Tag Archives: cocktails

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.

Venuez Hospitality Show 2016 - Parkloods - Antwerpen - 21/03/2016
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‘!

aperitivo torino pulpo
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!

torino invitation
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!

 

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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.

IMG_1092

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!

IMG_1114

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

 

 

 

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

The Cocktail Nation’s answer to the question: ‘are bartenders too focused on the past?’

Recently I bumped into an article on the most excellent Difford’s Guide website with the following title:

Are bartenders too focused on the past?

“Is contemporary bartending too intent on seeking out lost and forgotten drinks, with its nose stuck in a history book, rather than harnessing the products, processes and technologies of today to create a new generation of truly original drinks?”

The above is the thesis put in question and answered by both authors of the article (one says yes and the other one says no).

In my opinion the one thing can not be seen without the other, it’s a process.

 

There is nothing wrong with bearded and tattooed bartenders, it is the person who thinks you need them to be a good bartender that is wrong.
There is nothing wrong with bearded and tattooed bartenders, it is the person who thinks you need them to be a good bartender that is wrong.

When a bartender manages to recreate a long lost and forgotten drink, you will see a very happy bartender. He or she will cradle the glass with shaking hands and hold it aloft whilst crying from joy.

In Beachbum Berry’s case, he has done the same, but it would have been while kneeling in front of a Tiki statue.

Thank God, we can drink real Tiki cocktails now, instead of 'fruit juice, grenadine and hint of rum'.
Thank God, we can drink real Tiki cocktails now, instead of ‘fruit juice, grenadine and hint of rum’.

“Barchaeology” is necessary, you have to know where you come from. How did technique and taste evolve since several hundreds of years? Which cocktails survived and why? What exactly makes a classic, be a classic?

It is a re-discovery necessary to complete the re-birth of a global cocktail culture, the ongoing cocktail-renaissance. And most of the bartenders really live this, they don’t re-enact it. Like most renaissances, they reach back to make a huge leap forward.

And drinks evolve anyway, a Dry Martini today is not a 19th century Dry Martini. Not only is it a different recipe, but also made with contempory products, processes and tools.

When the bartender puts his rediscovered cocktail on the menu, it will still be perceived as a “new” drink by the guest. And in fact it indeed is a new drink and will be made – more than not – with products, processes and techniques of today.

If by ‘new techniques’ is meant: molecular mixology, then the points of my perfectly waxed handlebar moustache start to tremble (if I would have a handlebar, that is). It is like molecular kitchen, fun, quite creative, but after a while you had it. I cannot imagine people who visit such a place twice, unless you really desperately want to impress someone…with amnesia. When you do that with drinks, you’re less of a bartender than a “mixologist”.

Click the picture to watch Ron Swanson's reaction to Molecular Mixology
Click the picture to watch Ron Swanson’s reaction to Molecular Mixology

I love the old drinks, the classics and I don’t understand why they automatically would be seen as simple or unimaginative because of their age. They are difficult enough and some quite challenging in taste also. Instead of constantly craving something new, we should be delighted with what we’ve discovered so far and then try to master it.

Drink_Cocktails

And the same goes for the guests, it is already difficult enough for them to confidently make a choice out of a menu. The Gin & Tonic craze was very interesting to monitor in this point, the only thing people remember is: “instead of a longdrink glass, you have to make it in the biggest wineglass  you can find, as a garnish you use your entire vegetable garden, because – you know -there’s no such thing as enough botanicals. When the gin you use hase 40 or so botanicals, it is better to add 4 more, just to be sure…oh and no Schweppes, it has been banned by the World Health Regulation or something”.

I say, let the bartenders rediscover long and forgotten drinks if they want too, while the guest is still trying to get his head around the classics. Once the public knows their classics, the bartenders will already have a new style of drinks ready. Look at what they do with beer cocktails.

Cheers!

 

The Cocktail Nation’s totally random prophecy of cocktailtrends for 2014

It’s always difficult to say what will be the thing for the next year in any business (except for horseshoes and things like frying pans probably).

In cocktails that’s even more difficult. If you observe closely, you can see a trend movement with the bartenders, which is not necessarily picked up by the big public. Bartendertrends move very fast and some of them do stay, but a lot of them go as easily as they came (like Dries Botty’s awesome beard).

And then there’s the public trend movement, flowing much slower obviously, sometimes picking up bartender trends and sometimes coming up with something completely different (mostly something from brand marketing or television series). Of course there’s nothing wrong with this, apart from the sole fact that it makes predicting trends a bit of a headscratching task.

Headscratchingly enough to put on a turban and take a look in my crystal (ice)ball.

Erm...let's see, something with Tonic?
Erm…let’s see, something with Tonic?

The Cocktail Nation’s totally random prophecy of cocktailtrends for 2014:

 

Tiki for the summer

This one will happen, I’m sure of it or I want it too much. Tiki is popular and the drinks are very accessible, unless you hate rum. We will have no less then 2 Tiki bars by the summer (Appleton Tiki Bar, Antwerp and The Drifter, Ghent) and most high-end coctkailbars will and already do put Tikis on the menu, especially in hot summertimes.

Magic at the Appleton Tiki Bar Antwerp
Magic at the Appleton Tiki Bar Antwerp

 

Punch for the BBQ’s and Homeparties

People not only demand more quality drinks in their bars, but also on their own gardenparties. A slapdash, wannabe “Sangria” from plastic bottles won’t do anymore, make a bowl of punch.

David Wondrich - author of the book: 'Punch' - grating some nutmeg
David Wondrich – author of the book: ‘Punch’ – grating some nutmeg

 

More vermouths, enjoyed pure or in a cocktail

We see more and more bars serving more than one vermouth. Winebars also are joining in on this. In Italy we even see special vermouthbars or “vermouterias” appearing and globally we notice a much welcomed diversity in vermouths, American, Spanish and English brands are rising.

The spectacular Gran Lusso Vermouth by Martini
The spectacular Gran Lusso Vermouth by Martini

 

The same goes for the amaros en quinquinas

Maybe it is better to say ‘the same might eventually happen’ for the amaros en quinquinas. But in this stage today, it is what I’ve called a bartendertrend, I think. Fernet Branca for instance almost has a cult-following in American bartenderscenes who happily knock back shots of the pure stuff.

I told you, it's a cult!
I told you, it’s a cult!

 

Cocktails and restaurants

Gin & Tonic already has a fixed spot on the menus, other simple, but decent made cocktails will follow over time.

Paul Morel making cocktails at The Jane, Sergio Herman's new fabulous restaurant. Love the skull in the background.
Paul Morel making cocktails at The Jane, Sergio Herman’s new fabulous restaurant. Love the skull in the background.

 

Less ingredients used in cocktails, less complexity, less infusions, …

Not that there is anything wrong with complex cocktails, I think it was rather a result of a relatively long period of global experimentation with tastes and techniques since the beginning of the cocktail rennaissance. And now we are at a point where lots of knowledge is spread and shared and put into action.

It is in my opinion a sure tell sign that the cocktail-boom is balancing out and becoming firmly rooted. It’s not a hype anymore, hypes disappear. It is the slow birth of a cocktail culture.

now, where's my barspoon...damn
now, where’s my barspoon…damn