In Esen, near Diksmuide, in the West of Belgium, we find one of Belgium’s most renowned micro-breweries: De Dolle Brouwers. In an old brewery building that dates back to 1835, brew master Kris Herteleer, his wife and his 96-year-old mother receive visitors from all over world. The brewery differs day and night from the modern installations at Brewery De Ranke that we saw a few hours earlier. The brewing equipment is still exactly the same as what was used a century ago and the building is not insulated nor heated, so when it freezes outside, it also freezes inside. The only difference with a century ago are the playful yellow and red colors in which parts of the brewery have been painted.
“I like it this way”, explains Kris, “This set up allows just one person to do the entire brewing process”. The Oerbar downstairs is a cozy, but hectic place where locals, friends from the brewer and tourists come and have a drink or pick up their orders. “It’s normally not this busy”, explains Kris’ wife while she takes our order, “but we just had a bus of 96 visitors arriving, we even had to split them up in two groups to take the brewery tour.”
The brewery is really a place of history and nice anecdotes. On the wall there is a nicely framed paper from when the brewery was up for sale more than a century ago, and the cooling tank is totally dark at the bottom because soldiers used it during the First World War (Esen was right on the frontline) to make coffee.
De Dolle Brouwers is a success story that started in 1980, when Kris, his brother and two other friends took over the brewery, which had closed a few years before. They immediately started brewing their first beer: Oerbier, a strong dark beer, rich in flavor and with and ABV of 9.0%. They had already experimented at home where they brewed in an old bath tub, because the homebrew installation they had could not stand the high temperatures at which they brewed their beer. It was one of the very first ‘revivals’ of a small local brewery, and De Dolle Brouwers are still one of Belgium’s best known and most popular micro-breweries today.
Besides Oerbier, they brew five other beers:
Arabier, a blond beer with a distinctive hop flavor and an ABV of 8.0%.
Boskeun (Rabbit of the Forest), an Easter beer that was, unfortunately enough, already sold out when we arrived.
Dulle Teve (Mad Bitch), a strong blonde beer with an ABV of 10%.
Special Extra Export Stout, a stout with and ABV of 9%, which – as it name already says – is mainly brewed for the export market.
And Stille Nacht (Silent Night), a Christmas beer. This dark beer is the brewery’s strongest beer with an impressive ABV of 12%.
The brewery is open for visitors every Saturday from 14:00 until 19:00 and Kris shows them around personally and with a lot of humor. When one of the visitors from the bus tour asks him why there is a pile of Leffe crates standing in the corner, he gets the answer “We got tired of putting all our money on the bank, so we decided to invest it and we bought Leffe”.
Because of the small scale of the brewery, there are usually only two beers available at a time. Once one beer is sold out, they start brewing the next one. De Dolle Brouwers have an annual volume 1,000 hl and that is not likely to increase. “I don't mind brewing more,” says Kris, while he starts laughing ”but I really don’t like the bottling”.