Ran Van Ongevalle, Dries Botty en Jurgen Nobels.
These 3 were faced with the final challenge: create the ultimate World Class drink while trying to engage as much senses as you can.
Dries made a remarkable vodka drink. We take our hats off and bow to you sir! It takes balls to pick vodka for a sensory challenge and you pulled it off. What’s more, you probably created the best vodka drink I ever had.
Ran had spent 4 weeks on a safari in the amazonian Dune forest at the coast and he plundered it to make us a self foraged drink (he said he forgot to bring his ants and I am very glad for that 😉 ). Your presentation was spectacular! While the man was preparing his drink, next to him a sous chef was making no less than 4 different side dishes, which were as great as the drink itself.
Jurgen‘s presentation was a bit of a surprise to me. I’ve always known Jurgen as a very calm and sympathetic gentleman, maybe even a little bit shy I dare say. What happened there? This man turned into cocktail creating whirlwind, a mixonado as it were (should that become a word…probably not). I almost didn’t had a chance to write down notes or even scores. We were tasting 5 different things while having to solve a quiz! Yes, a quiz! In the meantime he had deconstructed his own home brewed beer and turned it into a tequila and genever based beer cocktail which totally blew my mind. Get that beer out on the market, it’s sheer bliss!
And now, to put it in the words of our wonderful presenter Hannah Van Ongevalle (who also did a wonderful job), “without further ado”, we went upstairs to calculate who had won the finals. I don’t think it took us longer than 20 minutes and everybody agreed on the result.
Mr. Jurgen Nobels wins the Belgian World Class finals of 2015 and will represent us at the Global Finals in South Africa! ‘Baie lekker, Bro!’
8 things we remember from the finals:
- Shrub is surprisingly popular lately!
- The contrast of an ice cold drink poured in a room temperature glass brings out more flavour.
- You can make a dolphin out of a banana!
- I forgot my Nobel's Beer at the Theatre.
- "You don't have to shake it, you have to wake it!"
- Taste by the spoon, the straw or the hand... the discussion continuous.
- Never stop talking, unless it's for breathing!
- Presentation is important, but the drink is king!
After an intense two round preselection we finally selected 10 contestants who will compete against each other for the title of Best Belgian Bartender and only one of them will win a ticket to the World Finals of the most prestigious cocktail competition in the world which will take place in South Africa. Your's truly was elected judge and here's a short introduction to the Belgian candidates. Photographs by The Cocktail Nation.
Judging is not easy. It’s not all fun and games. After about 5 weeks of in bar judging, we finally were able to make a selection of 10 bartenders who will compete in the Belgian Final of Diageo World Class 2015. The prize is a chance to compete against some 50 other countries and become one of World’s best bartenders. Last year this honour was bestowed upon Charles Joly from Chicago. Maybe this year it will be a Belgian bartender, who knows?
First, however, we have to find out whom we’re going to send to the Global Finals. And this will be decided on the 1st of June 2015 at the Belgian Finals. Venue for this incredible event is the impressive Vaudeville Theatre in Brussels. If you would love to be there and see the whole thing live, please register your attendance at the following website: www.worldclasscompetition.be
And now, without further ado, our beloved candidates…
10. Alexis Mosselman – Odette En Ville, Brussels
A relative newbie to the competition who positively surprised us with lots of creative energy and enthusiasm. He created his own vermouth for this cocktail and threw in an entire bbq, some boomerangs and the unavoidable straw hats…some swear to have seen a kangaroo hopping past the window during his presentation. Honestly, I can not wait to see his presentation on the finals.
9. Maurice Vroonen – Casbar, Sint Truiden
Upcoming cocktail talent Maurice Vroonen decided to ‘Tikify’ Napoleon. Once we got our head wrapped around that concept we feared a second Waterloo, but that just didn’t happen and somehow he pulled it off. A surprisingly balanced and tasteful creation: “Vive l’empereur!”
8. Didier Van den Broeck – Dogma, Antwerp
This man is a drinks wizard and Dogma is a Cocktail Nation’s favourite. He turned a crappy vacation drink into something that should be guarded by beautiful mermaids or the Kraken himself, using vodka infused with a fat-wash of peanuts and his own memoires as an inspiration. This man is the alchemical jedi of mixing drinks.
7. Jim Geurts – Triple J, Bilzen
Everybody loves Jim, it’s a huge teddybear with a ‘huggability‘ factor of 11 out of 10. He mixed Michelangelo and Gaz Regan into a jaw dropping array of Negronis. Absolutely stunning, Triple J really can make your day! By the way, one of Jim’s Negroni recipes was just published in Gary Regan’s book: “Negroni”.
6. Bassche Didden – Dogma, Antwerp
Bassche made a drink inspired by “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, so he created a handcuffed pineapple grenade that delivered a flavour explosion. This is the second Dogma bartender in the Belgian finals, do you realise now why you should visit that bar when you’re in Antwerp? Please do and be mesmerised !
5. Naushad Rahamat – Cocktails@NINE, Antwerp
Naushad created a literal treasure of a drink with Zacapa rum and chocolate cigars. The gentleman’s experience in a drink! This bartender has ‘world class’ written all over him.
4. Dries Botty – Josephines, Antwerp
This man is a World Class veteran and knows what a jury wants, so Dries opened up a rabbit hole and propelled us into Alice’s well known Wonderland with a Tanqueray 10, syrup made from carrots and grapefruit soda drink.
3. Hannes Desmedt – Hertog Jan ***, Bruges
Hannes, best sherry sommelier in the world, decided that cocktails are the next challenge and delivers brilliantly. This man blew us away with a tequila sour inspired by The Perfume and made with ice cubes created with Spa Reine water. An extraordinary experience of flavour and aroma. Remember this man’s name!
2. Jurgen Nobels – Old Fashioned, Ghent
This man is passionate, humble and f***ing awesome at what he does! He mixes a wicked drink wherever he is, no matter the circumstances. A true disciple of the art. Hospitality, creativity, passion and skillset define him. We’re a fan, did you notice?
1. Ran Van Ongevalle – The Pharmacy, Knokke
Ran is the brother of last year’s famous finalist Hannah Van Ongevalle and he surely keeps the family’s reputation on par! This guy is miracle wonder kid in Belgium’s cocktail world and keeps on delivering wonderful drinks. We expect an amazing presentation by him on the finals and you should rank him amongst your favourites. Foraging the dunes on the Belgian coast side he created an unreal drink and earned his place among the top finalists for the Belgian finals.
That’s it and if you are as curious as I am, I’ll be seeing you at the Belgian finals on the 1st of June in the Brussel’s Vaudeville Theatre!
Last year The Old Fashioned moved its location to the basement of an old hats shop in the city centre of Ghent and we dropped down the stairs to make a review. A great bar with some great concepts and a magnificent team.
The address is not a secret, it brings you to one of Ghent’s oldest hats shops. An open door next to it with a lit hallway and a staircase leading down is what you’re looking for. So, except for the wooden sign outside, you wouldn’t know there was a cocktail bar lurking underneath. A certain speakeasy aspect we obviously like, because you never know what to expect. It has that certain touch of inviting mystery, that “let’s have a look” urge.
We went down the stairs and heard a familiar noise… the fabulous Mr. Marco Mathieux – a fantastic Belgian bartender and now Hendrick’s Gin Brand Ambassador – this man is 4 parts creativity mixed with 2 parts insanity and 3 parts charm, topped up with a gallon of passion and skill set. We talked about everything from Hendrick’s Gin to leprechauns armed with cucumbers hiding in car trunks. When you meet him, ask him about it and be mesmerised.
Behind the bar, the most charming moustache of the Belgian cocktail scene, Mr. Steve Okhuysen, bar owner and manager of The Old Fashioned. A great guy, famous for his “Blood & Sand” variations and of course “The Smokey Halibut”. The latter is a drink that smells and tastes like fish, yet there’s nothing fishy about it and surprisingly it doesn’t contain anything belonging to the scaly citizen’s of Neptune’s realm. A must try, unless you don’t like fish of course.
Next to the sympathetic ‘stache stands Mr. Jurgen Nobels. Now, you better remember this name, because you will be hearing more of it over the next couple of years. While we were judging the preselections of Diageo World Class Belgium 2015, Jurgen blew us away with a fantastic recipe and presentation, earning him a first place in Burst 1. This guy is a rising star in the Belgian cocktail scene. Together with Ran Van Ongevalle – Hannah’s brother – another big gun in the Belgian cocktail scene, they will make the Finals very interesting.
The menu in Old Fashioned has a very refreshing concept and we thought it was quite clever. It exists of a couple of cards held together by a paperclip. The cards contain the recipes with some doubtfully useful – yet funny – faits divers on the back of the card. Creating a new menu? Just pick 6 or so, cards from the file cabinet and boom, there you have it. One of them not popular? Flick out the card and replace by a new one. How amazing is that! If somebody really can’t decide what to drink, you can do the “pick a card trick”. This concept has a lot of possibilities. For instance, when the customer has a special request which leads to a whole new cocktail, a file is opened under his name and the cocktail in question gets its own card. So whenever the customer enters the bar and asks for his cocktail, the recipe is easily retrieved. It also has that certain something more on the hospitality scale, I think. We were dying to try that out and it lead to a delicious Mescal Hanky Panky made by Mr. Nobels. Exquisite!
The bar itself is that wonderful luring centre piece of furniture where all the magic happens and you’re easily invited to join social talk with the other guests, which is great. On the other hand, if you want things to be more private, no problem. Just walk past the bar into the other room and drop yourself in one of the vintage seats. Scared to be forgotten? No need to. Every table has its own old fashioned switch that turns on an old lightbulb at the bar, indicating which table asks for service. All the tables are also provided with an antique radio that functions as a speaker connected to a central audio system. So everybody gets his music without everything becoming too loud. The tables are spaced out quite well, so nobody will disturb anybody.
This bar is great. You can join the happy social gathering at the bar or retreat to enjoy your company by choice. It has a nice soothing atmosphere of happy smiles and hospitality, great drinks and a fantastic team. We especially enjoyed the “Bloed en Zand” – a genever variation of the Blood & Sand and the Reconquista – just ask about it.
Bloed & Zand:
50ml De Moor Single Malt genever
20ml Cherry Heering
20ml Carpano Antica Formula vermouth
20ml Freshly pressed orange juice
30 ml mezcal
15 ml tequila reposado
30 ml Punt E Mes
15 ml Dolin Dry
3 dashes Fernet Branca
1 dash orange bitters
Everybody has heard of The Jane, a fantastic restaurant located in an old church, run by famous chefs Sergio Herman and Nick Bril. Spectacular food in spectacular surroundings. But have you also heard of the bar on the first floor called, the ‘Upper Room Bar’, managed by a spectacular bartender called Paul Morel? Well, you definitely should have!
It’s the first thing you see when you walk into the restaurant room and it’s beautiful. (Did I say, we really like skulls at The Cocktail Nation?) Sitting there, staring at you, in it’s radiant blue light. Where once a Jesus hang, not staring at you, but staring slant at his right foot as usual. Right underneath it, the altar, in this case: the kitchen, visible for everybody, the place where Sergio wields his scepter. So, when you’re there, turn on your heels 180° and look up. That’s the Upper Room Bar. Now hurry up that stairs, before every seat is taken.
Paul Morel and tattooed mini kitchens
So, have a seat, enjoy the view. It’s good, isn’t it? Now prepare for very extraordinary cocktails spawned from the mastermind Paul Morel. Mr. Morel started his career at Sergio Herman’s other star restaurant, “Pure C”. It was there that Paul learned everything concerning tastes, textures and techniques. His teacher was none other than chef Syrco Bakker. When Sergio and Nick created The Jane, Paul was asked to be head bartender.
This man really loves Michelin Star kitchens. And it shows in his cocktail making philosophy. The bar itself is built around a tattooed mini kitchen. You take a seat and place your hands on a beautiful brown marble bar. For some reason it reminded me of those Japanese restaurants where they chop the fish into confetti right in front of your eyes.
Beer and wine cocktails
Paul’s cocktails are conceptualised as dishes, not only mixing drinks, but also almost always mixing textures, adding fresh herbs and edible flowers. Eye pleasing and palate challenging. We had a beer cocktail with ‘Duvel Triple Hop‘, passionfruit and Arabian herbs. A surprising and fascinating combination, although we wouldn’t refuse a little bit more Duvel in it.
Moments before that we were given the chance to taste the wonderful ‘Goudenband 2004‘ beer by the Liefmans brewery. Brewed by our first female brewmaster, who recently turned 90. A very nice ‘old brown’ beer, fruity, woody and a little sour.
Our next cocktail was very interesting: rosé wine infused with spices and herbs poured over a ‘pastille’ of bergamot. Simple, elegant, eye pleasing and yet very challenging in flavours. Very nice.
Stars vs Skulls
Well we don’t give Michelin stars. I wouldn’t know if there was an equivalent for bartenders, but if the Nation could choose it would hand out Skulls!