We learned about the O.B.E.R. Christmas Beer festival several years ago, and ended up building our Euro-Asia trip around attending. The festival features ~200 winter beers, many of which are rare and some of which are unique to the festival. Needless to say we were very excited to actually make it this year!
After spending the night in Frankfurt, we landed in Brussels as the sun rose on Saturday morning. We made our way through the airport to the train station, and on to Antwerp where we deposited our bags at the Radisson Blu. From there we took a local train about 40 minutes north to Essen, a small town close to the Netherlands border.
Close enough to walk to, in fact:
former border control location
The festival hall is about a 1.8km from the train station, so we walked. In our travel-weary state we thought the event started at 12p instead of 1:30p, so we were quite early. That worked out reasonably well since we were right at the front of a line that eventually grew quite large.
When we entered the festival we had the option of simply buying tokens (used to pay for tastings, where 1 token will get you a 2 cl pour on most beers) or a ‘starter’ package that included a glass, booklet (English or Dutch) and nine tokens for 20€, which is what we chose. Getting additional tokens throughout the event proved to be very easy as well. The booklet is extensive, not only listing all the beers but providing detailed descriptions.
The festival takes place in a large hall/gymnasium set up with long rows of skinny tables and lots of chairs. Feeling a little overwhelmed, we grabbed end seats on the side away from the pouring tables thinking it would be a little quieter; it turned out to be a pretty good choice.
We each grabbed our first beer sample and started leafing through the book. The festival has quite a few beers available on draft or cask, as well as in bottles. Some were aged, some brand new. Over the course of six hours we each tried about 10 samples. We hopped around the program quite a bit so here’s the list Leandra pulled together from our circles, stars and scribbles…
- Balthazar II (draught), Alvinne, 9%
- Delvaux Kerstbier, Delvaux/Neerijse, 11% (???)
- Duits&Lauret Winterstout, Proefbrouwerij i.o/Lochristi, 8,5%
- Stille Nacht (draught!), Dolle Brouwers/Esen, 12%
- Winter 15, Hof ten Dormaal/Tildonk, 11%
- Bush de Noel, Dubuissin/Pipaix, 12,2%
- December Flower (White Pony), Gaverhopke i.o/Stasegem, 13%
- Gaverhopke Special, Gaverhopke/Stasegem, 8,3%
- IJsbok Hout (SNAB), Proefbrouwerij i.o./Lochristi, 9%
- Inglorious Quad, Anders i.o./Halen, 10,3%
- Kasteel Winter, Van Honsebrouck/Ingelmunster, 11%
- Kraaike Winterbier, Proefbrouwerij i.o./Lochristi, 7,5%
- Noel, Verhaeghe/Vichte, 7,2%
- Rodenbach Vintage 2012, Palm/Roeselare, 7%
- Straffe Hendrik Heritage, Halve Maan/Brugge, 11%
- Xmas in Thals, Dijkwaert/Herentals, 10%
- Bush des Nuits, Dubuisson/Pipaix, 13%
- Stronger Than Ever B.A. Speyside edition (White Pony), Gaverhopke i.o/Stasegem, 16,5%
- Stille Nacht Reserva 2013 (O.B.E.R. vzw), Dolle Brouwers i.o./Esen, 12%
- Peated Oak Aged Embrasse, Dochter v/d Korenaar/Baarle-Hertog, 9%
Thankfully they have food for sale too! Seated next to us were several Dutchmen who left us a few snacks as well. Not surprisingly, the volume in the hall increased as the afternoon wore on, but everyone seemed to be having a good time and behaving reasonably responsibly. Some of the more rare beers had run out by 6pm, and at 7p we were ready to head back to Antwerp. The Essen Christmas beer festival was definitely a highlight of our year, and we can’t wait to return in the future.
Back in Antwerp we walked around the Christmas market, exploring the various food tents and stalls.
Antwerp’s market sprawled across several squares, but it lacked the charm of Vienna and other German markets.
We also finally tried Kulminator, a famous beer bar that has been closed on our last two trips; this time they were closing for a month the following day! After the beer festival we were underwhelmed by the available beers, and also by the general dustiness and clutter of the bar.