Fact check: the 1852 Belgian beer law

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from writing about Dutch and Belgian beer during the past few years, it’s that you really need to check anything and that you should never take anything at face value. Of course not everything is easy to verify, but eventually you develop a gut feeling that makes certain claims linger in the back of your head. Claims that make you think: yeah, I need to check those at some point. Which is why today I’ll discus the 1852 Belgian beer law.

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Georges Lacambre: the man who taught Belgium how to brew

On May 30, 1884 a man was buried at the Cimétière de Passy in Paris, in a grave on section 1, row 8 south, number 3 east.[1] This graveyard, today located within a short walking distance from the Eiffel tower, looks just like you’d imagine a cemetary in Paris: lots of robust small tombs the size of telephone boxes, statues of mourning angels, and shiploads of expensive looking marble. This is where he found his last resting place: Georges Lacambre, the man who taught Belgium how to brew.

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A small history of Flemish old brown (and red) – 2

A bottle of Oudenaarde beer from the Petre-Devos brewery.‘The double beer of Oudenaarde,’ wrote journalist and author Karel van de Woestijne in 1906, may not be as famous as its gothic city hall, but those who know it ‘compare it to the best wines of Burgundy. To them, Oudenaarde’s beer compares to ordinary beer as Musigny does to the most common of table wines.’ Those who were familiar with Oudenaarde’s beer, turned their nose up at gueuze-lambic and other beer types, when ‘lying in its basket, a bottle of Oudenaarde’ was served. In Gent, where it was particularly popular, there were people who fell out with each other over the question which of the two main Oudenaarde brands were the best: Felix or Liefmans.[1]

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A small history of Flemish old brown (and red) – 1

On November 23 in the year 1877 there a very tragic accident took place in a brewery in the town of Geraardsbergen in the province of East-Flanders. One of the workers was cleaning a large vat that had been used or making old beer. Suddenly, he was overwhelmed by the vapours emanating from the yeast on the bottom of the vat, and he about to suffocate. Brewer Emile Vande Maele quickly jumped into the vat to save his unfortunate employee. The other workers tried to stop him, but it was too late. Vande Maele too couldn’t get air and choked. From everywhere people rushed forward to help, but there was so much carbon dioxide in the air that even the lamps held above the vat extinguished several times. In the end, the vat had to be chopped into pieces to get the bodies out.[1]

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Flemish brown, red or red brown? How Michael Jackson invented a beer style out of thin air

Lately, I’ve been trying to make more sense of the history of the sour beers of Flanders, more specifically the ones found in today’s provinces of East and West Flanders.[1] These beers include well-known masterpieces of brewing, such as Rodenbach, Duchesse de Bourgogne, Liefmans Goudenband and others. Unfortunately, not a lot has been written about the history of these beers. For one thing, it’s very hard to find anything that resembles aged sour beers in Flanders prior to about 1850 (if you leave out the myth that somehow the Scheldt river is a Medieval boundary between the sour beers of Flanders and those of the rest of the country, which is utter fabricated nonsense).

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Berliner Alt: it sounds German, but it’s a Dutch lost beer

The former De Pauw brewery on Grote Kerkstraat in Culemborg, The Netherlands.‘Do you know this beer style?’ Marco Lauret, brewer at Duits & Lauret, asked me. To his e-mail, he attached a jpg file of a label from a long closed brewery in the town of Culemborg, the Netherlands. A label for a beer called ‘Berliner Oud’. When I receive such a message, I always hope that it will lead to an ancient recipe being brewed again, so I thought: great, I’ll just dig up an old brewing instruction from Berlin, send it to Marco, and my job is done. But.. what exactly was this Berliner Oud?

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Five ‘lost’ Belgian beer brands that came back on the market

A Petre Devos poster starring in The big bang theory.Recently I listed a few old Belgian beer types that have made a comeback after a long period of absence. I can do the same with some brands. Discontinued long ago, outcompeted by Stella and Jupiler, but not forgotten. Luckily, it seems there’s always someone who wants to bring such a lost beer back. Because it tasted so good, because it was locally renowned or: because it was on tv.

 

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Five lost Belgian beer styles that you still can drink regardless

Belgium is the open air museum of beer. Nowhere else so many wonderful old beer types and production methods have been preserved. Yet, Belgium has its share of lost beers. Fallen out of favour, lost from the nation’s book of recipes. Luckily, once in a while such a ‘lost beer’ is brought back to life. Which is nice, because historic beer is at its best when you can drink it. Here are five beers that (in a few cases, very locally) you can taste again. And if you want to have a go at brewing authentic beers yourself, check out my historic recipes…

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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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