Podcast Episode 13: The Rodenbach Story with Brewmaster Rudi Ghequire
For our 13th episode I chat to Rudi Ghequire, Brewmaster of Belgiums iconic Rodenbach brewery. He takes us through not only the Rodenbach story but how this brewery from Roeselare, came to define one of Belgium's most iconic styles.
You can browse our full range of Rodenbach beers here.
Full Text Transcript Below:
Lachlan: Welcome everyone to another episode of the Inside Word. My name is Lachlan McLean from Beer Cartel, Australia's number one craft beer retailer. For our 13th episode, I chat to Rudi Ghequire, Brewmaster of Belgium's iconic Rodenbach brewery. He takes us through not only the Rodenbach story, but how this brewery from Roeselare came to define one of Belgium's most iconic styles. It is with many thanks to Heron Tower Beverages who made this chat possible, and I hope everyone enjoys this podcast with one of the world's leading brewers.
Lachlan: Welcome Rudi and thank you so much for joining me today.
Rudi: It's a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me and having our beers.
Lachlan: You've come around halfway across the world over to Australia for the first time, I believe. What's brought you over here?
Rudi: That's right. It's amazing to be here, it's a incredible country. If you see in on the map, how big the land is of Australia, so it's incredible. It's nice to be here.
Lachlan: Have you been brought over here for any reason in particular or?
Rudi: I'm here for beer.
Lachlan: Just for beer. To sell the Rodenbach beers?
Rudi: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Rudi: Also for the BrewCon, yesterday on the BrewCon to give a presentation about our brewery and our beers.
Lachlan: Oh, fantastic. Lot of people there at BrewCon this year?
Rudi: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was amazing to see the interest of beer in Australia.
Lachlan: Yeah, it's absolutely growing, it's mind-boggling. I think we might touch on that a bit later. But before we kind of go into what the majority of this podcast is about is the Rodenbach brewery itself and the history behind it, I thought we would just have a quick chat about, I know you've got a fascinating history with Rodenbach as well, going many, many years. What's your background and how'd you get into brewing?
Rudi: My background, I grew up on a farm first, so I was very interested in food. It was a mixed farm, and I learned a lot about food by, on the farm itself, by my mother, by my father and so on. And then I made a study of agriculture engineer, specialized in food, started my career in a frozen vegetable farm, but very quick, there was a place at Rodenbach Brewery, for me my dream place, so I could started as purchase. Purchasing raw materials, hop, malts, all those things. And so I grow through in the brewery until production director in '94. So now I'm 25 production director, brewmaster. And in '95 I went to the university to learn something more about our beers, so I made a study of brew engineer at University of Leuven, two years. And then together with my daily work, so that was quite hard.
Rudi: But it was, it worked. And then, so I made the studies about wine. Around 2005, 2006, so I made the study of World Wine, masters. And then I was surprised, because I learnt more about our beers by studying wine, than I knew about it. Before I knew a lot of our brewing methods, but there was so much comparison between wine and our beers, I was really, really surprised. And this is also, thanks to that, that we brought out a lot of new beers, who are maybe more into the direction of wines.
Lachlan: I know that I personally, before I was working in beer, was working in wine, and did a lot of wine education as well, and I've always sat there going, what people are doing in wine is not just for wine. It can be applied to beer, it can be applied to a lot of things. Do you find that kind of was one of the points that really helped you?
Rudi: Yes, but with wine you have the grapes, and you have to wait, you have to respect nature, and then you can make wine. With beer, you have much more flexibility. It's much more creativity that you can bring into the product, because you have your raw materials, and they control much more than wine-makers have that. You have production methods, and the control. You can blend also other raw materials in the product, in the beer. So, and you have a huge range of different beers that you can make, starting by the same raw materials.
Lachlan: Do you think that a head brewer, or a brewmaster is more important to beer, than the wine-maker is to wine?
Rudi: I think a brewmaster is a wine-master, so is, and also in the opposite way.
Lachlan: Yep, so I guess the other one in your family, you've been there for 35 years at Rodenbach.
Rudi: A bit more, 37.
Lachlan: 37, wow.
Rudi: And a half, and a half, sorry.
Lachlan: When's you 38th year? When did you start?
Rudi: In '82, first of April. It was not a fish, so it was a-
Lachlan: But you son has also got a brewery that he's opened up, that I though we'd touch on just quickly. What's that?
Rudi: Okay, but he is also Agricultural Engineer at the University of Leuven, but he made a PhD, so he was first Brew Engineer, and then made a PhD, and is now more into medicine and pharmaceutical firm. But at the same time, he is a real beer lover, and we started a small brewery, and he put it together with the seven other brewery. So there we make completely all the beers, because that may not have nothing to see with what I'm doing at Rodenbach, and that's normal. And so, he had to make other beers, and this is they are doing.
Lachlan: Oh, fantastic. So as we go into, I guess, the history of Rodenbach, for this podcast as well, for the people listening. We're actually going to go through four different beers of the Rodenbach, so we'll be able to, we're going to taste them here. But you can join along at home as you listen to them. We're going to do the classic and the Grand Cru, and then we're also going to the new Fruitage, and the Caractère Rouge, so Rodenbach Alexander.
Rudi: Oh, Alexander.
Lachlan: Alexander. So if you can join along at home, we're going to kind of do the tasting [inaudible 00:05:48], but also link to how those beers actually kind of fit into the history of Rodenbach. So the first ones that we're going to do now, I'm just going to pour them our here, is the classic. So while Rudi's pouring it out, the Rodenbach Classic, what is the classic, and I guess, it's the perfect beer to also then segway into the history of Rodenbach.
Rudi: Not only the history of Rodenbach, but also the history of mixed fermentation.
Lachlan: Ah the history, actually the history of the style.
Rudi: Yep. So to start explaining Rodenbach, cheers.
Rudi: First, if smell the beer, if you look to the beer, it's a reddish beer. It's a red-brown beer. If you smell the beer, you have some apple flavor, some apple flavor, also some wood, some caramelized notes. And it don't smells like a classic bitter beer, or a lager. It smells in the other direction, and if you sip the beer, then you taste some sourness. You taste again, the apple fruit in this, and also the caramelized flavors, and it dries up in your mouth. If you look what happens in your mouth, you have only thin saliva, it's very refreshing, it's very lipid. Let it rise up, so that we say that the drinkability is very high.
Lachlan: You want more.
Rudi: And you want to drink more. What you have to know about this product, is that it is also refreshing on a higher temperature. If you will have a refreshing lager, then you have to cool down the beer, back to four degrees, and maybe lower. But this beer is also drinkable on eight degrees, and it was also made at the time for being that, because at the time people could not cool down their beers. They could not cool down their food, so they have to create products who are drinkable, and also refreshing on cellar temperature.
Lachlan: All right, so this is, you mention that this was produced at a time before they could refrigerate. When was that, I guess? How far back does the [inaudible 00:08:00] goes?
Rudi: This goes back to the early Middle Ages, because what you have to know is that people are making more than ten thousand years beer. And all the beers were sour in origin, so they made in origin on, and they have discovered, four different places they made beer. Most important for us, it was Tigris-Euphrates, so Iraq, Iran. Then it moved to Egypt, from Egypt to Greece, Greece, Rome, whole Western Europe. So everyone had to learn to make beer from, to make an alcoholic drink from grains, right?
Rudi: You could also make it from fruit, but, and then you see also the combination, grains and fruit, and fruit beers. But there were also other places where they made beer, and they have discovered also the Incas made beer.
Lachlan: Over in South America.
Rudi: Also there today, Peruvian people, sorry, are making chicha. Now what is chicha? It's germinated corn, it's a sour beer.
Lachlan: Yeah, right.
Rudi: Now another place where they made an origin beer, and the Incas had nothing to see with Western Europe, because they did not know each other. Then if you look to the Aztecs, they made also tequila beer, also a sour beer, made from the agave plants. And if you go to Southern Africa, they never have had contact with Western Europe, they made also a typical beer, sorghum beer. And if you taste the sorghum beer, it's also a sour beer. So on four different places, they develop beer, and in origin, people always had used herbs and spices to mask all flavors.
Rudi: And in Western Europe, they must have discovered that it was only possible to make beer in wintertime, why? Why, because in summertime, the beer was, well the work was very quick, and effected with lactic bacteria, because people could not work hygienically. So it was too much infected by lactic bacteria, they have a very acid liquid, and not alcohol. So the product was not enough preserved for the future. So, and if they made their beers in wintertime, they could create some alcohol, some fermentation, and the beer was more preserved against spoilage, and against sourness.
Rudi: And afterwards they have discovered that there was one plant who preserved the beer much more better, that were hops.
Lachlan: Yeah, right.
Rudi: That was only around the year 1000, but before, people only used herbs and spices, and no hops. And this style of beer is developed in the county of Flanders, and if you look to the history, that part of Belgium was under the French King, and was under the influence of the French people, and not under the influence of the Holy Roman Empire, because that border was Schelde River in Belgium. So at the west side, we developed spontaneous fermented beer, and also mixed fermented beers, I will tell you more about mixed fermented beers. But at the East side, they developed more hoppy beers, and hops were growing, not at the west side of the Schelde River, but only around Brussels.
Lachlan: Oh, rightio, so that's kind of where the border is where you get all the German Lagers, and all that kind of coming down. And while, that's why there's that real difference of the west, the Flemish and the sour beers, and oh, that's fascinating.
Rudi: Yeah, and also most of the Abbey beers, were developed in the Holy Roman Empire, and also in that way we can explain the Dubbel and the Tripel [inaudible 00:11:23]. But that goes further, we stay with our mixed fermentation. So people had to make their beer in wintertime, but the needed also to drink beer in summertime. So if they haven't enough beer, they started to brew in summertime, and they pinched a yeast culture from a winter Lambic, so they could ferment the beer very quick, but the beer has no shelf life, so the beer became very quick infected.
Rudi: So to preserve the beer, they added a little bit of old, mature beer, to bring down their pH level back to wine, because if you drink now, this Rodenbach beer, that beer has the same pH level as in a white wine. If you will make a good Chardonnay wine, then you have to do the malolactic fermentation, that happens the best on which pH? The same, 3.5. On that level, your leuconostoc bacteria will work the best
Lachlan: Right, so this is where I think, we were talking about it before, with I guess brewers and the science behind it, and there is so much to know, and the science behind this brewing. But it's fascinating to hear how, there's the stories of a thousand years ago, and this is kind of where it all came from. But the Rodenbach Classic, from a style point of view, it's obviously very unfamiliar to the Australian market. What is it? What is the style of the Rodenbach Classic, and yeah, how did that kind of come about?
Rudi: Oh, the style is mixed fermentation. This is, that we say, it's a slightly sour beer, but on a level that is acceptable for a human being. As you know, when we are born, we have the acceptation of three tastes: sweetness, saltiness, and also sourness, and no bitterness. And the acceptation of sourness as a child, is very high. So as a child, you can eat lime, you can drink lemon juice, orange juice, liters of that. But if you grow up, you don't do that in your own, because your acceptation of sourness goes down, and your acceptation of bitterness is coming up, when you became adult.
Rudi: Reason behind that is that bitterness in nature normally is poison, and therefore you cannot accept that when you're young.
Lachlan: Of course.
Rudi: And you only can accept that when you became adult, because you have to learn from your mother which bitter herbs are good for health, and which are bad for health.
Rudi: And girls, and women are more preserved against bitterness than men. That's also the reason why they can taste much more better than we do.
Lachlan: Very good.
Rudi: And you will see it. It's in our genes, because once a woman became pregnant, her taste palate will change, into less bitterness and more sweetness. Less bitterness is normal, she has to protect the baby, and more sweetness is also normal, she needs carbohydrates to grow the baby.
Lachlan: Ah, there we go.
Rudi: And there is a third reason you have to know about acceptation of bitterness, it don't, not depends of your age, if you're a man or a woman. It depends also on the origin of people. The more you go to the North in Europe, the more people can accept bitterness. The more you go to the South, the less they accept bitterness. And the reason behind that was in colder area, there was less food, and people accepted any type of food. And also the risk of spoilt food was less, comparing with the warmer areas. Also in warmers areas, they will use much more herbs and spices to mask off flavors. But there, people are very sensitive to bitterness, and less sensitive to sourness, because they accept much more sour.
Rudi: To warm area, they preserve their food with vinegar, they preserve, they are using much more vinegar in their salads, and so on. While people in the Northern part of Europe in origin, are very sensitive to sourness, and they don't like very much sourness.
Lachlan: Huh, right. So if that's the case, so people in the North don't like sour, and I guess, like-
Rudi: Less sour.
Lachlan: Oh, less sour. Belgium, I guess is kind of that middle. It's not super South. It's kind of more-
Rudi: So Belgium is a very nice country to live in, but also a very strange country, because we have the language... we have not only the language border between the Walloon part of Belgium and the Flemish part of Belgium, but it's also a taste border, because in the Walloon part of Belgium, people like more sweetness, and more sourness, and less bitterness, comparing if you go above the language border in Belgium. They can accept a little bit more bitterness, but then we have another taste border in Europe, above the big rivers in the Netherlands. Then people love much more bitterness than in between, and in that country, in the country of Belgium, then we have the county of Flanders, and there's the west side of Belgium. In the west side of Belgium is the part of Belgium where developed this type of beer, the mixed fermentation.
Lachlan: Right, so they're the people that are definitely pioneered the mixed fermentation. I guess, in Australia as well, like with the mixed fermentation, they are on the rise. The proper ones, there are a few more out there. But I guess we more associate mixed fermentations with Lambics and the Gueuze. How does Rodenbach differ?
Rudi: The Lambic and the Gueuze are spontaneous fermented beers.
Lachlan: Ah, of course.
Rudi: Those beers, you only can make them in wintertime if you do it in a natural way. If you make your [inaudible 00:17:05] during the day, you pop it on a [inaudible 00:17:07], it stays there for one night, and then you, it is inoculated by wild yeasts, and you do the fermentation in a ring vat, in a wooden vat, and the beer stays in that vat for 2, 3 years. That was the problem, because if they haven't enough, if they haven't brewed enough in wintertime, they haven't enough beer in summertime.
Rudi: So they needed also to drink beer, so they developed this style of beer. There's also a big difference if you look, to a Lambic beer. Normally they're always pale, while a mixed fermented beer, Flemish red-brown, is darker. Why? Because we go with an alcoholic beer on wood, and not with, we don't do the primary fermentation on wood. We do the primary fermentation in a fermentor, and then we go with that beer, preserved by it's alcohol, but you have to preserve the beer even better against oxidation, because once your fermentation is finished, then you may not have any oxidation, and therefore we use only [inaudible 00:18:11] malts. That is the reason why this beer looks red, red-brown.
Lachlan: And that's, I guess that's the style of the Flemish red-brown ale.
Rudi: This is the style, and it's really an evolution from the spontaneous fermented beers.
Lachlan: Right, so it went from the spontaneous fermentation, I guess they didn't have fermentors a thousand years ago, and it's kind of been an evolution from that to the mixed fermentation?
Rudi: Yep, that's right. It was, that was the evolution. It comes from that.
Lachlan: And, so I guess that's a good segway I guess into the Rodenbach brewery. So this was, this is the original Rodenbach beer?
Rudi: Yep, this is the original style, and it's very simple to explain, because it has all to see with the level of preservation, and that level is three and a half pH. On that level you can preserve the beer by acidity. But once you have acidity in your beer, you may not have any bitterness, so in those beers, normally you don't use hops, and if you use hops, you have to stay under the taste level, so that people cannot taste that.
Lachlan: Right, and I guess on that, on Rodenbach, it's obviously steeped in Belgium history. How did the brewery itself come about?
Rudi: Well, what I know is that the brewery exist quite a long time, nearly 300 years, certainly. And it was took over in 1726 by the family David. The family David sold that brewery in 1821 to the Rodenbach family, so since 1821 we are called the Rodenbach brewery. And that family was involved by the independency of Belgium. That was 1830. So that was, our brewery is linked to the independency of Belgium. And three brothers, three Rodenbach brothers were involved with the independency war. So Pedro Rodenbach, later on the owner of the brewery, in 1836, but also Alexander Rodenbach and Constantijn Rodenbach, they were in the parliament, and they voted for the first Belgian King, Leopold the First of Saxon-Coburg. So also the Rodenbach family was very close to the King of Belgium.
Lachlan: And I think another, in the history over the 200, yeah, about 200 years almost now, another major, I guess point in the Flemish region that affected the brewery massively was the two World Wars. What affect did that have on the brewery?
Rudi: Yeah, that affected the whole brewing industry in Belgium, because the Germans had stolen nearly all the copper from the breweries, for making weapons. What was happen, at the beginning of the First World War, in 1914, on the 17th of October, the Germans came into Roeselare, and they died, a lot of people. So they shoot down a lot of people, and there was a mass, there would be a mass execution, and the Rodenbach family was very important in Roeselare. So they went to the Germans, they made an agreement to don't shoot down all the people.
Rudi: To save them, they paid the whole treasure of the brewery, because they have digged their treasure in the ground. So they paid all the gold francs they had, to keep the people alive, and at the same time they made a negotiation to keep the copper inside, and to don't damage the brewery. And the Germans had to respect that, so this was really the save of Roeselare, and the save of a lot of people, because that would be a mass massacre.
Rudi: And so, due to that, the brewery has had the possibility to start again in 1919, immediately after the First World War, whilst all the other breweries were stolen from their copper, and could not make beer again. And thanks to that, that beer style has survived the First World War.
Rudi: In the Second World War, they made only, they may only made a table beer, a zero wheat. So that was a low alcoholic beer, but they have had the chance to keep the beer, and the wooden vats, so they could start up immediately after the Second World War, because they had enough beer to blend young beer, to blend into young beer.
Lachlan: Yeah, right, so amazingly, I guess in that region that was absolutely devastated in the World Wars, the brewery actually completely almost survived.
Rudi: Yeah, that was one of the only breweries, but if you go a little bit more to the west side, there all the houses were damaged. Ypres was completely destroyed. So I grew up very close to Ypres, so I knew that on the farm where my father, we digged every year, bombs out of the ground, there was all until today, until today, it's, they're coming up, they're rising by the moon.
Lachlan: I know I was in Ypres about three years ago, and it was just, it was I guess fascinating, and somber, and everything, but you walk around the city, and they've done an amazing job of I guess redoing it. But yeah, it's amazing that the brewery managed to stay when almost nothing did.
Rudi: Yeah, and I don't know if you know that the two lines of the Menin Gate are here in Australia. They were given as a present to the Australian people because the Australians had fought against the Germans.
Lachlan: Yeah, I went to Hill Sixty, and yeah, it's so fascinating.
Rudi: Oh yeah? And you know-
Lachlan: Yeah, absolutely. I guess, did you want to move onto the Grand Cru, as well.
Rudi: Yeah, we have to taste also another one.
Lachlan: So we're going to go through the Grand Cru, which is I guess, is very much linked to the classic.
Rudi: Yep, by drinking those two beers, oh, take care. One beside the other.
Lachlan: So, for people out there, the Grand Cru, I guess Rodenbach is one of those really good breweries, as well, that's brought into the country quite frequently through Heron Tower, so there's much thanks to them for bringing Rudi out for this, but also it's such a great brewery, and we can get it pretty much all year round. It's never kind of out, and for people out there, it's always available, so I highly recommend you get it, and kind of do what we're doing. Join in on the podcast, and taste the beer. So the Grand Cru, what is it and yeah, how is it different?
Rudi: So, Grand Cru is another blend. It's a blend of more old beer, and also the pH level is a little bit lower. It's around 3.3, and it is more crispy, it is more refreshing. This beer has the capacity to take your thirst away when it is very hot. Normally, beer, the optimum temperature for drinking beer is 24, pils beer, is 24 degrees. If you go higher, then only Rodenbach can compensate the temperature, up to 30 degrees. Above 30 degrees, you can use also Grand Cru to take your thirst away. And those beers has those, has that capacity.
Lachlan: Is that because of the acidity?
Rudi: This is because of the acidity, because otherwise it's not thirst quenching enough.
Rudi: And so again, the Classic Rodenbach is very close to the pH level of wine. It's a quarter of old mature beer, along with three quarters of young beer. The Grand Cru is two thirds of old, mature beer, one third of young beer, and you feel that. It's much more fruity, it's much more crispy, it's much more refreshing. And this beer goes very well together with food, spicy food. Also cheese, blue cheese and very spicy cheese. Why? Because of the sourness, will take your fattiness, every time away. It will cleanse up your palate, your taste palate every time again. And this is really really a unique, exceptional beer.
Rudi: Try it once with chili con carne. You will discover that this is the only drink who can take away this peppery flavor of those-
Lachlan: Of the chilies.
Rudi: Of those chilies, yeah. While the Classic Rodenbach goes very well together with seafood, like lobster, like fish, like mussels, like shrimps. It's a world classic in Belgium, North Sea shrimps, together with Rodenbach, and people peel it by hand and it that together by drinking Rodenbach.
Rudi: You have to try it once.
Lachlan: This is also a great representation as you said, they are fundamentally the same beer, just different ages.
Rudi: Different blends.
Lachlan: And I think they're almost, well they are, they're completely different flavors. You can taste the difference, you can taste the different acidity levels. But I guess it's a great representation to people that what time does, as well.
Rudi: Yeah, and it's very nice to taste also two beers, one beside the other. And even if you go further as beer specialists, or if you were discover beers, you can put a pils beer just beside those three ones, and then you will discover a huge, huge difference between bittersweet beer and sour beer.
Lachlan: Absolutely. I guess for these beers, as well, as we kind of move along through the Rodenbach story and how it all kind of came to be, the Grand Cru, when did it kind of come out? Like has it been around as long as the classic? Or is it-
Rudi: No, it's younger, it's younger. They brought it out after the Second World War, because people want to have something more, and some people blended also those two beers together. You can do it if you want. But we brought it out as an extra Rodenbach, and afterwards we called it the Grand Cru.
Rudi: And we also had, because first is a blend of, bigger part of young beer, small part of old beer. Grand Cru is a bigger part of old part, small part of young beer, and unblended, then we have the vintage, and we make several vintage vats every year. And the best vintage of that year, that will be the vintage of 2016. And we started in 2007, after my study of wine-making, and so every year we bring out, after two years, the vintage of that year.
Lachlan: Right, so vintage hasn't been around that long. It's only, you brought it out.
Rudi: 2007, 2007.
Lachlan: So you're the pioneer of vintage. We can, I know one of my colleagues said-
Rudi: Okay, but I cannot say I'm the pioneer, but I can say the market was open for that, the market was looking for more taste, more flavors. If the market is not there, then you have not to make such beers. But if there is a market, and you can bring something exceptional, something seasonal, then you have a chance to bring that on the market. And also now the vintage will come in small bottles, in 37 and a half milliliter bottles.
Lachlan: Right, is that just to open up the market, get more people, and the accessibility, or?
Rudi: Well, depends of big bottle, you will drink with just two people, it's a one for two, while a small bottle is a one for one. So we are looking for everyone.
Lachlan: Yeah, absolutely. I guess, as we kind of move on, on the Rodenbach, and kind of we've talked about Belgium beer culture. You know, you've talked about the whole, people share big bottle, two between, you know, one bottle between two, or one for one. That's, I guess in Australia is not necessarily how people would view that, and I kind of wanted to kind of go into some of the Belgian beer culture, and then how you know, Rodenbach links perfectly to that. But I guess just starting off, what do you think makes Belgium beer, and the Belgian beer culture unique to anywhere in the world?
Rudi: Well, first of all, in Belgium, we have the four styles of fermentation. We have spontaneous in origin, spontaneous fermentation, we have mixed fermentation, we have top fermentation, and bottom fermentation. This is unique because in Germany, they only have had the bottom fermentation, and so Weizen beers in the South part of Germany. But also in the Netherlands, it was nearly only bottom fermentation, so that is, that makes Belgium so unique.
Rudi: Second reason is that Belgium never have had low, like in Germany, the Reinheitsgebot, so that they only could make beer with hop water and malt. Also in Belgium, they can use unmalted grains, they can use other grains, they can use herbs and spices, and they can use also sugar for the fermentation to higher up the alcohol percentage. So in Belgium, we had a very liberal law about that, and I think this is also the explanation why we have developed so much different styles, and in between, or in the typical style, like spontaneous fermentation have developed fruit beers, they have developed all types of beer. And also mixed fermentation have developed a lot of beer styles or, and so and so.
Lachlan: So I think yeah, I guess everywhere going back many hundreds of years, the other European countries were very limited in their flavor profiles, while Belgium from the start has been exposed to so many different flavors, and people kind of got associated with all these unique flavors, and it wasn't just one style. And I know you go through Europe, and it's always wine, and that's the drink on the table, while you go to Belgium, and it's beer on the table. Just that kind of explain that?
Rudi: I grew up with that. I grew up with beer on the table, so this is for me normal. I was drinking Rodenbach when I was ten, and there was no problem. I did not drink great amounts, so that was small, but that was something that you accepted. But maybe also, to go further on the different styles of Belgium. You have to know in Belgium, we have five Trappists, monasteries in origin, no, six, and they also developed the different styles, like Dubbels and Tripels, and now you see it all over the world, Dubbels and Tripels.
Rudi: And where does it come from? In origin, the monks made the beer for drinking at the table, and that was table beer. That was normally three and a half. We can find it also in West Malle, they have their extra, there's four and a half, it's a little bit higher. But then they made a Dubbel. The Dubbel was for visitors. If people visited the monastery, they became a Dubbel, and that was two times the raw materials.
Rudi: And to higher up the ABV in the beer, they added the third part during the fermentation, with sugar, so they created a Tripel. And this is really unique, in Belgium, and thanks to that, you will see it now all over the world. Because in Germany, the beers with higher alcohol, that were bock beers, but the bock beers are full multi beers, and they don't use sugar, so they are less digestible, first. And second, that were bottom fermented beers. While in Belgium, we had top fermented, and we created much more flavor.
Lachlan: Yeah, absolutely. On that as well, I always found it interesting going to Belgium. I think when you come to Australia, or America, or England nowadays, where I guess IPAs and the hoppy beers are ruling. Everyone's got a style, and it's got to fall into a category, and people kind of get angry when a beer doesn't conform to a style. But in Belgium, it doesn't usually conform to a style. Like, you know, like from when I was there, it's a Bruin or a Blond, which is dark beer, blonde beer.
Lachlan: That kind of style in Belgium, has that also helped, where people are kind of, not so much looking for, you know, they're just drinking beer. They're not really looking for, oh, it's got to be an IPA or it's got to be a Pale Ale, or it's got to be bock. They're not looking for the styles. Like, I know-
Rudi: Well, Pale Ale is a type of beer that has developed due to the English people, who had the colony in India. And why they developed that beer, because it had to survive the transfer over the seas. But second, in India, the English people who lived there had to take a lot of quinine, against malaria. So they accepted a lot of bitterness, so they could also accept much more bitterness. That's the explanation behind India Pale Ale, because normally in England, they had a mild and a bitter, and also the bitters are not so bitter. They're a little bit more bitter, and more dry than a mild beer, but this is the explanation. This is really an evolution of a culture of facts, of the colonies that England had had in India.
Lachlan: Yeah, right. So it's all I guess, yeah, it's that culture. Like, if you go through, I guess the Rodenbach, the beers, none of them actually really kind of advertise a style. It's not that they're, it's Grand Cru, or classic, or vintage. While, and I guess if like, it's, or it's a Bruin or a Blond, it's not-
Rudi: Well, we note it on the back label of the bottles, that it's mixed fermentation. So this is really, with that we explain for a part of beer, but that's not in the common knowledge of the people.
Lachlan: People just like beer.
Rudi: Then we go further, because we also make three other beers, and we make fruit beers, and where does it come from in origin? People made spontaneous fermented beers during wintertime, and in summertime, they had a lot of fruit. At that time, they did not have the knowledge to ferment the fruit separately, so because they only had some vats to make beer. And they added the fruit in the beer vats, so they fermented with the varieties of the beer, also the fruit sugars of the fruit. Like Kriek, like those fruits who was very sensitive to degeneration. Apples, you could keep them for the wintertime, also pears; but no cherries, no raspberries, no strawberries they could find in the bushes.
Rudi: So they add it to the beer, and they created a little bit more alcohol, but also a unique flavor. So fruit is coming into beer in that way, and now we are much more smarter. We know much more better how to do that, and in some falls, we don't ferment the fruit sugars, we keep the fruit sugars together with the beer. And this is what we are doing in the Fruitage.
Lachlan: So yes, we're going to move onto the third beer now, which is the brand new one that's actually coming into the country soon. We've got a bit of a sneak peak of the Rodenbach, the Fruitage. So yeah, what is it? I guess no-one in Australia would actually know this beer.
Rudi: Fruitage, so it has two words, and two words together. It's fruit, it's aged, it's the fruit that we added to aged beer. So based on the classic blend of Rodenbach, we add some red fruit juice to the beer, and we create a reaction between the polyphenols of the food, fruit, sorry. And proteins of the beer, after two weeks we can remove the [inaudible 00:37:36], and then we become a dry beer, and that dry beer is in all full, the Fruitage. An ABV around four, and you can also use it as a perfect blend.
Rudi: What is a perfect blend, of a perfect serve? That is, you can use it instead of a cocktail. In a cocktail, you take some fruit juices, you add some vodka or another spirit. In [inaudible 00:38:04], you can use the beer itself. You add two ice cubes, a little bit of lime, and one leaf of mint, and you will have a complete, a very beautiful alternative for a cocktail, but on a level of 3.5, and much more isotonic, comparing the classic cocktails. Because the risk of classic cocktails is that you will be drunk. Why? Because they are not isotonic. You don't have enough salt in those products.
Lachlan: Wow, I might have to try that tonight, that sounds delicious, actually. So, yeah, on the Fruitage, why has this beer taken, I guess so long to come out? If it's fruit's been always a part of the Belgium history, and you've had other fruited beers for a while, what was the inspiration behind this one?
Rudi: Okay, well Fruitage is something that we have quite a long time, but okay. First of all you have to build up in your own market, and then you can bring it to the export market, and this is what we are doing now. We think the product is ready for that, and we have a very nice partner, Heron Beverages. They will see a lot of possibilities, and a lot of capacity in the market, because this is really a product for the Australian market. It's a product made for the beaches, and summertime.
Lachlan: Yeah, right, yeah, I think this would actually go absolutely fantastic in the hot weather, and like you said, with the acidity, it does take your thirst away when it's 40 degrees.
Rudi: And it don't makes you drunk. This is also important.
Lachlan: What's the ABV on this beer?
Rudi: This one is, it would be 3.9, 3.9.
Rudi: I think this one is still 4.2, but we optimize also the recipe. That's something that I have said. We think now the beer is really ready for the export market.
Lachlan: How long's this one been out in Belgium for?
Rudi: It, ah, I think six years now.
Lachlan: Oh, wow. So it has been out in a fair while, and-
Rudi: Okay, but that's the product, and we optimize the product, and that's what I'm saying. Now we are ready for Australia.
Lachlan: Getting it out here. One thing I think I'd like to touch on as well. Like, you're the brewmaster of Rodenbach. What's your day-to-day job, now? What do you, are you tasting the vats constantly, or? I know you do the vintage picking, of what vat is the vintage, but what's your impact on these beers nowadays?
Rudi: I start with drinking beer, I drink the whole day beer. No, it's not like that. So, I'm responsible for the brewery, and also for the brands, and tasting is a part of my job. But tasting, I would not say drinking. It is really developing products, looking for optimum flavors, optimum blends, and I'm busy with that quite a big time of the day. For the rest, yeah, a lot of other things, because we are a production site. We have to buy our malts, we have to buy our raw materials, fruits-
Rudi: Bottling beer, brewing beer, aging beer, cleaning up wooden vats, restoring vats, so.
Lachlan: A lot of things. You mentioned there bottling beer. One thing that's, I guess unique with Rodenbach, especially with I guess the classic I think was the first one we saw. But you, it was put into cans. I guess for Australians, cans is nothing new, but in Belgium that would be unique. What was, why did you go into cans, and what's kind of the inspiration behind it?
Rudi: Yeah, personally I believe in cans. The reason is that glassware is, you have more risk of broken bottles. The weight is much more higher. To cool down a bottle, it takes much more time, there's much more thermal capacity in the glass, and also the cans are much more recyclable. So this is a more sustainable packaging, or package, at my opinion comparing glass. But why glass? Belgium is a returnable market, so that will say, nearly 90 percent of our bottles are in returnable bottles, because we are a very small country, and we bring all the bottle back to the breweries, and there we will wash them, and reuse them again.
Rudi: So this is, but you only can do that in a small country. If you have to do that in Australia, that will not work.
Lachlan: Yeah, they're trying to do it now, and it's got it's struggles.
Rudi: And also, you're living here much more in cities. That will say, people have not so much surface to live in. They have a fridge, and also the beers must store in that fridge. So this is also one of the reasons why cans in America and Australia are so popular. And if you will do export, you have to follow what the consumer will, but I think the consumer has right, and need also cans, and we were in cans.
Lachlan: Yeah, fantastic. Do you think there's any quality differences between bottles and cans?
Rudi: I don't think so, and I believe that cans are even better, because they have no [inaudible 00:43:23] problem, and the filling machines for cans are very well developed, so they can avoid any oxidation, so, and that will say, you can guarantee the quality in your cans maybe even better than in bottles.
Lachlan: So could we see in the future, vintage in cans?
Rudi: I will not say that. Why? Because vintage is an exceptional beer. Also Caractère Rouge is an exceptional beer, and those beers, you have to compare them with wine. I'm here in Australia, and I don't see so much wine in cans. I see wine in bottles, so if you will compare your beers with wine, and you will bring them on the market as an icon beer, then I think you have to follow the inspiration, and the idea, and the perception of the consumer. And icon wines, I never have seen them back in boxes, not even in cans.
Lachlan: Yeah, absolutely. I hope, fingers crossed for us, we're a massive fan of vintage, and I'd love to see it in cans, but totally get all that. We've just moved onto the fourth beer, which is Alexander. It's another fruited beer, but what is it?
Rudi: Alexander, we developed that beer in 1986 as a celebration beer to the founder of the brewery, Alexander Rodenbach. He was born in, 1986, 200 years earlier. And we took the Grand Cru blend, we added cherry juice, sour cherry juice to the beer. We wait the active maceration, and we do the refrigeration, and this is the result.
Lachlan: That's absolutely delicious.
Rudi: We've got a beer with a little bit more crispiness, more fruitiness. But the fruitiness is not the same as in a Fruitage. The fruitiness is more cherry. You have some almond notes, and it's even, it's even more refreshing, but for some people, maybe a little bit too sour. Our Fruitage is very common, very easy drinking. Is the Alexander more a beer for degustation. On a summer holiday, on a terrace, you can drink a very nice Alexander, where our Fruitage is more for the beach, and to drink it as a cocktail drink. And also for young people, young women who want to, who normally drink wine, white wines, and they will try something that is lower alcohol, but also fruity and also no bitter, you have it in Fruitage. Alexander is more a degustation product.
Lachlan: On the Alexander as well, before we kind of move onto the last couple of topics, there is, you have mentioned, the Caractère Rouge and the vintage. Did you want to quickly talk about what they are? We're not tasting them today, but they are kind of the two icon beers for Rodenbach.
Rudi: Well, vintage as I have said, is an unblended beer we make every year, some vintage brews, and the best of that year will be the vintage of that year. And we bring it out two years later. And with the other vintage vats, we make a very unique fruit Lambic beer, and that's Caractère Rouge. What are we doing after two years? We bring the beer from the wooden vats, we bring it in a big fermentor, and we add fresh sour cherries, fresh raspberries, and fresh cranberries to the beer. And we wait another six months, until all the fruit sugars are fermented by the wild yeasts from the mature beer. Then we filter the product, and then we create Caractère Rouge. This is really an icon beer, very unique.
Rudi: We have the idea also to bring it in 37 and a half milliliter bottles, so one for one. But that beer goes very well together also with food like duck breast and cranberries. Try the Caractère Rouge, but also with some cheeses; it's very, very nice, very unique. And you will feel a big difference between Alexander and Caractère Rouge. Caractère Rouge had even more character, more... it's really, really unique.
Lachlan: Yeah, I think I've had both of them, and they're just absolutely stunning. They're definitely personal favorites, and staff favorites at Beer Cartel. I guess before we go onto the last topic, what can we expect for Rodenbach going into the future? There's been some changes, some branding changes, some new beers coming out, but what can we see in the next, ten, short term to long term future?
Rudi: Now, okay. We are a very traditional brewery, and we prove that, because we survived 200 years history under the Rodenbach family, and even longer if you count also the prehistoric phases of the brewery. So we have to be careful with what we are bringing out of the market. We have to be convinced with what we are doing. But I will not say that we will not develop other beers, who are more for export markets. We see, and if you go to export, that other tastes are important, and other acceptations. If you go to the Asian market, then you don't have to do with high alcoholic beers. So they are more into more sessional beers, and maybe we will bring out other fruit variants. I can not say that in the Caractère Rouge, we have blended three fruits, because we are master blenders, I think, and we want to prove that.
Rudi: But maybe we will bring unblended fruit beers, and that can be maybe an evolution in the next ten years.
Lachlan: I can't wait to see some of those. That will be absolutely fantastic and delicious. Last but not least, you've been in Australia now for about five days, you've got another few days to go. What's been your impression of the Australian craft beer market?
Rudi: Well, I have seen that also the craft beer market is alive and kicking. What I have tasted was really drinkable, and I have to say congrats to those who make those beers. If I come in other markets, I see more crazy beers. I don't see those crazy beers, they are really drinkable, maybe inspired on some other export markets. But I think maybe more drinkable.
Lachlan: Yeah, what do you think, I guess, in the next five, ten years ... Australia, Australian craft beer market I think is very kind of still kind of linked probably more to the American side of it. I hope we kind of find our own identity, but do you-
Rudi: I think you'll find it. You'll find it yet.
Lachlan: Yeah, but do you think there is, back onto the Belgium kind of way of, it is so unique. Do you see any other countries potentially getting to the link that beer has to the culture? So in Belgium it is so ingrained in the [inaudible 00:50:40]. Do you see Australia, or America, or any other country having that same ingrain-ness in 50, 100 years time?
Rudi: It's hard to say that, but what I can say is that you have to look for the acceptation of the export markets. If your export market, let me say in Europe, we don't like so much the harsh flavors of the hops, of the American hops. Some of them are acceptable, others less, of the Americans, will come with their beers. As hoppy as they are now, and I think it will be hard for Europeans to accept that. While making an acceptable beer, and bringing it to the market, this is the most important thing, and also then consistency. You have to take care that your product must be consistent for a long time, and also consistent in the bottle or in the can.
Rudi: So, and you have to guarantee a long shelf life, also, because if you do export, you have to transfer oversea, but also you have the rotation in the market, you have long distance. This is also important.
Lachlan: Yeah, I think a lot of Australian beer is, we're still kind of working it all out, I guess. It's been a massive rise, very, very quickly, and I'm really excited at kind of seeing what's coming out in the Australian beers. But the Belgian beers that come over, there's still such a demand from the population. Like, we can't stock enough Belgian beers. We get a massive order in, and it's just gone straight away.
Lachlan: But from myself, chatting to you for the last, near on hour, it's been absolutely fascinating. I can't say thanks enough to Heron Tower for teeing this up. It's been an absolute privileged to talk to you. I hope you have a great few more days in Australia, and drink some more great beers. Where are you off to next? I'll read the back of your shirt.
Rudi: [crosstalk 00:52:42]. I think he will bring me to a rooftop bar, but-
Lachlan: Ah, but I hope that everyone out there on the podcast gets some Rodenbach beers. Definitely try them if you haven't had them. And for everyone here at Beer Cartel, it's been a massive thanks and to having you on us, on the podcast today. Thank you so much.
Rudi: Thank you, thank you so much.
Lachlan: Rodenbach has truly become the benchmark and reference point for mixed fermented beers, and I highly recommend anyone who hasn't tried them to do so. Once again, thank you so much to Rudi, and the team at Heron Tower. And if you have any questions, please let us know on our Facebook Group, Beer Cartel's Craft Beer Collective. If you would like to continue to stay up to date with the latest from the craft beer industry, please hit subscribe at either iTunes podcast, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcast. That's it for today, I'll see you next time.