This is the first of a series of posts, where I will be visiting different craft breweries all over Belgium in order to tell you their story and put these smaller breweries and their beers in the spotlight. The first one in this series is Brewery Bueckenholt. I drank their beer last summer in Leuven’s old town and I immediately knew that I wanted to meet those guys. They originally started brewing their beers in Veltem (near Leuven), but they are currently brewing them at Brewery Anders, a brewery which allows small micro-brewers to use their brewing installation.
The ‘Bueckenholt Brouwbroeders’ are two friends, Joris and Koen who met each other during a ski trip about ten years ago. We spoke to Koen in his garage in Veltem and he explains how their brewing history started: ”We quickly became friends and we discovered that we had a joint passion for beer. In 2010 we bought our first brewing kit and started experimenting. It didn’t take too long before we started producing decent beers. Joris is a chemical engineer, and that definitely helps us a lot. Our big breakthrough came in 2012 when we won a competition for amateur beer brewers, organized by Brewery Anders. The winner could brew 1000 liter of their beer using the brewery’s professional brewing installation. Nowadays, we still use their installation on a regular basis to brew our beer.”
They currently have one beer on the market, the Bueckenholt Belge, an amber-colored 'speciale belge' beer. This beer style was very popular in this part of Belgium until the early 20th Century, but it got a bit forgotten when the first pils beers started to appear. What makes the Bueckenholt Belge stand out is that their beer is slightly stronger (6.5% ABV) and more bitter than the typical speciale beers, like Palm.
“We currently brew 4 batches of Bueckenhold Belge per year, 80 hl in total. Our customers are mainly local people from the surrounding villages who come and buy their beer in our garage, and recently also some pubs and restaurants in the nearby town of Leuven. Besides these ‘commercial’ brews, we still use our small brewing installation to brew our own beer once per month. We experiment with different types of beers, which we then drink ourselves and we also give some away to friends and relatives. We are now really close to finalizing our saison beer, hopefully we can start selling it in May. But it will be in very limited quantities, we will only have 100 75cl bottles for sale.”
That saison beer will be called Bueckenholt SaisoN 548, a name that refers to the airplane that caused the biggest airline crash in Belgian history (Sabena flight SN548). In 1961, that airplane crashed in Berg, the vilage where one of the two brewers lives, killing 73 people.
Koen shows us a bottle of a test brew that they made for their new saison beer and explains: “We deliberately brew beers with a lot of flavor, but not too much alcohol content, I don’t think we’ll ever brew anything with more than 7.5 or 8% ABV. We sell our beers mostly locally and we don’t want our friends and neighbours to be drunk after two or three of our beers.”
And how does he see Bueckenholt evolve? Is it a hobby, a side job, the start of something bigger? “I have a full-time job at the airport as a technician. To me, brewing is nothing more than a hobby. Although we are starting to make some money with it now, we still do it purely for the fun of it. We have no intention of going ‘big’, we just brew beers for fun and sell them here locally. The only thing that we dream of is to have our own, small brewery, so that we don’t have to rely on other people’s installations anymore.”