History, Present and Future of brewing in Belgium

A panel-based session with An De Ryck (De Ryck), Didier Van der Haeghen (Silly) & Willem Van Herreweghen (Timmermans), moderated by Krishan Maudgal.

Breweries were traditionally farms in the summer time and breweries in the winter time. Every single little village had at least one brewery. De Ryck's grandfather went to Germany to learn how to brew beer and then came back and started brewing.

Brewers were important people in the city, hold important posts helping to organise events, invest in the city, invested into the cafes and the pubs. The brewery is heavily linked to the social life in the village.

The passion from the brewers is not only to brew but also to pass down the passion from generation to generation. This passion has helped the Belgium family brewers to survive the downturn of interest in Belgium beer back in the 90s.

18 million hectolitres brewed every year, 62% of Belgium beer is exported around the world - 10 times its demographic weight.

What does the market look like today? The consumer is demanding different shapes of bottles, labels, etc. - packaging is very important. Developing new products (some with universities) is very important, really getting to know what is happening inside the bottles, as well as outside. Lower ABV beers with big flavours is an important new market too.

Bottle conditioning is very expensive, much more so than the regular brewing process. It needs to be managed very carefully to ensure a quality product. Quality approval is very important, base recipes are not being changed just the way in which they are being produces- don't touch the basics!

The breweries have been releasing 4-5 new beers a year, and beer and food matching is very important. To develop a new beer takes around 2 years, ensuring that it pairs well with food. Listening to feedback from customers is very important to ensure that it matches expectations. It is not up to the brewer to say if the beer is good, it's up to the market to decide. It's not hard to brew a beer, but it is hard to brew one that the market wants.

Generations of brewing is quite impressive, in some cases they are on the 7th generation of family brewer!

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