Thursday, December 29, 2005

December In Antwerpen

Odd things are happening here in Antwerpen ... an ice skating rink has appeared in Grote Markt, surrounded by small stalls selling all manner of things ... from gifts and fastfood Belgian-style, to hot spicy wines and the local drink called Genever.

Let me borrow shamelessly from a knowlegeable source, and inform those who are curious, about one of Belgium's best kept alcoholic secrets (or was it only me who had never heard of it?)

Beer may be Belgium's most famous alcoholic beverage, but Genever is the 'other' traditional drink. It's also known as Jenever, Genievre, Peket or Dutch Gin, and it's a Juniper-flavored eau de vie that was once derided as hooch for the working class and nearly legislated out of existence in Belgium. However, Belgian distillers are now producing Genevers of exceptional quality, some of a color, smoothness and flavor reminiscent of fine whiskey.
It was invented about 450 years ago in the Low Countries, and is traditionally made by distilling an unfiltered and fermented mash of malted grains, principally barley, and flavoring this "malt wine" with aromatics like juniper berries, caraway seeds or fennel.
The two main types, jonge (young) and oude (old), refer not to age but to style. Often resembling English Gin, jonge has less alcohol (a maximum of 35 percent), is generally drunk cold, and has little grain flavor because its alcohol comes mostly from potatoes or other nongrain products. Oude is stronger - 54 percent alcohol in some cases - and tastes more of grain because it uses a greater percentage of malt wine, which itself is often aged in oak to add color, smoothness and complexity of flavor. A few oude Genevers, labeled Graanjenever, are made with 100 percent grain. Post-distillation flavoring of both jonge and oude genever varies by region, with some recipes calling for up to 70 botanical ingredients.

But it's not only about ice-skating rinks and alcohol, it's the way the city is celebrating this holiday season. It's irrestible ... I love the bold 'A' Antwerpen symbol up in lights everywhere, and the people are out there, ignoring the snow, the ice, and the cold, just having fun, leaning on tables, outdoors if you please, and chatting as if it's not cold at all.

Meanwhile, the world outside my window is slowly turning white ...

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