Will apple cider be the next gin?

Apple cider is a drink I never think of buying or drinking. There’s no particular reason, I just never think of it … maybe because I don’t know it that well or that I never noticed it in bar’s or on menu’s? Or maybe it is like with regular apple juice, I like it a but I usually only drink it when somebody tells me they have it 🙂  That’s why I was more than happy to learn more about this wonderful product and who better to teach me than the one and only Andy De Brouwer owner of restaurant Les Eleveurs and Belgian top sommelier?!

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Apple cider is basically a low alcoholic sparkling (around 4%) version of apple juice 🙂 . I’m not going to bore you with the whole production process as you can find it back via following link.

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What Andy showed us last week was that although apple cider might not sound like a very “modern”, “hip” or “sexy” thing, it actually is. It is a great base to make cocktails, can be paired with funky appetizers and it is just tasty 🙂 … What do you think about a Strongbow elderflower Scotch whisky longdrink, a frozen Margarita paired with some homemade nachos or a Mojito with Gold Apple? Or is a Negroni with Strongbow red berries paired with a stuffed artichoke more your thing?

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Next to all home-made ingredients Andy used Strongbow apple cider to make his cocktails. I confess that I had never heard of Strongbow before. Strongbow is an English apple cider brand, but then again technically speaking also Belgian. I consider it as a local product as the biggest part of the production happens in Belgium. So I think it is ok to call Strongbow apple cider a local product, right?!

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Strongbow has 3 different types of apple cider:

  • Gold Apple: fresh, fruity flavor with a hints of green apple
  • Red berries: aromatic combination of apple and red fruits
  • Elderflower: subtle aromatic combination of apple and elderflower with a fresh end note of lime

The cocktail that was the biggest surprise to me was the mojito!! What surprised me about Andy’s version was that even though there was no alcohol in it, it tasted exactly the same as the “original” version. No alcohol with the exception of the cider’s alcohol that because of the mixing with other non alcoholic drinks would be 1% maybe…Which basically means you can drink more of these puppies then you could of the original one… so I’ll go for the Apple cider version if I may

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I became a fan and will without any doubt try to make these cocktails at home. And because I like you soooo much I’ll share with you Andy’s Strongbow mojito recipe .

Ingredients for +/- 20 cocktails:

  • 5 cl fake rum
  • Fresh mint (1 bot op 2 l. water)
  • 4 teabags of gunpowder (Chinese greentea)
  • 5 g cardamom bolsters
  • 200 g raisins

Per person

  • 15 cl Strongbow Gold Apple cider
  • ¼ lime
  • 1 branch mint
  • 2 drops Angostura
  • 2 lumps of cane sugar

Preparation:

For the ‘fake rum’:

  • Make an infusion of fresh mint, gunpowder and lightly toasted and crushed cardamom bolsters.
  • Leave to cool (not in the refrigerator) and sieve.
  • Let the raisins swell 24 hours in this fluid.
  • Riddle with a fine sieve, press the grapes with a spoon.
  • Recover the liquid.
  1. Put mint leaves in glass.
  2. Wash lime, cut into quarters and press the juice out of two and put in the glass.
  3. Add two lumps of cane sugar.
  4. Mortar with a mortar to a syrup.
  5. Add the fake rum.
  6. Fill the glass with ice cubes and fill with Strongbow Gold Apple. Stir with a bar spoon.
  7. Finish with 2 drops of Angostura and garnish with fresh mint and a slice of lime.

In case you would like to try to make it yourself,  Strongbow apple cider is available in almost all supermarkets. In case you want to know more good cocktail recipes and combinations with dishes I strongly recommend you the new book on cocktails by my dear friend Andy the Brouwer ‘Cocktail a night’.

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Cheers!

Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Andy De Brouwer

It is time to put another sommelier in the spotlight! This time we’ll get to know more about Belgian Top sommelier Andy De Brouwer owner ( 4th generation ) of restaurant/hotel Les Eleveurs in Halle (just outside of Brussels). After years working on a Michelin star level  in 2015 Andy thought it was time for something different… basically he wanted to get rid of the ‘stiff’ way of working and the white table cloths . They traded it in to now go for Bistronomie, classical dishes with a twist .  Next to that he has published a few books and writes a wine column for the weekend edition from De Morgen newspaper … to name a few things that is 🙂

When I think of Andy the words  (next to wine) Rock ‘n roll and vintage are the first ones that pop into my head :-). He easily could be a rock star (maybe it just came when seeing the below picture?)… the vintage part is mostly because of his love for old Vespa’s

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Once you start talking to Andy something you just cannot deny is his passion for wine… The way he talks about it can only come out of passion… he tells it with so much sparkle in his eyes… I love it!!!  That’s why I’ve already learned so many things from him as there’s no better person to learn from than a passionate man

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What many of you might not know is that Andy is also part of the technical comity of the Belgian Sommelier Guild… this basically means that he is one of the people that year after year searches for new/challenging questions for the contestants of both the “senior” as the “junior” sommelier Trophy .

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I’m sure you guys are already on the edge of you seat to find out more about Andy… so feast your eyes on his answers on my 10 questions:

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

Jerez is without any doubt my favorite wine regions. The region inspired me that much that I even started making my own beer using ‘Zenne y Frontera Lambiek’ old sherry barrels (still with a bit of sherry in them)

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What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?

Understand your client to guide him to the right choice by respecting the signals in terms of budget and figure out what are the main tasting lines he wants to see reflected in his glass. Advising him a few alternatives & sharing your knowledge.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

Drinks can represent almost half of the income of a restaurant. Reasons enough to put this part of the business in hands of a professional.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

I played all my youth in a enormous wine cellar, thousands of liquid stories captured by a cork, difficult not to be appealed too…

Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?

Josep Can Roca (El Celler de can Roca) who is also a Jerez lover 🙂

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What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?

It doesn’t always have to match; sometimes contrasting can be funny too.

Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why? 
There is no wine region more impressive than the Douro Valley, take the train for a total experience !

For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste? 
Romanée Conti, was able to sell a few bottles in my life but never had the opportunity to taste a sip.

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school? 
Taking care of the dining room service with some other students at the Miss Belgium competition, playing monkey tricks on the catwalk and eating caviar in the lodges of the famous. 🙂 🙂

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?

Lunch at Michel Bras by clear sky in the Aubrac and enjoy the total experience.

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Copa Jerez

Everybody knows the prestigious culinary competition ‘Bocuse d’Or’, where countries from all over the world send their best team to represent their country with pride. A competition as prestigious you might not have heard from as much is the ‘Copa Jerez ‘. The ‘Copa Jerez’ is more or less the same principal with the exception that in this case a team consists of a sommelier and chef that have to create a 3 course meal  paired with Sherry wine. BTW for those of you who don’t know sherry there are many typs of Sherry  Dry sherry’s  (Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Oloroso o Palo Cortado), sweet sherry’s  (Moscatel o Pedro Ximénez)  and semi-sweet (Cream, Medium y Pale Cream).  You can read more about it on one of my blogposts 😉 (The  blogpost).  I fully support this contest!! First of all because ever-since my visit to Jerez or better to the Bodega of Tio pepe I became an enormous fan/lover of Sherry wines. Secondly the team representing Belgium this year are very dear to me 🙂 . Starting with the (TOP) Sommelier representing the Belgian colours this year is no-one less than Comme Chez Soi’s Cesar Roman (who originates from Spain). Cesar will be assisted by a chef who always puts a smile on my face when he serves me his food,  Nico Corbesier (Les Eleveurs).  A young dynamic team with a winners attitude that don’t take satisfaction with a second place 🙂

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I even support them sooo much that I (together with a few sommeliers and chefs) went to help/advice them on the dishes and their accompanying sherry’s. Before our commends and advice it was pretty clear this year’s team is a winning team, so you can imagine how it is after the advice 🙂 🙂 On the picture below you see a small assortment of the big assortment we (had –  and what a sacrifice it was) to try to help our friends for the competition… talking about friendship 😉

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I did take pictures of the dishes they will be serving, but I think it is better not to share them… that would only give the competitors the change to steal ideas. What I can say is that the dishes are a good mix of Spanish and Belgian influences and products they are proud of…

Join me and support the Belgian team by liking their facebook page!! I will keep you posted on how they did, but every facebook like will give them an extra reason to win.

Spanish summer in a glass

Who knew Halle (near Brussels) could feel like Spain or even feel like summer in middle of winter?! Andy De Brouwer did as he was the one to create this oasis in his restaurant Les Eleveurs (aka a Walhalla for food and wine 🙂 ) together with the Rueda wine region.  Rueda might not seem too familiar, but Verdejo might ring a bell for more people as it is without any doubt the Spain’s most famous white wine… or one of as technically speaking Sherry (Jerez) is also a white wine 🙂

Rueda location

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The Rueda region is located in the North of Spain between Portugal and that other very famous Spanish wine region Rioja. You can see it as the Spanish part of the Portuguese Douro valley as the Duera (Douro) river continues its path in this region. The vineyards/vines in the Rueda region are planted 700 to 800 meters above sea- level on dark grey – brown soils… mostly  stony (but easy to farm), with good ventilation and draining. Important to know is that the soil is very rich of calcium and magnesium essential for a good development of the vines.

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I must rephrase what I said before as I said this region mostly know for it white wine, but it does also have some world renowned red’s of Toro, Ribera del Duero and Leon. The wine grape of Toro, called Tinta de Toro, has long been considered a mutant of Tempranillo (one of the main grapes in the Rioja region).  Today we’ll be focusing on the white wines.

Why I referred to summer is because the Rueda wines or Verdejo is the perfect wine for on a warm summer’s day in the garden under a pergola with some olives or some thinly sliced Parma ham or Pata Negra. Basically an everyman’s friend…  young, playful, refreshing, smooth and floral. Typically Verdejo wines are aromatic (very fruity), often soft, and full-bodied. That full-bodyness it has to thank to the altitude on which the grapes  are grown (+600m)

Rueda wines

If Andy wouldn’t have told me it would have taking me much longer to find out what the smell and taste of the Verdejo reminded me of, as it did remind me of something I had tasted before… Apparently the Verdejo grape is a sister grape of Sauvignon Blanc and therefore has more or less the same notions as a Sauvignon Blanc and the confuse the enemy even more they sometimes also blend the 2 grape kinds together 🙂 . Sooo being a Sauvignon Blanc lover it won’t come as a surprise I like Verdejo wines as well??!! Also this was the reason it seemed so familiar.  But do keep in mind that it are young wines that should be drunk young as they are not really aging material… also most Verdejo or Rueda wines in general (white ones) haven’t seen too much wooden barrels, which also isn’t necessary as it would make this already  lovely wine more complex without too much reason if it would stay a long time in wooden barrels:-).If they blend the Verdejo with the Sauvignon Blanc it will make a richer and more aromatic wine.

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We can do is a make a little distinction between the wines that are really ‘apero’ material as other do require a little snack or dish with it… From the 9 wines we tasted, the first 3 were the perfect example of non expensive (around 7 EUR)  ‘apero’ or ‘summery’ wines (don’t get me wrong all 9 go well without food, but the 3 first best). The wines I’m talking about were a 2013 Rueda Verdejo by  Marqués de Riscal (100% Verdejo), a 2013 Verdejo by  Emina (100% Verdejo)  and last but not least the 2013 Badajo Rueda Verdejo by Gotica. I loved the label from the Badajo as it reminded me a of the wallpaper I used on one of the walls from my still to be born daughter 🙂 🙂  (JUST FYI). Although all 3 wines are 100% of Verdejo grapes you could taste a small difference, the Marques de Riscal fruitier, whereas the Emina was more silt/salty like. FYI all the wines I’m mentioning are available in Belgium.

Apero Ruedas

What I did enjoy was that for the remaining wines Andy and Nico (chef from Les Eleveurs) created and found some great matching dishes tapa style to go with the wines :-). The first matching dish they had to find was to fit with the 2013 Analivia Verdejo by Pagos del Rey. Although it won’t come as a surprise that most dishes included fish as although with can also match some meats the best pairing is still with fish… So for the first dish they went for a puffed  codfish skin with hand peeled grey shrimps and avocado. The freshness of the dish went perfectly with the fruitiness and freshness of the wine. I do love my grey shrimps from the North-sea!!

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Followed by crayfish with a risotto ‘croquette’ to match the Verdejo de Alberto still in the wine types of before nothing extravagant yet, just lovely and easy to drink.

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The wines that were about to follow were slightly more ‘complex’ wines in comparison with the previous ones as some of them did get a little wooden barrel time (not too much though). The Verdejo from Traslagares  is a good example.Well balanced acidity with a touch of bitterness and the taste for 2nd glass and one the favorites of the evening 🙂 Perfect for the hand-caught bass with eggplant caviar and a black olive crumble.

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As first non fish dish we received a on low heat roasted chicken leg Moroccan style paired for the Rueda Verdejo wine by Reina de Castilla probably the most complex wine together with the last wine of the night.

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The frosting on the cake is always the dessert, isn’t it? Normally they had forseen cheeses, but as I’m not really a cheesy guy (in every sense of the word) they gave me a caramel/pear/ice/chocolat dessert which also match perfect with I think favorite wine of the evening the PR3 Barricas Verdejo by Prado Rey that has been on wood for 9 months… which is a long time for this type of wine and results in a stronger wine, but still not too complex, I’d rather call it tropical with a light wood sense in between .

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I can’t wait for it to be summer, but I’m sure glass of Rueda wine will help me to keep patient as it truly is summer in a glass!

Hope to visit this region some day!

Thanks to Rueda Wines and Andy De Brouwer for learning me more about wines…

Bistronomie at its best

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That I have a long restaurant wish list isn’t a secret, I literally have a spreadsheet subdivided per country and city which restaurants I want to do… you could see it as my list of how many restaurants to do before I ever die 🙂 and by the looks of it I’ll  be living for eternity ;-). Anyhow a restaurant that has been on my list for a while now is restaurant ‘Les Eleveurs’ lead by Andy De Brouwer who is already the 4rd generation  in the De Brouwer family  to keep the restaurant.

Old Les eleveurs

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Maybe it was destiny, but there was no better time to visit restaurant ‘Les Eleveurs’ as lots of changes happend in its scenery as after a having had Michelin star and Andy being the Best Belgian sommelier, they changed their way of working and exchanged their Michelin starred food for an affordable and more basic Bistronomie cuisine. What this basically means is that they are a ‘bistro’ serving more gastronomical dishes than in a regular bistro, but still keeping it simple.  So I couldn’t have asked for a better table guest than Mr. Bistronomie himself Steve Engels 🙂

Bistronomie 2013

Something good to know before I go on is that ‘Les Eleveurs’ is a hotel and restaurant… so basically no excuses not to drink 🙂 that’s all I’m saying. I wanted to share this as with a top sommelier as Andy De Brouwer in the restaurant it would be a shame not to go 100% for the wines, beers and other great beverages (like Madeira or Sherry) they have.

Les Eleveurs’ Chef Nico Corbesier might be a lot younger than Sofie Dumont who used to be headchef at ‘Les Eleveurs’ (who decided to go her own way), but when it comes to experience Nico has already worked in lots of great restaurants and has been leading the kitchen upon Sofie’s maternity leave. I know it might sound cocky , but to my opinion age or where you learned how to cook or did chef school doesn’t really matter, it might influence you… you either have it in you or you don’t and I think Nico has it.

I don’t know if you guys like wild game dishes, but if you do it is worth to pass by ‘Les Eleveurs’  as they now have something called the “Wild Festival” (no, not the wet t-shirt kind). Basically they are serving different kinds of meat from wild animals (for the non-wild game lovers, they still have few other dishes on the menu). We took the tasting menu, this way we got to taste several things.

We started with an assortment of 4 pieces game pies with lettuce, red cabbage, celeriac and an authentic made remoulade sauce. With which Andy paired a white2011 Spanish El Pajara.

game pies

We continued our meal with a “vol-au-vent” of pheasant that Andy served with a Lustau Solera Reserva . A combo of one of my favorite dishes and one of my favorite drinks… so an easy score 😉

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The main course of the evening was a deer loin with beetroot, pomegranate, truffle potato(purple), red onion and cherry sauce that got paired with a herby and bit stronger wine what is needed for piece of meat like deer loin (but not tooooo strong dough). It was  a French Malbec, Les Escures by Mas Del perie

deer loin

To finish this wonderful meal and evening we were served a nougat ice cream with quince and nuts that got served with a Gran Riserva PX by Toro Albala so basically stuff I like… because of the PX grape it is of course a sweeter drink, but a nice sweetness and not a toooo sweet drink.

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Technically speaking ‘Les Eleveurs’ can be taken of my wishlist, but I think I’ll keep it on there as I’m pretty sure I’ll wanting to come back here and the experience will be as enchanting as this time!

Hope when you get to go you’ll be having the same opinion as me, but I’m sure Andy and his team will do their best that you do.

Restaurant  Les Eleveurs:

Website: http://www.les-eleveurs.be

Address:  Suikerkaai 1A, 1500 Halle – Belgium

Phone n°:  +32 (0) 2 361 13 40