Brouwerij Boelens

<< 2014-05-09 16:05 >>

Brouwerij Boelens, Belsele

One of the benefits of this kind of tour is that you get to meet the people behind the various bars and breweries, and to hear them tell the story behind the company and explain how they think. At Boelens we got more of this, since we were met by the founder and brewer, Kris Boelen himself. (This is part 2 of the Scandinavian beer bloggers' tour.)

The history of the brewery actually goes all the way back to the 1850s, but during World War I the Germans took all the copper from the brewery for the war effort, leaving only the bottling plant. This was a recurring theme throughout the tour, by the way. Boelens became a bottling company, and later also a beer distributor. In 1980 Kris saw a small brewery in Karlsruhe, and immediately decided that this was what he wanted for himself.

In 1993 he managed to open his own brewery, with himself as the brewer. It did quite well, and Kris decided that quality was going to be the main thing. That, and he was going to brew every drop of beer himself. "Brewing on a human scale," he calls it. With growing success that left him with no other option but to buy a bigger brewkit, which he did in 2011.

Kris speaking

He's kept both kits, and now rents out the smaller one to breweries that don't yet have their own brewery. This was another recurring theme. It seems that in Belgium you're not a real brewer if you don't physically make the beer yourself, so gypsy brewing a la Mikkeller where you just send off a recipe, is frowned on. Still, a brewery is a big capital investment, so it seems many brewers choose to rent equipment elsewhere initially. Kris found this useful for his own purposes, as it enabled him to learn from the youngsters what's going on in the craft brewing scene.

When Kris first wanted to get into brewing, the Belgian beer scene was quite conservative, he said. In 1980, for example, cloudy beer was considered spoiled. (An interesting point of comparison with the UK beer scene.) But, he says, Pierre Celis could sell it! "He was a genius," Kris says. Since most people didn't want cloudy beer, Celis focused on students. They didn't care that the beer was new and different, quite the opposite.

Later, because of a brewery fire, Celis had to sell his brewery to InBev, where Kris's brother became responsible for it. He made a huge success out of Hoegaarden, and rose high within in the InBev system because of that. Clearly, the brothers did not see eye to eye on everything, because Kris feels the need to add that while he loved his brother, they never did any beer business together.

Then it's time for Kris to introduce us to the beers, and he goes through the selection. The beers used to have Belgian comic-style labels, but his son made him replace those with more modern designs, he says wistfully. He seems particularly fond of the label for Waase Wolf, and several times mimes how the label showed the wolf sneaking up on a sheep. He repeats the slogan "not for little sheeps" several times, chuckling.

Skrubbe, who works in a bar, says that he thinks the comic labels don't look all that serious, and that the new modern, stylish design makes the beer much easier to sell in his experience. Boelens mutters that "they sold well in Japan," but it's clear that this is a fight he's lost. "Anyway, I really liked them," he says sadly.

But enough of labels. Let's move on to the beers themselves.

Kris pouring Tripel Klok

In general, Boelens's beers follow the classic Belgian styles. There's a trippel, a dubbel, a couple of honey beers, and so on. To those who crave innovation and constant change that may be boring, but I really liked the beers. They were all fresh, very clean, with vivid, quite strong flavours that really stood out. Anyone would be proud to make such beers, and I think breweries like Boelens really deserve more credit than they get for brewing "ordinary" beers of top quality.

Tripel Klok was a standard tripel, except perhaps both sweeter and hoppier than what's usual. Very clean, quite fruity, and very vivid flavours. It's actually hopped with Cascade hops grown in Poperinge, which would explain some of the fruit. I really liked it, and thought it was an excellent tripel.

Santabie is a Christmas honey beer. Complex vinous honey, apple, and spice flavour. Quite sweet and full-bodied, but not overly so. Some butter at the end, which I don't mind. Again it's clean, fresh, and full-flavoured. Again I really like it.

Kris says he uses Mexican Yucatan honey rather than local honey simply because he really likes that honey. Several times he's gone to the local honey shop (they have a honey shop! that's Belgium for you) and tasted his way through the various honeys until he gets to one that makes him go "oh, wow, this one's really good!" And every time it's the Yucatan honey. So now he's decided to just stick to that.

Tripel Bruichladdich is the ordinary tripel that's been barrel-aged for two-three weeks. Or, as Knut Albert said, it's not really aged at all. The result was a deliciously delicately smoked, peated tripel with a good bit of sweetness and bitterness. It was still recognizably the tripel, but enriched with a soft, smoky flavour that really made it stand out. Most people seemed to think this one was a real winner. And I agree. Of all the beers I tried on the tour, this is the one I'd most like to have a bottle of right now.

Tasting it, one of the bloggers says "it's less alcoholic than the previous beer," making Kris laugh heartily. "Don't trust it," he warns. And on that note we buy some bottles, pack up, and head off into the minivan again.

The old brewkit

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Dave Villaire - 2014-10-21 21:46:12

Recently had the Triple Kloc Bruichladdich that had an addition of Bret frmentation. It was an unique and wonderful beer, never had anything quite like it. I think they are going to label it as "307". Funky smoky Triple, outstanding!

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