Wednesday, July 29, 2009

In Case You Get Thirsty in Shanghai...

This is Rudy Wimmer. He is one of a handful of people giving some hope to a relative beer wasteland.

Rudy is the proprietor of Kaiba, a Belgian beer bar in Shanghai, China. It's really a very nice café. I know this for two reasons: (1) because Rudy is a righteous dude; and (2) because the title on his business card says "Beer Lover."

He's in Belgium at the moment meeting brewers and other contacts helpful to the cause of bringing better beer to his café. Meanwhile he's also opening a second location in Shanghai.

One of the coolest things I learned about Kaiba: Rudy makes a serious effort to keep his beer prices low, even while other places unscrupulously gouge customers with what amount to $7 glasses of cheap lager. As fellow Beer Lovers, we see that sort of gouging in expensive cities where beer inexplicably becomes a precious commodity (Paris anyone? New York?). We support all efforts to undercut such thievery.

I've never been to Shanghai. But when I get there, eventually, I now know where to drink: 528 Kangding Road, Building D, 101.

Here we see Rudy enjoying a Zinnebir at the Soleil café in downtown Brussels. Incidentally, you could throw a rock down that street and possibly hit the awning of the new Moeder Lambic.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Update: Moeder Lambic Fontainas Set for Fall Opening.

It's an unlikely spot, sandwiched between an all-day laundromat and a pornographic comic book shop. Maybe not where you'd expect to find one of Belgium's — and therefore the world's — top beer cafés. Yet there it will be.

I first wrote about Moeder Lambic Fontainas back in January. After the usual delays, an army of workmen have finally descended to busy themselves with rebuilding and painting and cleaning and installing. When it's finished, the location at Place Fontainas 10 will offer 40 taps and five or six handpumps (mostly reserved for lambic), plus a selection of 75 cL bottles that will only bother with stuff that ages well. One of the few 33 cL bottles – and probably the largest brewery represented – will be Orval. Otherwise the emphasis is on small craft brewing and sheer quality. Considering that philosophy and a focus on draft beer, no place like this has ever existed in Belgium.

Pictured here we see partners Jean Hummler, Andy Mengal and Nassim Dessicy in front of the facade, which is still mostly graffiti and shambles. Not for long. And that incredible awning, the only redeeming feature from the old front, will remain. Beneath it will be tables for sipping in the shade. Eventually those tables will spill out to Place Fontainas itself, when the city shuts off the street to traffic in a few years. Theoretically.

Those of you who use Facebook (shh!) can see more updates and photos here, including an artists' rendering here. Presumably the two identical girls sipping coffee will have company by the time the place opens in October.

Did I mention that? It's cross-your-fingers, knock-on-wood, seriously hopefully definitely supposed to open in October. Unfortunately not in time to help those attending Belgian Beer Weekend on the Grand Place to find something better to drink (ouch!), but still in plenty of time to find a rhythm before Christmas. There are also plans for a party of some sort a day or two before the Zythos Beer Festival next March.

Now: I'd suggest that the top beer specialist cafés in Belgium are, in no order, Moeder Lambic in Saint-Gilles, the Brugs Beertje in Bruges, the Kulminator in Antwerp, and Delirium in Brussels. Strictly in terms of destinations most visited by geeks.

I'd also suggest that come October there will be another place to round out a clear Top 5 — and it will be another Moeder Lambic.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Drinkable, Edible Perfectionism on Rue du Lombard.

There are certain local watering holes I was keeping secret until the book came out, despite an overwhelming urge to shout a few of their names from the rooftops. They are those gems previously unknown by beer geeks, tourist guidebooks, or even locals that (we hope) add real value to Around Brussels. Our hope was that giving them some attention would give them a well-deserved boost. At one of my true favorites — Nüetnigenough — there is at least anecdotal evidence of that happening.

(Quick Brusseleer lesson: nüetnigenough means "never ever enough," and is a noun used to describe an insatiable person.)

On a recent visit one of the owners told me they've seen plenty of patrons toting the book along with them, often ordering the beer it suggests — Avec Les Bons Voeux. This is a strong, blonde, bitter and complex ale originally brewed by Dupont for the holiday season. Its popularity was enough to see the beer made year-round, and it has since become a modern classic. More to the present point, it's thrilling to think that people are following our advice and even taking our offhand beer suggestions. (Kneel before Zod. I am drunk with power.)

By the way: It's really tricky selecting 80 beers to go along with 80 separate places. After learning matrices in math class, I never thought I'd create one in real life. You've got to know what's available in all those places before you can recommend one for each, without conflict and preserving certain priorities. You make compromises. One of the smallest ones was picking Bons Voeux instead of my first choice, Saison Dupont, which was needed elsewhere.

A handful of places in town (but never ever enough) offer Saison Dupont, but only a couple offer it on draft. This is enough to pull me in nearly every time I'm in the city center. Kegs of it appear occasionally at Belgophile beer cafés in the States, but unless you're a geek living here you won't know how rarely it's found on draft. Its classic incarnation is in corked, green 75 cL Champagne-style bottles, with brown 33cL ones occasionally seen. It is arguably more complex when bottle-conditioned, but on tap you find a fresher hop bitterness (and none of the skunkitude often found from the light-struck green bottles.) It's incredibly refreshing and I'm liable to put down a few glasses before remembering why I came downtown in the first place.

The owners have plenty of working café experience and their goal was to offer the sort of place that they wished existed. (This reminds me of great brewers who make certain beers because they don't see anybody else making what they want to drink.) Its Art Nouveau facade hides a smoky interior, with long tables and sharp angles, that leans more toward Art Deco. A shortish but high-quality beer list (Cantillon, Dupont, Boon, Westmalle, Orval, and no corporate anything) is matched by a lean and muscular food menu. The tapas-influenced grub is tasty, affordable, and different from the brasserie norm.

Frankly they deserve all the publicity they can get.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Vigneronne for Your Great Thirst and Mine.

What is it about the Vigneronne? Is it the sweetness of the Muscat grapes? Is it the beer's knack, especially when chilled, for embodying all that is refreshing about lambic? Or maybe it's the power to hit the reset button on your mind, stomach, palate, and soul? Especially when slurped at the end of a long night. Or the morning after.

Whatever it is, Vigneronne is my favorite Cantillon beer.

(I have favorites, and I don't trust people who don't. "Depends on my mood yada yada," whatever. How often do people ask you about your favorite beer? Don't waste their time with a spiel. Have a simple answer that will point them toward a great beer. You haven't taken the time to figure out your own favorite beer? Now that's just lazy. If you really don't know, you can borrow my favorite: Saison Dupont. Now, just for argument's sake, let's say you decide that your favorite beer is Bell's Two-Hearted. Excellent choice, by the way. And someone asks you if Westvleteren 12 is the really the world's best beer. Now all you have to say is, "No. Bell's Two-Hearted is the world's best beer." See how easy that was?)

Here you see the Vigneronne employed as a Sunday morning remedy at the Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst, a.k.a. the Insurance Against Great Thirst. The Grote Dorst is in all likelihood the greatest lambic café in the world. It wins for selection, price, traditional location in the heart of Pajottenland, and after-church village atmosphere. Indeed the Eizeringen village steeple is just across the street. As a matter of great annoyance and charm, the Grote Dorst is only open Sundays, church holidays, and funerals. (Note that the café will be closed for summer holidays on July 19 and 26.)

And how about that vintage Cantillon glass? Or is it faux-vintage? Who cares? It's cool. Hooray for tumblers that encourage us to gulp.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Junior is a Gueuze Man.

Thirsty Pilgrim Jr. entered the world at 16:48 Central European Time on June 25, feisty and cantankerous and spoiling for a fight. Hence my recent absence from posting. I'm as cranky and irritable as the l'il guy these days, so any complaints are to be submitted only in person and may promptly be answered with a polite punch in the face.

Yeah. I could use a nap.

Tension has been tempered in these parts to some degree by honest-to-jesus summery weather (in Brussels!) and the careful consumption of late afternoon and/or late evening beers of reasonable strength. Usually Taras Boulba or Biolégère for me, and gueuze for the heroic Missus. Anyone questioning such reckless behavior among newly instated child-rearers, please refer to paragraph 1, sentence 3. And know that the stuff is helping to keep us sane.