Flanders) (Northwestern Central Belgium)
Let’s discuss for a few moments the explosion of Belgian beers in the USA. Whether it was your first Hoegaarden, perhaps a Saison Dupont, or that first magic sip of Duvel, chances are your first taste of Belgian beer left a profound impact on you, and maybe even expanded your own working definition of what beer “is.” Maybe it was the shock that a pale Belgian ale could taste so interesting, be so palatable, and carry an 8%+ ABV without any indication of its strength catching your interest in the flavor profile. Or perhaps it was your reaction to the spicy phenolics inherent to so many Belgian yeast strains. Or possibly you tried your first Trappist Tripel and it tasted like nothing you’d ever sampled before. The fact is, Belgian beers are so different than mainstream US macrolagers, which serve as the benchmark for many who think that Bud, Miller and Coors are the only “real” beers and everything else is “weird beer.” And it is that very difference that has helped make them so popular in the US. Big, interesting, flavorful and complex brews that are elegant, refined, often bottled in fancy champagne-style bottles complete with a cork and capped by a wire cage & cap. “This is beer?” “Beer can be fancy?” Obviously, yes.
The Belgians have been happy to send us their beer too—it’s good for their business, and, we’re glad to have them, as for many people, these beers are the very gateways to better beer drinking that heighten people’s interest in exploring other “weird beers” (let’s call them craft beers now that we’ve made our point). US craft-brewers, and even macrobrewers (Blue Moon, a Belgian-inspired witbier, is made by Molson-Coors) have capitalized on the Belgian beer popularity, creating their own “Belgian-style” beers. Therein lies the problem. Now with so many Belgian-themed beers out there, what happens to the family brewers of Belgium who really lay claim to being traditional Belgian brewers? While they remain unique and limited, the consumer can understandably be confused by the virtually ubiquitous use of the word “Belgian” on beers found at their favorite beer bar or retail store.
So what’s a brewery like Brouwerij Roman, brewing since at least 1545, making it one of the oldest family breweries of Belgium, to do to distinguish itself from other Belgian-labeled beers? Join a sort of guild of Belgian family brewers, of course. Belgian Family Brewers is a non-profit association whose members have been brewing in Belgium for at least 50 years, non-stop. Together they represent just 15% of the Belgian brewers, with a total of more than 1,500 years of experience in traditional beer brewing. The label denoting this status can be found on each bottle of beer brewed by Brouwerij Roman and other members. Seeing the BFB logo lets the consumer know that the beer is a genuine Belgian beer brewed in Belgium, comes from an independent family brewery that has been making beer for at least 50 years and is thus a traditional brewery, and that it is an original beer, meaning no copies of the recipe are sold under any other name or label. It’s a mark of authentication, and distinction; fitting for a brewery that has had at least 12 generations of family members at the helm. Think about that for a minute—this family has been making beer at their brewery since a couple decades after Cortés met Montezuma in the Aztec empire. In fact, the first commercial brewers of the family were contemporaries of Cortés—meaning they could have served him a beer (but didn’t… he was in Spain when the brewery was founded…). A historical span that wide-reaching is truly impressive. This is the best of what traditional Belgian brewing has to offer—enjoy!