Fig beer from the Borinage region

Figs, just another ingredient for weird fruit beers - Source: Wikimedia Commons, Eric HuntA while ago I made a study of the Belgian beer style saison, and in connection with that, the historical beers of the Walloon countryside. As it turned out, there wasn’t much connection to begin with: although the current reference beer for saison, the Saison Dupont, does hail from the countryside of Hainaut, the beer type saison once was found in a much wider area including in cities, especially Liège. Unfortunately, the history of saison as compiled by renowned Brussels brewer Yvan de Baets in the book Farmhouse ales, turned out to contain a substantial amount of half-truths and selective reading. Too bad, really.

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Beer riots in 19th century Brussels

Henri Meurnier - Strike in Brussels - Wikimedia CommonsClimate protests, angry farmers, yellow vests: mass protests are all over the news at this moment. So far, I haven’t seen beer lovers on the barricades, but even this used to happen once in a while. In 19th century Brussels for instance.

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The memoirs of Jef Lambic

The Pottezuyper. The Brommelpot. The Kwaksalver. Krott & Compagnie.[1] They’re just a few of the many types of pub-goers described by a mysterious writer from Brussels in his Mémoires de Jef Lambic. This little book, published in 1958, is all about beer, pubs, and especially ‘zwanze’, a type of humour particular to Brussels. And all this in a late 19th century setting of gaslight and horsecars. It’s an odd book that has to be dissected on multiple levels, because: who actually wrote it, and what of it is true?

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Lyon: a brewing island in a sea of wine

One of the subjects I love writing about, is the beer history of France. You mean, they have a beer history? They do, because besides all the wine there are also the extreme north (French Flanders and Picardy) and the east (Alsace), that both have a tradition of brewing. For centuries, even Paris had a brewers’ guild. And there was another place that I encountered from time to time: Lyon. Europe’s southernmost traditional brewing city.

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Dutch lager on the Belgian border, in the 1950s

Labels and other printed matter from Van Waes-Boodts brewery. Source: Zeeuws Archief.Much of what has been written on beer history in recent years, would not have been there if it hadn’t been for modern digital resources. With one click of the mouse, you find yourself searching through thousands of newspaper pages with the wildest keywords, and retrieving obscure books which otherwise would have cost you an arm and a leg. Although I still leave home frequently to have a look at everything that hasn’t been digitised yet, what has been scanned by archives and libraries at home and abroad is substantial. (more…)


When Hoegaarden was still spontaneously fermented

The brewery in the Bokrijk museum, with equipment originally from HoegaardenSpontaneous fermentation: magic words to anyone who loves wild, sour, aged beer full of brett, bugs and lactic acid. A method characterized by the fact that no yeast is actively added by the brewer. It’s mainly known for lambic, that wonderful Brussels beer which, after having aged for a few years, is used for making gueuze, faro and kriek. But what if I tell you that once there was another spontaneously fermented Belgian beer type, but one that was considerably different? One whose distant relative is still available on every corner in Belgium?

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When Stella Artois made a ‘Special Dutch’ version for a country that didn’t like the taste of beer

Stella Artois 'Special Dutch': a 'punchy' lager that wasn't that punchy.Back in the 1970s, the Leuven-based Artois brewery was at the top of its game in Belgium: in 1974 it churned out no less than 4 million hectolitres of its Stella Artois lager. All over Belgium, people ordered a Stella at the bar, because in the eyes of the average Belgian that equalled ‘ordering good beer’. There were some exports to France and in the UK it started to catch on. No doubt Holland was longing for it as well. Or so the people at Artois thought. (more…)


A short history of Belgian Christmas beer

A short history of Belgian Christmas beer - Labels: jacquestrifin.beAnother wonderful Belgian tradition: Christmas beer. During the darkest days of the year all those breweries present their best brews to sip sitting by the fireplace, while outside the snow keeps falling and inside little angels hang in the Christmas tree. Most Belgian Christmas beers are dark and heavy, although there are light-coloured exceptions like Avec les bons voeux by the Dupont brewery. But where does this tradition come from exactly? That’s what I wanted to find out. (more…)


Stella Artois: so is it a Christmas beer or not?

We need to talk about Stella Artois. This pilsener-type lager is the flagship beer of AB InBev, the world’s biggest brewery. A beer of which the makers want it to ooze quality, which is why in English-speaking country it was often advertised as ‘reassuringly expensive’. In Belgium itself, it has already lost its splendour long ago. Anyway, because every beer needs a marketing story (and because lager has become such a bland product), for Stella they will often tell you that it originally was a Christmas beer, when it was introduced in 1926. But was it?
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Big data: Jacques Trifin’s beer labels

A wonderful resource for historical Belgian beers is label collector Jacques Trifin’s website. Not only does he own about 28,000 beer labels, he also joined forces with other collectors in making an online database with all these nostalgic gems. On top of that, the website is very useful to make some very interesting quantitative analyses… (more…)