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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A recipe for Antwerp seef

And now a legendary beer from Antwerp: seef. But, the city beer of Antwerp, that would have to be De Koninck? It may be now, but in fact this amber-coloured ‘spéciale belge’ only began its rise in the 1930s.[1] No, before that there was a beer called ‘seef’ (pronounced ‘safe’), a beer type so popular that an entire district of the city was named after it. Since a few years, this beer is back on the market again, which is of course a great initiative. So, today we will look at the question: what was seef exactly? Including a historic recipe with notes on yeast types, turbidity and grains like oats, buckwheat and rye. (more…)


What is Belgium’s oldest beer?

Beer museum, SchaarbeekWhen making a beer trip to Belgium, you can easily get mesmerized by all the history you see: venerable old brown pubs, knighthoods with seemingly Medieval outfits, stained glass windows, old carriages and most of all: lots of labels. Labels featuring emperors, monks, coats of arms and of course most prominently a year of supposed origin, usually a millennium or so ago. So that’s why this time I’ll try to answer the inevitable question: what is Belgium’s oldest beer? (more…)


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…)