Café Spotlight: In de Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst

If your neighbourhood pub was open just three-and-a-half hours a week, you might get a bit parched. Luckily, Eizeringenaren have “Insurance against the Great Thirst”.

The endearingly named cafe in this 800-home hamlet welcomes locals and lovers of authentic beer on Sundays from 10.00 to 13.30, though last orders linger on for customers safely inside. It also opens for occasional festivals, holidays and funerals at St Ursula's church across the street.

The brothers Panneels, native sons, kept those hours when they acquired the bar from the owner of the previous half century, who was preparing to close at Christmas 1999. Tradition aside, they have day jobs.

"It's not a commercial project. It's a hobby," says older sibling Yves, while savouring a draft of aged lambic from the nearby Girardin brewery. This type of artisanal product has make their pub a pilgrimage destination for connoisseurs seeking traditional lambics and their offspring, chiefly Champagne-like gueuzes and cherry-infused krieks.

These sour brews are coaxed from wild yeasts and can't be replicated beyond Brussels and the Flemish Pajottenland to the west, where In de Verzekering is located. The Panneels have more than 50 on the menu, some from producers no longer in operation and more in storage waiting to be catalogued.

The brothers renovated the building, which dates to 1843 and also serves as the family home of younger brother Kurt. They kept the best bits: the name, the rough-hewn beams, the '40s-era Art Deco bar, the tiling on the fireplace and floors. A section in black marks where old-timers remember a candy store.

Other fittings were salvaged from disappearing pubs of the region, including the panelled seating installed along two walls. One table comes from a bar the Panneels' great-grandparents operated a few towns away. On a recent snowy Sunday, Flemish families, Italians and Britons sampled gueuze, as some of the church-goers chatted over aperitifs and coffee. The crowd amiably made space for a lone American. Just for a few hours, we're all locals.

Frans Baetensstraat 45
Eizeringen (Flemish Brabant)
John Rega

Source: Flanders Today, 19 january 2011