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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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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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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