Monday, January 12, 2009

And Beer Shall Flow Freely From the Fountains...

The boys at Moeder Lambic, who have quietly made their café in Saint-Gilles one of the best in the country, are on the move. This summer Jean Hummler, Nassim Dessicy, Andy Mengal and their team plan to open a second location in the city center, a short stroll from the Mannekin Pis and Poechenellekelder.

They've rented the location, at Place Fontainas 10. Andy, formerly a helpful presence at the nearby Poechenellekelder, will head up the new effort. Now it's a matter of getting the builders in gear on the renovation. At the moment Jean – seen here with the top-secret blueprints – says he expects a May or June opening. But this is Belgium, so don't plan your holiday around those dates just yet.

While the smaller Saint-Gilles location will keep on rolling, the new Fontainas branch is to improve on the old in a few ways. The first is more space, with seats for about 95 inside and as many as 60 on the terrace. That terrace might expand to the square as well, if the city follows up on plans to close the street out front and make it pedestrian-only.

And great news for those of us who like to smell our beers: A big chunk of the indoor space will be set aside for non-smokers. Jean and Nassim have long pondered doing this in Saint-Gilles, but they suspect their regulars would stage a revolt. Hopefully they can breathe cleaner air in the new place with less trouble.

Perhaps the most exciting improvement is a greater emphasis on draft beer. There will be 40 taps plus four British-style handpumps, exceedingly rare in Belgium yet ideal for dispensing real lambic. Breweries that have already agreed to provide kegs include Dupont, de la Senne, De Ranke, Het Anker, Kerkom, Légendes (Géants and Ellezelloise), Jandrain-Jandrenouille, St. Feuillien and Contreras. That doesn't include the Cantillon lambic, faro and 3 Fonteinen Kriekenlambic that will be on the pumps, plus a rotating guest lambic. Plus there will be 150 or so different bottled beers, with emphasis on gueuze and vintage ales that keep well, in large bottles for sharing. No industrial brewers here: The largest one on the menu will be Orval.

Among the 40 regular taps about 10 will be reserved for quality guest beers from other breweries. The pressurized beers also will include sparkling lambics such as Cantillon Gueuze – yes, the blended, refermented magic normally experienced only in bottles. There have been successful experiments with this at specialty beer bars in the States, as geeks there may know. Moeder Lambic is bringing this effort back home.

Compare the planned 44 draught beers here with the 30 at Delirium's upstairs Taphouse. It would be fun to see a small-scale arms race, no? Meanwhile in Brussels we're seeing a new emphasis on draught specialty beer as opposed to bottles. In my mind this coincides with the still-up-and-coming wave of hoppier Belgian beers, which usually taste better fresh on tap.

Last thing to mention is food and soft drinks, whose quality would match that of the craft beer. They intend to offer locally sourced cheese and bread, quiche, juices and so on. There will be real tea, not supermarket tea bags. As Jean told me: "If you have Gueuze Cantillon on draft, and your wife has a Lipton, what's the point?"

Bear in mind that most of these plans are still just that – plans. Sometimes these things fall short. But I have seen these plans on paper, and I've also seen Jean and Nassim accomplish everything they've set out to do so far. Locals and future visitors have good reason to start getting excited.

I'm tempted to go cheer on the builders.

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  1. Good news Joe, very good news!
    Easier to get to and more importantly back from!

    Andy @ Bier-Mania! Cultural Beer Tours

  2. Yeah. I love the idea of that fourth handpump for guest lambics. Guest lambics, come on! And beers like Taras Boulba and IV Saison on tap pretty much all the time. I hope everything goes as planned for those guys.