When it comes down to it, brewing beer can be like raising a child. The brewer has a rather parental relationship with his or her brew—it is born of themselves, sometimes behaves in less than desirable ways, and in the end, hopefully, rewards their hard work with a sense of pride and self-respect. Many brewers regard their beers as their children, with each new beer becoming a new member of the family. The story behind the Slaapmutske Brewery is, at its heart, a story about family, and the ways that family can nurture, support, and inspire success.
Dany De Smet was born and raised in Melle, Belgium, a small town near Ghent (in the Belgian brewing capital of East Flanders). In 1992, during the same year that he graduated from brewing school as a brewing engineer, he achieved an impressive milestone by becoming brewmaster at the renowned Huyghe Brewery (known primarily for their Delirium Tremens & Delirium Nocturnum beers with their iconographic labels featuring pink elephants). While working for this respected family brewery, he also developed his homebrewing skills when out of 'the office'. He has also worked in various other industry positions as a brewing hygiene specialist and served as an educator in Brewing Technology and Quality Control at the Ghent Brewing High School (yes, high school). During the time spent honing his craft, he met and fell in love with Marleen Vercaigne, a fellow beer-lover from the neighboring town of Ronse. It was early in their relationship that Dany, as he puts it, "infected her with the beer microbe" — pretty much how we'd expect a brewing hygiene specialist to sum things up.
The beer-loving couple spent a considerable amount of time crafting homebrews in their kitchen along with one of Dany's former Huyghe Brewery colleagues, Patrick Scheirlinck. Considering the wellspring of brewing that is East Flanders, it's no surprise that these young brewers had finely tuned palates which they used to guide themselves toward ever more inspiring brews. After creating many batches of homebrew together, Dany and Marleen married, and in 1999, brought another bundle of joy into the world—their son Jonas. To celebrate their new arrival, Dany brewed a spicily-hopped, brownish-red beer of 9% alcohol by volume which was much appreciated by family and friends who came to visit little Jonas in the hospital (beer in the hospital?). The beer was dubbed "Jonasbier", and soon people were keen on buying the beer, which got the proud new parents thinking about getting their homebrews on the market.
After another "pregnancy", the couple birthed a new beer, inspired by the original Jonasbier formula, but they had yet to come up with a name for their new brew. One night while brainstorming for a suitable moniker, it happened that young Jonas was crying. As is quite common in Europe and elsewhere, the couple would often dip their son's pacifier in a little bit of beer to calm the child (beer-flavored pacifiers? As you’ve mustered, the attitude about brewing and drinking is a bit different in Belgium than here in the states). This old trick was commonly used to calm children over time, but when the pacifier was dipped in their new, soon-to-hit-market beer, Jonas instantly stopped crying, was fast contented and quickly fell asleep. Marleen smiled and remarked, "This beer is a real 'Slaapmutske'" (which literally means 'sleeping hat', or as we would say, night cap). At that moment, the proud parents knew their newborn brew would be named Slaapmutske.
Because it was winter when they developed their first batch of Slaapmutske, they named it Slaapmutske Winterbier, which they proudly released on the local Belgian market in 2000. The beer quickly became a local success, so much so that demand warranted brewing facilities larger than their kitchen. They promptly partnered with one of Belgium's most prolific brewmasters (Dirk Naudts, affectionately referred to by his nickname "the Prof") at his suitably named, ultra-high tech De Proefbrouwerij in nearby Lochristi. One year after their first beer hit the streets, they introduced Slaapmutske Blond, and in early 2002 they rounded out the Slaapmutske trilogy with Slaapmutske Tripel (called Slaapmutske 'Triple Nightcap' in the U.S.). So, while Jonas obviously couldn't brew (he’ll pick that up by high school), 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, were 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 Dany, Marleen and little Jonas!