June 1, 2012
A Visit to Kulminator in Antwerpen Belgium

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The Kulminator Bar in Antwerpen

Kulminator was once voted the #1 Beer Bar in the world by a few independent groups. In recent years, the huge acclaim has faded only because the hype train has moved on. Kulminator, since it opened in the 70s has remained the same and may well be here after the owners have decided to do something else. See, Kulminator isn’t a bar. It’s the opportunity to step into a man’s cellar and order anything he has put in a book that currently lists hundreds of beers. The bar is a bit dirty and a bit unkept but there is an organization to this madness and the mess you say while trying to find a seat is nothing compared to the thousands of beers that are just beneath your seat in an underground cellar that spans the entire property, under the street and under neighboring buildings.

It’s clear to see how Kulminator has acquired such a wide range of beers. The aging husband and wife team stock the bar by hand visiting breweries all over Europe in their spare time while always serving beers nightly for the hundreds of people who are a mix of locals and foreigners who come to see what the hype is all about. By day, they fill their car with brewery only and standard beers. Many of these won’t be put on the “list” that is the gigantic menu and simply sit in the underground warehouse for years until the beers are at their best or when, after a few years, they’re found after being lost for a decade and finally put on the menu. It truly is madness but, a madness that means any beer lover can find something just for them on this gigantic list of beers.

Kulminator was started as a wine bar but quickly became a beer bar. Why, very few know but beer is a lot more fun than wine…at least according to beer lovers. Enter Kulminator through the swinging doors and you enter a place born in the 70s. It’s quite messy with beer boxes and thousands of empty beer bottles from trappist breweries. There are a few beers on tap, “the specials” and a list is given to you of beer to order by the bottle. The husband…well, he’s a beer expert who has been studying the art and living it for over 40 years but, he doesn’t talk. He’s not social and meanders around the place tracking down beers for customers. The wife who sometimes smiles but is always courteous, will take your order when she’s able to and then passes the order to the husband who retrieves it. She pours the beer and takes your money. They are both very methodical about how they run the bar but this works for them. Hell, it’s been working for 40 years long before sites like BeerAdvocate ever existed.

Does anyone else work at Kulminator? Nope. Every beer you  order comes with a clean glass from the brewery to match the beer. Ordering beers takes time as the cellar is only growing larger each day and everything you order is a perfect taste. 

No one sees the cellar. Even those that know the couple best. It’s a madness we may never see photos of but, I hear it’s large and there are a lot of beers just sitting down there improving with age and getting better each day. Point to any beer on the list and it’s guaranteed to please. 

My time at Kulminator was brief at only 2 hours. I’d love to cross this bar off my list as one I’ve visited but, frankly I’d need to stay in a hostel across the street from the bar and hang out for a week just drinking beer to truly give you the best review of this bar. It’s an institution among beer bars. Unlike Moeder Lambic which caters to the “hipsters seeking Cantillon market”, Kulminator does not. They have fantastic beers you’ve never heard of in their cellar and really fair and reasonable prices. It’s a living museum and a place to sit with friends relaxed and even you can bring your dog inside. It’s like coming home…except home is a cellar of thousands of beers with an elderly couple pouring them for a nominal fee.

My time there was too short. I will for sure return.  

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Me @ Kulminator Bar