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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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…)


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…)


Oud bruin: a tale of two beers

Heineken Oud bruinAnd now, let’s talk about the least known Dutch beer type: oud bruin. You won’t see it in fancy beer pubs, or at craft beer festivals. The most likely place where you’ll find it, is the highest shelves in the supermarket. It’s hard to find anyone who actually likes this ‘old brown’, a low-alcohol beverage that tastes like diet coke. A sweetened, weak, bottom-fermented 2,5 ABV dark beer. What on earth is to be said of such a depressingly plain drink?

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