AUG/SEP 2006 | REGIONAL | INTERNATIONAL
Antwerp's First Brewpub
By Tomm Carroll
In a world-class beer city like Antwerp, Belgium, home of
the historic De Koninck Brewery and such great pubs as Paters
Vaetje and ’t Oud Arsenaal — not to mention what
justifiably has been called the best beer bar in the world,
the Kulminator — you wouldn’t expect to find a
brewpub. And certainly not one that has been in operation
for a decade. But Belgium is full of the unexpected, and the
Huisbrouwerij ’t Pakhuis is one tasty surprise.
Located in Antwerp’s port area near the southern city
limits, the “House Brewery” ’t Pakhuis occupies
a building dating back to 1850 that used to be a warehouse;
hence its name: “pakhuis” in Flemish translates
to “warehouse.” The district had been uninhabited
and largely abandoned when the port closed in the middle of
last century, but it became a cultural center in the 1980s
and ’90s after several upscale restaurants, art galleries
and museums, including the city’s Museums of Modern
Art and Photography, settled into renovated cargo warehouses.
In 1996, André Van Ackerbroek further added to the
neighborhood’s panache by opening ’t Pakhuis,
Antwerp’s first (and only) brewpub.
A large, bright, airy, industrial-chic two-story space with
bare brick walls and appurtenances of wood, rope, brass, copper
and brewery paraphernalia, the brewpub couldn’t be more
different from the traditional old “brown bars”
that populate the city. The brewery is on-site and visible
from the restaurant through glass walls, with the copper brew-kettles
on the ceramic tiled floors lit nicely, adding to the hip
Van Ackerbroek turns out about 1,200 hectolitres a year,
chiefly ’t Pakhuis’s three house beers: Antwerps
Blond, a citrusy, unfiltered but undistinguished thirst-quenching
session beer (5.1% abv); Antwerps Bruin, a dubbel-ish, deep
mahogany-colored brew with roasty, caramel malt flavor and
some hoppy and yeasty notes (5.5%); and the best of the lot,
Nen Bangelijke (Amazing), an amber-hued filtered tripel that
is hoppy, spicy, sweet and strong (9.5%) — not necessarily
in that order. All the beers are available in their unique
glasses or by the pitcher.
Belgium is full of the unexpected, and
the Huisbrouwerij ’t Pakhuis is one tasty surprise.
The brewery also produces an occasional seasonal or special
beer, such as the Antwerps Kerst, a dark, powerful winter
beer with spicy dried fruit notes (7.8%). But the Kerst was
unfortunately not available when my sweetheart, Danise, and
I visited last spring.
While the beers are all Belgian styles and obviously Belgian-made,
they all tend to have that “microbrew” or even
“homebrew” aspect to them — as if they could
have been created by an adventurous American brewpub or brew
club. Like other Belgian brasseries, however, the Pakhuis
does maintain the renowned tradition of cuisine à la
Boasting an extensive menu, and all of it quite good, the
restaurant expertly incorporates the beer into the creation
and preparation of the food. Whether you’re just having
an order of homemade bread (baked with brewer’s yeast)
and (beer-refined) cheese with some (blond beer) soup, or
going whole-hog on a dish of rabbit (cooked in the bruin)
or salmon (marinated in the tripel), you are never in doubt
about a brew to pair with your meal. Even the sweets do not
escape the beer treatment. A popular finale is the vanilla
ice cream and fresh fruit on a bed of cold sabayon sauce made
with the Nen Bangelijke; it’s a dessert and a digestif
all in one!
The Pakhuis staff is extremely helpful, friendly and usually
fluent in English. Our waiter, Tom, took the time to explain
(and translate) the menu to us, gave us the history of the
brewpub, made recommendations for sightseeing in the area,
and even called us a cab once we decided to order a nightcap.
Drinking and dining here after a day of exploring the city
proved to be one of our best nights in Antwerp — notwithstanding
our transcendent evening at the Kulminator!
Off the beaten path as it is, ’t Pakhuis is nonetheless
a worthwhile excursion outside Antwerp’s city centre,
even if you’re not visiting the museums. The brewery
also offers tours and tastings, by appointment. Best of all,
you can take some of the Pakhuis home with you; the beers
are available in one-litre swing-top bottles to take away.
As it is unpasteurized, the brew should hold up for at least
four weeks if kept cold, Tom counseled.
I took a chance and dragged an unrefrigerated bottle of tripel
around Brussels and London for four days before returning
home and fridging it. It was still amazing.
Photos by Tomm Carroll. Tomm Carroll drinks
globally and locally in Culver City, Calif., and writes about