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5 out-of-the-box thinking city breweries in Belgium and the Netherlands

Belgium Food

Every now and then we get hold of a book and that makes us sigh just a little, because we wished we had made it ourselves. Barley & Hops, The Craft Beer Book (gestalten) by Sylvia Knopp is such a book. It contains portraits of brewmasters who work according to traditional methods and, most importantly, with passion, in order to create surprisingly delicious beers. We were fascinated in particular by the small breweries that lie in the middle of a city – not exactly an obvious location. We got to know some thanks to Knopp’s book and we completed this list with a few of our personal favourites.

(Article main photo: Oersoep brewery)


1) Brasserie de la Senne, Brussels (BE)

This brewery is the brainchild of two born-and-bred Bruxellois who came up with the idea to start brewing Brussels beers during the Zinnekeparade city festival in 2002. They started brewing in the city of Brussels in 2010 (in the Molenbeek area to be exact, at Gentsesteenweg 565). So the beers of the Brasserie de la Senne are as Brussels as they get, especially the beer that it all started with, the Zinnebeer. Moreover, founders and brewmasters Yvan De Baerts and Bernard Leboucq make sure to cater to their Brussels clients before serving the rest of Belgium. Despite their international success and the worldwide appreciation for their beers (their biggest fans live in the US, Japan and Italy) Yvan and Bernard made a conscious choice to limit export. The local character of the brewery is very important to them, in fact it’s one of the basic founding principles. A second one is the typical bitter taste that all of their beers have; Yvan and Bernard have produced bitter beers since the very beginning, and they plan on keeping to do so in the future. Why? Because it’s the type of beer that they love the most and it’s rather hard to find. A third principle is based on the idea that lighter beers allow for longer pleasure (the lighter the beer, the more you can drink): you don’t need a lot of alcohol to get a lot of flavour. Brasserie de la Senne creates beers with different alcohol percentages, but they specialise in light beers like the Taras Boulba (4,5%), an ideal beer to quench your thirst. And last but not least: the brewmasters strive to make their brewery as sustainable an eco-friendly as possible. If you would like to learn more about their projects, you can read about them on the website brasseriedelasenne.be. It’s good to know that the people who work at Brasserie de la Senne aim to focus on their production and therefore limit visits to the brewery. Tours are only available for large groups, who need a reservation. (Photo: campesino.be)


2) Oersoep, Nijmegen (NL)

Young minds and old brewing traditions: lately it seems to be a match made in heaven, resulting in delicious, surprising beers. Like the ones that Sander Kobes and Kick van Hout started creating in 2012, in their microbrewery Oersoep. The name ('primeval soup') refers to a term that’s used to describe the mash of malt, hops and water that’s the starting point from which a beer further develops. It’s also, according to a scientific theory, the source of all life on earth (a mix of organic substances and water). That’s what it’s all about for Sander and Kick: out of a basic mix they create new life, in the form of new beers that they themselves describe as “layered and complex”: smokey, and with a daring, bold taste. The duo cares about the environment – they are critical when choosing the ingredients they want to work with and they try to work with local and organic products as much as possible – and they respect the traditions but that doesn’t hold them back from experimenting; because of that they regularly have different beers available for a short time. To keep track of things, they created four categories: ‘Dark and Deep’, ‘Saizon’, ‘Bubbly and Blond’ and ‘God is Good’. One thing that all these beers have in common is that they’re only available in large 75cl bottles, because these brewmasters feel that beer is there to share with friends and family. And preferably paired with a perfect dish – foodpairing is something that Oersoep pays a lot of attention to. Next door to the brewery is a ‘brewpub’ called STOOM (it means ‘steam’), located in a former broth factory; this place is all about find the perfect beer match for good food. They serve interesting beers from borth local and international microbreweries and of course there are some exclusive Oersoep beers available. At STOOM you can also book a tour at the brewery (with or without tasting); check http://www.stoomnijmegen.com/tour-taste/. (Photo: Oersoep brewery)


3) Kazematten, Ypres (BE)

We haven’t tried the beer (yet) but we do know that this brewery is definitely worth a visit because of its extraordinary historic location: in the casemates (basement bunkers) of the West-Flanders town Ypres. They were built around 1680 as storage rooms for munitions and army supplies and they’re part of the 17th-century fortified walls around the city. The troops that defended Ypres against several sieges found shelter here – during WW I these casemates were the home of the British officers’ messroom, for some time they harboured a field hospital and between 1916 and 1918 the British soldiers paper The Wiper Times was printed here. And now, since 2014, these casemates are the home of a city brewery, founded by Hans Depypere, the ceo of the Sint-Bernardus brewery in Watou, and Rudi Ghequire, the production manager at Rodenbach. They put their children, Julie Depypere and Maarten Ghequier in charge. These two and brew master Koen Hugelier finalized their first beer, the Wipers Times, in the brand new authentic brewery hall with copper kettles that have a total capacity of 750 litres. The blond beer has a light and slightly spicy taste to it and was named after the British soldiers’ paper. The second beer that was launched is the Grotten Santé. This former grot beer is in fact a product of the Sint-Bernardus brewery, that was looking for the perfect grot-like location for the beer to mature. Plans for the future include the launch of six new beers. In the mean time you can visit the brewery, which is open to the public on Saturdays from 3 tot 5 pm. (It’s not necessary to make a reservation, although of course it’s always a good idea if you want to be sure.) And you can also book a private tour for a group. For more information, visit www.kazematten.be. (Photo: www.kazematten.be)


4) City Brewery Gruut, Ghent (BE)

This small brewery was founded in 2009 by brewmaster Annick De Splenter in the Waalse Krook area in Ghent. She’s about to move the business to an even more central location in the city, the Sint-Widostraat next to the Prinsenhof. The brewery is open to the public: during opening hours anyone is welcome to come wandering in and watch Annick and her team at work. It’s particularly fascinating because they don’t use, like most brewers do, hop as the central ingredient; instead they work with ‘Gruut’, a special mix of herbs according to a medieval recipe that was used in breweries in Ghent during the French regime. The name ‘Gruut’ refers to this herbal mix but also to the ‘gruuten’ a kind of coins that people paid with in the era of Charles V – the coin is now the brewery’s logo. At the moment they have five beers on offer: Gruut Amber, Gruut Blond, Gruut Bruin (Brown), Gruut Wit (White) and Gruut Inferno (the latter is an ale with an intense aroma). Annick and her team combine traditional recipes with modern brewing technolgies. For more info, visit www.gruut.be. (Photo: Schamper, Ugent)


5) De Koninck, Antwerp (BE)

This isn’t a small independent brewery like the others in this list – since 2010 it’s part of the Duvel Moorgat group – but because we’re from Antwerp we can’t help including the oldest brewery in our town. In fact it’s the only brewery that has survived in the city on the River Scheldt. The De Koninck brewery has a strong connection to the city and a rich history that dates back to 1827, when Joseph Henricus De Koninck decided to buy a pub on the border of Antwerp and Berchem. To this day this is the location of the brewery, accommodated in whitewashed buildings, and of the pub The Hand and the café-brasserie De Pelgrim. The beer that’s brewed here is of great quality and loved by many. De Koninck is an amber, high fermentation beer with a typical, slightly bitter and malty taste and a low alcohol percentage (5,20%). Antwerp locals will by the way never order a De Koninck; instead they will ask for a ‘Bolleke’ (a 'little ball'), referring to the distinctive ball-shaped glass that the beer is served in. The entire brewery site is currently being renovated; the aim is to create a sort of mini village where visitors can learn about traditions in the food industry and see how local artisans make their products. There will be a chocolatier who uses De Koninck beer in his chocolates, an old-school baker and a barista. Also the Antwerp but internationally renowned cheese maker Van Tricht will move here. Of course the main attraction will be the brewery itself, together with a beer museum. Visitors are welcome without reservation. The project should be ready in 2015, in the meanwhile you can stay updated via www.dekoninck.be. (Photo: De Koninck.)


___ Text: Hadewijch Ceulemans