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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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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