“Is beer the same to Belgians as wine is to the French?” I ask. It’s a question that starts an hour’s worth of conversation about a product that is dear to almost every Belgian’s heart.
“The problem was we never had the ingredients to make wine,” says Guy. “So we started making beer instead. You can imagine, this person in this little place, this little village, he was probably not a premium brewer. He had a popular place in the middle of the street where they were brewing liquid, for beer. That’s basically how things developed.”
“In fact each village, each small village had its own brewery,” says Jan. “And they had their own brewer brewing their own beers. And that’s what’s coming back again. These breweries were family breweries and now they’ve gotten more important and had expansion.”
A Matter of Tradition
We’re here to talk about the forthcoming Belgian Beer Festival on Apr. 24 at Cargo Bar. But while a few comments are made about the festival during the conversation, such is the passion of both Guy and Jan that the focus mostly returns to beer.
“Would you say Belgian beer is boutique beer?” I ask.
“Yes,” says Guy. “It’s boutique beer. It was brewed in every village. Why? There was no way to transport the beer 100km away. It was impossible. So, you weren’t able to have a national brand. This was only possible when we had trucks that could move things from A to Z. Every village had their own breweries. And then of course, everyone started to brew beer their own way, and historically you can find that one particular beer was brewed by monks, another was brewed by a peasant.”
Together with Jan, Guy recounts the story of Hoegaarden. It was originally brewed in the village of Hoegaarden, near Tienen in Flanders. In the 19th century, the village had 13 breweries and nine distilleries, all brewing white beer — witbier. But in 1957, the last local witbier brewery, Tomsin, closed its doors. Pierre Celis, a milkman who had grown up next to the brewery and sometimes helped with brewing, decided 10 years later to try to revive the style. He started a new brewery, called de Sluis, in his hayloft.
Says Guy: “[Celis] restarted the process in a modern way and called his beer Hoegaarden. To produce Hoegaarden you need to build a brewery that is only able to brew Hoegaarden.”
Adds Jan: “They relocated the production of Hoegaarden from Hoegaarden to Jupille. The taste and everything was wrong. You need the specific microbiotics from the air in the area around Hoegaarden.”
And this, according to both Guy and Jan is why, except for a few notable exceptions, Belgian beer is still brewed locally in Belgium. You need the air and the water of the specific area where the beer is brewed to get that unique taste.
I’m already on my third beer — a Stella followed by Leffe Blond before returning to Stella. Belgian beer is strong and I can feel the alcohol pulsing through my veins. As my head begins to spin the conversation moves from Trappist monks to beer glasses. Every Belgian beer comes with glassware designed for its own particular taste. At The Cube, note both Jan and Guy, they’re serving up the beer in the correct glasses.
“One of the problems,” says Guy, “is education. A lot of Vietnamese are drinking Belgian beer now, but they don’t know anything about it. At the festival we want to educate people on Belgian beer.”
As Guy says this, both he and Jan break out into a broad smile. You can see from their expressions and you can tell from their passion — they’re looking forward to this one
The Belgian Beer Festival hits Cargo Bar — 7 Nguyen Tat Thanh, Q4, HCMC — on Friday, Apr. 24 from 6pm. Entrance is VND300,000 in advance and VND500,000 on the door, and includes two free beers. As well as having over 50 Belgian beers for you to taste, there will be live music, food and entertainment.
We know how you like giveaways. In fact, who doesn’t?
So, this month we’re handing out two lots of four free tickets (worth VND2.4 million) to the Belgian Beer Festival at Cargo Bar on Friday Apr. 24.
Two main languages are spoken in Belgium, what are they?
All the correct answers will be placed into a hat and the winners will be picked out at random on Monday, Apr. 20.