Worth the wait

With so many new beers hitting the market, some breweries have condensed the process of developing and launching a beer into days.

Others simply won’t be rushed, such as Omer Vander Ghinste whose latest beer, Lefort Tripel took five years to develop.

Lefort

The story starts with the launch of OMER, a blond and spicy heavy-hitter, whose success in Belgium transformed the brewery’s fortunes. “It only exists on bottle but we also wanted a draft beer,” says brewery-owner Omer-Jean Vander Ghinste.  “And after numerous tastings we realized that a draft OMER wasn’t going to work.”

“I’m not sure I should be saying this, but the problem was the yeast. We couldn’t get it to work, so we had to go back and have a new yeast strain propagated just for this beer. That takes time, and investment, we simply weren’t willing compromise and produce something that wasn’t right.”

“While refining the recipe, we also started working on a dark beer. And that beer became linked up with the story of Brasserie Lefort, based in Kortrijk that merged with our brewery through marriage over 100 years ago.”

The prototype blond beer kept evolving, becoming a tripel; true the classic Belgian style: strong, delicately spiced, and wholesome, but more drinkable than some of the other varieties out there, and working very well on draft.

Before you even grab a hold of Lefort Tripel its appearance suggests that the past five years have been worth the effort. It’s a well-executed brew, pouring clear and golden with a thick, white, fluffy, yet compact head. The nose gives you that unmistakably Belgian hit of orange peel, dried-fruit and light spiciness building up the expectation for something thick, warm and full-bodied. Which is what you get, along with a flavor rush of ripe banana, dried fruit and spice combining with a biting dryness.

For a brewery already growing healthily, it seems that this beer will only serve to increase the pace.

So it’s good that Omer Vander Ghinste brewery plans to increase capacity moving from a beautiful copper installation from which everything currently flows to a new site across the road.

Much of the demand is expected to come from foreign shores, although Mr. Vander Ghinste admits his brewery has been slow to open up to export markets.

“We’ve been doing so well domestically, that we didn’t broaden our horizons as quickly as some other breweries. You could say it’s a Belgian attitude. Like the Flemish art movement, the Latem school. Belgian art dealers bought everything they produced, so they never needed to promote themselves and didn’t become well-known outside of Belgium.  It was a bit like that for Belgian beer for a while although that’s definitely changed.

With questions of supply and demand in the air, I can’t help asking what he thinks of the arrival of foreign beers to Belgian shores. Should that Belgian market be limited to Belgian brewers?

“Listen, it’s an open market. It’s a bit ridiculous for brewers to say that the quality of imports won’t be good, when they export so much themselves. Belgium has always been influenced by foreign styles,” he says, standing up to show a cabinet of some of brewery’s former beers. “Look what we used to make: Milk Stout: inspired by the British. Dortmunder, Bock. You know the name of our pils: Bockor, just means golden Bock.

We’re a traditional brewery, but we’re adaptable. It doesn’t mean we’re going to start producing American ales. But we’ve always adapted.  It’s possible that my great-grandmother didn’t want to start producing pils. But she visited Stella Artois, and saw what the future held. Flexibility is how we survive.”