Leireken - Buckwheat Bruin Ale
This month’s feature selection, though here in the U.S. for the first time, is brought to us by Leo De Smedt, a brewer who is hardly new in the world of great Belgian beers.
Having produced the Affligem abbey beers for many years, as well as the first Belgian version of Celis White at his original family-owned facility in Opwijk (before later selling it to the Heineken gr oup), he clearly understands the importance of creating beers of sophistication and character, and now does so with those that he makes under the Leireken label.
It should be noted that the beer you are enjoying is also, in fact, organic - it is currently sold as such in both Belgium and Scandanavia, but the process of certifying it through the USDA was simply too time consuming to complete before importing this batch for the Rare Beer Club.
Leo is a man of good humor , strong family attachments, and the manners of a true gentleman. I have never been around him without feeling that he was honestly interested in hearing what I had to say (and while he acts disappointed in his own English, it’s a world better than my Flemish), or without him being incredibly generous with his time and desire to host.
Michael Jackson used to tell me an amusing story about one of his first conversations with Leo years ago, when he was quietly followed into the men’s room at a Belgian beer festival until he became, well - “occupied.” With Michael as a captive audience, Leo proceeded to ask him about his thoughts on the De Smedt beers. Never underestimate the dedication of a passionate entrepreneurial br ewer, even a well-mannered one, looking for a word or two of positive press. And Michael did, over time, give Leo’s beers their fair share of good words; here is a short piece that he wrote in summer 2006 about the Leireken project when it first got underway in Belgium:
People have different passions. Beer, cycling, trains, the countryside, traditional farming, and healthy foods are but half a dozen contemporary enthusiasms that might meet over a Leireken.
A fondness for nicknames is perhaps universal, but the shared language of Flanders and the Netherlands, two small and vulnerable nations, seems to find comfort diminutives - some of which turn out to be longer than the original.
The forename Valeir becomes Leireken. A bearer of this nickname was the driver of a train plying between the French border country and Antwerp. The line passed through the hop-growing town of Aalst and the ale country of Flemish Brabant (with brews like Palm, at Steenhuffel; and Op-Ale, at Opwijk).
After part of the railway closed in the 1950s, driver Leireken was remembered in the naming of a weekend café in a former station on the line at Steenhuffel. The track there had been turned into a bicycle route. Cyclists tend to be health-conscious, but also thirsty. This planted a thought in the mind of Leo De Smedt, who did not wish to be the last brewer in his family.
Among other issues, the decline in the sale of ales had obliged him to sell control of the family's brewery, in Opwijk, to the Heineken group (to which it contributes the Affligem abbeye).
Using revenue from the sale, De Smedt took the ghost train South to a district where the cultivation of buckwheat and spelt is being revived for brewing. With the help of veteran brewer Jean-Luc Suys, he is producing the Leireken range at Silenrieux.
Products thus far include Witte Spelt, Buckwheat Blond, and this month’s featured Buckwheat Bruin.
The Bruin is a rich dark red-brown color in the glass, with a nose that is earthy, grainy, and a slight bit spicy. As Michael Jackson said about the Leireken buckwheat-based beers, “you will not be bored,” and they are “entertaining.” The buckwheat component offers a different style than most traditional all-barley malt beers with its interplay of spiciness, fruitiness, and a slightly dry and quenching finish. Medium bodied and 6% alcohol, this is a beer that can be enjoyed as a companion for a wide variety of everyday meals (try it with your favorite Asian take- out), or as a sociable cocktail brew that will not overpower the conversation.
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