This year marks the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, a town to the south of Brussels nowadays, but in those days an agglomeration of hamlets close to the main road to Brussels. It was that location which meant the battle was fought there, but the name of the town has now become a metonym for hubristic defeat.
Waterloo beer has until now existed in two forms: Triple Blond and Strong Dark. To mark the anniversary of the battle, the John Martin brewery is bringing out a new beer, based on what we know of the type of beer drunk at the time of the battle. It’s a pale, top-fermented saison-type beer of 6% alcohol, available only on draught. Unusually, it’s being brewed on the site of the Ferme de Mont-Saint-Jean, which existed at the time of the battle, although the topography of the area has changed somewhat since then.
The farm is itself being transformed into what promises to be a highly attractive visitor’s centre with restaurant and tourism facilities. “In the long term, we want to become an economic motor for the region,” said Anthony Martin CEO of John Martin brewery. “We want to become a tourism of destination, and put an end to fast-food tourism, where the buses deposit their tourists at the foot of the Butte then leave half an hour later for Bruges.”
Legend has it the beer gave the soldiers courage, strength and vigour, but that could be just the word of the beer-drinking northerners who won, as opposed to the wine-drinking French who lost. According to Martin, “This is a summer beer, but different in that it’s made with 30% wheat and 30% malt. You could categorise it as a ‘pseudo-blanche’ because it looks like a blanche, but the character we wanted to give it with the hops makes it more like a blond.”
The slogan of the beer is “The beer of bravery”. It was almost – and the old version remains on some old publicity material – “The beer of victory”. “As a British person,” Martin says, “I thought that was a little arrogant.”