Size: 750 ml
ABV: 10 %
It would be extremely rude to spend a night in the Kulminator bar and not pay more than just fleeting attention to this most impressive of booze joints. As fate would have it I’ve dabbled with a couple of others in the Het Kapittel portfolio, notably the Pater (#2), and the Dubbel (#108) so there would be a good place to brush up on the beers and the brewery.
The Kulminator is close to the city centre but far out enough to be off the tourist trail. For those curious it’s on Vleminckveld – although it’s easy to miss so look for the number 32. Hours can vary but most evenings you will find it open until the owners Dirk and Leen decide they’ve had enough for the night. This is a beer bar which is very much open on the terms of the proprietors which in essence defines the character of the place. I’ve been in enough beer bars now to appreciate a deviation from the norm and this is certainly no exception.
It was a cold wet night in question, and it easily took me two or three minutes to demist the glasses and come to terms with the stuffy layout. It took that long to find a dog-eared beer menu, and appropriate a seat at the bar, which was just enough time for Leen to accept our first order (#228). The beer was delicious, the music was stately and the atmosphere was eerie. Dirk was sat in a dusty corner surrounded by antiquities nursing a goblet of something fancy while completing his accounts. He barely raised an eye at our arrival, although I very much got the feeling that the days takings were peripheral to the real reason for being open.
The story of Dirk and Leen is an interesting one and dates back to 1974 when the couple opened a wine bar named Bodega in the Kiel district of Antwerp. The locals seemed though to prefer the grain to the grape, and so the focus of the bar was diverted towards beer; and not just local beer. Although all the Belgian classics were found there, you could also get your hands on Danish porters and reknowned German lagers and Bocks. One beer in particular, the EKU 28 was particularly popular and a favourite of Dirk. You might have heard of it by its other name – the Kulminator 28.
The Bodega bar eventually could no longer serve the increasing clientele which Dirk and Leen were garnering through their beer selection. Although the cellar could hold around a thousand cases of aging beer easily enough, the bar could only accommodate about thirty people, and so in 1979 they moved to their current location. The name was changed but the concept remained, and by 2005 they eventually managed to move all their old beer across. Some would say the Kulminator is more a museum than a bar, and it is hard to disagree. The place is littered with breweriana, but not only can you choose a beer, you get to select your vintage. Our second order of the night was a particularly expensive Chimay Blue (#45) that sent Leen into the bowels of the Kulminator. She returned a fair time later with a dust-laden vintage beautifully presented in a wicker basket. Needless to say it was well worth the investment.
By the time we had shared the Het Kapittel Abt the owners were getting restless, and we had had plenty enough beer, breaking open a Tripel Karmeliet (#229) and a La Montagnarde prior (#167). It isn’t therefore with much confidence that I bring you the thoughts on the beer, but from what I recall it was a thick meaty amberish brown which was full of flavour. Like most beers they tend to taste better from the bigger bottles where the yeast has more room to develop, and this was no different. By the time we had polished off the remains and put the world to rights, Dirk had kicked us unceremoniously out the door in his trademark no-nonsense fashion and of course having crossed the line of common sense some time ago we went in search of more beer. I’m not sure who was most upset – us the next day with the chronic hangover, or the landlady of our digs who had to let us in at some unearthly hour of the morning. Well and truly Kulminated I’m afraid.