I have just spent a wonderful long weekend in Belgian Flanders, visiting breweries, drinking great beer and enjoying wonderful beer cuisine. As I begin writing this, on the train from Gent to Brussels, I’m overwhelmed with impressions. The Belgian Family Brewers is an association of breweries with a long history and family ownership, but they are also very different, in size, style and goals. What they have in common is passion. They’re showing passion for their heritage and passion for their beer quality, before passion for empty story telling and bottom line results.
What I’m left with is a newfound respect for the history of some of these breweries. The Belgian beer landscape can be confusing with every brewery seeling their different beers under two, three, four or ten different brand names. Some brands with a long and interesting history, while others are invented/developed or bought up by big international corporations. How do I know which is which?
Just learning the criteria to be among the 22 breweries in Belgian Family Brewers helped a lot. These are breweries that have been brewing continuously in the past 50 years. And they are in family ownership, mostly within the same family, unless natural reasons made it necessary to pass the business on to someone else outside the family.
The association was founded to create a recognition, a respect and a brand for these breweries that for the most part has a richer and longer history than the world famous Trappist breweries, and that work within a completely different framework than more a-historic industrial brands such as Leffe or Grimbergen. And, I suppose, also because they feel the breath down their neck from young, upcoming “craft brewers” with a global outlook.
The Belgian Family Brewers logo is a sign of authenticity, not quality, though often follows from the brewer’s passion. Admittedly, my favourite Belgian beers are still from the lambic brewers – with their own rich heritage and very strong global brand – and some of those newcomers, who combine Begian brewing style with an American love for hops. But I respect quality beer, also in beer styles that aren’t my natural first choice.
We had an amazing trip through Flanders. From the hop growing area around Poperinge, to the historical towns like Ieper (Ypres), Brügge (Bruges) and Gent (Ghent), and from tiny breweries like De Ryck with an annual production of 3000 HL, to De Koninck, part of the global Duvel Moortgat conglomerate (itself a Family Brewery) with an annual output at least 200 times bigger. Expect a series of brewery profiles and other experiences from the trip in coming weeks.
Thanks for a wonderful trip, and a shoutout to my companions from Made Man, All About Beer, Philly Beer Scene, Active Woman Traveler, Tasting Panel Magazine, Toronto Sun, and Estado de Sao Paolo. And a huge thank you to all the great people we met, from our hosts (and sponsors of the trip) Visit Flanders and Belgian Family Brewers, and everybody at the breweries and restaurants.