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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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…)


A pub crawl through 16th century Antwerp

Pieter Breughel the Younger - The Swann inn (detail) - Wikimedia CommonsThere are many Belgian cities where you can go through the night, from pub to pub. Cafés like dark holes hidden behind small Medieval portals, or gritty workman’s cafés in harsh white light. But the best place for a pub crawl is Antwerp: a cocktail of sailors, students, elderly hippies, workmen and drunk Dutchmen. And in the 16th century this wasn’t much different, if we are to believe someone who should know: the deity Bacchus himself.

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Fact check: Yvan De Baets on saison (and the results may shock you)

A saison, anyone? For thousands of drinkers and brewers, Phil Markowski’s 2004 book Farmhouse ales, and especially the contribution it includes by Belgian brewer Yvan De Baets, has shaped the notion of what the beer type saison is or should be: a so-called ‘farmhouse ale’. But has anyone actually checked the sources on which all this is based? Especially for you, I will do so now. Warning for saison lovers: this may shake some firm beliefs you have cherished for a good part of your life.

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