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Monthly Archives: April 2010

Look for the Union Label….The Belgian Family Brewers Association… A Seal of Authenticity

This Thursday we were asked to come to a meeting of Belgian Family Brewers to discuss efforts to make their seal be better known and understood in the States. Beginning later in the year, expect to hear more from this group.

On previous visits to Belgium in conversation with Hugues DUbuisson, Marc LeMay, Olivier Dedeycker and Charles LeClef, we had a chance to learn a great deal more about an organization. Hugues Dubuisson got the ball rolling to establish the entity in 2007.  For the uninitiated, Dubuisson is the oldest independent family run brewery in Wallonia (founded in 1769) and produces the country’s strongest beer – Scaldis.  This means that Scaldis has been brewing continuously longer (by about a century) than any of the Trappist breweries in Belgium. Imagine that!  Scaldis is also the beer whose recipe has remained unchanged the longest of any beer sold in Belgium.

www.Belgianfamilybrewers.be was launched in November 2007 and has grown to include seventeen breweries.  All have joined forces to champion tradition, authenticity and independent family brewing in Belgium.  All the members pledge to uphold three values.  If their beer carries the seal you can be assured that:

1. It is a real Belgian beer;

2. It is brewed by a family run brewery, and that

3. brewing has been going on for a minimum of 50 years at the same site.

Why is this important? Well, for one thing, Belgian law does not oblige private label (read contract brewed beers) to put the name of the brewer on the label.  As a consequence  “label beers” (effectively the same beer sold under a variety of different names) have proliferated both in Belgium and in the U.S. market. This has caused a good deal of confusion at the consumer level.  Given the choice, the preponderance of Belgian drinkers would choose a beer made by an independent family run brewery – but until the advent of the Belgian Family Brewers Association – as evidenced by the seal, they were at pains to know how to do so. We feel that American fans of Belgian beers will be glad to know that they too, now have a way to discriminate between beers made by breweries devoted to upholding tradition, and those that are simply trading on the fine reputation of Belgian beer without necessarily contributing to its indigenous perpetuation.  Belgian Family Brewers Association members represent 15% of Belgian brewers, with a total of more than 1,500 years of experience in traditional beer brewing.  These breweries pledge not to create/sell “label beers” in addition to subscribing to the aforementioned “tenets”.

Members of the consortium are… in alphabetical order: Bavik, Bosteels, De Halve Maan, Huyghe, DeKoninck, Dubuisson and Dupont (imported by Vanberg and DeWulf), Het Anker, Roman, Silly, Sint Bernard, Van Eecke, Van Honsebrouck, and Verhaeghe, and most recently Duvel Moortgat.

We were asked why, for instance, a brewery like Lindemans does not qualify.  They have not been continuously brewing in the same location for 50 years. In some instances a brewery you might expect to see listed among the members is engaged in selling “label beers” in addition to marketing well-recognized beers.

Many domestic microbreweries have enthusiastically embraced Belgian styles, but however earnest these interpretations, they are imitations, not the real deal. It is a mark of the growing sophistication of the domestic market that  Belgian brewing styles have become the most admired and emulated among American microbrewers.  We ought to know, since we created the first American microbrewery dedicated to bottle conditioned Belgian style beers, at Ommegang.  So, sample the local options, many of which are genuinely wonderful, but continue to support the progenitors of the styles. We urge you to compare and contrast the classic examples and American variations. You will learn and grow in the process.

And we are confident that the more you know about these authentic, traditional beers, the better they will taste.  For more information about the Belgian Family Brewers Association, we encourage you to visit the website:  www.Belgianfamilybrewers.be  You’ll find short (2 minute films shot at each of the member breweries featuring the family members who run the operations. We think they will give you insight into the character of each place.

By all means, we welcome your feedback. The symbol is new in this country. We would like to know how you would put this new knowledge to use in constructing your beer list, or selecting the next beer you order at your favorite bar. Thanks for your input.