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Article - "Belgium is past its best before date"

Discussion in 'Benelux' started by CwrwAmByth, Jan 7, 2013.

  1. or so says John Brus.

    Year old article, which is raising awareness of good brewers to the general public, something we can all agree is a good thing, yet at the same time giving a bit of a middle finger to Belgium, ignoring the excellent quality of breweries like Struise, Dolle, Fantome, Cantillon, and many others.

    Opinions of Belgian/Dutch members?
  2. Maybe you can link us to the article. This quote (I assume it's from John Brus in a response to the article) is quite out of context.

    EDIT: here's the link, just googled it: http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/01/06/beer-belgium-is-past-its-best-before-date/

    In response to the article, even the newer and innovative brewers like de Struise and de Dolle don't manage to put down, for example, a solid IPA. If you look at the Svea IPA or Shark Pants from de Struise for example, it's still no match for any other Belgium IPA's made by the Americans like A Little Sumpin' or Bedlam.
  3. Sorry, it was early, gah.

    blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/01/06/beer-belgium-is-past-its-best-before-date/ It's John Brus in the article.
  4. Dennoman

    Dennoman Savant (495) Belgium Aug 20, 2011

    When I first got into foreign beer (mostly Dutch) I was extremely anti-Belgian, but I hadn't really delved deep enough into the treasures that we do have. For example, I hadn't had any aged Dolle beers or good gueuzes/lambics.

    Yes, we have amazing brewers like Struise or Dolle, but both of them have been slacking. Struise is getting overly involved with their barrel program and some of their other releases, like the amazing Black Damnation series, have suffered as a result. Leave alone Dolle, who have basically been releasing the same 5 beers (Oerbier, Arabier, Stille Nacht, Stille Nacht Reserva and the Export Stout) over the past 20 years, with the occasional folly at beer festivals.

    I think the main thing about Belgian beer culture is that we've been inbred over the past few decades. Big breweries have taken over and destroyed the palate of the average beer consumer with sweet, boozy and boring beers that are all virtually interchangeable. Small local breweries, of which there are still plenty, find it hard to flog their goods, so they feel forced to brew the same boring tripel and dubbel over and over again to sell enough of it in order to justify the immense cost of bottling, advertising and distributing. Heck, advertising usually isn't even a factor. One thing I always hear from beer tourists in Belgium is how beer ads are few and far between here. Nothing on TV, and only the occasional billboard, usually from the Alken Maes/Heineken Group. Oh, the irony.

    And, of course, as I've said many times, the dogma that we supposedly have the best beer in the world is imprinted in everyone's mind here from a very young age. We're fiercely protective of our product and overreliant on export. This also means we don't allow imports: when compared to Holland, where tons of British and American craft breweries are most welcome, the import situation here's just sad beyond belief. Lots of people believe that brewers will directly suffer from allowing imports on a bigger scale, which is BS. If anything, the rampant success of craft breweries in The Netherlands like De Molen, Jopen and Emelisse has only proven that allowing direct foreign influence only helps the craft industry.

    But yes, that would mean breaking through the boring mediocrity, and that seems to frighten us. Too bad.
  5. boddhitree

    boddhitree Advocate (630) Germany Apr 13, 2008

    The situation as you describe sounds similar to what's going on in Germany: insular beer culture resting on the laurels of the dogma of also being "the best beer in the world;" misdirected reliance on the myth of the Reinheitsgebot (RHG) being a gatekeeper of beer quality; conglomeration into a few giants (called Fernsehbiere due to being heavily advertised on TV) that produce weak-tasting, interchangeable products; competition, and thus a focus on price as a opposed to quality; the changing tastes of the young consumer who has rejected grandpa's beer for Red Bull based alcoholic products, which, when combined with an aging clientele that's slowly dieing off, has led to a massive Brauereiausterben (Brewery extinctions) and an ever dwindling amount of beer sold domestically; and a disdain for anything non-German, especially non-RHG, and that means a majority of Belgian, British and everyone else's beer; a lack, almost zero, of creativity needed to spark a Craft beer movement, though there are small shoots of this lately.

    I find it funny that despite the disdain Germans have for Belgian beers, it seems both countries are going through similar trends that need to be arrested before things look better. However, in Belgium, you still have some craft brewers; whereas, in Germany, only now a very very few. On the other side, Belgium still has it's traditional Abbey/Trappist brewers to uphold tradition; in Germany it's the small town brewers scattered all over Franken (Franconia) in upper Bavaria that's upholding tradition based on quality.
    claaark13 likes this.
  6. Ah so brewing is getting mixed up with conservation, as the brewing traditions are seen as part of a rich cultural heritage, deviation from which can (in the eyes of those in control) only be a bad thing?
  7. Dennoman

    Dennoman Savant (495) Belgium Aug 20, 2011

    Yeah, I'm sure it happens to everyone. Our overreliance on export makes it very difficult for us to trade beer with foreigners as well. We export so much of our finest products that it simply isn't interesting for any American beer geek to be sending his annual big release over to us without us picking up whatever crazy Cantillon/3 Fonteinen they are ISO. On the "other site" there was a big row amongst Belgians and foreigners about the whole thing, sparked by Stille Nacht Reserva 2010 being on sale at Etre for about half an hour. This apparently instantly made it "not rare enough" to trade for - say - a Black Tuesday or a growler of RareR DOS.

    Sure, that's taking it to the extreme and basically justifies their means of getting their hands on one of our super whales. The frustration here is that basically no new release will ever be good enough to trade for big exclusive American releases without being some crazy one-off that's only available at one location or is rotting away in some old guy's cellar without him remembering he ever bought it. That ramps up tensions, not only between Belgians and Americans or other tourists that basically come here to pick us clean of our super-duper white whale bottles, but also in between Belgians for disclosing the locations where these bottles can be bought.

    Then again, I've come to understand Americans over the past few months. Why would I trade my bottle of Grey Monday, only available to the Reserve Society, killing a leprechaun and taking his gold and working the head brewer's 8-inch shaft while cupping the balls or whatever they make you do for it, for any number of Cantillon I can easily walk up to my local store and buy?

    As fellow BA Jeffo has very consisely put forward, today's beer landscape is about "winning". One trade beats the other, my bottle is rarer than yours, ... I think it just needs a serious reboot sometimes.
    CwrwAmByth likes this.
  8. You can stick yer Whales up your arses and toss them backwards and forwards between Belgium and the US flying merrily over our heads !
    In England we have Magic Rock, Kernel, Brodies, Windsor & Eton, Buxton, Thornbridge, Beavertown, Hawkshead, Partisan, Brew by Numbers, Arbor and Bristol Beer Factory to name but a few.
    Whales - Nah.
    Great beer at decent prices - Yeah.
    If you want Wales - try Tiny Rebel !!!
  9. I've heard good things about Partizan (London based one right?). I'd also like to add Poppyland, Wild Beer Co. and Otley to the lists! Hell, even Brains craft is worth a try.
  10. partiZan (my typo) is an ex brewer from redemption, they brew in the same area as kernel. dont know poppyland, wild beer & otley never do too much for me. the brewers i listed arent simply recent/newish craft brewers from the UK but more those that brew more American inspired beers ie hopped up numbers and big stouts.
  11. If you see Poppyland, try it, dry-hopped with Cascade Saisons, yum. All I know about Wild Beer is they do a big 11% coffee stout which i've heard is really good, and Otley have the occasional hit with the large amount of random experimental beers they do.
  12. Hi,
    I think I need to give a reaction to that article.
    You don't need to be blind to see that Brus's statement to say that Belgiium is past it's best before date is a pure promotion for his Dutch brewery, to make beliieve that it's going so well in the Netherlands and not so well in Belgium.
    No doubts: Dutch breweries like De Molen or Emelisse are making some great beers, but the inspiration is always from abroad. Imperial Stout, barrel ageing, IPA. Yes, much US influenced. But apart from that, we don't see their own identity. It still keeps with copying.
    OTOH, what we see to happen these days here in Belgium is just opposite of what Brus is stating. There have never been so much new and smaller artisanal breweries being raised here in Belgium for the last 5 years.
    I always have had problems with this site that always the same breweries are mentioned, i.e. Struise, De Molen, De Dolle, Cantillon, 3Fonteinen, Brewdog, etc... believe me, there IS MUCH more quality!
    Ever heard of De Leite, Vagebond, Den Triest, Den Tseut, Dilewyns, Sint-Canarus, De Vlier, Den Herberg, Hof the Dormaal, Niewhuys, Vissenaken, Inter-Pol, etc...etc....to name a couple ?? Nevetheless it's them who make the Belgian beer scene so worthy. and most important making their own typical beers, not copied from anywhere else.
    That's the spirit and the REAL future of Belgian beer!
    Cheers,
    Filip
    boddhitree, JBogan and beerpirates like this.
  13. Stevedore

    Stevedore Champion (855) Wisconsin Nov 16, 2012

    I'm hoping to try as many as I can during 2 days in Brussels this summer but I'm not sure my liver can handle it!
  14. Dennoman

    Dennoman Savant (495) Belgium Aug 20, 2011

    BrewDog is Scottish ;)

    Though I agree that the Dutch like to overdramatize when it comes to both the demise of Belgian beers and the overwhelming success of their own brews, you can hardly deny the man has a point. One thing I'll say is this article is probably a bit past its best before date. Belgium has been making conscious efforts to bounce back onto the global craft beer market over the past two or three years. When I started getting into foreign stuff roughly two years ago, the popularity of Belgian beers had hit an all-time low. Now we have tons of new brewers doing exciting new things with beer, be it "copying" or giving it their own twist.

    About the whole uniqueness thing, that's where I'd have to respectfully disagree with you. If there's one thing the Belgians love to say over and over, it's how unique their beer is compared to other countries'. Is that the case, I wonder? I'd love to ask any ambassador of that idea the simple question: what makes a beer intrinsically "Belgian"? It's a term that gets coined way too often, unrightfully so. Is it simply the fact it was brewed in Belgium? That would make most of Mikkeller's stuff "Belgian", and you'll find that LOADS of people would disagree with that statement. Is it the Belgian yeast strain that make foreign brewers coin some of their beers as "Belgian style"? That seems a little farfetched and, more specifically, oversimplified. I've heard some pretty knowledgeable beer peeps say they don't like Belgian beer because of the "biscuity and estery yeast flavor", which is obviously insane. That would be like comparing a Leffe Blond to a Stille Nacht, or a Belle-Vue to a 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze.

    When you look at the history of Belgian beer, and Belgium in general, it's fair to say we have very little in the way of being intrinsically Belgian. Just look at food: pretty much all of our national dishes we pride ourselves on, are found in some way or other in Holland, France or Germany as well. Beer-wise, I think the fact that the pilsner, a style born in the Czech Republic of all places, is our most widely consumed and touted as "typically Belgian" style, speaks volumes about how poorly the Belgians perceive their own beer heritage AND about how few beers are really typically Belgian.

    We've always been very adaptive: flipping through the book "Verdwenen brouwerijen van België" ("Defunct breweries of Belgium"), a history of former breweries up until the 19th century, we used to brew loads of stouts, scotch ales, burton ales, ... when there was way more Irish and English influence long before the Czech pilsner made its grand entrance into our beer minds and palates. The lambic, geuze, oud bruin, spéciale belge, abbey beers and saisons we pride ourselves on, can often be found in other cultures in some shape or form.

    I think we Belgians should step away from our collective inferiority complex and simply acknowledgeable the fact that we have loads of technical skills and knowhow on how to make a damn good beer. The problem right now is not everyone is equally capable or willing.
    boddhitree likes this.
  15. I heart Belgian beers
  16. Interesting discussion.
    I just love the Belgian beer scene, because so much is happening over here.
    Things you will never see abroad.
    On my several trips abroad, I always encountered that you need to "look" for the beery places. There's always a study on forehand when wanting to find the good beers in foreign countries. This is in no way the case here in Belgium. Nearly every local bar has some great quality beers on offer. And there are so many beer bars (cafes).
    Also, Belgian beer is quite affordable priced too. Making beer expensive would definitely kill our beer culture. It is horrifying to see what is happening in the Scandinavian countries. Beer is nearly unaffordable. SO expensive really.
    Which still makes me wonder how on earth there's still great quality brewed over there. But are people really ordering those beers on a widely scale in their country? I sure doubt.
    Also much impressed on how Belgians are capable to produce new and great beers, even if they can't afford to run their own brewery. Beer firms, brew firms are raising like mushrooms, and so many are really producing some top-quality products. Ever heard of BOM-brewery for instance. New bry Anders could well change the near future of the Belgian beer scene.
    Contract brewing has never been so popular these days. De Graal, Deca services, De Proef, Anders, Hofbrouwerijke, Van Steenberge, Legendes, Binchoise, Gulden Spoor, to name a couple who embrace that concept.
    Apart from all those typical Belgian beer styles, there's indeed that eager to produce new and different flavours.
    I try to keep the brewery list on the BBB up-to-date, and believe me, nearly every two months I need to update. Not to remove bankrupcies, no, adding new breweries again. Brasserie de Marsinne and brasserie de Carrieres for instance, and again a new addition nextly: brasserie de Bertinchamps. More breweries, more beers, more export...
    So, I would love to hear the real reason from Brus why he thinks Belgium is past it's best before date. Indeed it is the article in question that is past it's best before date. If it was written let's say a 10 years ago, it could probably having something of a truth, because we saw that evolution sweeter beers, artificial sweet low alc fruit beers. A trend that has been converted today into more hoppiness, barrel ageing, IPA, heavy stouts, etc......
    The future of Belgian beer has never been so bright !!
    Cheers,
    Filip
  17. beerpirates

    beerpirates Savant (435) Belgium May 4, 2010


    Now thats what i call good info !!
    Thx. Filip !

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