Brouwerij Haacht Brasserie

If it’s good enough for the monks...


Haacht may have started out in the final years of the 19th Century as a dairy company, but it wasn’t long before it was making waves in the traditional world of Belgian brewing. It was instrumental to bringing Czech-style pilsner to the country in the 1920s and has only grown stronger since, through four generations of family ownership, fiercely independent and Belgian to its core.

“We’re not a big brewery and, I suppose like everyone in Belgium, our main competitors are ABI and Heineken,” says the brewery’s Lien Meeus. “We’ve have always remained independent and that’s very important to us. Our competitors have knocked on our doors several times, asking if we were for sale, and the answer has always been very categorically ‘no’.”

This independent spirit translates into Haacht’s broader strategy. For example, when other breweries tweaked their pilsner recipes to make them sweeter, by adding sugar or corn as was the trend, Haacht stuck with its original recipe, which was already on the bitter side. Today, it’s a hugely respected beer, praised for its authenticity and balance, and in demand by hop-loving craft drinkers.

On the question of how the craft movement has impacted on this long-lived, traditional brewery, Lien feels Haacht has managed to find a sweet spot that allows it to offer something for everyone.

“I believe that we have the best of both worlds,” she continues. “Obviously we have all our knowledge that we’ve gathered throughout the years, which is quite traditional to a certain extent. But at the same time, we’ve been able to use that to create a new range called SUPER 8, which I think shows there is a lot of creativity along with that craftsmanship.”

For its SUPER 8 range, Haacht has taken a few key Belgian styles and given them a distinctive twist. For example, where wheat beer is generally quite delicate, Haacht’s SUPER 8 Blanche packs a huge hit of zesty orange and coriander; traditional ingredients, but dialled up to 11 for an explosion of flavour and aroma the second you open the bottle.

“I think we are somewhere in between the worlds of heritage brewing and craft,” says Lien. “We are definitely open to new ways of working and if people have ideas we are very willing to co-create. We love the craft beer movement – if you can still call it a movement – because it’s creative, it’s fun and people are trying new stuff all the time. I mean, if you look at Mikkeller I think how many beers have they released so far? A couple of thousand? I love that – beer should always be fun.

Haacht Brasserie Brouwershof

“I think that’s one of the aspects of craft, which is really appealing; you can take parts of different beer traditions, or different techniques from anywhere in the world and apply them. The knowledge of how to brew beer is now coming from everywhere. It’s no longer Belgium, or Germany or the UK. And I think that’s also one of the differentiators of Haacht brewery, when compared to other brewers in Belgium, we really are quite agile. So the SUPER 8 range was created in two or three months.”

In this month’s Beer52 box, we have Haacht’s Tongerlo Bruin, a superb brown abbey ale which really typifies this style of traditional Belgian brewing. It’s a warm, subtle brew, with vanilla notes and delicate dark chocolate bitterness, best savoured slowly.

“The brown is one of our three abbey beers. We’ve been brewing it for quite a while now. The dark beer is very accessible, very balanced; it’s one of the beers that we have seen in Belgium to be on the rise again, as a beer type, as I believe you have in the UK too.

“The other Tongerlo beers are a blonde and a triple. The blonde won the World Beer awards in 2014, making it the only Belgian beer that has ever won across all categories. So it’s basically the world’s best beer! We are very proud of the entire range, especially as I think there are not so many heavy beers left in Belgium.”

With a range that spans ultra-traditional, craft and more mainstream styles, the things that tie all of Haacht’s beers together are the same things that made it such a success 100 years ago.

Lien concludes: “We’re proudly Belgian, and I don’t think these beers could be brewed exactly as we brew them anywhere else in the world. We have a spring here at the brewery site with mineral water that will taste different than water coming from another region. Uniqueness comes not only by inventing new styles and techniques, but also from the raw ingredients you use. We also remain family driven, and we’re independent. And I think these are three characteristics that we will never change, even as we progress.”

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