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/// BELGIAN BEER
 
FEBRUARY/MARCH 2008
 
Brouwerij Verhaeghe of Vichte
Home of the Duchesse!
“My great-grandfather was the first brewer here, around 1880. At that time, there was a maltery and brewery with copper brew-kettles,” said Karl Verhaeghe, present owner of Brouwerij Verhaeghe, the family-owned brewery that produces several of the world’s classic Flemish oud bruin (old brown) ales. Karl continued, “Of course, a lot of things have changed since then. The Germans took away the original brewhouse in the First World War, and the maltery has been closed for many years as well.”

Located in Vichte, West Flanders (near Kortrijk), Verhaeghe is perhaps best known in the U.S.A. for its Duchesse de Bourgogne. “The Duchesse,” as it is often called, is created through a lengthy process. After a primary and secondary fermentation, the beer is aged in oak casks for 18 months (a third fermentation) and then blended with an eight-month-old ale. Duchesse has a red-brown color and a malty, fruity character. This beer has a pleasantly refreshing mild acidity, light sourness in the finish and 6.2% abv.

“We try to retain as much of our brewing history as possible here. Some of the large oak barrels used for aging [maturing] our brews date back to the 1890s. We still have the large koelschip [open fermenter], which dates to the time the brewery first opened, though it is not used anymore,” Karl said.

"Some of the large oak barrels used for aging [maturing] our brews date back to the 1890s."

“Our present brewhouse dates to 1962, and we get our water from a very old well that is over 160 meters deep. It is very soft water, excellent for brewing!” Karl told me. “The yeast strain we use for our ales dates to the 1970s,” he said, smiling.

Karl continued: “We brew about 6,500 hl of beer per year at present, and we export to many countries in Europe as well as Canada, Japan and the U.S. About 90 percent of our production is bottled, and about 10 percent is kegged. We use Belgian hops from Poperinge in our oud bruin ales, as these hops have a spicy character but low bitterness.”

Another one of the gems in the Verhaeghe lineup (perhaps my favorite of the bunch) is Vichtenaar, a delicious Flemish oud bruin. Vichtenaar undergoes the same primary and secondary fermentation as Duchesse de Bourgogne; however, the beer is unblended. It is aged in oak casks for eight months and then bottled. The result is a red-brown ale with light acidity from the oak maturation and a fruity, slightly sweet and sour taste. This is a real session beer, given its impressive character at a not-overpowering 5.1% alcohol.

Echt Kriekenbier is another interesting and flavorful brew. It is created with sour cherries, local to the region of the brewery, which are added into the oak casks where Vichtenaar is maturing. This is then blended with one-, two- and three-year-old oak-aged beer to obtain a well-balanced brew that is not too sweet or too tart. The interplay of flavors creates a very pleasant light acidity, sourness and fine cherry character in this 6.8% abv beer.

Karl told me he first came to the U.S. in 1982: “I saw much of the East Coast on that trip. I still come over every so often, as I think it is very important to see how our beers are being promoted, represented and sold in foreign markets.”
He continued, “We also utilize independent ‘quality control’ testing. The University of Leuven has a panel that tastes our brews from time to time. We feel it is more objective than solely tasting the beer ourselves at the brewery.”

The Verhaeghe family has been in Vichte since 1817 and owns about 15 pubs in the area. One of them is Den Hert, located very close to the brewery. It is a fine place to taste the excellent beers produced just down the street. See specialtybeer.com for more info.

 

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