by Jan Machiel van Bracht Known connoisseur / jury member and co-author of The Beer Icons of the Low Countries.
Belgian Family BrewersA guarantee of authenticity and origin
Belgium is without a doubt a beer country, with more than 150 authentic breweries, of which a handful have existed for more than 100 years and some of which date all the way back to the 17th century. It’s impressive that these companies have survived successive world wars, crises and expansions through takeovers. Equally as impressive is how they have been able to hand down their knowledge and experience, thereby maintaining their family traditions.
Under the motto “there is more that unites us than divides us”, the initiative was taken in November 2007 to set up Belgian Family Brewers, a non-profit association whose goal is to provide the necessary quality assurances to beer consumers. It was, after all, these brewers who were responsible for the (international) success of Belgian beer.
1986: The Year of Beer
Most members began as village breweries, often in combination with farms. The beer was sold locally in jugs and jars and only much later in bottles and barrels. Brewing only became big business in the 20th century and thanks to the rapid speed of progress, improved brewing techniques and more modern equipment, the quality of the beer improved noticeably. Beers by family-owned breweries only started to thrive from the 1980s onwards both at home and abroad, largely due to The Year of Beer in 1986, a successful promotion campaign by Belgian Brewers. Many well-known Belgian family brews have since become genuine icons.
Recognisable features and criteria
A Belgian Family Brewery can be recognised by the special logo used by its members. Members see it as a quality assurance label for their beers, and they often share stands at beer festivals.
The three most important criteria for membership are:
- All beers are brewed by an independent family brewery which has existed for at least 50 years.
- All beers are brewed exclusively in Belgium and can be bought on the Belgian market.
- All beers are original and are not available under any other name or label on the market.
These guidelines are fairly strict. The takeover of Brewery Bosteels by AB Inbev and Palm/Rodenbach by Bavaria resulted in breweries leaving the association for the first time in 2016.
3500 years of brewing experience
Currently, there are 20 members brewing more than 150 original beers in every conceivable style with a combined experience of more than 3500 years.
All family breweries are well worth a visit. Most members have a tasting room, a shop or something extra to offer their visitors.
De Koninck in Antwerp, for example, has a unique experience centre which includes an artisanal bakery, chocolatier, cheesemonger and butcher.
You can taste Duvel at Duvel Moortgat in Breendonk, where a new microbrewery will also be opening soon.
At Het Anker brewery in Mechelen, you can taste self-distilled whisky from ‘the brewer under the wool’. The brewery has recently completely renovated its Carolus Hotel.
Like a true geuze blender, discover the perfect mix of sour ales: De Brabandere in Bavikhove developed this original formula.
After a tour at De Ryck in Herzele, you can taste beers in the former stables and try a blended Bierblomme (a beer liqueur) along with beer-filled pralines.
If you would like to visit a brewing museum, you can stop byHuyghe in Melle (known for Delirium beer) and De Halve Maan in Bruges (Brugse Zot and Straffe Hendrijk). The breweries of Sint Bernardus and Dubuisson (Bush and Cuvée des Trolls) have their own hop fields.
The Wallonian village of Tourpes is the home of the saison, and where Dupont is based. Here you can also try beer cheese made by the brewer’s wife. It goes without saying that it is delicious with Dupont beers such as Moinette Blond or the Saison itself.