Stepping inside Kulminator is a little like walking through a secret doorway into a living work of fiction..
You open the door to a room seemingly full of clutter, but also giving the impression that everything has its place. As you walk past the wooden crates stacked as high as a man in the doorway, the words “Trappist Westvleteren’ charred forever into the twisting grain of each, a smile crosses your lips as you think to yourself, “this is the place”.
To your left the bar, a bar unlike any other you’ve seen, strains to hold the array of bottles, boxes and stacks of paper that almost hide it from view completely, rendering the customer side at least pretty much unusable.
At a table a man with flowing white hair sits hunched, shuffling photographs, huffing or smiling to himself intermittently as he scribbles on one after the other, cross-referencing them, then tagging them at an old computer that sits on a table beside him. To his right is another table festooned with ribbons and banners wishing someone a happy 65th birthday, and on that table are massed bottles of all sizes from all over the world, a magnum of this, a jeroboam of that, beers of all ages, in fact, a beer lovers dream. Then you glance again at the photographs scattered on the table, the man is pictured in almost all of them, smiling, drinking, enjoying his birthday as only a man like he should, here, in his bar.
The scene is almost Dickensian brought forward to present day, in fact if Terry Pratchett was to write a character for his Discworld series it could be here, in this place, with this man, The Curator of beer, Dirk Van Dyck…
As I reached for the beer menu which was as thick as my wrist, a lady approached to serve us. This is Leen, the other half of this beery partnership who all this time has been busily serving at the various tables whilst Dirk barely raised an eye from his task….
Not having time to study the vast tome of aged beer before me, I hurriedly chose something refreshing to quench the thirst of a hot afternoons walk to be here, this still though is a couple of years old and tasting fabulous, Avec Les Bon Voeux from Brasserie Dupont. This arrived from the draft tap and was quickly consumed as I set to work trying to choose what to try next from this collection of liquid history, and all the time Dirk sat shuffling, scribbling, typing..
Some time passed and another beer was chosen, my first sample of an aged Orval, not too old, around 12 months but a start I thought. Leen took the order and walked over to the curator and quietly relayed it in his tongue, only then did he rise and shuffle into the cellar to find the beer selected. On returning he handed the beer to Leen who brought it to the table as Dirk returned to his task.
This happened each time we ordered throughout the long night (where me and about €100 parted company), he did speak to a couple of folk that were clearly regulars but not a great deal. But it sort of added to the charm of the place, a sense of seriousness that I think (reading some other reviews) leads to in my view an unfounded reputation for being a bit unwelcoming. We certainly never felt anything of the sort and in fact got talking to three or four Antwerpians for almost the duration.
The beer list is vast and goes back decades, the oldest beer we found was thirty one years old, but more often than not there were plenty of beers that had many differing ages to choose from and perhaps compare the effects time has had on their aromas, flavours and mouthfeel. The prices varied clearly based on age and rarity but were surprisingly accessible on the whole, baring in mind what it must take to keep such a collection going.
I settled on an old favourite of mine to finish our night at Kulminator, something appropriate to bring the experience to completion, a beer by Struise that I know and love, but had not tried in any real aged form. It was their Pannepot Grand Reserva 2005, aged in oak calvados barrels for that added touch of luxurious complexity, syrupy, dark and very boozy with all the chocolate, caramel and dark fruit flavours you’d expect and more, beautiful.
You may have noticed the lack of photographs of the physical features of this wonderful place, even the one of Dirk himself was not taken by me and only shows a glimpse of background.
This was done purposely as I think this is just a place you should experience for yourself, I hope you agree, let me know if you do?
|Monday||8:00 pm – 12:00 am|
|Tuesday||4:00 pm – 12:00 am|
|Wednesday||4:00 pm – 12:00 am|
|Thursday||4:00 pm – 12:00 am|
|Friday||4:00 pm – 12:00 am|
|Saturday||4:00 pm – 12:00 am|
*Dirk Van Dyck photograph is featured and taken from Gotham Girl Chronicles, why not check her blog out here.
This was one of my favorite places in Antwerp. We went twice during our stay. Personally, the Rodenbach Vin de Cereale 2004 was my amazing beer find on the list. It’s a great place to go sit and chat with friends and enjoy wonderful beers. Additionally, They’re such a lovely old couple! Truly a must stop for any beer fan, as long as they’re respectful of the place.