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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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…)


Double saison from Maastricht

An old poster for steam brewery De Keyzer in Maastricht, specialised in 'young and old beer'.Researching lost beers demands quite a lot of imagination. More than often the available brewing records are illegible, messy, incomplete or they simply look like something from another planet. The problem is of course that the brewer who once wrote them down was completely familiar with his own brewery and the ingredients, so he didn’t record everything. Clearly he didn’t think: ‘Would someone still understand this in one and a half century’s time?’ Today’s breweries, big or small, differ greatly from the situation back then. What was a hopback at the time? How did you handle a mash tun or a fermenting vessel? Only slowly old texts start to make sense. Therefore, it’s very helpful to see everything for real. And that is possible in Maastricht, a city at the most southern tip of the Netherlands. (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…)


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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The original 17th century Tripel Karmeliet recipe

Tripel KarmelietTripel Karmeliet is one of Belgium’s most famous beers. It has received multiple international awards and rightly is a modern classic. And according to the label it is brewed ‘according to a 17th century recipe from the Carmelite monastery in Dendermonde’. Which of course made me wonder: what recipe? Or: why real Carmelites are not allowed to brew this anymore. (more…)


The evolution of Luiks beer

Beers change over time. Even when they keep being made by the same brewer, even if they keep carrying the same name. Even lager is not immune: currently it is moving from sweet to bitter, under the influence of the popularity of IPA, at least in Holland. About fifteenth years ago however, it was moving the other way and our pils was only getting sweeter! The most well-known Dutch supermarket, Albert Heijn, has recently revamped its lager beer: they are now dry-hopping it. However, back in 2002 they announced the opposite: that they were giving their lager ‘a less bitter and more full-mouthed taste.’[1] A nice example from the more distant past is the taste evolution that Luiks beer went through, from a fresh, light-coloured spelt beer to an aged brown barley beer. Here is the whole story, including a recipe! (more…)


Bavarian beer from Breda

Publicity poster Drie Hoefijzers - Source: Stadsarchief BredaAn aspect of Dutch beer history I hadn’t dealt with sufficiently so far, is ‘Beijersch’ (which means, in old Dutch spelling, Bavarian) beer. From the middle of the 19th century onwards, it replaced the old Dutch beer types, especially after the 1868 beer law made its production a lot cheaper. Often this Beijersch beer has simply been equated to pilsener, but that’s not right. Pils came to the Netherlands only in 1876, and initially sold only  in modest quantities. So what kind of beer was Beijersch? (more…)