During my many visits to Belgium (27, so far!) I’ve had the pleasure of exploring many places that are far off the well-known beer tourist circuit. In so doing, I’ve had some of the most fun of my travels, and met some of the friendliest people involved in the Belgian beer world, and beyond.
A recent visit to Turnhout, a small city of 41,000 to the northeast of Antwerp in the province of the same name, was no different. I had been there just once before, some years ago, to visit one of Belgium’s great beer cafes: In den Spytighen Duvel (“In the Mournful Devil.”) A return visit was warranted.
First, though, was a visit to another beer café, which is also the oldest bar in town: De Penge. This cozy, atmospheric place is filled with antiques and old ephemera, and dates to 1890. The size and focus of its beer list are much more recent, however. Owner Marc Moonen, a beer lover, added a house beer in 2005, aptly named “De Penge.” It has 6.5% abv.
“We have 80 beers on our list, including many from the region, as well as Trappist and other beers,” he told me during a November visit. “We are an Orval Ambassador café as well,” Marc added. De Penge is a great local bar, full of friendly people.
While at De Penge, I met Guy Verbunt of Brouwerij Het Nest, a group of local beer lovers called “hobbybrouwers” (home brewers) who are having their beers brewed for them (using their own recipes) at Brouwerij Anders in Limburg province at the moment. “We plan to build a brewery here in Turnhout in 2014. Our beers have been very well received, both locally and internationally, and most of them are on offer at this pub,” Guy told me. My favorite was SchuppenAas (“Ace of Spades”) a beer with brettanomyces yeasts added in the secondary fermentation. A fine beer, it is. They also have a tripel and a quad that are very worthy. Note that, as Turnhout is known as the “Playing Cards” capital of Belgium, all of the Het Nest beers have playing card themes.
After a few beers at De Penge, Guy and I headed over to In den Spytighen Duvel, which has been on the beer scene for about 35 years. Dirk Appels, who has owned the bar since 2000, greeted us, as he did on my first visit. “This building dates to 1740. I have about 340 bottled beers in stock, and four on draft,” he remarked.
“In the Mournful Devil” is actually a pretty low-key place. There are no TV’s, which encourages good conversation. The café is filled to the brim with Belgian breweriana, as well as small blackboards with beer suggestions, and old Westvleteren crates. There is a small library with a number of Belgian beer books and guides. The café is also an Orval Ambassador café, and has been for many years. Beer lovers will feel very at home here, and the beer menu is wide-ranging, with all Belgian beer styles well represented.
While there, I savored a 2011 Rodenbach Vintage, which really hit the spot, as did an Oude Geuze from 3 Fonteinen. Be sure and ask Dirk about any new beers that may not be on the menu when you visit. Spytighen Duvel also offers small snacks, such as cheeses and meats.
A great place to have a meal with a good beer, and stay the night, is Edelweiss Eetcafe-B&B. It’s located right across the street from the train station. It doesn’t get any more convenient than that, beer adventurers!
I enjoyed a fine lunch of “Scampis Edelweiss” which are large shrimp in a creamy sauce, with croquettes on the side. Paired with a Rodenbach Classic, I was happy. Speaking of Rodenbach, there is also a beef stew dish made with it at Edelweiss: “Stoofvlees en Rodenbach.”
My beer traveling companion and driver for the day, Andre Van Gansen, reported that his “Steak natuur” with frites was equally as good. The menu at Edelweiss is extensive, with appetizers, soups, pastas, fish and other seafood, chicken, beef, pork, and more. Desserts include ice cream, Belgian waffles, apple pie, milkshakes, and more.
The menu has 26 brews, including Trappist beers from Chimay, La Trappe, and Westmalle, as well regional and other beers. The three beers on tap usually include Westmalle Dubbel. Savor one on draft here, as you can’t stateside.
The B&B rooms at Edelweiss are reasonably priced, and the two aforementioned bars are a 10-minute walk from the station and the B&B, making Turnhout an eminently easy place to visit by public transport. See visitflanders.com for more info.
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