Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews van cocktailbars, hun drankjes, service en algemene indruk.

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!

Hammering a good drink to life requires a Sip-smith

No doubt Sipsmith, as a relatively new gin, has earned its place among the classics and will keep it for a long while. Fairfax, Sam and the well known Jared Brown took their first steps into sip smithing with prudence, which also happens to be the name of their first small copper still. A few steps later, due to high demand "Constance" and "Patience" were installed. Make no mistake "the one with the swan" will survive many other 'new' gins.

 

Smithing a sip, that’s actually where the name comes from, a distiller that creates a drink like a blacksmith would create a fine blade. I had no idea. I, until recently, believed it honestly was somebody’s surname, you know, a Mister Sipsmith… probably connected to the usual story: being somebody from the 19th Century who made a gin everybody forgot about until some seven years ago, when suddenly somebody – with thunder and lightning – discovered the ancient recipe and considered it his sacred duty to reproduce it even though he himself was an IT consultant from Fordwich and could spell distillate as well as Tatcher could spell empathy.

The Sipsmiths
The three Spirit Blacksmiths: Jared, Sam & Fairfax, actually smithing a sip right there!

That’s not what happened here! This about three men who want to prudently, constantly and patiently hammer good drinks into life. And they do know a lot, if not everything, about distilling the finest of spirits. And Sipsmith is a fine spirit indeed.

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The Queen’s Martini (in obscure circles also known as a Dry Lizzy)

Sipsmith is a London dry in the truest sense of the word. It’s a very traditional and classic London dry, tasting quite dry with hints of citrus and being distilled in London itself. It’s a well balanced gin with a capital G. You know that lovely dry, herbal tartness with juniper and citrus flavours. This gin is like born to make Dry Martinis with, they’re fabulous! And we happily approve of this, for many of these new “gins” are made solely for the purpose of producing a (dreadful) Gin Tonic. We hardly can call those “gins”. Not Sipsmith, Sipsmith is Gin!

Queen's Birthday Launch-Alt-Copy

If you ever wondered why there’s a swan’s head in the logo, it’s a reference to the ‘swan neck’ copper still they use. Speaking of old swans, the Queen turned 90 recently and everybody knows Lizzy enjoys a good drink, therefor the three at Sipsmith released a limited edition bottle to honour her, draped in imperial purple and with a little Union Jack upon it. The Queen especially loves the following sensation before lunch:

  • 3cl Sipsmith London Dry
  • 7cl Dubonnet
  • stirred over ice
  • garnish with lemon wheel

The protocol demands to sip it with a majestical gesture!

Sipsmiths Prudence

And please, remember, be prudent and drink responsibly, because if there’s one thing you’d want to avoid it’s being hammered by a sip-smith!

Cheers!

Tanqueray Bloomsbury -Pity the Gods it’s limited, for this is as gin should be

Tanqueray’s Master Distiller Tom Nichol has created his final Tanqueray gin: the Bloomsbury. We love its masterfully balanced modesty. The gin possesses a quintessential purity in itself without losing character or the Tanqueray personality,  so much that it almost becomes an archetype of gin itself.

Let me explain the above. For starters it’s not boring, that’s not what I meant. It’s a beautiful balance between juniper berries, coriander, angelica and crushed cassia, just like the bottle says. And frankly, we were almost moved by this honesty. Many contemporary gins try to combine so many flavours and aromas resulting in the loss of their own identity of gin and consequently more resembling a startled skunk in a fireworks factory. But no worries, if you put an entire bottle of tonic over it, something eventually will shine through.

Not this gin. This one can stand on its own or take tonic without losing character and more importantly it can take other things besides tonic and works beautifully in cocktails. It makes one hell of a Dry Martini for instance. Actually when you taste it, it feels like the grandfather of Tanqueray Ten. You know, without the grapefruit or citrus notes and much more rounded, smooth with that little hint of cassia and all the blessings of juniper berries.

Master Tom Nichol having another brilliant gin idea
Master Tom Nichol having another brilliant gin idea

Grandfather may be an apt title for it, because Tom Nichol based it on an old recipe from Charles Waugh Tanqueray ( the son of Charles Tanqueray who took over the company after his father’s death in 1868) himself. ‘Waugh‘ was actually the first thing I said when I tasted it. Well, Mr Nichol, if this was the last gin you made for Tanqueray I would say it is a daring masterpiece and a fitting farewell. Because somehow, this day and age, it seems easier to continually diversify than to make the actual real thing. Which you did!

Cheers!

Chambers of The Curious – a hot new Hendrick’s bar in the heart of Brussels

Located in the beautiful ‘La Pharmacie Anglaise’ and decorated by Max Colombie of ‘Oscar And The Wolf’ Hendrick’s ‘Chambers of The Curious’ really aced its Pythonesque revelry of ‘The Weird’. Also seeing that team behind the bar gives us clear evidence that the big train of Brussels Mixology is slowly starting to roll.

The place is absolutely beautiful, inside and outside. The building is actually a 19th century neo-gothique pharmacy designed by famous architect Paul Saintenoy for a famous Belgian pharmacist who sold chocolate as a medecine (he is now better known for his cooky factory that still bears his name: Delacre). If Mr Delacre would be able to see what has become of his fabulous pharmacy, he wouldn’t mind at all! The outside of the building looks like it was ripped out of a Disney movie, complete with a woman living on the upper floor who likes to chat with mirrors. The inside is warm, cosy and f***ing crowded if you arrive on a Friday night at 21hrs.

There's stairs an' rooms everywhere
There’s stairs an’ rooms everywhere

There’s an unusual labyrinthine feeling about the place, there’s always another door leading to another stairs leading to another room. An unusual experience especially since every room seems to be filled with a mixture of objects which obviously must have belonged to Mary Shelly, Terry Gilliam or an extraordinary successful cucumber producer. Some of the rooms had weird experiments going on… “Should I like to be tested?” “No, sir, thank you! I’ll try my luck at the bar!”

You set off looking for the lavatory and they send you to this...sorry mate, thought you said the laboratory
You set off looking for the lavatory and they send you to this…sorry mate, thought you said the laboratory

The bar is obviously located in the former pharmacy’s shop, complete with wooden cabinets and balcony. Behind the stick were two familiar faces, good bartenders, who both competed in the Belgian World Class Competition: Alexis Mosselmans and Ennio Campanaro. Energy, enthusiasm and 100% passion for the Craft. They form such a dynamic duo that I hereby baptise them “The Sultans of Sling” (sling is not a typo, but a type of cocktail if you were wondering). It is good to see the Brussels Cocktailbar Scene flowering and producing specimens like Alexis and Ennio. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more and more cocktailbars very soon in Brussels.

Alexis Mosselmans, original photo by Laetitia Bica.
Alexis Mosselmans, original photo by Laetitia Bica.
Ennio Campanaro, together they're the "Sultans of Sling"
Ennio Campanaro, together they’re the “Sultans of Sling”

Do go and visit, you have the chance until the end of October. It is located at Coudenberg 66, Brussels, a stone’s throw away from the Central Station. If you want to have yourself tested make an appointment.

Hendrick's -Chambers Of The Curious - La Pharmacie Anglaise, Brussels, Belgium
Hendrick’s -Chambers Of The Curious – La Pharmacie Anglaise, Brussels, Belgium
Hendrick's -Chambers Of The Curious - La Pharmacie Anglaise, Brussels, Belgium
Hendrick’s -Chambers Of The Curious – La Pharmacie Anglaise, Brussels, Belgium

Hendricks-COTC-BXL0577_Marc Mathieux Hendrick's_0825

Cheers!

Hortense, Cocktails & Spirits – Brussels, Belgium – a review

It is not easy to find a good cocktailbar in Brussels and frankly, I have never been able to put the finger on the reason why. We have several hotel bars, some of which you should certainly check out and some of them you should never "check in", but a real craft cocktailbar in Brussels, we thought, didn't exist. Until I stumbled into Hortense's cavernous delights.

So we were happily strolling around on the Zavel Square in Brussels when we saw this small grey sign on the wall of a big old white mansion. It read: “H Hortense Spirits & Cocktails”. The name did ring a bell – but a far too distant one and only once – and I was very much intrigued. It said “Spirits & Cocktails” and not, like you would expect in Brussels, “lounge”. There’s something decisive and direct about it, “look pal, it’s spirits & cocktails, that’s it!”

candles everywhere
candles everywhere

 

Speakeasy and candlelights

Something told me that I shouldn’t be afraid seeing parrots puzzled together from pineapple pieces dying a diabetic death in a sugar laced, eye-frying, fluorescently coloured drink. Having finished my Gauloise, I stepped through the huge gate – actually, the old coach entrance of the mansion – half expecting to see more signs and arrows. Nope. Yet a single small candlelight crooked it’s flame to beckon me towards an opened door a few yards past the closed main entrance of the mansion. The little door was painted black and had a meaningless decoration on it. I put my head into the dark and followed a cute trail of candlelights descending into the cellars, where we would meet “H”.

Passionately prepping the drinks
Passionately prepping the drinks

Hortense’s cavernous delights

Hortense is a very cosy arched cellar lit solely by the light of several dozens of candles. The familiar sound of ice cubes hitting the tin, warm smiles and a beckoning backbar makes you feel welcome immediately. The quaint aroma that might hit you comes from an old popcorn machine producing your barfood for tonight.

happy fingerfood!
happy finger food! Barrel aged Mezcal Negroni in the background (sheer bliss).

We sat down and immediately received a glass of water and the menu. Which was a bit wrinkled, but I didn’t mind that. Choosing between the 6 or 7 cocktails offered, wasn’t difficult for me. I went for the “Pink Skull”, consisting of homemade pink peppercorn syrup, Mezcal de la Vida and grapefruit. It’s delicious, savoury and fresh. The kind of cocktail you will order again and in my own opinion “instant classic” material.

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Pink Skull - Mezcal de la Vida, pink peppercorn syrup and grapefruit, salt & peppercorn rim on the glas.
Pink Skull – Mezcal de la Vida, pink peppercorn syrup and grapefruit, salt & peppercorn rim on the glas.

“H” as in hip, happy and hospitality

Hortense exists almost 2 years now and luckily hasn’t seen too many tourists. Apparently the bar is frequented by lots of expats who enjoy the atmosphere. I fully agree with them, I enjoyed it a lot: the drinks, the hospitality, the music and the pop corn of course.  Every time I’ll be in Brussels, you know where to find me, because it’s Spirits & Cocktails, pal!

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P.S. I said the name rang a bell, when you’re there, check the back of the menu.

H – Hortense Spirits & Cocktails

Somewhere on the Rue des Sablons, Brussels, Belgium.

Tel: 02/514.43.47

 

 

 

The (New) Old Fashioned, Ghent, Belgium – a review

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.
Hats above, cocktails below!
Hats above, cocktails below!

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.

Yup, this is the place!
Yup, this is the place!

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.

Mr. Marco Mathieu one of The Cocktail Nation's favourite bartenders.
Mr. Marco Mathieu one of The Cocktail Nation’s favourite bartenders.

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.

Steve - the 'stache - Okhuysen throwing some goodies!
Steve – the ‘stache – Okhuysen throwing some goodies!

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.

Mr. Jurgen Nobels working his magic!
Mr. Jurgen Nobels working his magic!

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 Reconquista - a must try for every mescal fan
The Reconquista – a must try for every mescal fan

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.

Speaker and old fashioned switch
Speaker and old fashioned switch

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 - a genever Blood & Sand
Bloed & Zand – a genever Blood & Sand

Bloed & Zand:

50ml De Moor Single Malt genever
20ml Cherry Heering
20ml Carpano Antica Formula vermouth
20ml Freshly pressed orange juice

Reconquista:

30 ml mezcal
15 ml tequila reposado
30 ml Punt E Mes
15 ml Dolin Dry
3 dashes Fernet Branca
1 dash orange bitters

The Old Fashioned

Hoogpoort 19, Ghent, Belgium.

A must try for every cocktailian!

Cheers!

The Cocktail Nation reviews The Singleton Spey Cascade – Single Malt of Dufftown

We at The Cocktail Nation are always looking for new, challenging spirits to taste and judge. Often, we are happily surprised by the creative energy that distilleries put into creating a product. Sometimes, we are taken aback by the boldness of their claims. Take the newest creation of the Dufftown distillery in Speyside, for example.

The Singleton Spey Cascade Single Malt Scotch Whisky, matured in Sherry and Bourbon oak casks, wants to convince us that it has a rich, balanced, and smooth taste; while the marketeers focus on an audience new to the experience of tasting drams.
In all honesty, we were a bit sceptical about the combination of the description and its audience.
But we nipped, smelled, and experimented until we were absolutely sure about our thoughts on this younger whisky.

Starting off with the colour, the Singleton is a delightful-looking dark amber liquid, and we were immediately imagining the same rich flavours and smooth tastes that are advertised on the bottle. Our enthusiasm was lessened, sadly enough, by the scent of the dram we had in front of us. The single thing we can say about the Singleton (oh the horrible word play), is that the smell of ripe grain alcohol is too overpowering, though there are some hints of nuts and brown sugar. To use a metaphor, the smell of the grain alcohol is a right hook to the face, and when you are down, the nuts and brown sugar pinch you in the earlobes. This is just to say that the smell of the whisky is not balanced at all, and that it was difficult to focus on the brown sugar and the nuts when the ripe grain kept asking for the full attention of our olfactory skills.

Jake Kilrain, bare knuckle boxer, and perfect metaphor for the grainy smell of The Singleton
Jake Kilrain, bare knuckle boxer, and perfect metaphor for the grainy smell of The Singleton

Moving on to the tasting of the dram, we discovered smooth, buttery caramel and flowery honey, but again overpowered by alcohol. The Singleton is balanced indeed, but offers all of its tastes at once without giving room to a first taste, a rich palate when you twirl the liquid around in your mouth, or an interesting aftertaste. The whisky might very well be disappointing to an experienced whisky drinker, but could perhaps serve as a basic starter whisky for the young and inexperienced ( they say so themselves).

Since we do not want to rapidly jump to conclusions here at The Cocktail Nation, we decided to add a drop of water in order to create more opportunities for the smell and taste to develop. We were faced with a very peculiar result, though, as the smell and taste more or less disappeared, and everything was replaced by the alcohol, the whisky itself instantly becoming very bland. Further testing with simple syrup and bitters, in order to create a rudimental Old Fashioned, resulted in the same idea: the whisky taste simply disappears when other liquids are added.

Our final verdict, therefore, is an ambiguous one. Though we believe that The Singleton Spey Cascade is an excellent whisky for inexperienced drinkers, as it brandishes a clear taste that is easy to pick up in your mouth, the more experienced drinkers might have to let this one slide.
The distillery itself states on the bottle that they “are on a mission” to find the perfect whisky to use as an introduction to the young adults who are tired of mixing alcohol with soft drinks and who want to mature a bit. The Singleton Spey Cascade is a worthy first experiment, and it does exactly what it is supposed to do (probably), though there is room for improvement.

Colour: Dark Amber
Smell: Brown Sugar, Nuts, Grainy Alcohol
Taste: Caramel, Flowery Honey, Grainy Alcohol

 

Mickaël

Uncle Babe’s Burger Bar

Technically it's not a cocktail bar or at least not meant to be one. The concept was to be a normal bar where you could eat real burgers. However with a backbar as impressive as this, it turns out to be a little more than just a "normal"bar. And they serve cocktails too.
Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon. Awesome!
Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon. Awesome!

Uncle Babe’s has a backbar that would make angel’s weep with happiness. Finely stocked with a fantastic array of Mezcals, Tequilas and Bourbons, amongst others.

Abe from Uncle Babe's
Abe from Uncle Babe’s

The bar is owned and managed by the enthusiastic and warmhearted American called Abe. Originally from LA he ended up in Ghent, Belgium and quickly realised that there was something missing in Ghent: a good burger bar. Uncle Babe’s was born.

If you give Abe an axe and put some chainmail on him, he would look like he’d ran away from a vikingmovie set. Which matches perfectly with the Icelandic bartender responsible for the cocktails at Uncle Babe’s: Asgeir Petursson who already looked like a viking (before his haircut. We’re sure that the wild manes have been given a drakkar funeral).

Asgeir Petursson, Icelandic (post-haircut) viking
Asgeir Petursson, Icelandic (post-haircut) viking

Even before we were seated and properly introduced, we were already welcomed with a Pickleback shot. It’s a weird drink, but very tasty. Very umami and a good palate cleanser. It’s actually a shot of bourbon chased by a shot of pickle juice, you have to try it.

Minero Mezcal & Babe's Burger
Minero Mezcal & Babe’s Burger

Then we ordered a burger and some Mezcal. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something in the combination of Mezcal & burgers that is very close to paradise. It’s not the cheapest drink to accompany a burger, but it sure beats a coke. You can also try one of the American (micro brewery) beers.

Basil Hayden's quite nice
Basil Hayden’s quite nice

Well the burger was very yummy, the drinks were amazing, we’re a fan of Uncle Babe’s Burger Bar.

Uncle Babe’s Burger Bar, Sluizekenstraat 2, Gent.

P.S. Unless you’re a fan of extremely hot & spicy, watch out for a very small shot you might be offered, accompanied by a large glass of water! 😉

Cheers!

 

 

Upper Room Bar – The Jane – Antwerp

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! 
Paul Morel at The Upper Room Bar in The Jane
Paul Morel at The Upper Room Bar in The Jane

The Skull

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.

The Skull above the altar, in this case: the kitchen
The Skull above the altar, in this case: the kitchen

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.

The little kitchen standing in the middle of the bar, look closely and you can see the tattoo designs
The little kitchen standing in the middle of the bar, look closely and you can see the tattoo designs

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.

The rosé cocktail, to the right you can see the pastille before the wine was poured in.
The rosé cocktail, to the right you can see the pastille before the wine was poured in.

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!

A toast to The Jane
A toast to The Jane…skoll!

2 Skulls for the Upper Room Bar. The Jane & The Upper Room Bar: Site ‘t Groen Kwartier, Paradeplein 1, 2018 Antwerp (Berchem).

Dogma Cocktails – Antwerp

Boozy Excitement Under The Cathedral’s Bell Tower

It’s almost a year now that you can visit a new exquisite cocktail bar near Antwerp’s Cathedral. Head bartender and owner is Didier Van den Broeck who became third at Diageo World Class Belgium 2014. This guy is a hurricane, he manages two or three different conversations and making five individual cocktails all at the same time and you know what? They’re fabulous.

Didier Van den Broeck working his magic
Didier Van den Broeck working his magic

Seriously, the first thing, stepping into this bar, turned a smile on my face. I love the wooden bar ,the wooden backbar, the floor, the seats, the layout, the lighting, the music… everything. We were welcomed and sat down at the bar. A glass of water and a handwritten menu was offered at once. I was really tired that day and actually I already knew what I was going to drink before I entered Dogma. Old Fashioned, please! …Damn good! Geertrui had an amazing Manhattan, one in my top three ever tasted as a matter of fact. Deliciously complex, yet not unbalanced.

Love for the craft
Love for the craft

We were on a tight schedule, but decided ‘to hell with it’ and stayed for another hour. It’s that kinda place you know, you just can’t leave immediately. Everything in this bar breathes love for the craft, especially the bartender of course. Didier was almost a professional cyclist (Dogma is named after a certain kind of sport cycle), but injury forced him to take another track. He ended up in the diamond trade business, yet his heart longed for the art of bar tending and cocktail making. So he took the big jump and started his own bar. Alone, at the start of it, and we take our hats off for that. Serving craft cocktails for 60 people all by yourself is a serious physical and mental challenge. But Didier “Mad Dog” Van den Broeck pulled it off.

This guy is the Belgian Pollock of Action Craft Cocktail Making and the drinks are really good.
This guy is the Belgian Pollock of Action Craft Cocktail Making and the drinks are really good.

The more we talked, the more enthusiastic he became and it’s really a sight to see this man working his drinks. Stuff almost starts to levitate around him. There’s a really contagious positive vibe in this bar and The Cocktail Nation marks it off as one of his personal favourites. A must visit for any cocktail aficionado.

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Chillax Oasis under Antwerp’s Cathedral Bell Tower

Cheers!

Dogma Cocktails: Wijngaardstraat 5, 2000 Antwerpen

Photography by Geertrui Van Goethem