Visiting the De Koninck brewery tour in Antwerp

De Koninck decoration in the ticket office, made from a lot of De Koninck bottles
De Koninck decoration in the ticket office, made from a lot of De Koninck bottles

Antwerp’s De Koninck beer is a truly iconic beer, served in the equally iconic bolleke glass. In fact, you can go into any bar in Belgium and order a “bolleke” or an “Antwerpen bolleke” and you’ll get a De Koninck in the proper glass. Antwerp is a confident city, and they’re proud of their bolleke.

De Koninck is a part of Belgian Family Brewers, and although it was sold to international brewery giants Duvel-Moortgat in 2010, it still counts because Duvel-Moortgat is also family owned. They have put a lot of money into the old city brewery, and we visited a very impressive, completely new brewery tour.

A lot of Bolleke glasses as part of the De Koninck brewery tour
A lot of Bolleke glasses as part of the De Koninck brewery tour

The tour is interactive and entertaining, with an English guide in headphones. It’s beginner friendly, and I would recommend it for the common tourist including families with children, while the beer tourist may be seen hurrying through the exhibitions and towards the bar.

And that’s what we did too. The exhibition was fun and interesting, but a relatively quick walk, and it didn’t feel necessary to stop and listen to the guide at every place. But after the tour, we were guided to the tasting room in the cellar, and that’s where the interesting part of the visit began.

Beer Ambassador Nicolas Soenen demonstrating the correct Duvel pour
Beer Ambassador Nicolas Soenen demonstrating the correct Duvel pour

Duvel Moortgat Beer Ambassador, Nicolas Soenen took us through an interesting beer and cheese tasting with various beers from the company’s portfolio. First up was De Koninck itself, served in a mini-bolleke for tasting situations. Smaller versions of the brewery glasses are obviously a big trend in Belgium right now. If you want a multi-course beer dinner or tasting, you can still serve small pours of beer in the correct glassware, typically 15 centiliter glasses.

De Koninck Antwerpen Pale ale, or as it's generally known: The bolleke
De Koninck Antwerpen Pale ale, or as it’s generally known: Bolleke

The beer itself isn’t all that. Developed in the 1920s to compete with the growing pilsner market, the beer style called Special Belge is a relatively bland, amber beer with lots of caramel and just a little hop bite in the finish. It matched well with the first cheese though. A mild, French goats cheese with vanilla grains, it was actually  developed with beer pairing in mind. It was a quite drying sensation which called for a refreshing beer. The light acidity in the cheese matched the sweetness of the beer, and vanilla and caramel played together as well.

The second beer was more exciting. De Koninck Wild Jo is a pilsner that has been refermented with two strains of brettanomyces. It’s not the most outrageous brett beer, but it gives a nice fruity and funky touch along with the classic pilsner malt and hops. A fine match to the mild and creamy, brie-like goat cheese called Florence.

Excellent beer and cheese pairing
Excellent beer and cheese pairing session in the De Koninck tasting room

Next up was another iconic classic, Duvel. It’s another beer with an iconic glass, and a quick pouring course was included. We were each given a small glass and a little sample bottle of Duvel, and then instructed how to pour it the Belgian way. You can like or dislike the way Duvel is served, but the pouring ritual makes for great story telling. Here’s an instruction video if you want to try it yourself: Duvel on YouTube

De Koninck Test Brew 01, an amarillo-citra hopped imperial red ale
De Koninck Test Brew 01, an amarillo-citra hopped imperial red ale

With the Duvel we had an excellent, two years old Comté, made from summer milk. It was a fruity and quite salty cheese, and the Duvel had both the strength and the effervescence to stand up to it, while the fruity notes played together. For a sweet intermezzo, we then had “chocolate-coated marshmallowtreats” or in Danish  “flødebolle”, a wide-spread chocolate treat that apparently exists in all other language areas than English. It was paired with a De Koninck Test Brew, an experimental one-off imperial red ale with citra and amarillo hops, but also obvious Belgian character. The bitter beer was a pretty harsh match for the chocolate.

For the final, we had a creamy and funky Stilton cheese, something I would usually pair with a barley wine or a sweet imperial stout. Instead, we had Liefmans Cuvée Brut. It’s a flemish sour ale with cherries, aged for at least a year and a half, and then blended from various brews to get just the right flavour.

Cuvée Brut is a real, uncompromising beer for sour ale lovers, and was a surprisingly good match. If you want to pair a lower alcohol beer with strong, sharp blue cheeses, sour cherry beer is definitely worth looking into, whether it’s the Flemish sour style, lambic or an American interpretation of either. It’s something I will definitely try again. Perhaps even a kriek and blue cheese pairing session is in order?

For the final dessert, we had a little chocolate lollipop with a raspberry cream filling. With the sour Cuvée Brut we had too much of a contrast, and both chocolate and beer was worse off from that pairing. Although the cherry element sounds so inviting, sour beers aren’t really for sweet desserts in my opinion.

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