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Pub/Bar of the Month January 2012: Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant, Ghent, Belgium

Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant, Ghent, Belgium

Ghent is one of Belgium’s hidden treasures. While not as bustling as Brussels or quite as perfectly preserved as Bruges, this city, standing between the two, should be on everyone’s hit list, especially if they are lovers of beer.

WaterhuisThe city’s glory days date from the Middle Ages, when Ghent vied with Paris as one of Europe’s leading ports.

That’s hard to believe now when you consider the distance it stands from the Belgian coast, although the network of canals and rivers that pervades the city testifies to its once important merchant past.

It’s not quite a perfect sight today. There are one or two ugly 20th-century constructions that are awaiting the wrecking ball. Once they have been torn down, Ghent hopes to acquire World Heritage Site status, and rightly so.

Its magnificent collection of old houses, cathedrals, civic buildings, market squares and even a castle deserves wider recognition, as does the number of top beer bars the city boasts today.

As an excellent example of what you will find should you make the journey, I’m focusing on just one outstanding bar at this point.

Essence of Ghent

Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant (The Waterhouse on the Beerside) may have a weakly funny name but is simply a great place to enjoy a beer while drinking in the essence of Ghent. Its position, right on the riverside, with a large outside terrace, is perfect for whiling away the hours following the tourist boats on the water and gazing along the banks into the historic heart of the city.

The upstairs seating area is relatively modern and functional, but downstairs there’s a pleasant pubby charm to the single bar, fashioned out of exposed old brick.

Bare boards line the floor, so you know there are no pretensions to false grandeur, potted plants add a splash of greenery, and piped music is kept to a sufficiently low level as to not deter conversation.

On the back wall there’s a fascinating old wooden savings box, where customers can deposit their change in a slot with a given number. The box is opened once a year for the savings to be retrieved.

The irregular collection of tables attracts all sorts of customers with one thing in common – the love of great beer. To discover a selection of draught and bottles this extensive is not rare in Belgium, but it still comes as a thrill when you’re visiting from another country.

The bound beer menu is divided into themed pages. There are Trappist beers and abbey ales; gueuzes and krieks; oud bruins and Flemish reds; honey and fruit beers; Christmas and winter beers. There’s even a page for beers in 750 ml bottles.

Great Belgian Names

Nearly all the great Belgian names are represented, from Westmalle and Achouffe to Cantillon and Rodenbach, with lots of less familiar breweries also on the list. Check out contributions from Ellezelloise, Girardin, de Cam and de la Senne.

The bar is also an Orval Ambassador, which means it stocks various ages of the classic Trappist ale so you can see how well it matures in the bottle.

On draught, there are getting on for 20 beers, including a dry-hopped house beer called Gavandum and a good selection from the local Van Steenberge brewery, headed up by Augustijn (now sold worldwide as St Stefanus Blond), Gulden Draak and the seriously potent second house beer, Klokke Roeland.

Van Steenberge also supplies a beer called Mammelokker, named after a sculpture outside a neighbouring building that shows an old man being secretly breast fed by his daughter while starving in prison. It’s a story that is too long to tell and, frankly, seems wrong on so many accounts that I don’t really want to.

In short, there are so many great beers on offer in Het Waterhuis that you could just spend your whole weekend break in here. It would be a huge shame to miss out on Ghent’s many other treats, but the temptation would be quite understandable.

Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant, Groentenmarkt 9, 9000 Ghent, Belgium
Tel. +32 (0) 9 225 06 80
Opening Hours: 11–2am

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