‘Insurance Against the Great Thirst’ ('In de Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst')
by Steve Taylor
In 2015, 2016 and 2017, 'In de Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst' was named 'Best Beer Bar in Belgium' and 'Best Beer Bar in the World'. It has become the ‘must visit’ destination for all beer lovers visiting Belgium.
At the beginning of June 2017, I decided that my time had come to see the land that still brewed beer ‘wildly’ and even more so, that my thirst should be insured against.
It’s a hot and humid June morning. With almost no exceptions, I can barely face the idea of drinking before 5pm, but this morning we were faced with very little choice - the beer bar generally only opens on Sundays from 10.00 to 13.30. Needs must. I’m hoping a two-mile walk with good company changes my mind.
Along the way, numerous gardeners, tending to their modestly-presented, and mostly food-growing gardens, greeted us with unwavering and welcoming eye contact. We were left without any doubt that they wanted to chat, and yet when the subject turned to our pilgrimage, the words Lambic and Geuze were largely met with indifference. This was a land where people preferred to drink Leffe, Duvel and Jupiler. It was definitely not the land my romantic ‘authenticity-craving’ mind imagined. All the times I heard that the UK and, to an even greater extent, the US interest in Belgian’s most historic beer style, kept the industry alive from the 1990s through to the present, I could hardly have imagined the extent to which that was true.
As we drew close to our destination, I was getting a bit excited to get my hands on some of the great Geuze. The village of Eizeringen (just 20km from Brussels) is a pretty sleepy affair on a Sunday morning but, on entering the pub, I was delighted to see all but two chairs occupied. The chatter was warm. Aside from two tables of North Americans, the clientele appeared ‘local’ and were in their 50s, 60s and 70s. The local tipple appeared to be kriek or coffee, with lambic-washed cheese on the side. The tipple for the Americans was rarer vintage bottlings of Cantillon’s dry hopped Iris, the sublime Merlot grape Saint Lamvinus, and other rare Cantillon offerings.
Grabbing the last two chairs in the pub, we were greeted with a ‘flight’ of eight still, unblended lambics, served at cellar temperature. Until that point in my life, I had only encountered one unblended lambic, and now I was faced with eight. The cellar temperature allowed the nuances and some of the harsher notes to sing and it’s fair to say it was a mixed bunch.
The ‘Insurance’ offered drinking opportunities that are almost impossible to find outside of visits to individual brewers and blenders, and gave us the opportunity to sip the products of different ‘wild’ producers side by side for comparison. I was particularly impressed with Girardin’s Lambic but the crown went to the unfiltered Kriekenlambic from Girardin, for its sublime balance of fruit freshness, soft layered acidity and yeasty background notes and high notes alike. Two of them (put politely) were difficult to drink – the mustiness of de Troch too odd, and the citric acidity of Mort Subite too harsh for me.
The lambic dominated beer list is extensive, and I’d happily explore it over a number of Sundays. Sometimes it veers into the murky/risky world of 1980s lambic from closed down blenders and brewers: when we were there, there were a few offerings from Eylenbosch. ‘They found them by the side of the road’ ventured one local man. We didn’t explore these expensive timepieces, but importantly, there is an opportunity to do so.
There’s one other important dynamic to mention here. All vintage beer you buy in the pub has to be drunk on the premises. I don’t think it’s a licensing issue, it’s a conscious decision on the part of the bar to keep good stocks of rare beer, and to help guard against the grey market world of selling these beers, especially at exorbitant prices in the Netherlands, and online in US auctions.That is a bitter pill to swallow when you want to take one home but I do believe that this bigger issue is one worth prioritising over my desire to drink obscure lambic back home. Safeguarding the supply of these rare beers to wonderful places that serve them well, and at reasonable prices, is a worthy endeavour.
On a quick aside about the drinks offering: Jan Panneels’, son of the patriarch publican Yves, sells his beer on site at a very reasonable €3 or thereabouts. Janimal, a competent 3.3% Session IPA was first brewed by Jan when he was 15 years old. There are amusing stories about him not being able to drink his own beer at US beer festivals.
Overall, I was swept into a fairly romantic place by the environment: its use of stunning decorative floor tiles next to the solid wood bar was something to make my heart sing. The heavy wooden ceiling beams and fireplace crowned with last year’s hops made it feel like more of a pub than a bar. Then, there were the hosts. Brothers Yves and Kurt reopened the village pub in 2001 after a 50-odd year stint from the last publican. Having a host visit your table is one of the unique pleasures in visiting family, and personality run places. Yves, his son and brewer Jan, and Jan’s grandmother Lydia all engaged with us warmly. The warmth of hospitality was capped off in style when a local offered us a 6km lift to De Cam Geuzestekerij (lambic blender) after speaking to him for just two minutes.
In summary: the beer, the environment and the hospitality were every bit as wonderful as I could have hoped for. I often say that great hospitality experiences are the result of a thousand small things, the details that add up to a whole. There are definitely a handful of small, inspirational details that you’ll likely be seeing at our BottleShop retail venues in the coming months.
It’s pretty true to say that ‘exclusivity’ is often the magical ingredient in prestige, especially with artisanal products. Exclusivity certainly goes a little way to explaining why this humble family pub currently sits proudly on top of Ratebeer’s World’s Best Beer Bar list. Should that put you off? Should it ‘eck.
If reading this has got your lambic tastebuds going, head to our online store for some real beauties, shop lambic beers.
The bar is currently operating extended opening hours from 10am until 8pm on Sundays and Church Days.
Frans Baetensstraat 45
1750 Eizeringen (Lennik)
Tel. +32 2 532 58 58
Fax +32 2 532 58 58