The second brewery that we visit in this series is again located near Leuven: Brewery De Vlier. We met up with Marc Andries, owner and brew master of this craft brewery. Marc is a bio-engineer who has worked for several companies including Meura, a producer of brewing equipment, and for the breweries of Achouffe, Piron and Haacht.
In those breweries he learned in depth how to start up and improve brewing processes, and in 2008 he decided, together with a business partner, to start his own brewery: Brewery De Vlier. The name of the brewery refers to Vlierbeek, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Leuven where his brewery was initially located. From there things went very fast. Within a few months, they sold their first beers. In the early days, there was a lot of work, especially after Marc’s business partner dropped out.
In the beginning, they brewed only two beers: Kessel Blond, a refreshing blonde beer with an ABV of 7.5% and Kessel 69, an amber beer with a similar alcohol content, which was first brewed for an event where all men from Leuven who were born in 1969 celebrated their 40th birthday together.
The site in Vlierbeek however, was far from ideal to house a brewery. Marc explains: “There was no place at all for people to park their car. For customers that wasn’t so big a deal, but whenever I received a delivery from a supplier, they would come and deliver it with a massive truck which would then block the whole street. We quickly realized that we needed to find another location and we decided to move to Holsbeek, just outside the Leuven agglomeration” Their new building has a large basement where the brewery is located, a storage space and a tasting room.
This additional space allowed Marc to launch several new beers. He currently brews three seasonal beers and three champagne beers (or aperitif beers as he calls them). “My aperitif beers have a strong carbonation and they do contain champagne yeast, but they are not produced according to the ‘methode champenoise’ (where the bottles are kept upside down during the second fermentation so that the champagne yeast sinks to the top of the bottle, where it is then removed), the yeast remains in the bottle, so we cannot really call them champagne beer. With my beers, the yeast remains at the bottom of the bottle.”
His aperitif beers are an excellent alternative to a glass of sparkling wine or champagne. The first beer in this series is the Brut beer, similar to a brut champagne, this beer has a slightly acid flavor.
The second aperitif beer is called Gulden Delle, and it is more the demi-sec of the aperitif beers. It has a sour-sweet flavor and a rich aroma of elderberry, because it contains some elderflower syrup. And last but not least, there is the Ferme Framboos, an aperitif beer with a raspberry flavor. The raspberries for this beer are bought from a befriended farmer and they are 100% organic.
“Besides these aperitif beers, we have several seasonal beers”, Marc explains as he opens a bottle of his spring beer. “We have a spring beer, a summer beer and a Christmas beer. The only season for which we don’t have a beer yet is autumn, but I am sure that sooner or later we will end up making such a beer as well”.
The Holsbeek Lentetripel, is a solid spring triple made with three different grains and it has a nice hoppy flavor. “I only use Saaz hops for this beer. They are a relatively soft kind of hops, but I put a lot of them in the Lentetripel. My other seasonals are Carrousel, a summer lager with a distinctive fresh and fruity character which it owes to the use of Citra hops and De Vlier X-Mas, a dark Christmas beer with a flavor of coffee and chocolate.”
What makes Brewery De Vlier stand out from other breweries are their many seasonals and their 75cl bottles. How did that come about? “Well, we noticed that our regular customers kept asking us for ‘something new’ from time to time. The ideal answer to that was to brew a different beer every season. I realize that I could probably sell more of these beers if I would brew them all year long, but I simply don’t have the space to store that many beers. Now it’s actually an ideal situation: when one seasonal is finished, I start brewing the next one.”
“The use of 75cl bottles is also for practical reasons. Bottling and labeling is a very labor intensive task. If I would start using 33cl bottles instead, that would triple my workload. Until recently, my wife Kristin helped me with the bottling and the labelling, but because of medical reasons she can’t do that anymore. Besides, the larger the bottle, the better the flavor of the beer. There is always some air in a beer bottle below the capsule, and that air has a negative effect on the flavor of the beer. In larger bottles that effect is much less, because there is more beer for the same amount of air, which affects the beer relatively less” On demand of local pubs and some wholesalers, his best-selling beer, Kessel Blond is available in 33cl bottles. But the brewing and the bottling are outsourced to De Proefbrouwerij.
“We currently produce 280 hl per year, and, although my installation would allow me to produce up to 500 hl, I don’t intend to increase for now”, says Marc. “I combine this brewery with a job as a sales representative, and if I were to brew even more, I wouldn’t be able to combine both things any more. Most of our customers are locals, but even from further away people come to our bi-monthly tastings and brewery tours. I am very happy with what I have achieved so far, and with this volume, everything my life is nicely in balance.”