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Tippler Does Belgium ....De Koninck visit Chimay click here or Brussels Bars click here

A touch of glass

Now working in Belgium for an English-language magazine, Tippler is ideally placed to carry on his love of beer. Here he explores the amber-coloured world of Antwerp's De Koninck brewery and comes away suitably impressed.....

There's only one De Koninck....

There's only one De Koninck. And there's only one brewery in Antwerp, as I discovered during a recent visit to this atmospheric city.

This family-run business was founded in 1833 and is steeped in history. Indeed, if you look closely at the De Koninck logo, you'll spot a hand. This hand has a starring role in the company's story as its twin is found on an old stone post that marked the boundary between Antwerp and Bechem, just 100 metres from the brewery. Travellers would see the hand, stop and pay a toll to cross into Antwerp. After years spent gathering dust in the catacombs of the city's Vleeshuis, the original stone post has come home and now stands in the brewery courtyard.

....people ask for a "bolleke" ....

Not only that but ask any beer drinker in Flanders or Holland what a "bolleke" is and he will immediately associate it with De Koninck. The bolleke is the ball-shaped, high-stemmed glass that was typically used in Antwerp to serve any highly-fermented beer but, in Flanders especially, people ask for a "bolleke" and specifically mean a glass of the 5% rich amber-coloured De Koninck. The two are synonymous.

....retain a good head while setting free its heady aroma.

The glass, alongside its smaller, shorter-stemmed brother, the Pinske (little prince) has become a much-prized collector's item among beer buffs the world over. It, and the beer, is instantly recognisable and in this way this small but perfectly-formed brewery, which employs just 70 people in total, has contributed to the history of its host city. Not only that, but the Belgians, as you've doubtless noticed, like their beer frothy.....and the bolleke's shape helps De Koninck retain a good head while setting free its heady aroma.

....under the name of "The Hand"

The home of the bolleke began life on a very small scale in the Plaisante Hof coach house, then located opposite a gallows field. One Joseph Henricuss De Koninck bought the coach house in 1827 but died soon afterwards. His wife later married Johannes Vervliet, who started a brewery under the name of "The Hand".

By 1912 it was a limited company called "Charles De Koninck" and, in 1919, a family of brewers from Willebroek, the Van den Bogaerts, formed a company with the then De Koninck director. To this day members of the Van den Bogaert family run De Koninck from its brewery in Mechelsesteenweg. Up until 1995 the bolleke and its younger, but stronger, brother, Cuvee De Koninck (8%) were created in the old brewhouse. This stands on the site of the original brewery and is now a museum. these high-tech environs......

A new "21st century brewhouse", that looks like the set of a sci-fi movie and is housed in the next building, now produces the two beers. Also brewed in these high-tech environs is De Koninck1s third great beer, the 6% Antoon, which was launched last year in honour of Anthony Van Dyck, the supreme portrait artist at the court of the Stuart king, Charles I. Van Dyck had been born in Antwerp 400 years before. Cuvee De Koninck, on the other hand, was first launched as Cuvee Antwerpen '93 to tie-in with the nomination of the city as Cultural Capital of Europe in that year. It's also amber coloured.....but is a little sweeter than the bolleke, as well as being much more potent!

It's all a matter of taste.

Both Antoon and Cuvee De Koninck have their own loyal following and each brew varies slightly. So, theoretically, there's no reason why beer experts, like those of wine, can't compare bottles from different years and, for example, ask for a Cuvee circa 97 instead of a '99. It's all a matter of taste.

And what a taste that is! The brewhouse may be ultra-modern but the beers smack of years of Belgian tradition. Water and malt combine in the mash tub and the starch, released by the crushing of the malt grains, turns to fermentable sugars. This "liquid sugar" is separated from the solids in a filtration tank and is called "wort". The wort is next boiled to stabilise and sterilise it. At this point ground hops are added to create the bolleke's characteristic aroma and pleasant bitterness. These are 90% Czechoslovakian Saaz variety hops, with the balance coming from Belgium. by the brewing process.

The beer's amber colour is down to the malt barley. Years ago the brewery had its own malt house in which the barley was sprayed with water in order to kick-start the germination process. This forms enzymes which are de-activated during kiln-drying then re-activated by the brewing process.

The kiln temperature determines whether the malt will be light or dark and De Koninck uses malt kiln-dried at high temperatures, hence its lovely, rich colour.

These days, the malt is brought in and the Old Malt House is a cosy, atmospheric and smoky bar used by the brewery's many visiting parties.

But back to that all-important brewing process: once sieved, the wort is cooled and the yeast added. De Koninck's particular strain of yeast.....from the Saccheromyces Cerevisiae stored and cultivated in a lab in Denmark and its presence converts the sugars to alcohol. De Koninck is a high fermentation beer and this means that, during the process, the yeast floats and can be recovered.

After fermentation the beer is "lagered", or chilled, and after a final filtration is ready for barrelling or bottling. The spilt is around 70/30 respectively and bottling is done in-house.

....there's no getting away from the sign of "The Hand".

Some 15 brews take place each working week, every brew being 200 hectolitres in size. The annual total is around 114,000 HL. Approximately 35% of this total draught and bottled-beer leaves Belgium. While that may sound a lot, in truth most of that amount goes just down the road to the discerning Dutch. Surprisingly, the beer is not all that common in Brussels.....but in Antwerp there's no getting away from the sign of "The Hand".

The two newer De Koninck beers look certain to stay around, but there's no doubt that the original bolleke, whether on draught or in a bottle, is far and away the most widely-drunk of the brewery's three superb concoctions.

....certainly the best welcome possible....

All the beers are brewed using only natural ingredients and, at 5%, the bolleke is eminently quaffable....and a glass (or three) of the remarkable liquid was certainly the best welcome possible for this writer's first visit to lively, historic and very, very Flemish, Antwerp. Cheers!


Visit another Belgium brewery with Tippler Click here for Chimay


Click below to find out about 21 of Brussels Best Bars...


Carpe Diem Café


Fabian O' Farrell's

L'Amour Fou

Le Trappiste

Fat Boy's

Mini Louise

Tierra del Fuego

L'Ultime Atome

Matonge, Ixelles

Le Booze 'n' Blues


The Crow

Le Fourquet

Le Stoemelings


L'Horloge du Sud

Le Bier Circus

O' Reilly's

The Bank

Here are a few York pubs......
The Maltings

The Blue Bell

The Three Cranes

The Roman Bath

The Snickleway Inn

The Royal Oak

The Red Lion

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