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Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Two in Ghent

The East Flanders city of Ghent (or rather Gent to its Flemish inhabitants and Gand if you're from Wallonia) is arguably the best beer destination in Belgium. A large, growing and varied selection of bars and cafes combines with a hugely attractive city centre to make for an essential visit.  I go every year for the very enjoyable Gents Beer Festival run by the indefatigable Gentse Biervereniging (which very loosely translates as Ghent Beer Club). It's usually on a middle Saturday in August (the 18th this year) and I really do recommend it.

Since 2009 Ghent's attractions have included Annick de Splenter's Gentse Stadsbrouwerij (1 Rembert Doedesreef) and you can drop into the brewery for a drink and perhaps a bite to eat. The essentially hop-less Gentse Gruut beers are popular enough - you'll see them promoted at numerous bars around town - but for me they have been beers to respect rather than enjoy. Now, however, two new brew-pubs have opened, although the term 'brew-pub' hardly does justice to one of them. Both opened just a bit too late to get in the latest edition of Good Beer Guide Belgium.

This opened in February and is run by two lovely people, Jolien D'Hollander and Benjamin Nuytten (who is the brewer). 

It's at 70a Oudburg, an attractive street lined with interesting shops and places to eat, and is easily walkable from the city centre. On the way there you'll pass Aba-jour (20 Oudburg), a good food and beer stop, and just off on Kalversteeg, the remarkable Velootje which everyone needs to visit once.

Painted an anonymous grey, with not the best signage, Brouwbar is easy to walk past but please don't as it's a little gem. It's also not very big but the outside terrace is a very amenable spot - and do look out for the re-cycled key-kegs which have been converted to hold plants plus displays of malt and hops (and and some now function as stools too).

You can see the small brewing kit at the back of the bar and from this emerges a range of very well-made beers.  A Sorachi Saison (6.6%) had herbal notes from Sorachi Ace,that most divisive of hops (for the record I'm a fan)
while the IPA (5.6%) was nicely balanced, in a good way. Both were very refreshing.  A return visit featured Drifters Ale (6.8%) brewed in conjunction with the bar across the road. This is a NEIPA with a touch of rum cask about it - an odd combination which worked very well with just a hint of spirit in the background. The Session Ale at a modest 3.8% had both good body and hop character.

It's all quite low-key and relaxed which for me is part of its attraction - the relaxation can extend to the service so don't be afraid to go to the bar and ask for a beer.  Brouwbar is closed Monday to Wednesday, and open 4-11pm Thursday to Saturday, 12-7pm on Sundays.

DOK Brewing
Low-key is certainly not the way you'd describe the other entrant to Ghent's brewing scene. The term 'brew-pub' hardly does it justice either.

Like many other cities, Ghent is regenerating the old dock area, which is to the north east of the city centre, and when you visit it's very apparent  it has received a great deal of inward investment, and this is ongoing. Dok Noord seems to be the epicentre and you'd find DOK Brewing in Hal 16 at Dok Noord 4b. It's a skillful conversion of the old transformer building which served the city docks and combines some of the distressed original fabric with elegant modern touches - visit at night and the chandeliers are sure to impress.

This is a multi-purpose venue and apart from the brewery, which takes centre stage, there's an Italian restaurant, a bakery (mainly lunchtime only I think), a patisserie (Pattiserie Bostoen) and RØK, a smokery and BBQ. I can testify to the quality of the patisserie and, notably, RØK where the whole mackerel is highly recommend.  But I digress.

The vessels and bar of DOK Brewing are the main focus here with no fewer than 30 taps dispensing around four DOK beers, a cider, a cocktail (!) and a spectrum of guest beers from around Belgium and elsewhere. Cuvée De Ranke on draft was a rare treat.

DOK Brewing opened on 19 May and is a project by beer sommelier Daniella Provost, along with Janos de Baets (who is the main brewer) and Dimitri Messiaen . The beers are very modern - a Baltic Porter (6%) had a good body with a dry, roast character that was pitched at just the right level. The newly launched Beta Pale (5%) was well balanced and very refreshing at
40 IBU.  In the tanks were a Kellerbier, a Brut IPA (a collaboration with Brussels' L'Ermitage nano-brewery) and Outlaw, a New England IPA. All very on trend.

I'm going to stick my neck out and say there's nothing else like this in Belgium at the moment and I found it hugely appealing, returning several times. It's open from 11.00am every day and getting there is quite easy really. 

Tram 4 will take you to Heilg Kerst - then walk down Doornzellestraat to the docks, turn left and enter the complex where you see the Delhaize sign and keep walking straight on.  Alternatively buses 5 (and 8 during the day) will drop you at the Dok Noord stop which is at the dock end of  Doornzellestraat.

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