2006 | REGIONAL | INTERNATIONAL
||Small Size, Big Taste : Seven
By Chuck Cook
Among the roughly 125 breweries operating in Belgium today,
there are a number that qualify for either microbrewery (small)
or picobrewery (really small!) status. I had the pleasure
of visiting seven of these breweries recently. Each produces
fewer than 1,000 hl (about 850 U.S. barrels) per year.
Brouwerij Achilles, which opened in 2001,
is located in Antwerp province in a converted garage in the
small town of Itegem. Brewer-owner Achilles Van de Moer makes
about 300 hl of beer per year under the brand name Serafijn.
Van de Moer has a small but sophisticated setup. The Serafijn
Blond is the biggest seller, followed by the Tripel, Donker
and Christmas beer.
Brouwerij Achilles brews five times per month, using whole
hop flowers. Hallertau, Northern Brewer, Perle and Saaz are
the varieties. Spices are used as well, though in moderate
amounts. I found the Serafijn beers very tasty, well-balanced
and worth seeking out. At present, Brouwerij Achilles exports
to Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Italy. Van de Moer
told me last October that he would soon be sending Serafijn
beer to the Michael Jackson Rare Beer Club in the U.S.
Brouwerij Achilles has a small but high-tech Italian bottling
line capable of filling 33- and 75-cl sizes. Twenty-liter
kegs are also available. A proper tasting cafe is planned
for the future. See serafijn.be for more info.
If you like dark, strong brews, then a visit to the brewery/
tasting room at ’t Gaverhopke, located
in Stasegem, near Kortrijk, in West Flanders, will be well
worth your time. Brewer/owner Erik Ameye used to work at the
Westvleteren Trappist brewery, and it shows in the quality
of his brews. The Gaverhopke Den Bruin and Den Twaalf (the
latter meaning “the 12,” with 12% abv) are worthy
of high praise, with rich, contemplative flavors and a very
pleasing aroma. The Blond, Easter beer and Kriek are very
good as well. A Kerst/Christmas beer is also brewed in season.
The brewery is located in the back half of a modern building
behind the tasting cafe. Here Ameye crafts the beers, using
French malts and real Belgian hops from Poperinge. He brews
every two weeks and produces about 160 hl of beer per annum.
The Blond is the top seller, followed by the Bruin. Both have
8% alcohol. The tasting café offers light snacks to
pair with these brews and is open on weekends from 2:00 p.m.
on. If you show interest in beer and ask nicely, Ameye might
give you a tour of the brewery!
Heading into East Flanders province, Kleinbrouwerij
de Glazen Toren (small brewery, “The Glass
Tower”) opened in the village of Erpe-Mere, near Aalst,
in 2004. Run by Belgian beer writer Jef Van den Steen and
his two partners, Dirk de Pauw and Mark de Neef, this microbrewery
has been producing some superb new beers in a short time.
The first beers were the Ondineke Tripel (with a fine malty,
yeasty character and mild hoppiness) and Saison de Erpe-Mere
(7%), which is described as a Flemish saison. It contains
20% unmalted wheat and is hence a very dry brew. It is hopped
with Hallertau Mittelfruh, grown in Belgium.
A dark offering from the brewery is the Canaster Scotch Ale.
Weighing in at 8.5%, this rich, complex beer is brewed with
caramel, barley, wheat malts and dark candi sugar, and it’s
hopped with Hallertau. Another new beer is Jan de Lichte,
which is brewed with buckwheat, barley, oats and wheat. It
is described as a “double white” beer and has
a deceptively light body for its 7% alcohol.
All the de Glazen Toren beers are unfiltered, unpasteurized
and refermented in 75-cl bottles, which are crown-capped and
have paper labels. About 300 hl of beer was produced in 2005.
De Glazen Toren is located in a new building in a residential
area, and it is already drawing many visitors on Saturdays.
The tours given by the de Glazen Toren crew are very hands-on
and informative. A 20-hl brewhouse is currently in use with
22-hl conditioning/lagering tanks. The original brew-kettle
had only a 50-liter capacity. Perhaps another new building
will be needed soon! See glazentoren.be for more info.
The next brewery is in completely different surroundings.
Brouwerij Kerkom is located near St-Truiden
in Limburg province. Here brewer/owner Marc Limet crafts the
Bink line of brews in buildings dating to the 19th century.
Limet uses a direct-fired brew-kettle, something rarely seen
these days. The results are the very refreshing, dry-hopped
Bink Blond (5.5%), which is one of Belgium's hoppiest brews;
an impressive Tripel; Bink Bloesem, a unique beer with local
honey and pear syrup in its recipe, leading to a slight sweetness
and fruity character; a Bruin with solid malt character and
noticeable hops, which drinks stronger than its 5.5% abv would
suggest; and the dark, rich Winterkoninkske, a superlative
winter brew of 8% abv that is brewed with juniper berries
and lavender, among other things.
In an interesting collaboration with lambic brewer Armand
Debelder, a beer called Reuss is produced for the Bink festival
in August. Limet blends aged lambic from Drie Fonteinen with
a less bitter version of Bink Blond (38 IBUs versus 52 IBUs).
Reuss was the name of the first beer brewed at Kerkom in 1878.
All the brews are unfiltered, unpasteurized and bottle-conditioned.
Almost all of the hops in the Kerkom beers are Belgian, grown
in Poperinge. Limet has also been known to use American-grown
Cascade hops on occasion for special brews.
A great place to drink the Bink brews in top condition and
special ambiance is right at the brewery. There is a courtyard
with outside seating for quite a few people in warm weather,
as well as a very cozy winter tasting café. Limet and
wife Marina Siongers run the whole operation. Siongers gave
my group a brewery tour while also running the café
last November. Excellent multitasking! See brouwerijkerkom.be
for more info.
Heading back to West Flanders province, Brouwerij
Regenboog ("Rainbow") is located in Assebroek,
not far from beautiful Brugge (Bruges). Brewer/owner Johan
Brandt has been crafting special beers here for 10 years.
These brews, labeled ’t Smisje, have just started becoming
known in the U.S.
Regenboog’s U.S. importer has commissioned a number
of beers especially for the American market, such as Calva
Reserva, which was brewed with Champagne, port and ale yeast
and achieved 12% abv. ’t Smisje Dubbel is another formidable
brew, with fresh dates and honey as ingredients, weighing
in at 9% abv.
Brandt has created a number of enticing, eclectic brews over
the years, such as Halloween, brewed with pumpkin and packing
a punch with 10% alcohol; Wostyntje, brewed with mustard seeds;
and BBBourgondier, a rich, dark amber beer of 12% worth savoring
over a roaring fire. This brew contains valerian, lemon balm
and candi sugar, though you're unlikely to be able to pick
out these spices as they meld so well with the beer.
Therein lies the key to Johan Brandt's success: He has a
very deft hand and rarely overspices his brews. "If you
can pick out the spice present when tasting a beer, then too
much was used," he told me during a visit to the brewery
Brandt has been inspired by a number of hoppy U.S. brews
he has tasted over the years, and he created the Cuvée
’t Smisje as a 10th anniversary beer. The brew uses
Challenger, Cascade, Magnum and Newport hops, and it is dry-hopped
with Cascade. It also uses Belgian yeast and candi sugar and
weighs in at 10% abv.
Brandt has a retail shop selling the Regenboog beers and
other items in the front of the brewery building. While there
is no tasting café here, a great place to sample a
range of ’t Smisje beers is at the world-famous beer
café ’t Brugs Beertje in Brugge.
Located far on the other side of Belgium in Luxembourg province,
Wallonia, is Brasserie Fantôme. In
the small town of Soy, brewer/owner Dany Prignon has crafted
numerous different brews in an old barn since 1988. Many of
his beers have a light to pronounced sour character, and these
brews often find favor with lambic and gueuze lovers. Count
me among them!
Prignon was milling spices in a small hand-grinder on my
visit last November while a brewery worker milled bags of
grain in an old hand-cranked mill. Fantôme is a truly
hands-on operation; the 75-cl beers are all bottled, corked,
capped and labeled by hand. The brewery also uses an old,
direct-fired brew-kettle, as well as short, closed fermenters.
Prignon has revealed that he uses many different types of
ingredients in his beers, though he usually won’t give
specifics. “The Fantôme never reveals its secrets”
is a saying well known to fans of the brewery. Most of Prignon’s
beers are roughly in the saison style — or, perhaps,
a style all their own. Of late, BBBrrr, Black Ghost, Noël
and Printemps have been standouts. A new beer brewed with
the Burgundian Babble Belt Internet message board in mind
is “BBB Dark White” (8% abv), which will hopefully
make it to U.S. shores this summer.
There is a small, cozy tasting room at the brewery, where
Prignon usually has a couple of brews on tap. The Automne
was very good. See fantome.be for more info.
In the same province is Les Trois Fourquets
("The Three Mashing Forks"), a new brewpub and restaurant
opened in Courtil-Gouvy in 2003. A joint venture between Chris
Bauweraerts and Pierre Gobron of Brasserie Achouffe
and chef Gilles Poncin, Les Trois Fourquets has been producing
an interesting range of beers. La Fourquette, a witbier, is
brewed to a refreshing 5% abv and uses Saaz and Tomahawk hops.
The house pilsner is the pleasing La Pilsette. Both beers
are available year-round.
Things are kept interesting by the "Bière du
Moment," or “Beer of the Moment.” Guest brewers
are invited to come to the brewery to create a beer that will
be served until it runs out at the impressive two-level restaurant
just yards away; it is also served at beer fests and at the
Achouffe brewery café/restaurant. Some big names have
already worked their magic at Les Trois Fourquets, including
Pierre Celis. Celis helped brew a beer called Celisette, which
was crafted to the recipe of pre-InBev Hoegaarden Grand Cru.
The brew met with much appreciation at the Zythos beer fest.
The Beer of the Moment for spring/summer 2006 is “La
Les Trois Fourquets breaks with the norm of small Belgian
breweries by brewing lager beers. Good ones. When I visited
in December 2004, an amber lager called Jeanette was on tap,
made by a Danish brewer.
The total production of the brewery was about 225 hl in 2005.
The brew system is Italian, made by Velo. There is seating
for about 200 people at Les Trois Fourquets, plus a beer garden
and terrace for use in the summer.
Les Trois Fourquets is as much about handcrafted food as
beer of the same quality. The upstairs area is a sort of relaxed
bar/bistro with a smaller menu than the full-service, white-tablecloth
restaurant downstairs. There is usually a dish cooked with
the "Beer of the Moment" available. The food was
excellent on my visit. See les3fourquets.be for more info.
As you will have to drive to get to this area, you could
make it a destination visit and stay at the Hotel St-Martin,
located just 500 meters away. Brasserie Achouffe is only 20
I hope you enjoy the efforts of these small breweries!
Chuck Cook is a freelance writer living in
Richmond, Va. His passions are beer and travel, and he has
written for various beer publications. He can be reached via
e-mail at email@example.com.