Tuesday, 28 January 2020

A British brewer describes Belgian beers in the 1880s (part three)

Our British brewer friend is far from done with sticking the boot into Belgian beer. He really doesn't have a good word about anything top-fermented.

He gets the knife to several more classic Belgian styles:

"What most puzzles an outsider is to account for the intellectual twist which must have actuated the brewer who first took so much trouble to produce a beer so horribly nauseating. The majority of the Belgian beer is what is termed "coupee" - or turned, and strange to say, it is preferred by the consumer, when in that condition. This remark applies to the true running ale or Biere d'Orge, which, as a type of high fermentation ale, would undoubtedly lead to the dismissal of any one responsible for its production in an English establishment. Biere Brune is is very mild, and is not "coupee." Saison is a similar mild ale, if possible somewhat more nauseous than all the others, with the exception of lambic. Uytzet is similar to orge, and is equally nasty."
Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette - Wednesday 01 July 1885, page 13.
In this context, I think "coupee" means sour. While some aged British styles had a certain degree of tartness, they weren't out and out sour. Unlike in Belgium. Strange that Biere Brune shouldn't be coupee, as the name automatically makes me think of the sour Brown Beers found in parts of flanders.

British styles already had some degree of popularity, presumably on account of imports. Local brewers also took these types of beer on. Obviously, not to the satisfaction of our author.
"So-called "pale ale" and "stout" are made in Belgium and supplied under those names the various estaminets, but it certainly needs the name to recall the favourite beverages of England, and they would pass unrecognized, as such, by the most expert of our British brewers."
Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette - Wednesday 01 July 1885, page 13.
It doesn't sound like brewing science had advanced very far in Belgium:

"It may be necessary to assert that there is not a trace of exaggeration in any of the above statements. I have tasted the various beers for myself, and I invite your readers to do the same, but venture to warn them that it would be well to do so upon homoeopathic principles. In truth it must be allowed that in Belgium brewers have much to learn, They would seem to have devoted some attention to the perfection of plant, and have in several instances, produced machinery which we should do well to imitate; but they have scarcely recognized the fact that brewing is a science, and that false ferments should be checked in their growth, rather than encouraged. I went over a good many breweries in Belgium, but in no case could I discover that there was a microscope within reach of the brewers, and in every case I was informed, upon inquiry, that they did not possess one."
Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette - Wednesday 01 July 1885, page 13.
 Next we'll see the explanation for why most Belgian beer was dreadful. That'll be fun.


Martyn Cornell said...

The Brasserie Anglo-Belge, in the Rue Sainte Catherine in Brussels, run by the Van Volxem family, was brewing Royal Stout (and pale ale) from 1887 at least, and Roel Mulder's research suggests that at one time there were more than 200 different Belgian breweries making English-style stouts, generally with English-style names.

Anonymous said...

Marvelous reading, Ron, and what an utter shame the English let go of their great Stock Ale culture. Surprising, but not maybe not, that Lambiek seems to be this English mans favourite drink.

But keeping in mind with he rapid industrialisation UK brewing underwent in the 18 & 19th century, Belgian brewing must likely have appeared like another civilisation - even though their economic and political standing at the time!

Anonymous said...

I don't know if you have published Belgian recipes from the 1880s, but it's hard to imagine they had IBUs anywhere close to a number of British beers.

It seems a little odd to be so chauvinistic when some English beers had such intense hoppiness.Seems sort of like someone in Mexico complaining about the intense flavors of Indian food.

qq said...

Biere brune makes me think of Piedboeuf - how old's that? Presumably there's influence crossing the Channel one way or another between that and eg Mann's and Mackeson?

Anonymous said...

In Flanders, brown beers were made a million different ways. I wonder if he found a type served fresh? Roman apparently made something like that back in the day. (Jeff Alworth)

Ron Pattinson said...


it says "Biere Brune is is very mild", which means it was sold very young.