Brewing history into its beer.
Older than the Kingdom of Belgium itself, seven generations of Bosteels have brewed at “Family Brewery Bosteels” since 1791. Most well-known for its Tripel Karmeliet—a mainstay on the extensive Monk’s Café beer bible—Bosteels is located in the village of Buggenhout, in the East Flanders province of Belgium. Bosteels has not only endured for over 200 years, but has done so with a dedication to history and quality brewing.
Evarist Bosteels, the founding father of Brouwerij Bosteels, bought the current property in the 1780s. The purchase included a house that was rebuilt in the 1800s by famous Belgian architect Minard. According to seventh generation brewer, Antoine Bosteels, they are not sure of the date of construction of the other buildings on the property, however, they know that the brewhouse and the stable house (now used as the lab) are still located at their original locations.
Evarist passed his brewery on to his son Jozef, who in turn had three sons—Frans, Martin and Lodewijk. Frans and Martin became brewers and continued the family business. In addition to working at the brewery, Frans was the Mayor of Buggenhout for thirteen years. Frans was well-respected in Buggenhout —it is said that every Tuesday he would take the train to Ghent for business reasons, and if he was late to the platform, the train would wait for him!
Martin’s son Leon Bosteels took over after Martin, then in 1938, Leon’s son Antoine began a 50 year reign at the Bosteels Brewery. Following the popular taste at the time, Antoine expanded the brewery primarily with Bosteels Pils. In addition, Antoine expanded the distribution of the company—no longer did it serve only its own village, but now Bosteels beer was sold in Ghent, Antwerp, and Brussels.
Antoine was in charge of the brewery during World War II, and just like Frans, Antoine was elected Mayor of Buggenhout. In fact, he was the only mayor in Belgium to be elected before, during and after WWII. As was common with most Belgian breweries during the war, they could not easily obtain grains for brewing because they were used to supply the enemy forces. So Bosteels brewed secretly with beets at night, and sold the beer unbeknownst to the Nazi occupation. When the brewery’s trucks and horses were confiscated, the “unknown” beer was distributed from donkeys.
After the war, Antoine built five music halls where Belgians could listen to live bands while enjoying a beer. Because he had so many music artists on the payroll through the music halls, Brouwerij Bosteels was the largest provider of popular variety music in Belgium at the time.
Antoine’s son Ivo, and Ivo’s son Antoine (seventh generation), currently manage the brewery. As a further example of their impact on the community, Ivo’s uncle was the subject of a statute as a war hero from World War I, representing all the other fallen Belgian soldiers of the war. The original monument stands on the road between Ieper (Ypres) and Diksmuide (along the Flanders Fields) in Merkem. A copy of the statute stands in the brewpub at the brewery, and another in the official WWI museum in Ieper.
Bosteels no longer brews the Bosteels Pils (and have no current plans to resurrect it), but they have returned to traditional Belgian ales. Their most well-known brew in the United States is the Tripel Karmeliet which is truly history in a glass. Brewed from an authentic recipe dated to 1679 and originating from the former Carmelite monastery in Dendermonde (about 6 miles from Buggenhout), the recipe describes the use of three kinds of grain: wheat, oats and barley. “The name Tripel Karmeliet thus refers to both its origin and its in-bottle refermentation.” During the 1990s, Brouwerij Bosteels experimented with variations of multigrain triples, but it was decided that the original couldn’t be improved—the historic combination of the three kinds of grain in the recipe still remains the ideal blend.
Bosteels’ combination of history and beer does not end with Tripel Karmeliet. The Pauwel Kwak Traditional Belgian Special Ale also shares a great story. According to Bosteels, in Napoleon’s time, Pauwel Kwak was a brewer and the owner of the De Hoorn Inn in Dendermonde. Mail coaches stopped there every day. However, at that time, coachmen were not allowed to leave their horses to quench their thirst with their passengers. So the inventive innkeeper Kwak designed a special glass that could be hung on the coach. In this way, the coachman could order his beverage and hang it next to him as he sat on the coach waiting for his passengers.
The newest creation from Bosteels—DeuS, a divine combination of a saison and a sparkling wine—was inspired when Antoine attended a brunch at Salons Saint Germain in Diksmuide, Belgium in 2001. On each round table Antoine saw ice buckets with 75cl bottles of water and wines (red, white and sparkling). “Although we, and many other breweries, had good looking bottles of beer, no beer was to be found in these buckets. That’s where and when I got the idea to go further than presenting the beer in nice 75cl bottles and use a part of the method of sparkling wines in a beer.” So which of Bosteels’ beers is Antoine’s favorite? “It is like asking which is our favorite child—which is something we will not answer. If we have to say something, we love the Tripel Karmeliet in a 33cl bottle or in a 75cl bottle as an alternative, Kwak on tap, and DeuS as the perfect apéritif!”
Brouwerij Bosteels is a proud member of the Belgian Family Brewers (BFB), a group of twenty-one Belgian brewers who represent 15% of all Belgian brewers, with a total of more than 3,500 years of experience in traditional beer brewing. Antoine believes that the BFB plays an important part in maintaining Belgian brewing tradition because to be a member each “brewery must have some history, every beer is unique (not sold under another name), and is brewed in Belgium.”
While history and tradition are extremely important to Antoine, the Bosteels Family has always embraced the use of modern methods. “Modern methods are mainly helpful for better control during the brewing and production process. We will always invest whenever we think the smallest quality improvement can be made, while staying true to our beers and our core recipes. We strive for the perfect symbiosis between tradition and modern technology.” It is this willingness to invest in process improvements while at the same time adhering to traditional recipes that has ensured the longevity of Brouwerij Bosteels since 1791.