Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Beers of Belgium come better when Brown: draining Leuven dry

Leuven is the stronghold of Stella Artois. On the north side of the city, in Tim Webb's words:
The enormous factory complex that produces Stella Artois and a number of other run-of-the-mill ales and lagers is strangely beautiful in a plain white slab sort of way. There are odd similarities with some of the more monumental war graves, which is perhaps apt given its industrial heritage.
As a result, even more than the Belgian norm, each and every boozer has its walls dedicated to Jupiler or Stella.

Malcolm had that initiatory taste of Orval in the Cafe Gambrinus, at the west end of the Grote Markt:
Gambrinus (13 Grote Markt; 00 32 16 20 12 38). A classic, the timeless Gambrinus has views of the sumptuous Stadhuis as an irresistible side dish.
If first stop in Venice is Il Caffe Florian (an essential to-do, unlike overrated and overhyped Harry's Bar), then Gambrinus is the Leuven equivalent. Nice.

A pot-walloping paradise

The cavalcade moved on and soon located Domus, a brewpub just back of the Town Hall. Since this was December, there were three housebrews available:
  • the standard Domus, for those who go for a lighter Pilsener;
  • the slightly stronger (well, 5.8%), and darker Nostra Domus (it's a pun on the 16th-century seer) -- too much and one definitely sees visions;
  • and Engel, a strong bottled lager.
Here, for extended periods, Malcolm could willingly take root and swig Nostra Domus, half a litre at €3.80, at ease, and in pleasant surroundings. The English have lost the taste for darker beers: Nostra Domus (or its ilk) should be capable of restoring the proper norms. Tim Webb calls it:
a sweet and grainy amber beer with an odd but pleasant backtaste.
Hmm: Malcolm reckons the colour is far deeper than most ambers, darker than most English bitters; and the "backtaste" is certainly not "odd". That Domus website gives a fair flavour of the ambiance of the joint, though not of its products. The menu isn't bad either: expect to have to battle Belgian families for a seat at lunchtime.

Nothing here to get your back up

Round the corner, and on the catty-corner of the cobbled Grote Markt, the Lady in his Life and Malcolm found another perch in Notre Dame Quasimodo.

There are many, and doubtless very good, other places to eat. Leuven is a student town, and Notre Dame is not squeamish in catering for that market. So it is a bit brash and can be loud. Elbow-room is limited. Read the reviews on Tripadvisor or wherever. Ignore the comments on waiting staff -- they're rushed, but it works: anyway, what's wrong with sitting and sipping while the plates arrive? Malcolm seriously doubts those complaints. Venture into the joint: notice the plethora of customers, all ages and types and conditions. This is a popular place: take the hint, get the message. There is also a good beer list, mainly bottled.

Malcolm quite took to Gouden Carolus from the Anker brewery in Mechelen. The straight Gouden Carolus, as the name suggests, is a dark golden ale, a bit too spicy for Malcolm's English tastes. But the Christmas brew is a dark sweet barley wine. Malcolm's dear old Dad had a habit of ordering in a keg of K winter Ale (from long lost Stewart & Patteson of Norwich) to be nurtured through the next month or so, for his own personal use. Like that, this Gouden Carolus seasonal brew needs to be handled with care; it rates at 9% alcohol.

Malcolm admits the waiting staff at Notre Dame were a trifle wary of an Englishman, even one of advancing years, relishing a couple of these while awaiting, and then accompanying his steak with his fair share of the bottle of Cabernet.

Leuven comes well recommended. It can almost be forgiven Stella Artois.

Coming up:

Beers of Belgium come better when Brown: On to Brussels! Sphere: Related Content

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