Issue November 12, 2008

Belgians brew it better

During our September beercycling journey through Belgium and the Netherlands, we visited three dynamic family-owned breweries: Het Anker, Van Honsebrouck and Huyghe.

In Mechelen, Het Anker brews the superb Gouden Carolus line of ales. Two hours away by train in West Flanders, the Van Honsebrouck family’s ancestral digs are a prominent part of its Kasteel brand (“kasteel” is a castle, or chateau). Delirium Tremens flows in ever-increasing quantities from Huyghe, located just outside Ghent.

All three breweries are venerable in terms of chronology. In Het Anker’s case, brewing has taken place on its site for hundreds of years, originally conducted by nuns as a revenue steam for their hospital and retirement home before being secularized. Both the Van Honsebrouck and De Laet (Huyghe) families have been in control of their respective breweries for generations.

At each of the three, one detects a loving regard for the lessons of the past, but not at the expense of recognizing the challenges and opportunities of the future. Traditional brewing methods are respected and also updated to assure consistent quality. There is a prescient recognition of societal trends, ranging from the slow-food movement to the merits of beer tourism, and there is an eagerness to adapt.

Het Anker and Huyghe both export up to two-thirds of their production. Van Honsebrouck’s brewery expansion has swallowed up what remains of the family’s farmland. Het Anker already runs a hotel on site, and Van Honsebrouck soon will be adding one. Huyghe recently installed a pioneering water recycling system on the brewery grounds. Van Honsebrouck is the only successful brewer of lambic ales outside the Senne valley, and along with Het Anker, it has added hop-laced ale unimaginable to previous generations.

The results can be sampled in Louisville. Look for them, and embrace the diversity of Belgian craft brewing.

Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany. Visit www.potablecurmudgeon.com for more beer.