Tag Archives: Vermouth

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





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!


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!


How do you like your vermouth?

If somebody offered us a vermouth and asked: "Italian or French?" We would probably answer: "A Savoyan". Because that's where they come from, the former Duchy of Savoy. Or was it Germany? And more importantly where are they now? Italy, France? Yes and Spain and a little bit everywhere actually, even Belgium has one. Vermouth is fantastic, but instead of the countless classic cocktails you can make with it or mix it with tonic, you can also drink it differently.

In most cases, years ago, when you asked somebody what vermouth is, you got the following common knowledge: ” Oh well, erm… let’s see. It’s an Italian fortified wine with lots of herbs and stuff, very nice. Oeh! And the French have a drier, white version of it. Excellent in fish sauces.” Fast forward a couple of years and the more savvy, suave and sartorial bartenders twisted their waxed moustaches and added passionately – with twinkling eyes – the following facts: it all started in the thriving city of Turin in the late 17OO’s with a gentleman called Antonio Benedetto Carpano who made it into the wonderful aperitif which we all know today. The name comes from the German word “wermut” which means ‘wormwood’ in English and is one of the defining ingredients of the drink. Etc, etc, …

Wormwood aka Absinth or Alsem

This is all true and you’re somehow fine with it, until after a while you realise something is gnawing at you. Why would an Italian spirit vendor name his invention after the French pronunciation of the German word for one of the herbal ingredients in it. He could have called it “Assenzio”, no? Or “Vino Assenzio”. He didn’t, this later came to be the name for absinthe, you know the drink made of… yes, wormwood (officially called ‘artemisia absinthium’). Still with me?

So, why did he call it ‘vermut’? Well, we’ll never know, but the following is how we like to see it. Mister Carpano didn’t invent his drink, but rather made a personalised version of an old drink, which stopped being popular 100 years earlier: wormwood wine. More specific: German wormwood wine (from the Habsburgian Holy Roman Empire).

Now, we all know that people have been putting stuff in their wine ever since the first man accidentally squished a grape, but apparently wormwood is something particular. This goes as far as Ancient Egypt if you please (probably to try to revive erroneously mummified persons or something), then centuries later the Greeks almost made a sport out of it and left us with a couple of dozens of recipes. Then the Romans put a “made in the Roman Empire” stamp on it, mainly by conquering Greece. After that everything becomes a little hazy in the Dark Ages only for it to come back as a perfect medicine against the plague and all sorts of intestinal parasites (“worms”) and stomach aches in general. This vaguely reminds us of the origin of genever, which was also conceived as a cure against the plague in a similar fashion, only instead of wormwood you’d put in juniper berries.

Oh noooo! Too much wormwood!!

Anyways, fast forward a couple of centuries and we arrive at the pinnacle of popularity of German wormwood wine (16th – 17th Century) and of course the Holy Roman Empire by then was stretched to its outmost borders. Guess what was part of it then? Yes, the Duchy of Savoy, including Turin and Chambéry (home of Dolin).

The Duchy of Savoy, later to become the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia.

Wormwood wine spread widely in those days. Of course, we had our own version in Belgium and the Netherlands called “Alsem wine“. ‘Alsem‘ being the Dutch word for wormwood. Now alsem wine made his introduction into the British Isles thanks to… yes, William III, the Dutch-born king who gave the English people gin, because they couldn’t pronounce genever. Now, funny fact, they also seemed to have trouble with something as simple as the word ‘alsem’ and quickly dubbed it ‘wholesome wine‘ (which is almost the pronunciation of the Dutch word ‘alsem’). Mind you, the British already knew wormwood wine long before William III and produced it under the name of “eisel”, but they must have liked and imported alsem wine too.

In short we can conclude that practically everybody made his version of wine aromatised with wormwood and by the 16th-17th Century people started fortifying it. Until the hype died in 1700. Upon which Carpano decided to relaunch it in 1786. And with great success! By the 19th century vermouth was all over the place and the aperitif of choice. But how did they drink it?

A famous Martini add, notice the small size of the glass (or her very large hands)

Well apparently a lot like they drink their coffee, in small amounts and standing up. On the go, as it were. We don’t really know the measurements, I think it must have been something between 3 and 6 cl, a Piedmont glass maybe (4,5cl). Later in bigger glasses when they started to add soda water. Actually I still like it this way, it is delicious on a hot summer afternoon. Soon they added drops of bitters to their vermouth and the Milano Torino was created when using Campari. Later the Americano arrived. No one really knows why they called it like that, but there are of course several theories.

  1. it has nothing to do with Americans, but refers to the Italian word for bitter “amaro”. Personally I don’t think that this one is correct, because they would have called it “amaricato” and not Americano.
  2. They called it so, because it was very popular with American tourists of those days. We doubt this one too, otherwise a lot of things would have been called “americano”, like an americano with extra cheese and olives or an americano bolognese, etc…
  3. It refers to the style of the drink, “American style“, drink. The theory goes that it being a ‘mixed drink’, a cocktail, they called it an American style drink. We like this idea better, although we don’t believe it refers to the “mixed drink” part.
  4. So we want to add a fourth theory: it is called Americano, referring to American style drink, because it was probably served in larger than usual quantities, adding soda and -more importantly- had ice (cubes) in it. Suppose they drank the first Milano Torinos like they drank their vermouth, meaning in small quantities, the amaro added literally in drops and later they would prefer their Milano Torino made the American way and ordered: “Milano Torino, Americano.”Which could later have been abbreviated to just “Americano”.

It also makes more sense when you consider the origin of the Negroni as being told by the inventor himself: Fosco Scarselli, in an 1962 interview. Fosco tells us that Count Negroni liked to drink Americanos and preferred them a bit stronger, “so I added a few drops (!) of unsweetened gin to his drink.” Then he continues: “the Count’s habit of adding a few drops of bitter (amaro) to his cocktail started to spread among the other customers and soon they were ordering ‘Negronis’.” Considering the ingredients of a Negroni we must conclude that his Americano must have been vermouth over ice perhaps with a splash of soda.


Anyway, ordering your “Savoyan vermouth, American style” in this day and age will get you nowhere, but you can say: “vermouth on the rocks with a splash of soda, please and an orange wheel.” And that’s how we prefer to drink it, sometimes even omitting the soda. You know vermouth isn’t just there as a mixing ingredient, it can very well carry its own. Do try it!

If you want to learn more about vermouth, be sure to read the excellent ‘Mixellany Guide To Vermouth‘ by Jared Brown & Anistatia Miller. More about the Negroni in ‘Negroni Cocktail, An Italian Legend‘ by Luca Picchi.




First Belgian Bitter launched by Biercée Distillery

Belgians like their bitter they say, I say Belgians like everything. True, we love cacao, coffee, endives, sprouts, hops and others but we're also quite fond of our stew and fries, our waffles, genever, anything really. But what if some crazy Belgians said to each other: "what would happen if we put all the bitter stuff we liked into one bottle"? At Biercée distillery they don't back down from a challenge and said: " we can do that"! The result is a delicious "wolf in sheep's clothing": Biercée Bitter, the first Belgian Amaro.

What’s an Amaro

“Amaro” means bitter in Italian and refers to a certain type of herbal liqueur, namely – you guessed it – a bitter one. Traditionally people drank it after a heavy meal to help digestion. And in Italy where your dinner lasts from 17:00 till 02:00 this can be very helpful sometimes.

Is it vermouth

Well yes and no. Amaro can be made with neutral spirit, brandy or wine. When it is wine based it’s often called amaro vermouth, as is also the case with any (very) bitter tasting vermouth. Also vermouth was often taken before dinner (or between) and amaro after dinner… or between dinners depends on how you look at it of course. This kind of culinary confusion quickly led to some very famous cocktails like the Americano, Negroni and others. Which means that vermouth in combination with an amaro is truly a wonderful thing.


Everybody knows at least one amaro

Yes, Campari, the red temptress. But there are countless others like Fernet Branca, Cynar, Averna, Aperol, Montenegro, Martini Bitter, etc, etc…

Fernet is actually kind of a subspecies of Amaro of which Branca is probably the best known.

Biercée Bitter

The  idea must have been something like, look we all like chocolate, coffee and endives let’s try to put it all into one bottle and they kind of nailed it. Apparently Belgian endives were a great inspiration and they really tried to make that work, but had to let go in favour of the fruitiness.

Let’s have a look at it. As always with Biercée the design is awesome, I think. Tall, slender bottle, nice art nouveau logo and a fun “see-through-the-bottle” back print (these are quite popular lately, aren’t they?). There are two different bottles: one has a wolf and the other a doe (a female deer). It’s really very nice, less is more, an elegant bottle, a relaxed bottle as it were.

Biercée Bitter, Martini Rubino and Copperhead Black Batch make a delightful Negroni.

Let’s have a taste. And here it starts, the aroma is not what I expected, it smells like candy and flowers, you know things you don’t associate with bitter. It makes you think of ‘sweet’. That is also what happens first when you taste it. You taste the red fruit first, raspberries and cassis, quite sweet. And just when you think what the hell is this, it changes. Citrus comes through and makes it more and more bitter and drier. Just what you wanted. The whole experience is a continuous flavour explosion in your mouth with a very long after taste. It’s like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, first deceptively sweet and then bitter and dry.

It works like a dream in Negronis, Americanos or Spritz. You can even drink it neat over ice with an orange zest. Cocktail Nation approved!




What really makes a Negroni, a Negroni?

Sometimes you really start wondering, seeing these countless and delicious variations and dedications. Quite a few people go very extreme in this, resulting in the unavoidable remark by someone: “is this still a Negroni?”. The question is, if not, what is then? The answer must be sought in its clouded and disputed origin…

photographs by Bart D'Hooge Nullam Microwaveum

The official recipe as we all know, is equal measures of gin, Campari and red vermouth. And logically, when we want to make a variation on it we start to substitute one of the ingredients for another. starting with the spirit, this resulted quickly in rum Negronis, whisky Negronis, bourbon Negronis, cognac Negronis, genever Negronis and so on. Next we switch Campari for other amaro like Cynar or Averna or others. Finally we can change the vermouth from red to dry, white or even use quinquinas and other stuff. Also measurements can be adapted, bitters can be added, glasses can be rinsed, perfume or smoke can be used, etc, etc…

Actually it is fantastic to see this unbridled, unlimited passionate creativity of bartenders playing around with this famous Italian aperitif cocktail. Recently we had the BeNeLux Negroni Competition organised by Campari and even though the jury contained several very experienced Negroni lovers like Salvatore Calabrese en Mauro Mahjoub, it must have been very difficult reaching a decision on the winner (in this case Sofie Ketels from Sofie’s Living Room, De Panne, Belgium) seeing and tasting all these different and delicious Negroni styles. But what when you encounter a recipe in a book, that contains gin, sherry and Galliano; then you really start to wonder, delicious as it might be, is this still a Negroni? And if not, why then?

Lucca Picchi serving a Negroni to two eagerly grabbing hands
Lucca Picchi serving a Negroni to two eagerly grabbing hands

Luca Picchi

We recently had the good fortune to attend a workshop concerning the famous Negroni cocktail. The workshop was given by the great Luca Picchi from Florence, Italy, who wrote a hefty 221 pages about the Negroni, focussing on its origins. We like the book a lot, we read it with pleasure and delight and eventually learned and deduced something that was new for us about the origin of this iconic cocktail.

Campari Sodas at Camparino in Milano

A letter

Most of you already know the origin of the Negroni, featuring the famous Count who gave his name to this delicious red libation. Camillo Negroni probably was indeed the original reason for the creation of the cocktail. There are pictures of him drinking (a Negroni?) at Casoni Café and more importantly there is a letter, dating 1920, from a friend who advises him not to drink more than 20 ‘Negronis’ a day. This letter actually proves that there was a drink in 1920 named after him. Much more interesting is: what’s in it and how did it became to be  (the drink, not the letter) in the first place?


‘Americano’ is not just one cocktail

The popular story is that count Camillo, whilst in Florence, walked into Casoni’s and asked Fosco Scarselli, the bartender, to…erm…”spike” his ‘Americano’. Now here the story starts. I always thought the actual Americano cocktail was meant here and only to be told later that it was in fact a Milano-Torino, which was called Americano afterwards (so they say) due to the high popularity with Americans (tourists, businessmen or soldiers you can choose between stories here). In my strictly personal opinion ( I do not claim this to be the absolute truth, it’s just a theory of mine) he did not mean the actual Americano cocktail. Americano just means ‘American style’ and refers to the then rather new fashion of mixing one drink with others. That is what we’ve learned from Luca Picchi.

A fantastic Negroni variation in MAG bar in Milano the rim of the glass has been garnished with cacao powder
A fantastic Negroni variation in MAG bar in Milano the rim of the glass has been garnished with cacao powder

The drink in this case probably just being vermouth, which was extremely popular in Italy at that time. “American style” meant ‘the way they drank drinks in America’ and the very popular ‘American bars’ in Europe. So it probably has nothing to do with American soldiers after the war – a story which I hear and read frequently. Americano was probably nothing else than saying “cocktail” in Italian. You know, mixed with a spirit or amaro over ice. That information was new for me.

Vermouth as a base

So Camillo probably ordered a simple Italian vermouth (which was extremely popular by then), but had it made American style to strengthen it. The bartender, Fosco Scarselli, chose gin and then Camillo himself chose to add some bitters – Campari most probably – and thus created his signature drink. We deduce this out of an interesting interview with Fosco himself in 1962 about the Negroni. He (Fosco) literally says: “I added a few drops of gin to fortify the drink and then the count had the habit of adding a few drops of bitters“.

MAG bar @ Milano
MAG bar @ Milano

Eventually other guests at Casoni were curious and also ordered an Americano ( meaning, I think, as much as ‘vermouth cocktail’ or just ‘cocktail’ in general), Negroni style. And so the birth of one of the most famous cocktails in history came to be. I think the story is very credible knowing that the count spend more than seven years in the USA in the exact ‘golden age of cocktail making’ before he came back to Florence and ordered his drink. Also, the vermouth back then, was served in small liquor glasses (about 1 or 1,5 oz), which explains the “drops” of gin and bitters and the sentence in the letter that warns him not to drink more than 20 of it each day. Also when you consider his words, he says he adds two things (gin and bitters) to something he didn’t mention. Something so obvious that he needn’t mentioning it and I think that’s vermouth.

Campari ‘Americano’

And the story of Gaspare Campari who made his famous red amaro “americano” to make it more palatable and trendy for the Milanese high rollers at that time is a different story that eventually converged into the Negroni drink. The theory makes sense, I think, also considering the way Negronis are made today. By which I mean all the variations on it. What really defines a Negroni? Is it the gin? Surely not, it is the first thing they replace by something different. Is it Campari? Although most Negronis are made with it, it can also be made with other bitters and even though chances are high that the first one was made with it, we’ll never know for sure.

2 Americano’s

So actually it’s two different kinds of Americano coming together: one being gin + vermouth, the other being: amaro + vermouth. Of which the common element is the vermouth. In the end it gives us our answer to the question as to what defines a Negroni. In my opinion it is – very simply like the recipe says – a combination of spirit, vermouth and amaro. May you break this rule and create something else? Sure! Can you call it a Negroni? Well, it’s a free country, so you can call it whatever the hell you want, as long as it tastes good. Because, no matter how many Negroni “families” you create, the real Negroni will always be remembered as equal measures of London Dry, Campari and red vermouth.

Luca Picchi's Coffee Negroni
Luca Picchi’s Coffee Negroni

Negroni families

Speaking of Negroni families… how about the other count Negroni? You know, General Pascal Olivier de Negroni, which one of them is the real Count? Well, why does one of them have to be fake? It is perfectly possible. A letter written by Pascal mentions a vermouth cocktail which was received well by the other officers. Perfectly possible, although it would be interesting to know more about the ingredients.

Negroni Sbagliato @ Bar Basso where it was invented and made by the son of the inventor. These glasses were huge! More like vases.
Negroni Sbagliato @ Bar Basso where it was invented and made by the son of the inventor. These glasses were huge! More like vases.

Countless Negronis

In the end it doesn’t really matter who invented the drink, eventually somebody somehow would have come up with gin, Campari and red vermouth. You know, I prefer ‘countless’ Negronis over Count Negroni, any time.



Martini Terrazza Party shows us new and improved vermouth

The famous Williams Martini Racing Team held a Terrazza Party at Liege Belgium and took the opportunity to launch their brand new vermouth. Daniele Dalla Pola had some fun making cocktails with it.

Fast cars, fabulous women and fresh drinks, what more can you desire? Well it was all there in Liege, Belgium. The sun was up – which we didn’t take for granted – and lots of people longed for ‘apperitivo’. Martini had landed its Terrazza temporarily on the banks of the river Meuse.

Together with us famous Formula 1 pilots Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas arrived by helicopter and had a little race exercise in view of the upcoming Grand Prix of Francorchamps (Belgium).

Felipe told me it was very difficult, but in the end he learned a lot from it ;)
Felipe told me it was very difficult, but in the end he learned a lot from it 😉

The real star of the evening however stood behind the bar where famous Italian Tiki bartender Daniele Dalla Pola made signature cocktails with Martini’s brand new vermouth: Martini Riserva Speciale. It comes in two expressions Rubino (red) and Ambrato (amber). And it’s actually very nice! I prefer the red version Rubino, it’s smooth and silken with just the herbal notes you need. This one’s actually made from red grapes (as to other red vermouths who are mostly made with white grapes and subsequently coloured with caramel), unfortunately I forgot which one.

Italian bartender = natural born sprezzatura. Daniele Dalla Pola
Italian bartender = natural born sprezzatura.
Daniele Dalla Pola

Daniele made his exquisite Americano Bolognese with it. No, it’s not a sandwich or spaghetti, but a cocktail and as far as I know it didn’t involve tomatoes or parmesan. It made for a lovely aperitif make sure you try one.

Martini's new vermouth, a large improvement over the old one in my opinion.
Martini’s new vermouth, a large improvement over the old one in my opinion.

After a couple hours of real good fun, nice drinks and excellent food, it was time to go home.

Bye, bye!
Bye, bye!

If you want to visit the Terrazzo Party, you still can! Today it opens around 16h, entrance is free and none other then Felix da Housecat will purr some beats into your ears. Tomorrow it opens at 14h and amongst others Aeroplane will lift you off your feet.

Practical Information:

Martini Terrazza

Boulevard Frère – Orban (right next to the Albert I bridge), 4000 Luik, Belgium.

Friday 21st of August 16h – 22h

Saturday 22nd of August 14h – 22h

Bar Convent Berlin 2014 – Too soon for the next trend in cocktails and spirits?

BCB or Bar Convent Berlin, is easily the biggest cocktail and spirits convention of Europe. Now having successfully closed it’s 8th edition and welcomed more than 9000 visitors it should call itself EBC – Berlin (European Bar Convent – Berlin). Because – and we quote a female bartender standing in the waiting line – “Holy smoke! Everybody’s here! Really everybody!”
A wild, but fashionable legion of bartenders eager to learn, explore, taste and meet new stuff @ BCB 2014
A wild, but fashionable legion of bartenders eager to learn, explore, taste and meet new stuff @ BCB 2014

A Bartender’s Christmas

And she was not incorrect, I mean 2 days, 9000 visitors, 3 taste forums, 1 big mixology stage, 27 workshops (!), 72 speakers and 3 halls filled with 300 brands later, you really got a good cross section of who’s who in the European Bartending and Hospitality Industry. You also get a weird craving to become a multi-headed octopoid, outfitted with jet engines and the biggest shopping cart on earth. There’s too much to see, hear and taste in two afternoons. Like Ian Burrell – Global Rum Ambassador – said: “it’s a Bartender’s Christmas.” Yet the jingling you hear, is not bells, it’s literally thousands of ice cubes.

Very fashionable, as you can see they easily match their cocktails to their baseball caps
Very fashionable, as you can see they easily match their cocktails to their baseball caps

Trend Spotter’s Heaven

All this makes BCB a trend spotter’s heaven. Some dare say that it was the huge launching platform for the G&T invasion of our country (Belgium). I don’t know if that is entirely correct, but I do understand that if you spot something new and in abundance on BCB, you know that it will hit your deck too, sooner or later. Whence we were drooling with anticipation and excitement. What was going to be the next hit? Who will take over the crown from Gin and his buddy Tonic?

Alas, the ‘big revelation’ did not occur. We forgot that trends rarely follow a Julian calendar. And that they are fed by the consumer public, not even the best and most creative bartender can change that. That is because the best bartender serves people and they don’t force-pour drinks in somebody’s mouth screaming: “this is better, drink this!”


One thing is for certain Jigger's is really amongst the 10 most influential bars of Europe. Also fox hunting is on the rise, foxes unfortunately not.
One thing is for certain Jigger’s is really amongst the 10 most influential bars of Europe. Also fox hunting is on the rise, foxes unfortunately not.

Rise & Fall?

A few things didn’t go unnoticed though. First: Gin is still wearing the crown (about 50 different brands that we saw). Second: there’s a lot of rum to explore (we stopped counting at roughly 42 brands). Thirdly: Tequila and Mezcal (27 brands) are rising, but will it break through? Fourth: no less than 12 different Vermouth brands ( most people only know one or two, without even knowing that it is a vermouth). Something’s definitely moving here, but it is still yawning and groggy. Then again, if we think of the country that has a rising number of ‘vermouterias‘ and vermouths, realising that it is the same country that restyled the G&T… Does that prove anything, no, of course not. Then again, it isn’t exact science also. We especially loved the Belsazar Vermut (German, yes).

A cracking Belsazar Dry Martini.
A cracking Belsazar Dry Martini.

Apart from that we had the rest of the usual suspects, like whiskey, cognac, sherry, vodka, pisco, grappa, sake, absinth, … you name it. A lot of Bourbon and Rye, but that could have something to do with the USA being the guest country for this year. Michter’s was new for me and a bloody delightful surprise it was!

Mr. Matthew T. Magliocco of Michter's, a dedicated man, very passionate about his product.
Mr. Matthew T. Magliocco of Michter’s, a dedicated man, very passionate about his product.

Lot’s of tonic too, of course. Thomas Henry, for instance, came up with some new mixers, namely: mango, grapefruit and a new cherry blossom tonic. Nice for home bars and garden parties, club scene maybe, but not something you will find soon in any high-end cocktailbar, I think.

Thomas Henry and the new pretty and colourful lemonades
Thomas Henry and the new pretty and colourful lemonades

Also, a funny thing to observe was the large, revolving, circular bar with Campari, Wild Turkey, Appleton and Hendrick’s amongst others. At first you don’t realise it is turning and you feel a bit weird, but then you know it and you happily keep on walking after your drink. A comical sight… and damn good Negronis.

A sartorially stirred Negroni, sir? Certainly, sir.
A sartorially stirred Negroni, sir? Certainly, sir. Please, try to keep up, while I prepare it for you.

Belgium in Berlin

We were also very happy to see more than a few famous Belgian bartenders participating in the fair:

Ben Belmans, who shared the stage with famous Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Jeffrey gave us an amazing workshop on cocktail technique. Question everything, was the big message!

Mr. Ben Belmans introducing Jeffrey Morgenthaler and one of the greatest workshops of the Convent.
Mr. Ben Belmans introducing Jeffrey Morgenthaler and one of the greatest workshops of the Convent.

Hannah Van Ongevalle who (wo)manned the World Class Bar at the fair for a good couple of hours to show her signature cocktails to the public. And they were appreciated a lot.

Hannah working her magic at the World Class bar.
Hannah working her magic at the World Class bar.

Her brother Ran Van Ongevalle who became an ambassador for Belsazar Vermut and made us a wicked Dry Martiny.

Ran Van Ongevalle, our own Belgian Belsazar Ambassador
Ran Van Ongevalle, our own Belgian Belsazar Ambassador

Bart Neirynck proprietor of the famous Bar Herman in Berlin, specialising in – yes of course – Belgian beers.

Bart Neirynck, a Belgian beer ambassador in Berlin. Photo by Jan Zappner
Bart Neirynck, a Belgian beer ambassador in Berlin. Photo by Jan Zappner


BCB is big, maybe too big to see in only two days. Plan who and what you want to see very carefully.

Trends? Difficult and too early to say, but we personally will keep an eye out for rum (especially if ACR keeps on going like this), agave based spirits (if they get a foothold in the bars and I don’t mean only for the bartenders 😉 ), vermouth (but it will take some more time to reach the larger Belgian public). And we will keep a fourth eye on amaro’s (just kidding…or not?). As I said, very difficult to say, while we are sipping our second – excellent – Bourbon Highballer. 😉

Cheers! Enjoy some more photos:

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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

VENUEZ13: twee dagen high-end hospitality op de meest indrukwekkende spirits en cocktailbeurs van de Benelux.

The Cocktail Nation ging naar VENUEZ13 en zag dat het goed was. Een verslag van indrukken.

Dag 1

Aangekomen in het zonnige Antwerpen besloot ik eerst in te checken in het Sir Plantin Hotel om wat overtollige bagage te dumpen. Daar bleek dat ze mijn reservatie een dag te vroeg hadden geboekt. Dat begon goed. Gelukkig kon ik bewijzen dat dat hun fout was en na vijf minuten geratel op een computer beloofde de receptioniste met een ietwat geforceerde glimlach dat alles in orde was.

Een kwartiertje later zat ik al in de VENUEZ-taxi op weg naar het event. Naast mij zat niemand minder dan Darcy O’Neil, de bekende Canadese chemicus/bartender/blogger die een lezing ging geven over soda water en cocktails naar aanleiding van zijn boek ‘Fix the Pumps’. De man zag er rustig uit, heel rustig, té rustig eigenlijk. Jetlag misschien. Ik daarentegen, was zo enthousiast als een kind dat een cadeautje mag uitpakken.


De inkom zag er goed uit: bevallige dames, getooid in hoge hoed, stonden achter oude piano’s die dienst deden als ontvangstbalie. Nice touch! Veel volk, effe aanschuiven, maar alles liep vlot. Ik kreeg een programmakrantje en kwam in de “Jazzterfield” terecht. Een ruimte die ze geslaagd hadden omgetoverd tot pianobar/lounge volgestouwd met – u raadt het al – Chesterfield zetels. Ik eiste er onmiddellijk eentje op en bladerde als bezeten door het programmaboekje op zoek naar mijn artikel over cocktailtrends in 2013. Bladzijde 2, zeer goed. Geen foto; misschien maar best zo. Nu maar hopen dat het gelezen zal worden.

De eerste sessie van de Barshow was reeds begonnen. Vlug daar naar toe. De ruimte zat stampvol, gelukkig had presentator Ben Belmans nog een laatste vrije stoel gevonden. Ik zat neer, doch nog voor mijn rug de leuning kon aanraken, kreeg ik al een shotje Mezcal aangeboden. Dat was immers het onderwerp van de eerste lezing. Carina Soto Velazquez en Maria Boucher kwamen er uitleggen wat Mezcal wel en niet is. “I’m not a headache and I’m not a Margarita,” zo luidde de titel en het vat ook goed de boodschap samen.


Vergeet dus het zout-en-limoenbijten ritueel, kwak die handel niet in één keer achterover en gebruik geen shotglas. “We drink it straight from the bottle,” vertelde Carina en ze staafde dit onmiddellijk met enkele interessante foto’s. Dat raden we zelf niet aan. Proef het, degusteer het zoals een goede whisky. Mezcal is zeer lekker, very smokey. Het is een ‘acquired taste’, dat misschien wel, maar het is het waard om te leren ontdekken en heel interessant voor cocktails – niet alleen Margarita’s.

Mezcal is een 100% artisanaal product, er komt geen machine aan te pas. Daarbij komt nog dat het gemaakt wordt van het hart van de agave plant en het duurt ongeveer 7 jaar eer zo’n plant volwassen is. U kan zich al beginnen voorstellen wat voor een hels karwei het is om een continu aanbod van flessen te genereren. Het unieke proces brengt ook met zich mee dat elke fles een tikkeltje anders smaakt. Ok, het is duur, maar je krijgt er wel een uniek en zeer lekker product voor in de plaats.

Next up was Alfred Cointreau die de geschiedenis van de Cointreauclan uit de doeken kwam doen – wat we persoonlijk niet zo boeiend vonden – en uitleg gaf over de productiewijze van de triple sec – net iets interessanter. Leuk om weten is dat Cointreau het allereerste reclamefilmpje ooit maakte. Het is best een grappig filmpje: Pierrot (je weet wel die witte clown)bestelt iets in een bar en lust het niet. De barman geeft hem dan maar Cointreau en prompt krijgt Pierrot een visioen van een dame die zich aan het uitkleden is. We onthouden hier vooral uit dat hallucinogene, libidoverhogende middelen in de 19e eeuw best ok waren. Fast forward naar de 21e eeuw en Cointreau heeft Pierrots droom waar gemaakt door de clown te schrappen en Dita Von Teese in te huren als boegbeeld van het merk. Nice move, Alfred! Wat we ook onthouden is dat de Cointreauclan een soort appelsientovenares in dienst heeft, die op zicht kan onderscheiden wat een goede of een slechte appelsien is.

slechte appelsien
slechte appelsien

Samen met enkele bartenders gingen we de Da Da Gin bar bezoeken. Ik vroeg mij terstond af waar de naam vandaan kwam. Mijn hoofde ploegde zich door een aantal mentale beelden van wat een Dadaïstische cocktail zou moeten voorstellen. Mijn lichaam baande zich een weg naar de bar, G&T is populair, maar dat wist u waarschijnlijk al. Of lag de grote massa volk misschien aan het feit dat niemand minder dan Dieter Van Roy de Gin Tonics maakte. Uit het gamma was er één gin die ik nog niet geproefd had: Oxley Gin. Best lekker.

Da Da Gin Bar

Wat hier ook meteen opviel was de vormgeving van de bar: een lekker sober retro gevoel met opvallende accenten. Het opvallende accent hier waren een hele reeks (lege) ginflessen die aan dikke henneptouwen boven de toog hingen. Nog meer opvallend was het moment toen één van die opvallende accenten plots besloot om neer te vallen. Op de toog. Ik denk dat de bartender in één klap 5 jaar ouder geworden is. Er was plots meer plaats om te bestellen en de Da Da Gin Bar werd passend herdoopt tot de Badadzjing! Bar. Op naar het volgende onderdeel van de Barshow.

Giuseppe Gallo, Global Brand Ambassador van Martini en Italiaan, kwam uitleg geven over wat vermouth is. “The Truth About Vermouth,” was de titel van zijn cursus. Lees dat even met een Italiaans accent en uw dag kan niet meer stuk. Deze lezing was verplichte kost voor elke beginnende bartender vond ik. De meeste mensen kennen Martini wel, maar weten niet dat het een vermouth is, laat staan dat ze weten wat een vermouth is. Vermouth is een versterkte wijn, gearomatiseerd met verschillende kruiden, boomschors en suiker of karamel. Er werden geurdozen rondgedeeld met de verschillende kruiden en een vrijwilliger mocht zelf vermouth maken on stage. Als voorbeeld cocktail werd een Hanky Panky rond gedeeld, gemaakt met Fernet van het merk Martini zelf. Bijzonder interessant. Verrassend genoeg vermelde Giuseppe Gallo ook de 200ste verjaardag van Noilly Prat, een Franse vermouth en een van mijn persoonlijke favorieten in Dry Martini’s.

Op naar de Boom Boom Burger Room. Ja dat heette echt zo. Wat verwacht u zelf als u die naam leest? Een of andere disco-frituur waar je op keiharde beats prefab fast food naar binnen werkt, dacht ik. Nu dat was buiten de mensen van Puresang en Stuart Catering gerekend.

Mmm, fresh meat!
Mmm, fresh meat!

Prachtig interieur, dezelfde lijn doorgetrokken als de Badadzjing! Bar met de opvallende accenten. Dat deed er mij aan denken, mochten die koeien op de achtergrond ook besloten hebben naar beneden te vallen, was de naam héééél goed gekozen. Helaas dat plezier werd ons niet gegund. Zelfs niet één Boem! Die hamburgers waren top, een overdonderend succes. High end hamburgers; er zat zelf een bij met foie gras. Blijkbaar kent de hamburger een grote revival en hippe hamburger restaurants zijn een trend aan het worden. In Stockholm was dit blijkbaar al een tijdje zo, maar dichterbij kennen we in Amsterdam ook The Butcher en zelfs in ons eigen Aalst is er de Deluxe Burger. Een trend om een oogje op te houden.

Ik wou net naar een volgende stand gaan kijken toen Jan Van Ongevalle zich opeens door de menigte probeerde te murwen, daar moeilijk in slaagde, en vanop twee mensen afstand zei: “ je moet meekomen, Malacca.” Dat laatste had hij gefluisterd. Met een samenzweerderige glimlach draaide hij zich om haastte zich naar de Diageo stand. Ik volgde gezwind. Malacca is geen Hebreeuwse belediging, zo blijkt, maar wel een gin. En wat voor één!

Tanqueray Malacca is een gin die in 1997 op de markt kwam. Veel te vroeg om van de Gin Tonic gekte te kunnen meegenieten. De Malacca werd dus algauw in 2001 aan het kruis genageld. Maar enkel om te herrijzen op 12/12/2012 en in België voor het eerst op VENUEZ13. Wie nog een flesje wil moet zich trouwens haasten, er zijn er immers wereldwijd maar 30.000 van beschikbaar, waarvan 700 voor België.


Antoine Ghyselen van Diageo maakte plechtig de eerste Belgische fles open en liet iedereen proeven. Fantastisch, een ietwat ‘nattere’ gin met een heel lichte fruittoets. Lekker om puur te drinken of in een Dry Martini met wat Grapefruit Bitters. Ik zou hem niet gebruiken voor G&T’s mee te maken, hoewel we dat ook geprobeerd hebben en het is ons zeker niet misvallen. Zeker niet. Dus als je in een bar komt en je ziet Malacca staan, ga ervoor! Zijn hemelvaart zal immers niet lang meer duren.

Tijd voor een nieuwe sessie van de Belgian Barshow met Nederlands toptalent Fjalar Goud. De beste bartender van onze noorderburen en op de Diageo World Class van 2012 gekroond tot beste bartender van Europa. Fjalar was een designer voor Porsche, maar vond daar zijn ding niet in. Hij besloot toen maar bartender te worden. Dit werd niet in dank aangenomen door zijn familie, maar uiteindelijk bereikte hij dan toch de top. Je moet maar durven. Hij gaf ons op de sessie enkele goede tips mee over hoe je om moet gaan met zo’n prestigieuze wedstrijd als de Diageo World Class.

Martini pakte uit met een heuse burlesque tent in de Good Girls Bar. Niet toevallig recht tegenover het Hamburger Restaurant: van ‘buns & burgers’ naar ‘bums & boobies’ (bum als in kontje, niet zwerver). Alweer een keileuk interieur vol antieke zetels overtrokken met jeansbroeken en grote rode vogelkooien waarin af en toe schaars geklede knappe dames vertoefden. Ik heb er niets gedronken, maar wel mijn ogen de kost gegeven.

Mmm, fresh meat!

Een leuke verrassing was de Cécémel stand, alweer prachtig vormgegeven trouwens met twee enorme bruine koeien. Niemand minder dan Marco ‘Le Magicien’ Mathieux stond er cocktails te maken. Met wat op het eerste gezicht de gekste ingrediënten lijken slaagt die kerel er toch steeds weer in om interessante cocktails te creëren. Ik geloof dat er in de mijne mezcal, limoen, zout en chokomelk zat. En jawel hij was lekker, niet iets om elke dag te drinken, maar toch je moet er maar opkomen.


We gingen verder met Chase Gin te proeven. Lekker fris, ideaal om te mixen, maar ik zou hem niet zo zeer puur willen drinken. Verder was er de Spring Gin van Manuel Wouters, een gin met een vrij dominerende pepersmaak. Leek mij zeer goed om Gin Tonics mee te maken. Je kon kiezen uit een klein flesje of een iets minder praktische grote apothekerfles van 2 liter.

Zo kwamen we aan het einde van dag 1. Doordat er zoveel te doen was, heb ik wel spijt de debatten gemist te hebben. blijkbaar was het debat over de Black Box zelfregistrerende kassa zeer zeker de moeite.

Conclusie van dag 1:

Ik neem mijn hoed af voor de mensen van Puresang. De vormgeving was zeer geslaagd. Misschien zou ik in het vervolg de DJ/radioman niet meer zo dicht bij de Barshow ruimte zetten. Het stoorde enorm en ik denk dat de meeste lezers zonder stem terug naar huis gegaan zijn. Ofwel moet er in de toekomst een sluis gemaakt worden met geluidswerende doeken. Ook de Carlsberg stand die blijkbaar elke uur Nieuwjaar vierde of zoiets zorgde voor nogal wat geluidsoverlast.

De Belgian Barshow was zeer goed, kudos naar Ben Belmans, Nine-X en VENUEZ.

Heel veel lekkere gins, maar ik begin zo stilaan “over-ginned” te geraken. Nee, dat is niet waar. Het is eerder dat ik de G&T een beetje beu ben. Tijd dat al die andere lekkere gin cocktails ook eens zo’n gekte mogen meemaken. Begrijp me niet verkeerd de G&T is zeer lekker natuurlijk, maar er bestaan ook nog andere dingen.

Stay tuned voor het verslag van dag 2 met superworkshops, speakeasy’s, verdachte cocktails, Fever Tree en een opgezette leeuw…

Binnenkort nieuwe rubriek: “Ask the Nation”

Vanaf nu openen we een nieuwe rubriek: “Ask the Nation”, waarbij U ons allerhande cocktail gerelateerde vragen kan stellen, die wij binnen de mate van het mogelijke zullen beantwoorden en publiceren. Waar nodig zullen wij de vraag ook doorspelen aan onze Belgische topbartenders. Let wel, vragen op eigen risico.

Welke vragen kan U bijvoorbeeld allemaal stellen:

– Ik heb x,y en z in mijn kast staan en ‘I definitely need a drink’, wat kan ik daar mee maken?

– Waar kan ik x drinken

– Wat is vermouth

– Wat zijn bitters

– Ik heb in bar x, y gedronken en vond het walgelijk, hoe moet het wel?

– Mensen bekijken mij raar als ik x bestel, hoe komt dat?

– Wat is momenteel in?

– Hoe maak ik syrups, bitters, etc…

– Ijk znbr e odka griet me zdike ttn wat meotk vraagen (het antwoord daarop is: de rekening…en snel)

Dus, laat je gaan (in vragen stellen en niet in drinken) en we doen ons best om er een zinnig antwoord op te geven. U begrijpt dat we misschien niet alle vragen kunnen publiceren, maar we doen ons best.