50 years ago, local pilsner brands in Belgium died out due to a merger between a few large pilsner brands. The brewing tradition of the Belgian Trappists in Westmalle, Westvleteren, Chimay, Rochefort and Orval, on the othet hand, was older and more well-developed.
The authentic, regional beers that survived could be counted on one hand, and included the Oud Zottegems, the Diesters, the Aarschotse Bruine, the Leuvense Peeterman, the Oudenaards Bruin, the Henegouwse Saison and of course the ‘mysterious’ Lambic from the Brussels area. These beers weren’t brewed on a daily basis and were sometimes inconsistent in quality. That was because the brewing process still involved coal-based open fires and the raw materials they used would often vary. The beers were mostly sold in the region itself, often brought directly to people’s houses like the milk delivered by the milkman.
Thankfully, a few of these old, Belgian regional beers are still alive today, including the ‘endangered beer species’ Oude Geuze and Saison, which have finally received the appreciation they deserve. They’re low in alcohol, super thirst-quenching and have nuanced bitter and sour notes in a rich palette of flavours.
Milkman from Hoegaarden
In 1966, milkman Pierre Celis from Hoegaarden had the idea to start brewing the extinct regional beer Oud Hoegaerds witbier. He had previously had a holiday job at the Tomsin brewery and knew vaguely how witbier was brewed. With almost no funds, Pierre got to work with two washtubs in an old, abandoned fruit cordial factory. This was the start of the first new generation of craft brewers. Oud Hoegaards was the standard for all witbiers and is now an established name worldwide.