It’s not often you come across a drink you’ve never heard of but peket was a new one on me. It’s a spirit that comes from the area around Liege in Belgium, and where better to try it than the Maison du Peket? This restaurant, also known as the Restaurant Amon Nanesse, not only serves traditional Liege dishes, it has an incredible number of differently flavoured pekets that you can try.
So, first of all, what is peket? It’s very like the Dutch jenever, a grain spirit flavoured with juniper berries. In fact peket is the Walloon word for jenever, but the two drinks are different.
I was told that it comes in a wide variety of at least 50 flavours, such as violette, lemon or chocolate. Natural peket is clear and not matured, but the most popular type has a lovely pale brown colour. This comes from the oak barrels in which it’s matured for at least two years and which adds to the taste. Some pekets can be matured for as long as five or six years. Regular peket is about 30-35% ABV, but the flavoured varieties tend to be reduced to about 20% ABV.
When I asked to sample some the waiter first brought me a glass of violette peket. Like jenever, peket is served in little tumblers that are filled to the brim. No short measures here. I learned in Amsterdam that the first sip of jenever is taken by leaving the glass on the table and leaning down to it, but it seems that’s not the case with peket. Good job I didn’t try it or no doubt I’d have got some peculiar looks from the locals.
The glass of violette peket did look attractive, but something about its colour told me I wasn’t going to like it. It wasn’t bad but it was too sickly sweet for me, smelling like an old lady’s perfume and tasting too floral. In the interests of research, and in case it grew on me, I did finish the glass.
Then the waiter kindly brought me a glass of matured peket, with its lovely lager-like colour. This one was a bit stronger, he said, about 40% ABV. My kind of drink! It smelled somewhere between a gin and a jenever, with not quite so much juniper as a strong gin. It was the same tasting it. Not like a juniper-heavy gin, but a little more oaky from the barrel maturation. I like peket, I decided.
I also liked the food at the Amon Nanesse, which is hearty Belgian fare. I was told that Belgian cuisine is French quality in German quantities: a good description! I was also told that the Amon Nanesse serves generous portions even by Belgian standards. True!
For a starter we had a local dish which was a little like a Welsh rarebit with a plummy-fruity sauce on it. Most people in the group I was with didn’t like it and found the cheese too smelly but I enjoyed it, which is strange as I don’t like smelly cheese. This was a strong local cheese called herve, the sauce was Liege Syrup, and the whole dish they called Nanesse toast. Amon and Nanesse, by the way, are two local puppet characters.
The main course was another typical dish, meatballs with frites. These are no regular Italian-style meatballs, though, but Liège meatballs. Here they make them with a mix of ground beef, veal and pork, and serve them with a traditional sauce of beer, Liege syrup and raisins. Because they go heavy on the pork rather than the beef, the meatballs are of course very fattening and therefore utterly delicious. And it is a well-known fact that the Belgians make the best chips in the entire world, which you can go on eating until you burst.
If you are going to burst, the Restaurant Amon Nanesse will make a good last resting place. It’s as traditional as the food it serves, with brick walls, checked table cloths, wooden tables, no frills, just good food and brisk and friendly service. And, of course, a fine collection of pekets.