Not content with being a household name when it comes to gueuze and kriek, Lindemans brewery in Vlezenbeek has become the first brewery to produce two different gins distilled from lambic beer.
The brewery turned for the occasion to distiller De Moor of Aalst, who produce a wide assortment of alcoholic drinks, as well as more obscure beverages including goudwater (colloidal gold, considered by some to have healing properties), paterlikeur (abbey liqueurs like Frangelico and Benedictine) and elixir.
There are two gins, one clear and one red, both based on Oude Kriek, a protected appellation made by Lindemans under the name Cuvée René, notable for its use of whole cherries according to the traditional method of the part of Belgium known as Pajottenland, where the brewery is situated.
The clear gin, Lindemans Premium, is double-distilled with 15 botanicals, in small batches of 250 litres maximum, in a traditional copper alambic. The gin is bottled and the bottles corked and sealed by hand.
Cocktail expert Manuel Wouters was asked to come up with some ideas on how to drink the new gins. The clear gin, he said, is best sampled with a simple tonic water, garnished with grapefruit and some rosemary. The gin is dry with citrus notes, giving way to the spicy warmth of cardamom and the after-taste of the original cherries.
The red gin, Lindemans Premium Gin Red, is distilled in the same way as the clear, but then pure cherry juice is added to give the gin its pale red colour. Manuel Wouters suggests drinking it with prosecco. This gin, too, has a citrus freshness and spicy notes, but the cherry flavour is more intense. Try 3cl of gin with 3cl of red grapefruit juice and 1cl of sugar syrup; add prosecco and zest of a lemon.
Van Honsebrouck, the West Flanders brewer of Kasteel and St Louis beers among others, has started operations in its new brewery in Izegem, which is still under construction.
Van Honsebrouck is spending €40 million on the new brewery, which is unusual in being one of the few times ever in Flemish brewing that a brewer moved house completely, in this case from Ingelmunster to Izegem some five kilometres away. Work started on the new brewery in September 2014, and the plant should be fully operational in January 2016.
The first task is to carry out some test brewings. “We want to take care from the start to provide our customers with the same high-quality beer as they’re used to,” said CEO Xavier Van Honsebrouck. “The Van Honsebrouck brewery has been active in the centre of Ingelmunster since 1900. To ensure our future, we intend to meet the challenge of a very demanding marketplace, and the fact that customers are more than ever open to new tastes and new discoveries. That would not be possible within the confines of the old brewery.”
The new brewery, on a 7.5 hectare site in Izegem, will have a capacity of 200,000 hectolitres – twice as much as at present. The new capacity will allow Van Honsebrouck to increase its export drive while still serving the home market. “Export is very important, given the increasing demand for and interest in Belgian specialty beers,” Van Honsebrouck said. “We aim to make a contribution toward strengthening the image of Belgian beer.”
“The new brewery will be a creative beacon for the town and for the area,” said Flemish minister-president Geert Bourgeois – himself a native of Izegem – in a statement to mark the first test brew. “It will contain not only a brew hall but also a bottling line, a microbrewery, offices, a tasting room, meeting places and an exhibition space for businesses, together with a visitor’s centre.”
Bruges brewery De Halve Maan has started a crowd-funding action to raise money to build an underground pipeline from its brewery in the centre of the historic centre to its bottling plant 3.2km away beside the Bruges ring-road.
Crowdfunding appeals these days are often no more than attempts to raise investment capital where conventional approaches – to family and friends on one hand and to banks on the other – have failed.
The Halve Maan appeal at least has the advantage that it’s not a business investment at all: it’s more of a social project. By building an underground pipeline, tanker lorries will no longer have to make their way through the narrow cobbled streets of the medieval city, which is good for everyone, not least the residents of the inner city.
“At the moment our huge tankers have constantly to make their way through the narrow streets of Bruges,” said CEO Xavier Vanneste. “That’s no longer sustainable. This beer pipeline means that we’ll be able to remain in the city.”
The brewery hopes to raise enough money by the autumn of next year to be able to start work on the pipeline – which has an undisclosed cost well into seven figures, according to reports. To raise the funds, there are three levels of funding:
Gold membership: costs €7,500, for which you get one 33cl bottle of Brugse Zot Blond every day for the rest of your life, as well as 18 personalised glasses. You’ll be invited as a VIP to the ground-breaking of the works, and the ceremony to inaugurate the pipeline;
Silver membership: costs €800, and gets you one case of 24 bottles of Brugse Zot Blond a year for life, six glasses and an invitation to the inauguration;
Bronze membership: costs €220 for one presentation bottle of 75cl of Brugse Zot Blond a year for life, one personalised glass and an invitation to the inauguration.
According to BB&F calculations, the Gold formula is by far the most profitable. Assuming you live ten years, you’ll have received 1,200 litres of beer for only €6.25 a litre. Compare that to the €10.13/l you’d pay for a silver membership or the whopping €29.33/l for bronze, assuming the same life expectancy.
Too long, if it’s been measured by the government
Belgium has seen remarkable growth in the number of breweries over the last five years, from 145 in 2000 to 247 at the end of last year, an increase of no less than 70%, according to figures from the federal economy ministry widely quoted in the local media.
An impressive figure, no doubt, but is it true?
Not according to Zythos, the Belgian association of beer-lovers, which happens to keep tabs on these things. According to Zythos, at the end of 2014 Belgium had 168 active breweries, as well as four gueuze blenders.
So instead of a 70% increase in five years, the number of breweries in fact went up by just under 16%. How can the two figures be so divergent? Zythos explains:
The economy ministry groups together under tax code 11.050 all registered companies who produce beer as one of their activities. To be clear: when setting up a company in Belgium, you pick a main activity, such as freelance journalism, but for the sake of covering all possible future eventualities, you would also tick off all related activities, in the case of our example, things like online media, photo and video reportage, graphic design, ITC consultancy and so on. The list is a long one. You may never get around to doing any of the things listed, but it’s easier to include them from the start than to add them later.
The listing under tax code 11.050 doesn’t mean a company has the intention of ever brewing beer. In any case, Zythos explains, to do that requires not just a tax code, but also a licence from the Federal Food Safety Agency. Customs and Excise will also become involved if you’re making beer in more than home-brew quantities. The list of 11.050 firms on which the economy ministry is basing its figures also includes companies which are no longer active, as well as those who have the intention of operating a brewery at some time in the future.
That brings us to the question of what Zythos calls beer firms. Examples abound of small companies who claim to be brewers – there’s nothing whatsoever in the law to prevent anyone doing this – but whose beer is in fact brewed for them, on contract, by an established brewery.
Zythos keeps careful count of the numbers of brewers and of beer firms for the simple reason that the distinction is not always clear to the consumer, a situation which the organisation finds potentially misleading. Some beer firms make clear where their beer is brewed and by whom, but many do not. Not only does the consumer have the right to clear information, a statement issued by Zythos explains, but those who are prepared to take the risks involved in setting up and running a brewery themselves deserve recognition and respect.
On the Zythos website, then, you can find a list of Belgian breweries, and another list of beer firms. Both lists are kept as up to date as possible, and while there may be the occasional delay in recording changes in the numbers, nothing explains the economy ministry’s huge over-estimate. According to Zythos’ authoritative view, as of April 1 this year, there are 168 breweries in Belgium, as well as 91 beer firms, and four gueuze blenders. No more, and no less.
The two lists are free to download from the Zythos website.
Beer firms: www.zythos.be/acties/actie-bierfirma/bierfirma.pdf
The magazine Belgian Beer & Food can now be obtained from branches of the US bookstore Books-A-Million (BAM!), it was announced this week during an event to launch the magazine at the Belgian beer café Nomad in New York City, where guests enjoyed a range of Belgian appetizers as well as the Saison from Brewery St. Feuillien.
“The US has always been a major customer for our magazine,” said publisher Paul Walsh. “About 3,000 copies of each edition are sent to the US. But the agreement with Books-A-Million, the second-biggest bookstore chain in the country, now also gives us a place in the magazine racks. That visibility can really help us move forward.”
The launch on the American market is the latest step in the worldwide promotion of Belgian beers undertaken by Belgian Beer & Food.
Irishman Walsh – who came to Belgian ten years ago and soon obtained a taste for Belgian beer – joined up with an English and a Scottish friend to launch a publication entirely dedicated to Belgian beer.
“We wanted the world to get to know the variety of Belgian beer,” he said. “What better way that with an English-language magazine available worldwide?”
The magazine is currently on its fifth issue, on the theme of Women and Beer, and seems to have found its niche. www.belgianbeerandfood.com/shop
From a total print run of 22,000 copies, about 9,000 copies go abroad. Passengers on Brussels Airlines flights can find the latest issue in the business class area of airplanes.
“We don’t charge extra for sending the magazine abroad,” Walsh said. “We started the magazine to help the world to find out about Belgian beer, not to make our own fortune.”
Belgian Beer & Food is available in more than 190 points of sale in Belgium, and can also be ordered online at www.belgianbeerandfood.com/subscribe. Each issue costs €6, and a subscription for four issues a year costs €16.