For someone who started out as a kid picking hops in the family fields, Emmanuel “Manu” De Landtsheer has done pretty well for himself. These days, sampling Cuban cigars and sipping Champagne beer belong to his list of preferred activities. But he works as hard as he plays, evidence of which is the success of Malheur Brewery since he single-handedly brought it back to life in 1997.
“A big part of this town belonged to a former owner of the brewery,” De Landtsheer says of his beloved Buggenhout, a town near Dendermonde in East Flanders. “There have been coins found which show that a tax was being paid on beer brewed here as early as 1200.”
De Landtsheer’s great-great-grandfather started brewing on this site in 1773, with malts from his own barley. Like most breweries at the time, it started out as a farmstead looking to do something with its excess crops during the slow winter months. And the farm could easily sell its beer, located as it were along a main thoroughfare, the Mandekensstraat, which once formed the border between Germany and Flanders. When I look at Manu De Landtsheer and his impressive line of fathers before him, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the name of the street where the brewery is located means ‘man with status’.
The De Landtsheer legacy was not without hiccups, however. Malheur has known two closings, both before the World Wars. At one point, Manu’s grandfather even had to switch from brewing to bottling and selling. He did well as an importer of the prized Czech Pilsner Urquell, and so kept the business afloat.
When De Landtsheer decided it was time to restore the family tradition, he started brewing again with three goals in mind: to create a unique, quality product, to be fully in charge of its flavour and ingredients, and to sell it to a wide international market. “I knew starting up a brewery in the 1990s was going to be a challenge,” he explains. “With the Belgian market already completely saturated, I determined to create a new line of beers almost exclusively for export.”
His plan worked, with Malheur beers making a name for themselves as far away as Japan and the United States, but also closer to home in France, Italy and the Netherlands. Today, some 40% of Malheur’s revenue comes directly from export.
De Landtsheer wasn’t about to stop there. He went on to create an entirely new style of beer. Heard of “Champagne” or “Brut” beer? He invented it. During what was initially just a casual chat with friend Michael Jackson (aka The Beer Hunter) back in 2001, Jackson asked De Landtsheer “what his ultimate dream was,” to which the brewer responded: “To bottle condition a beer in the same way as Champagne.” Before he could elaborate on the specifics of this fictive beer, a US importer overheard the idea and promptly ordered a first shipment. That got the ball rolling, and within a few months they had their first sample of what was later to become known as the world’s first Brut beer.
In addition to its three Brut beers (the original World Classic, Cuvée Royale and Dark Brut), there are the traditional 6, 8, 10 and 12° Malheur beers which vary greatly, not only in strength but also in colour and taste. Then you have the surprisingly complex Novice Blue and Novice Black Triple beers.
Pairing with the best
As president of the Havana Cigar Club “El Puro” of Dendermonde, De Landtsheer will be the first to sing the praises of beer and cigar pairing, but he is just as passionate about food. He is an advocate for beer and cheese pairing, for one, and is busy closing deals with American and Italian cheesemakers eager to sell their wares alongside bottles of Malheur.
De Landtsheer can’t reiterate enough his preference for pairing, as opposed to cooking with beer. “You wouldn’t cook with the best French wine,” he insists. “So why would you do so with a fine Belgian beer? You wouldn’t; you would use table beer.” Good beer, he believes, is to be tasted next to, and not within, a dish.
With this in mind, he’s dedicated an entire section of the brewery’s website to food pairings for each individual Malheur beer (currently only in Dutch). The Malheur 10°, for example, goes perfectly with scallops and Belgian endive or aged and blue cheeses, according to the site. Malheur Dark Brut, meanwhile, is best enjoyed with pure, bitter chocolate or wild game.
By Robyn Boyle