“Who wants to be the first to taste?”
Having wrapped up our guided tour of Kazematten brewery, master brewer Koen Hugelier is behind the bar ready to serve us all a glass of the brewery’s Wipers Times 14 beer. His hands juggle between taps and glasses, cutting cleanly through the froth with a pallet knife before sliding the glasses one by one along the counter. “Sante”, there’s a collective clink, then we all take a sip of the cold, straw-coloured ale.
As Hugelier explained earlier in the tour, the blond beer takes its name from an army newspaper set up by British troops who were stationed in the town of Ypres during World War I. Unable to pronounce their new base’s name (locals say it like “e-pray”), they came up with the much more manageable version, “Wipers”.
The spoof newspaper was named The Wipers Times and was distributed at intervals between February 1916 and February 1918. Most interesting of all, it was printed for a while in the Kazematten casements which today houses the brewery where we’re standing.
So what’s the verdict on Wipers Times 14? It’s crisp, slightly spicy and at 6.5% it tastes a lot lighter than it probably should. We wonder if it has anything to do with the special secret ingredient, “Blessed Thistle.” Kazematten brewers add the seeds during the production process as a nod to the newspaper’s masthead which featured an image of a black twisted thistle.
From what we’re told and shown during the tour, the brewing process at Kazematten is both an art and a science. Taking us through the journey from grain to glass, we’re given a sneak peak at the four herbs and four hops that go into the beer as well as a thorough explanation of how the brew kettle operates, how low temperatures effect the maturation process and finally, the interesting story of how Hugelier swapped academic life for a career in the craft beer industry. He previously worked for 10 years in the labs in the University of Ghent – Breaking Bad parallels are not lost on the group.
Kazematten Brewery is open to the public every Saturday from 3pm to 5pm and tours cost €10 per person. The brewery tour includes a brief history of the Kazematten casements/story of The Wipers Times as well a tasting of 3 beers. Guided tours start every half hour.
Private tours are also possible costing €12 per person and include a free gift pack containing a glass and bottle of beer from Kazematten.
Can’t make it to Kazematten? Around 1000 different types of beer are brewed in Belgium – here are five other interesting brews worth sampling in cities and towns across the country:
At 8% this Flemish beer is not for the faint hearted but gets top marks for presentation. It’s served in an hourglass within a wooden stand, one for the show-offs.
A type of beer, rather than a brand, Kriek is a sour option that combines cherries, cherry juice or sugar with beer in a process that takes up to three years to mature. In another unusual twist, it’s poured from a bottle with a cork, just like sparkling wine. If you’re wary of sour beers, a good one to start with is Kriek Boon.
Pouring like sweet, alcoholic black chocolate, this beer is a challenge in itself to track down. It takes its name from the fishing boats in the village of De Panne.
Produced at the Lefebvre brewery in Wallonia, Barbãr is a strong pale ale brewed with honey. It’s ABV of 8% means it’s probably not one you could stick to all night but it’s perfect for taking your time over with some fine Belgian chocolate.
Pêche Mel’ Bush (Pêche Mel Scaldis) mixes Bush Ambrée, one of the strongest Belgian beers with ripe peach juice. Apparently it was students who invented this beer cocktail by combining Bush Ambrée with another peach-based beer. At 8.5% it may very well be the most potent fruit-flavoured beer in Belgium.
Flights to Belgium
- Fiona Hilliard