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September 12, 2018 14:04

Brouwerij De Brabandere: “If foeders are well maintained, they can serve up to 50-100 years”

Brouwerij De Brabandere is a family brewery and still one of the biggest independent breweries in Belgium. CEO and fifth-generation owner of the brewery Albert De Brabandere answered our questions. In 1894 the brewery was founded by his great-great-grandfather Adolphe De Brabandere. The name of the brewery changed several times (for periods it was called Sint-Antonius and Bavik), but in 2014 the hictorical family name was returned. We thank SVAM Group for the help with the interview.

Tell about brewing traditions of your region? How do they differ from other brewing regions?

The southern region of West-Flanders is particularly known for its Flanders Red Ales like Petrus Roodbruin. This brewing style founds its roots in the middle ages when hops were not available yet and the beer was aged on big oak barrels. The result? A slightly sour and fruity beer that was blended afterwards with fresh beer. Cooling systems were inexistent at the time, so the tartness of the beer was perfectly refreshing. The use of hops today is still very restricted as it would clash with the sourness caused by the wood. The top fermented beer that matures on the oak barrels undergoes another spontaneous fermentation thanks to the microorganisms present on the oak barrels, which we call foeders. The Flanders Red Ale is an authentic beer style and requires maturation at least for 18 months in the foeders before it is blended with the younger beer. Commercial breweries tend to use the name Flanders Ale, but without respect to the long maturation or even the wooden barrels. That is why 4 breweries, including Brewery De Brabandere, gathered and filed a registration at the European Union to protect this precious beer style.

Photo: Christophe Vander Eecken

Do you have connections with other Belgian family brewers? Have there been any cases, when different brewing families representatives were married, making some kind of “dynastic unions”?

Belgian brewers that have been brewing in Belgium for over 50 years and are still an independent family brewer are gathered in an association that is called the Belgian Family Brewers. Their logo indicates that a beer meets the traditional Belgian craftsmanship and is brewed by a family brewer. They are 21 brewers recognized, also Brewery De Brabandere of course as one of the founding members. There are a lot of connections between different family brewers. My mother belongs to the family of the Van Steenberghe Brewery.

Besides beer, you make wine and mineral water – unconventional choice for a brewery. What are the reasons?

The choice of distributing mineral water is a very common business for Belgian brewers. Breweries that last for generations use to have a natural source of mineral water to make their beers. Given the high standards the water needs to meet to be used as a main ingredient in our beer, it can also be sold to hospitals and our own bars and restaurants. With a total of 200 owned bars in Belgium, we tend to offer a complete package in drinks. Including wine.

Your brewery owns a lot of bars and cafés in Belgium. Tell us about the most interesting of them.

If people come to Belgium, they must find at least 1 place where time stopped and soak up the ancient atmosphere of a traditional Belgian pub. ‘T Kloefke in Hulste is one of those places.

And of course, Belgium is known for its cycling classics. Every year, thousands of cycling lovers and professionals compete against each other in the region around the Brewery because of it steep hills and cobblestone paved roads. We even have a beer called Kwaremont that is named after such a steep hill and rewards every sport fan after its efforts. One bar in Belgium captures this atmosphere perfectly: Chasse Patate in the brewery’s hometown Bavikhove. Its interior is all about the Belgian Classics, international winners and would please every cycling lover or visitor that wants to catch a glimpse of the favourite sport of the Belgians.

De Brabandere is a sponsor of many bike races. What does biking mean for your family, brewery team and region as a whole?

Cycling is huge in Belgium, and especially in Flanders. With the Tour of Flanders, we host one of the biggest cycling events in the world. The brewery has been sponsoring sports since many many years. For the last 5 years, we are focusing on cycling with our cycling beer Kwaremont.

In our culture, cycling is a moment of celebration with beer and friends, so it is very important to claim these moments and to support cycling. At the brewery, there are many people who actively ride a bike. It keeps us fit and provides the best excuse to celebrate afterwards with a refreshing Kwaremont beer.

How many foeders do you have? How old are they? How often do you change them or put new ones into service?

In total we have 32 foeders. The oldest date from the 80’s. The newest were added in 2016. If they are well maintained, they can serve up to 50-100 years. The only reason we buy new ones is to be able to produce enough of our precious beer. Our Petrus Aged Pale matures on these foeders up to 2 years!

Tell us about 1894 Oak & Hops. Which hops are used in it? Can it be called sour IPA?

1894 has been brewed for the special occasion of the 120th birthday of the brewery. During 120 years, the brewery holds on to the principle of using only aroma hops. Even though they are –a lot — more expensive than the usual bitter hops, our brewers prefer their taste and refinement for its quality. One of the main pillars in our strategy is never compromise on taste, and the exclusive use of aroma hops illustrates this perfectly. So for our “celebration brew”, the tradition continued: only Saaz, Hallertau Mittelfrüh, East Kent Holding were used as hops. Brewery De Brabandere is also known for its sour beers, so we challenged the brewers with a mission impossible in the brewing world: create a hoppy beer, based on the Petrus Aged Pale that matured for 2 years in the oak foeders. And they succeeded! The result is a daring combination of a hoppy triple and the refreshing sour beer. Indeed, a sour IPA!

In the last interview you said, that the brewery is not ready for collaborations. But now, as far as we now, a collaborative release with Dogfish Head is prepared, and it was brewed on your side. How did the Americans participate?

Philly Beer Week, a top 3 beer event in the US asked if we wanted to participate in a competition for a collaborative brew with our Petrus Sour beers. Participants were local breweries of a substantial size. Because of the fact that it was at Philly Beer Week that we launched Petrus Aged Pale in the US many years ago, we decided to open our brand to a collaboration. In the end, Dogfish Head Brewery won the contest and thus a collaboration with us. The collaboration brew will be the official beer of Philly Beer Week 2018, so it needed to be a refreshing and drinkable beer to counter the hot temperatures in Philadelphia. Both brewmasters brought their own specialities to the table. The result is a Sour Saison beer, blended with some sour Aged Pale combined with black pepper and jasmine flowers.

Tell us about the beers of Brewmaster’s Selection series. Will it be continued in 2018?

The Brewmaster’s Selection was a way to thank the brewers after all their efforts for the brewery and to inaugurate the most modern bottling infrastructure in Belgium. Brewmaster Chris Van Acker (65 years old), a walking legend in the brewery after more than 31 years of service, was the first to launch his ultimate beer: a Wild Tripel Hop. With his profound knowledge of ingredients, he added Amarillo and Cascade to our famous Petrus. In the following quarters, Yves Benoit launched a Wild Funky Wit with microflora of the oak foeders injected in a fresh wheat beer, and Pieter Maes created a Wild Quadrupel that aged for 24 months on oak foeders. The Brewmaster’s Selection was a limited edition and will not be relaunched under the same brand in 2018.

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