The Belgian Beer Book is an impressive edition. With 704 full-colour pages, it weighs 2 kilos. The book that Belgian beer culture and tradition deserves, you’d say. Last September, when it came out, I happened to meet one of the authors, Luc de Raedemaeker. He had the book with him, he was barely able to carry it. I opened the book and immediately I broke out in a cold sweat. It contains the worst collection of glaring bollocks on beer history I’ve ever seen put together.
Sometimes a question pops up in your head which makes you think: why has no-one asked it before? Like: what is the oldest beer in The Netherlands still in existence? All this time I have been talking about ‘lost beers’, but what beers actually didn’t go lost? Beers where you can draw a straight line between their origin and today? The answer comes from 1872, and it is surprising, but also nicely appropriate for this time of the year…
It’s autumn, and in Holland this means: bock beer. All the big Dutch breweries produce their own dark brown variety, some of which are actually quite tasty. So you get a dark Heineken, a dark Amstel, a dark Grolsch. Where this tradition comes from, will be the scope of another article (already available in Dutch). Right now I’d like to discuss some historical bock beer news. French bock beer is back, courtesy of Kronenbourg. You know, that rather boring French lager.
Yesterday I met Belgian beer writer Luc de Raedemaeker, who proudly showed me his new ‘Belgian Beer book’, an enormous book with lots of nice photographs. I congratulated him on this remarkable effort, then I opened it and the first thing I read was: ‘Duke John of Brabant, also called Jan Primus…’ Noooo! Are people still repeating this nonsense? So for the last time, after I already told my Dutch-speaking readers: why John of Brabant wasn’t a beer god.
You may have noticed him on the European mainland: the legendary beer king Gambrinus. Omnipresent in German pubs, Dutch beer labels, Czech advertising posters, and so on. A jolly bearded guy, crown on his head, beer in his hand. A ‘Santa Claus of beer’ if you like. But where does he come from? Was he once a real person, like duke John I of Brabant, as is often claimed?
As told in the previous article, historical princesse beer by d’Oranjeboom is now available. In two flavours: the ‘normal’ brown-amber princesse beer after my adaptation of the recipe in the 1866 book De praktische bierbrouwer, and a ‘White princesse’ with wheat. The label says it is ‘is inspired by a 1788 Flemish white beer tribute to the Dutch Princesse beer’. And indeed that year Antonius Parmentier from Bruges advertised his ‘white Dutch Princesse beers similar to those sold in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Alkmaar’. But a recipe by Parmentier has not been preserved, so the people at d’Oranjeboom have devised one of their own. But is there an element of historical truth in it? Has such a princesse wheat beer ever existed?
And now, I can announce something that I’m really happy about: Princesse beer is back on the market! This historical Dutch beer, for which I had found a recipe from the year 1866, will soon be available across Holland and beyond. To make it even better, this is done under the centuries old Oranjeboom brand, a brewery that produced princesse beer throughout the 19th century. How and why? Read on…
In the previous article I summarised what lambic mythbuster Raf Meert had found out about the history of this wonderful beer type from Brussels and surroundings. To put it briefly: everything lambic brewers’ association HORAL and self-proclaimed authorities like beer writer Jef van den Steen had claimed so far on this subject is embarrassing hokum, unfortunately. In reality, this remarkable tart beer doesn’t go back further than the eighteenth century, and it contained a lot more wheat than today. Initially faro was the strongest kind of yellow beer, until the even stronger lambic appeared. So here’s my contribution: how do the faros and lambics of the Netherlands fit into this story?
Sometimes you suddenly see the light. At least I did last Saturday, at the Carnivale Brettanomyces in Amsterdam. I was invited to do a talk at this wild yeast festival, and it was another nice opportunity to socialise with other Dutch beer enthusiasts. Blending my own Mestreechs Aajt with beer writer Henri Reuchlin at the bar at the Arendsnest for instance, from the extremely sour barrel beer and a few commercially available beers by Gulpener. Great fun, but to me the climax was the (undeservedly poorly-attended) talk by Raf Meert, the lambic mythbuster.