As master brewer for Heverlee, a man born and brewed in Belgium just like the beer itself, my occupation has never really felt like a job. Even when I’m working long days and late nights, I’m a true beer geek – so I’m just doing what I love. Of course, my job attracts lots of questions from curious beer fans.
Here are my most ‘frequently asked questions’...a little window into my world, my dream pint pals and the importance of trusting your gut in the beer trade.
SO WHAT DOES A MASTER BREWER MEAN?
It basically means I’m a beer-geek and get paid for it. I grew up in Leuven, I studied there and I always loved the beer culture, so this has been my dream job for as long as I can remember. Throughout the years, I learned on-the-job, working in five breweries in Belgium, some big, some small. With Heverlee, I didn’t need to create its recipe from scratch, like I’d done with other beers. We already had a starting point with its history and heritage, so the experience felt very different.
WHAT'S THE SECRET TO BREWING A GREAT BEER?
No secret, really. There’s obviously things that are important – the quality of the ingredients you use, the temperature you brew at – but it’s never an exact science. You need to know what you’re doing but also trust your instinct – does it need more hops, or less, is there something unexpected you can throw in the mix? It’s an alchemy of sorts.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST BEER YOU BREWED AND WHAT WAS IT LIKE?
It was a lager, made in an old fashioned way with open cooling vessels and 3 months of maturation. After that, I brewed a spontaneous fermented Geuze beer in Kobbegem, an idyllic place next to Brussels. My third brew was a beer called Cuvé de l'hermitage from Brasserie Union where I learned a huge amount from a very talented, well-established brewer there. Sadly the beer and brewery are no more but it had 52 EBU, which is one of my favourites.
HOW DO YOU MAKE HEVERLEE?
Simply, very simply. The monks that were brewing at Heverlee Abbey did nothing too complicated – they used local ingredients and local knowledge, everything very traditional. We’ve replicated that as much as we can, using barley, the Noble Saaz hop and a slow brewing process, taking the beer back to its roots. Obviously in the Middle Ages, heating and cooling capacities weren’t relevant. So we took that on-board, bringing the speeds of heating and cooling down and making it a very simple process with straightforward, clean ingredients.
WHERE'S THE BEST PLACE TO DRINK HEVERLEE?
That’s too difficult to choose! I can say that one of the best times I’ve ever tasted Heverlee was when we brewed the batch we knew was right. Fons from Marten’s brewery and I spent many hours trying to perfect the liquid. Tasting the final version was very satisfying! Of course, there are lots of bars across Scotland and Northern Ireland that are great to drink Heverlee in but I have to say I’m looking forward it being at the Abbey. As part of the renovation, there is a café bar being developed, which should be finished this summer and the beer will be poured there. That will be really special.
WHAT'S NEXT? ANY EXCITING PLANS?
I travel all over the world and I’m speaking to lots of contacts in different countries about Heverlee. Watch this space.
TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT HEVERLEE WE DON'T ALREADY KNOW
There’s a very special ingredient that only grows on abbey grounds; a flower that an intrinsic part of the Abbey’s history. You can see it in almost all of the stained glass in its buildings. Beer lovers may well see that flower in effect in the not too distant future…
IF YOU COULD TAKE ANYONE OUT FOR A PINT, WHO WOULD IT BE?
I think it would be Jamie Oliver. He could talk food – and ideally let me sample some dishes – and I could talk beer. The perfect combination! But honestly, I’m happy chatting to anyone who’s passionate about beer, especially Heverlee!
Got another question? Follow me on Twitter and ask away… @JorisBrams
Posted by Joris