Tag Archives: tonic

Home made vermouth by De Lijsterbes

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


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

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

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

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

Diageo Worldclass Competiton Belgium Final - Brussels - 01/06/2015
In this picture: a humble cocktail writer to the left and master chef Geert Van Der Bruggen to the right, judging some World Class cocktails.

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

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

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


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

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





Belgian Steam Gin Gets Your Engine Rolling

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

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

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

Van Damme Distillery Column

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

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

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

Steam Gin gift box, rather nice.

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







Campari, the Red Temptress…and tonic, a review

Campari, probably the most famous bitter apéritif on the planet. The bright, blood-red, bitter drink can turn aperitivo hour  into uncensored rituals for the great Dionysos himself and this without you even realising it. You might have started out in a sleepy Italian café, boiling under the burning afternoon sun, but you surely end up in an Italian fountain surrounded by 12 soaking wet, Italian goddesses, who sport such heavenly curves that you need a Ray Ban to protect you from the sizzling sunrays happily bouncing off them. And  – of course – half the number of sunglassed fellows would be present, dressed in tailored suits, who take ‘taciturn’ to the next level, because if they would say “si” or anything else for that matter, 70% of all females in a radius of 200 yards, would faint. And Fellini would be watching, not smiling, but you know, happy.


That’s Campari for you, the Red Temptress. We killed bottles of it in Venice, Florence and Milan. It’s magic with soda, in Spritz, Negronis, Americanos and many more cocktails. It does something to you, fantastically represented in the famous Campari calendar.


Yes, ice cubes! I think you're gonna need a whole lot more of them too.
Yes, ice cubes! I think you’re gonna need a whole lot more of them too.

And then out of nothing came the Campari Tonic. Well, to say the least, it puzzles me a bit. Why on earth would I want to add tonic to my Campari? Why would I want to add bitter to bitter? Frankly, I was very sceptical.

It just grow in the bushes
It just grows in the bushes

Is it because of the Gin & Tonic hype? Campari saw their apéritif throne threatened? Possibly, but then why does a great product like this submit to it. Why copy paste instead of claiming the kings of hot summer apéritif cocktails like Spritz or Negroni. Campari soda and an orange twist is sheer bliss, what more do you need? Campari is beautiful, why would you add tonic? It is majestical with prosecco, gin, vermouth, rum or even whiskey and bourbon. Why add bitter to bitter?

We tasted it and it is yummy, but that doesn’t stop it from making no sense at all. What’s more, when I add a well carbonised soda to my Campari I get more flavours then in a Campari and tonic. I have the feeling that the tonic even masks certain flavours of my Campari instead of altering or strengthening them. Well, that’s just my opinion, of course, “de gustibus…”.

We tasted it next to Campari soda, Spritz and Negroni. Spritz and Negroni won by far.

Don’t do what Cointreau did to the Cosmopolitan, leave the Red Temptress her dignity. I remember the first Spritz I ordered in my life, in Venice, and when I asked what was in it, Italian blood-red luscious lips whispered in my ear: “Campari”. And I smiled.





ImagiNation – The Nation invades the Imagin Bar in Knokke

I’m a gin bar it said, but it didn’t say anything about some great rum and whiskey cocktails too

Knokke, love it or hate it. I got mixed feelings about it. It is the last place on earth where people still tie sweaters around there neck, preferably in hues of pink or baby blue, making an untasteful match with their equally wrong coloured chinos. Topped off with a very, very uncertain look in their eyes, driving around in golf carts, holding back the ferraris trying to reach the casino.

Anyway, I was interested in the Bombay Sapphire pop up bar, called Imagin. It is located in an old antiques shop on the Elizabetlaan and I must say very cosy indeed. We arrived just in time to see the special presentation of Dominique Persoone, world famous chocolatier and Eveline Hoorens, barrista and wife of famous artist Panamarenko and their personal interpretation of a G&T.

The Imagin Bar - the thing in the forefront of the picture are the balls of the last person who referred to the stuffed monkey behind the bar...
The Imagin Bar – the thing in the forefront of the picture are the balls of the last person who referred to the stuffed monkey behind the bar…(at the top of the picture)

To be honest, I’ve really had it with G&T, but I was really curious what a Dominique Persoone would do with it. I mean chocolate  and tonic, you had to be there.

It was a very special G&T indeed. In fact if it didn’t need to be a G&T, it would make a great cocktail. Kick out the tonic and you’re left with a delicious combination of cacao, gin, porto, angostura and…eggwhite. At least the recipe promised eggwhite, but I didn’t see any in the preparation. Equally interesting was the garnish a special, devilhead-shaped praline on a stick. The moment I sank my teeth in it a strange sensation took over my mouth. It was as if my jaw got electrocuted or I swallowed a firecracker. Apparently a certain substance was put in the praline to achieve that effect on purpose. Nice touch.

Dominique Persoone - Cacao Metal
Dominique Persoone – Cacao Metal

Eveline Hoorens’ G&T was a very fancy drink, almost too fancy for me. Then again, the taste was very good. Three things were important for her cocktail: the colour red, herbs and a little robot, affectionately called Robby. She had turned red berry fruit and hibiscus tea into sprakling red ice cubes, which made the taste of the cocktail gradually change over time when they started to melt. The rim of the glass was decorated with red sugar and a copious amount of pink peppercorn floated around in the drink.

We’re not there yet, more garnish, Eveline must have thought. A bouquet of herbs was strung together and added. Last but not least Robby the robot – disguised as a tea holder- was sentenced to drown in the fiery red G&T. Finished! Thank God, there was a straw, if you drank it without one you’d hurt your face.

I call it...the Robotonic...mmm not fancy enough. let's go for Hinky Pinky Robby
I call it…the Robotonic…mmm not fancy enough. let’s go for Hinky Pinky Robby

The interior was amazing: a cosy ,chaotic bunch of antiques parafernalia crammed together in a room almost too small. We happily received a guided tour by Marc Colfs, Bombay Sapphire ambassador. He showed us that their was method in the apparent madness. It’s all about the spice trade and the ships that brought the goods in. When you enter the room from the hallway, you’re standing in the Captain’s Cabin, a rather chique and larger room, complete with Chesterfield, old maps, drawing table, boat models and countless clocks. There’s a separé used to give tastings. There’s an African space and an Eastern space. The bar is a real beauty, countless 17th-18th century muskets hang suspended in the air together with as much bottles of gin.

The backbar is a gorgeous piece of antique topped with a stuffed monkey. We strongly advise you not to refer to the “monkey behind the bar”. Jan Van Ongevalle, the Imagin bartender, might take it personally, grab one of those muskets and hit you with it.

Jan fixed us a great Anejo Highball with Bacardi 8 and Fevertree Ginger Beer and a rather strong Manhattan with Jack Daniels Single barrel.

The Manhattan reminded Jan of something and he instantly disappeared behind a black curtain. We heard some strange noises and shrieks of wild jungle animals.

Quickly we reasoned that the shrieks belonged to one of the beautiful waitresses.

friendly local wildlife
friendly local wildlife

Suddenly Jan returned with a glass.

-“Drink this,” he said.

– what is it? I whispered

Charcoal-infused gin

– Excuse me?

– I know, it sounds crazy, but it’s amazing.

Apparently, Peter De Clercq (World champion BBQ 2003) chopped up an empty Jack Daniels barrel, set it on fire and put the thusly gained charcoal in a Bombay Gin bottle. He then put it away for a couple of days and filtered it out. Very craz…, creative I mean. Resulting in a heavily smoky gin/whiskey  – firewater- as Jan described it.

Conclusion: it’s great fun, go and visit it. Talk to the bartender and the ambassadors. Ask for the specials.

Jan & Jan just being himself
Jan & Jan just being himself