When you think about it, brewing beer is not unlike having a child. The brewer’s relationship with his or her beer is rather parental – the beer is born of the brewer, can sometimes behave in less than desirable ways, and ultimately, rewards the brewer’s toils with a sense of pride and self-respect. Many brewers look upon their beers very much as children, with each new brew becoming a member of the family. The story of Slaapmutske Brewery is, at its core, a story of family, and the ways one’s family can support, nurture, and drive one to success.
Danny De Smet grew up in the small town of Melle, Belgium, near Ghent in East Flanders. He attended brewing school and graduated as a brewing engineer in 1992. Impressively, that very year he was hired as brewmaster at Huyghe Brewery, the much respected producer of the well-known Delirium Tremens and Delirium Nocturnum beers (with the iconic pink elephants on the labels). While employed there, he developed his homebrewing skills when he was out of ‘the office’. Danny also worked in a variety of other brewing industry positions over the years, including as a brewing hygiene specialist and as an educator at the Ghent Brewing High School (brewing high school? Where were those when we were kids??). Meanwhile, Danny met and fell in love with Marleen Vercaigne from the nearby town of Ronse. Early in their romance, Danny, as he puts it, “infected her with the beer microbe,” an unsurprising perspective from a brewing hygiene specialist.
Beer-lovers Danny and Marleen spent a good chunk of their time perfecting homebrews in their kitchen along with Patrick Scheirlinck, one of Danny’s former colleagues from Huyge. Considering their location in Belgium’s brewing capital of East Flanders, it’s no surprise that these young brewers possessed very finely honed palates which could guide them toward evermore inspiring and exceptional brews. After crafting many batches of homebrew together, the couple married, and in 1999 they welcomed their son Jonas into the world. In celebration, Danny brewed up a brownish-red, spicy-hopped beer of 9% ABV, and it was enjoyed by family and friends alike who came to visit Jonas and his parents in the hospital. The beer became known as “Jonasbier”, and it was not long before people were asking to purchase some of it – which inspired Danny and Marleen to begin considering how to go about getting their homebrewed beer on the market.
The new parents went to work and crafted a new brew based on the original Jonasbier formula. One night, while they were brainstorming for a name for their new beer, little Jonas began to cry. As is quite common in Europe and elsewhere, the parents would sometimes take the child’s pacifier and dip it in a bit of beer to calm their son down. This time, when Jonas tasted the new, soon-to-hit-market beer, he stopped crying instantly and quickly fell asleep. Smiling, Marleen remarked, “This beer is a real ‘Slaapmutske’” (which translates as ‘sleeping hat’, or as we say in English, ‘night cap’). It was then that the couple knew they had the name for their newborn beer.
As it was winter when they brewed their first Slaapmutske, they called it Slaapmutske Winterbier and released it with pride on the market in Belgium in 2000. Demand increased quickly to the point where the kitchen just wasn’t going to cut it – they needed a real brewery to keep up. So they partnered with one of Belgium’s most famous and respected brewmasters, Dirk Naudts (known affectionately by the moniker “the Prof” or the professor), and began brewing at his appropriately-named, super high-tech De Proefbrouwerij in nearby Lochristi-Hijfte. Over the years, they’ve released new beers such as Slaapmutske Blond, Slaapmutske Triple (known as ‘Triple Nightcap’ here in the U.S.), and the new Slaapmutske Dry-Hopped Lager that we bring you this month. So, while Jonas obviously couldn't brew, he was just as important in bringing these beers to life as his parents. It's fitting that the couple, brought together through a shared love of beer, was inspired with the name of their beers by their first born. The proud family of three has given the rest of us a family of fantastic brews—and for that, we'd like to thank Danny, Marleen and little Jonas!