The Belgian Beer traveller

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As I travel around the globe, being a Belgian guy and having beer flowing through my veins, I always try to find nice places to enjoy a good beer. In that interest I made a Foursquare checkin list of beer places I like. This will be updated off course so feel free to invite me when I am in your town 😉

Yard House Restaurant – Las Vegas:
This is one of those places. Just 2 miles South of Manadalay Bay in the middle of Town Square shopping village. Actually Yard House is a big restaurant chain focussed on good beers – over 150 on draft – good food and good atmosphere. While I was there for VMware PEX 2013 (Storify) I enjoyed a 6 shots beer sampler with all Belgian beers. One of them was called Yard House Amber Triple. I couldn’t believe my ears when the manager said this is actually brewed IN BELGIUM for them. So I visited the brewery to get proof!

Brasserie de Silly:
I enter this small village called Silly. Before you think this is a silly name I’ll explain it: the Sil is a small river that floats there and “y” in French is generically used as the river basin. Back in the days, this brewery was a farm. When there was not that much work to do in the winter, the farmers brewed beer. The first year in the books says 1850. Those hard working framers could drink 5 to 8 liters of beer a day! That original beer was called Saison Silly and still holds that name. Originally the brewery was called Meynsbrughen after the family name of the brewers. You can still find some signs with that name. Small detail; you can also find signs called “Mynsbrughen“. That comes from the time that breweries got taxed by the letter! 

I am welcomed by Lionel Van der Haegen, 6th generation in the family that runs the brewery. Today Lionel does most of the import/export tasks in the company and his nephew Bertrand is the actual brewer (he was really busy!). Lionel gives me a whole tour through the brewery and knows all the details of its history. A few small stories come to mind:

During the second world war there were Scottish soldiers that were assigned to this village. When they asked the family to brew a real Scotch for them the brewers had no idea how to do it. First of all they did not have the necessary supplies and secondly they had no knowledge of brewing a Scotch. So the army general took care of the supplies and one of the soldiers helped creating the recipe. After the war that man settled in and stayed the rest of his life at the brewery! The Scotch is still one of the famous beers of this brewery. There is even an extra story here; every year they buy some old wooden casks and have the scotch mature in there for no less than 6 months. Last year the casks came from porto, this year they are bordeaux. It’s a very limited edition and is a perfect tasting beer to give with a meal.

Historically there were 7 breweries in this small village. A few years after world war 2 this brewery was the last one standing and the name changed to Brasserie de Silly. In 1947 they stopped farming and concentrated their business on brewing only. In the the 1970’s they also took over the Brasserie d’Enghien, becoming the owners of Double Enghien, one of their flagships today.

The Brewing process:
Nowadays barley is not farmed locally anymore. The barley is now farmed and converted to malt in specialised companies. The brewery has it’s own well that goes 60 meters deep. Today most of the water is pumped up from around 30 meters. Having your own water is key for a brewery. A lot of the flavor in the beer comes from the water. The first big room we enter is the actual brewroom. Beer is brewed in 3 stages and takes about 10 hours in total: 

  1. the brewing as such 
  2. filtering in the second kettle 
  3. boiling. the boiling happens on a 100 degrees C for 3 hours. 

During the boiling hops & spices are added. The hop families used at Brasserie de Silly are Saar (Czech), Hallertau (Germany) and Kent (UK).

In the second room the beer gets chilled to about 20 degrees celcius and the yeast is added. Yeast is the second very important part of a brewery. Very large breweries have their yeast being cultivated and preserved in universities in Belgium. I didn’t verify this with Lionel but my guess is that they cultivate their own yeast. In the first picture here you see the cooler. In the second picture you see the water slots where the CO2 escapes from the fermenting kettles. A single kettle (brew) holds 70 hectoliter of beer. Actually the kettle is 90 hectoliters but they brew per 70. There are also two bigger kettles of +150 hectoliter where they can put 2 brews together (within 24 hrs).  In the last picture you can see the beers that are fermenting in the kettles and the date of creation. 

There are 2 types of fermentation: low fermentation, more specifically for pils at 7 to 9 degrees for one week. The high fermentation beers are in the kettles for 4 days at 20 to 25 degrees. After fermentation the beers go to rest. between 3 and 4 weeks the beers are kept at 2 degrees celcius. This is where they can mature their flavours. Lionel stresses out that they really want to respect the timings of their brewing processes. If they wanted to do higher volumes they easily could but it would require tweaking with ingredients. The last stage off course is bottling. Some of the beers get some extra sugars here for after-fermentation. The smaller beers get bottled 33cl or 75cl. And of course casks of 20/30/50L are used to supply the pubs and export. 

What would we do in a brewery without some actual tasting. Lionel gives me first a Double Enghien, one of their most commonly sold beers. After that he opens a bottle of that special Scotch. They are completely sold but Lionel had a small private stash in his office 😉

The Yard House Amber Triple:
Now comes the story about Yard House. The owners of Yard House wanted to have their own house beer. They had multiple breweries creating one and the Amber Triple from Brasserie de Silly won that contest. A triple beer comes from tripling the amount of malt in the brew and was first introduced by the Trappists of Westmalle. The Amber Triple is a high alcohol beer (9%) but tastes very smooth. That is what the brewers were after. It consists of water, pure malt and Hallertau & Kent hops. No more, no less. It doesn’t hold that much hops as a regular US “Belgian Style” beer which makes it really taste genuine. No less than 1500 casks of 30L get shipped annually to Yard House and this amount is still rising. When I walked through the stock of the brewery I even saw a whole pallet ready to get shipped. So here’s proof that I wasn’t joking:

On the week of june 10th to 15th I was back in Vegas and organised a #BeerTweetup at Yard House. Here is an impression of one of the tables enjoying the 6 shots sampler:

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