Is it possible that I've pinpointed the Holy Grail, the pied piper of beer geekdom heaven? Dare I say…the greatest bar on the planet?
The recent craft beer explosion in San Diego has turned this guy into a self-admitted beer nerd, and on a recent trip to Antwerp, Belgium, I experienced a watering hole that all future “best bars” will be stacked against.
De Kulminator is an unsuspecting bar located down a quiet side street within a few minutes’ stroll from Antwerp’s busy shopping district.
As I crack open the door, an odd jingle resembling a music box fills my ears. Immediately, I tell myself that I’m not in some foot-stompin’, beer-guzzling hooligan’s bar. Dried hops line the ceiling, and walls are covered in curious oddities, classic beer signs, empty boxes of the famed Westvleteren XII (rated #1 beer in the world), bottle caps and glassware.
The place is small, well lit, and hosts a few beer-drinking patrons all sharing dusty, cellared bottles of beer.
I take a seat at the small, clutter-filled counter and observe the two grey-haired barkeeps stocking shelves, taking inventory and making their way through an overly crowded pile of beer boxes. They’re an odd pair, like characters you’d read about in Grimms' Fairy Tales. The woman greets me and points me to the “beer list.”
This is no list. This is a book. There’s got to be more than a couple of hundred pages of every beer imaginable. As I embark on this page-turning journey, I notice that each beer is listed by year and some of them are almost thirty years old.
Amazement turns to awe, and awe to exhilaration. It’s overwhelming looking through this rare and extreme list, so I choose something somewhat familiar – a Chimay Blue. I opt for the 1997. Done. Bottle top cracked, beer poured. Drink, smile. The end. This is one of the greatest beverages I’ve ever consumed.
As I sit at the counter taking in the hundreds of bottles that line the back wall, I notice the quietness of the room. Patrons sit and chat, discussing what I can only assume is the stellar beer that fills the beautiful matching glassware.
I think about the simplicity of this place. There’s no “on the rocks” or dirty martinis with two olives. Pick a beer, pop the top, pour and consume.
I stay for about an hour before having to catch a train, and as I make my way out and onto the street, I'm already missing it. I wonder if I’ll ever get the opportunity to visit again, and think about what I’ll order if do get the chance to return.
Even as I write this, I smile as I think about De Kulminator – the bar with no blaring music, no flashing television, no scantily clad waitresses or whiskey shots – and how the lack of all that can be so…so enjoyable!