Lost Beers - Belgium

The real Belgian ‘farmhouse ales’

After exploring the presence of saison beer in Belgian cities in the previous article, I will now turn to the place this beer type is now most associated with: the countryside. What do we know about the historical rural beers of Wallonia? (more…)


What was a 19th century saison really like?

Lately, I’ve taken on a daunting task: to seek out the history of all the different beer styles of Belgium. When did they first appear, what were they like throughout the years, and in many cases: when did they disappear? In fact, of the many beer styles Belgium knew in the 19th century, only a few survived: white beer, lambic and its derivatives gueuze, faro and kriek, Flemish old brown, and saison. Others, like the Peeterman of Leuven, the drijdraad from the Land of Waas and the grisette of Hainaut, have all died out.[1] (more…)


A French (and Belgian) beer for factory workers and farm hands

George Cruikshank, The Bottle, Plate IV, Free library of Pennsylvania.The French-speaking part of this world has a lot of beer history yet to be discovered. An example is an old Belgian magazine that I found, La feuille du cultivateur, published in Brussels as a ‘journal d’agriculture pratique’, which means: journal of practical agriculture. (more…)


Brasserie à Vapeur: Belgium’s last steam brewery

BLocal lads empty the mash tun at Brasserie à Vapeur, Pipaix, Belgiumack in February I visited the wonderful Brasserie à Vapeur in the small village of Pipaix in the province of Hainaut, Belgium. Going there is quite an experience: because of the monumental preserved brewery, and because of the uniquely festive atmosphere a brewing day has there. (more…)


Fact check: the Vandervelde Law

L'alcool est un poison, ca. 1900. Collection Jenevermuseum, HasseltA Belgian law from 1919 aimed at combating alcohol abuse, is credited with creating the heavy Belgian beers we now know so well: the dubbels, the tripels, the Duvels. But is it true? Time for a fact check. (more…)


The lost hop varieties of Belgium

Belgian hops: making a comeback? Source: WestflandricaBelgium is a hop producing country. Right? However, the Belgian hop growing sector is only a bleak shadow of its former self. Not only has the total surface and production been receding for years and years, Belgium also has given up its native hop varieties long ago. Varieties that were once a staple of lambic and all the other traditional Belgian beers. (more…)


Eight myths about lambic debunked

The author doing field research in Belgium...The lambic family of beers, consisting of lambic, gueuze, faro and kriek, has been making a remarkable comeback. Doomed to be extinct in the early 1970s, as drinks made for old men by old men, these beers from Brussels and surroundings were kept alive by passionate people that at first must have been regarded by locals as ‘quite crazy’. By now, their perseverance has paid off: today, lambic and gueuze are beer specialities highly coveted by beer lovers around the globe. (more…)


Gueuze in barrels (2)

A la Mort Subite, the café owned by Albert Vossen. Source: WikipediaIn the previous article, I wrote about gueuze, one of the best Belgian beers, known for its refermentation in bottles like champagne. However, in the past it was often also sold in barrels. For instance, in 1909 one Edmond Mineur described an old man from Brussels who every morning invariably had a gueuze from cask, but in the evening closed his day with a few good pints of gueuze from bottle, smoking his pipe.[1] So what was gueuze actually? And why is it a bottled beer almost by definition today? I found a few surprising answers… and they have everything to do with the trade of gueuze blender itself. (more…)


Gueuze in barrels (1)

Advertisement for gueuze-lambic from Maes Frères, 'in barrels and bottles'. Source: Patrick Goderis, Bières et brasseries bruxelloisesGueuze: the Belgian beer style known as the ‘champagne among beers’. After all, this spontaneously fermented beer belongs in a bottle, where it can develop its foam that joyously bursts in all directions when the cork pops out. Right? So why do I keep finding old newspaper ads where gueuze is advertised… in barrels?

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A lambic from Eastern Flanders from the early 1900s

View of the village of Schoonaarde by the river Scheldt, with the brewery's chimney.If there is one Belgian beer of which its fans want to know all about its history, it has to be lambic. This extraordinary beer from the Brussels region is surrounded by an aura of age-old tradition: supposedly, it is a kind of ‘primordial beer’ from the Middle Ages. Even more so, the ‘High Council for Artisanal Lambic beers’ HORAL (which is an incredibly pompous name, what’s wrong with just calling yourselves ‘Association of Lambic Brewers’?) pretends that ‘the first lambic was already brewed before the year 1300’.[1]

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