5 Reasons Not To Miss The Leuven Innovation Beer Festival
There is a long list of interesting beer festivals in Belgium (see here) and the Leuven Innovation Beer Festival – a new Leuven beer festival conceived by Brouwerij Hof Ten Dormaal and set in the unique venue of De Hoorn – is certainly a worthy addition to that growing list.
The inaugural festival – which took place on Sunday 24 and Monday 25 May 2015 – came to fruition over just a matter of months in the face of no small measure of adversity and featured a diverse range of breweries from Europe and America for the celebration of ‘innovation’ in beer.
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LEUVEN INNOVATION BEER FESTIVAL
According to the organisers there will be a second edition next year, so watch our video above to find out what to expect and check out the 5 reasons below you shouldn’t miss this special event.
1. IT’S A ‘PHOENIX FROM THE ASHES’ STORY
The Leuven Innovation Beer Festival – just like the brewery that organised it – is a real ‘phoenix from the ashes’ story.
In order to make the Hof Ten Dormaal farm more profitable, the Janssens family started a brewery onsite at the beginning of 2009. On 6 January 2015, however, disaster struck. The brewery suffered a fire and the entire bottling line, conditioning rooms and most of the stock were burnt to the ground.
Fortunately, much of the other brewing equipment was salvageable and after a rallying of the beer world by way of a public crowdfunding campaign and some assistance with production, Hof Ten Dormaal were able to get back on their feet and start brewing again.
This is a brewery that’s keen to look forward and not backwards. Jef Janssens – whose father André and brother Dries brew with him at the farm – would prefer to focus on opportunity in the future rather than to dwell on the tragedy of the fire. “We were thinking about doing a festival for quite some time, but never in concrete ways,” says Jef. “Right after the fire at our place, we felt let’s just do it. Now the time is right. We’ve got quite a lot of attention. We want to do something unique in Belgium.”
Their brewery is already quite unique in that it grows its own hops and malt on site. The brewing water they use comes from their own well. Anything not used in the brewing process is recycled back into the farm to feed the livestock. They have grown from a small farm brewery to a respected creator of new flavours (including a chickory beer, various interesting seasonals and barrel aging projects).
All over the world the beer market is exploding and we’re still clinging on to tradition.
But Jef is concerned that Belgium will be left behind. “We think that the Belgian beer market is too common,” he says. “People believe we are still the best beer country, which is in my opinion not true at all. Americans make awesome beers. Italians make awesome beers. All over the world the beer market is exploding and we’re still clinging on to tradition.”
Attending the festival will afford you the opportunity to hear more about this rags to riches story from those who suffered the effects of the fire first hand and to meet with Jef and the other Janssens to see how the brewery – and the Leuven Innovation Beer Festival – have triumphed in the face of adversity.
2. IT’S PART OF SOMETHING BIGGER
The Leuven Innovation Beer Festival is part of a greater scheme of events in the city. The City of Leuven have shown great foresight in having the Leuven Innovation Beer Festival close the ‘Leuven Beer Month’ and by including it as an integral part of their ‘Leuven: the place to beer’ programme of events.
It’s important because it not only raises the profile of the festival but it also exposes those interested in the types of breweries and beers at the Leuven Innovation Beer Festival to other elements of the beer scene in the city, whether that’s one of the specially organised beer tastings, beer tours (including one on bikes) or brewery visits in the line-up.
To be part of Leuven’s programme of events is to contribute to the city’s diverse beer culture. Special tours of the Stella Artois brewery bring large numbers of visitors to the city to see one of the biggest beer operations in the world and festivals such as Zythos Beer Festival show off the complete spectrum of Belgian brewing. On the other hand, tours of breweries such as De Vlier and De Kroon shine the spotlight on those local to Leuven.
Events like the Leuven Innovation Beer Festival allow those in Belgium to enjoy first-hand contact with international breweries such as Freigeist Bierkultur and Brouwerij Kees who they might not otherwise see.
3.THE JANSSENS FAMILY
If many of the breweries signed up to the festival to show their support for Hof Ten Dormaal in the wake of their fire tragedy, then they were rewarded enormously with the hospitality of the brewery’s farming family, the Janssens: André and Mol and their sons Jef and Dries, their daughter Lisa, her husband Stijn and their two children.
I find that the Hof Ten Dormaal family is one of the most genuine, kind and gracious families I have met in a long time.
“I met André and the whole family two years ago when I was here visiting their brewery and I stayed in touch”, says Lauren Salazar, the Specialty Brand Manager, Blender and Sensory Specialist at New Belgium Brewing Company. “I find that the Hof Ten Dormaal family is one of the most genuine, kind and gracious families I have met in a long time.”
Surprisingly, New Belgium were pouring at a festival in Belgium for the very first time at the Leuven Innovation Beer Festival and given their positive experience, it likely won’t be their last. It was testament to the people skills of André Janssens and his family that they succeeded in organising a festival which afforded the brewers the opportunity to really get to know one another.
“I think the greatest part of this festival is that not only have André and his family made us feel part of their family, but having met the brewers only two days ago, we’ve become like a small community among ourselves in a very short period of time”, says Lauren. Unlike other festivals where those pouring rarely get a chance to see each other, brewers here were able to walk around to each other’s booths, catch up, share a beer and have a chat. “It’s strange”, says Lauren. “In just a couple of days, I’m going to miss everyone.”
It’s intimate and relaxed enough that you too will be able to meet the Janssens at the festival and enjoy the hospitality for which their family is known.
4. IT’S IN THE PERFECT VENUE
It’s highly appropriate that a festival celebrating innovation takes place in a venue with so much historical significance to Belgian brewing: De Hoorn. It was here in 1926 that Stella Artois was brewed for the very first time. Visitors entered the festival through this old brewing room, past the mash tuns, filter vessels and brewing kettles before descending into the beautifully redecorated De Hoorn café.
The venue was a major talking part for those in attendance at the festival. This is perhaps because it offered a stepping stone between the beer worlds of the past and the future but also represented a kind of symbiosis between the growing ‘craft’ scene and the world of Belgian macro-brewing, highlighted best by the fact that one of the stars of the festival – Goose Island brewery – was acquired by AB Inbev in 2011.
With a lot of UK festivals, it’s impossible to try a quarter of the beers, but this is so intimate.
“The venue is stunning,” says Steve from UK brewery, Siren Craft Brew. “I was chatting to a guy earlier who said it went through a refurbishment and it used to be worn down and was not particularly a nice place. But I love the intimacy of it. With a lot of UK festivals, it’s impossible to try a quarter of the beers, but this is so intimate. They’ve organised it really well in the sense that we got to meet all of the brewers and it’s easy to try one beer from each stall and that’s the whole point.”
The Leuven Innovation Beer Festival affords you the opportunity to come along and experience this venue for yourself while drinking some unique beers.
5. THE THEME OF INNOVATION
The theme of the festival is innovation and the chance to try beers which are new – whether it relates to the ingredients, the techniques used, the production process, the energy used, the packaging or even the origin of the recipe – is as good a reason as any for you not to miss this festival.
There’s certainly no shortage of interesting ideas and flavours in the beers pouring at the festival: Swedish brewery, Brekeriet were causing quite a stir with their ‘Sour & Salt’, a beer which does exactly what it says on the tin.
NØgne Ø brought a Norwegian-Ozzie collaboration in ‘Aurora Australis’, an abt / quadrupel style beer of 11% ABV which was brewed by Bridge Road Brewers in Australia and matured in red wine barrels during its long journey to Norway where Nøgne Ø carried out the blending and packaging.
The Americans also made telling contributions: New Belgium poured the Transatlantique Kriek, a blend of their own blonde and the Oud Beersel Oude Kriek; while Goose Island ensured a scramble at their booth by opening a few bottles of their big powerful imperial stout, Bourbon County Brand Stout.
We don’t really care about what the market is saying or what way it is leaning or whatever. We make beers the way we like it.
The Dutch were there too. John Brus from De Molen believes that innovation comes naturally when you’re doing something you want to do. “The way we do it is the way we like it,, he says. “That’s the thing. We don’t really care about what the market is saying or what way it is leaning or whatever. We make beers the way we like it.”
For De Molen, being innovative is a direct result of trying new things with taste. “There are so many flavours to discover and I think that’s important”, says John. “You see some changes in the consumer’s behaviour. Now instead of going for the big one or the cheap one, more and more people are trying to discover flavours.”
Bradley Cummings from Tiny Rebel Brewery in South Wales was also impressed with how Belgium was embracing innovation through the festival.
“I think Belgium has got one of the oldest traditions of beer and when you see them trying to innovate and do something different it really says something about the way the market is going,” says Bradley. “It’s what people want. People don’t want to drink the same thing all the time. And as you can see with the 16 different breweries here, every brewery has got its own story, its own style of beer, its own location. It’s great when you can all get together from different walks of life.”