Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Seefbier, an old Antwerp style is reborn....

Belgium has a "new" beer, and it's an interesting one. "Seefbier" was
launched in Belgium in March, and what was projected as a
seven-month supply sold out in two weeks!

The driving force behind Seefbier is former Duvel/Moortgat Marketing
Director Johan Van Dyck, with his Antwerpse Brouw Compagnie.
Van Dyck, who lives in Antwerp, became intrigued-even obsessed,
he might tell you-with finding the recipe for a style of beer that was
said to be the most popular one in the city from around 1800 to about

Photo: Johan Van Dyck and his wife,
Karen Follens, founders of 
Antwerpse Bier Compagnie

Seefbier is mentioned numerous times in local historical records.
An 1863 account called it a "white beer that foamed like champagne,
and went to and the head like port." A 1904 account said that it was
a "Poor man's champagne."

An area of Antwerp called the Seefhoek was actually named after
Seefbier: "In those days, this was the area where all the nightlife,
dance halls and bars were located. Since a beer was at that time
synonymous with Seef, that part of town was nicknamed the beer
area, or Seefhoek," Van Dyck remarked. "In fact, that area is still
called the Seefhoek!" he added.

Mayor Janssen of Antwerp (left) with Johan
Van Dyck

Van Dyck told me during a recent interview: "I searched for two
years to find a recipe. I searched the city archives, old newspapers,
talked with descendants of old brewing families, and even
interviewed elderly people in retirement homes, hoping to find an
old brewer. I finally found a brewer's handwritten notes. At that
point, I knew I needed help to translate this old recipe to modern
brewing equipment."

Photo: Johan Van Dyck (left) and Dr. Filip

Van Dyck contacted Professor Freddy Delvaux and his son Filip
of the Catholic University of Leuven. Both men are highly respected
scientists in the field of brewing in Belgium, especially in the area of
fermentation. Both agreed to help analyze the recipe and help recreate

Van Dyck stated: "We test-brewed several batches of Seefbier, 
true to the original recipe, with ingredients such as wheat,
buckwheat, oats, malted barley, and Belgian hops, as well as a
historic yeast strain. It is a very cloudy beer, somewhat akin to
a witbier, but without spicing. It’s also a bit stronger, at 6.5% abv.”

Van Dyck continued: "Seefbeer is completely against all current
beer trends in Belgium: everybody is now making extra hopped,
high ABV beers, or other more 'experienced' beers such as sour
brews. Seefbeer is the complete opposite: instead of an complex
or extreme 'sipping' beer, it is a very mild, soft and balanced brew,
with a subtle taste and similar aromas. The bitterness is even lower
that a standard Belgian lager, at 17 ibu."

I tasted the beer at the Zythos Beer Festival in Leuven in April,
and found it an interesting, refreshing brew. But that was a long
weekend with many beers, so I decided to taste it again. Last night.
It is indeed as I remembered, an easy-drinking, cloudy, refreshing
brew with notes of citrus, other fruitiness and light spicing. 

Photo: Brouwerij Roman, Oudenaarde, East

Seefbier, in fact, already has an accolade under its belt. It 
won a Gold Medal in the Belgian "other" style category in 
the World Beer Cup Awards in San Diego in May.

Photo: Brouwerij Roman, Oudenaarde, East 

Seefbier is currently brewed at Brouwerij Roman in 
Oudenaarde, East Flanders. I visited this brewery in 
2007, and it is a great place to have a beer brewed. 
It has a beautiful brewhouse with copper kettles and 
other historic equipment, and of course modern 
fermentation and maturation methods.

Photo: Johan Van Dyck, left, Carlo Roman, 
Albert Follens and Filip Delvaux

Roman is a member of The Belgian Family Brewers, 
which helps promote and protect traditional Belgian 
breweries and beers. There are twenty breweries in the 
group, including some of the best in Belgium. See here 
for more info. 

Photo: grain mill at Brouwerij Roman.

Van Dyck plans to build a brewery in Antwerp to craft 
his products, which will likely include more beers in the 
future. "We discovered a lot of old recipes in the search 
for Seefbier, and we have some ideas about new beers in 
the future. First, though, we must meet the demand for 
Seefbier," he remarked. 

Will we see Seefbier in the U.S.? "As millions of families 
emigrated in the 19th century to the U.S. through the port 
of Antwerp, the last beer they had before leaving for the 
new world was a Seefbier in Antwerp. So it would be great 
if their grandchildren could now share in this moment in the 
US, also drinking a Seefbier...So we are looking into that!" 
Van Dyck commented. 

See: Seefbier for more info.

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