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For Yvan de Baets of Brasserie de la Senne, what’s old is new again. All brewing styles shift and develop over time, as tastes change and things come into and fall out of fashion. But for this student of Belgian brewing history, the lack of hops in contemporary Belgian beers was a stylistic travesty that he needed to remedy. Enter Brasserie de la Senne, which—when it officially opened in Brussels in 2010—doubled the number of operating commercial breweries in the city (the only other one at the time was Cantillon).
Over the past decade and a half, the Senne brewery has made a mark not just on drinkers but on fellow brewers the world over, with thoughtful, nuanced, unapologetic takes on Belgian beer styles. From classic extra-pale Taras Boulba to hoppy triple Jambe de Bois, they’ve followed a different path than Belgian compatriots, developing a thumbprint of assertive Noble hopping and multiple forays into mixed fermentation—all driven, de Baets says, by the selfishness of brewing only what they want to drink.
In this episode, de Baets discusses how they think about and employ hops in their beers, from selection to timing. He dives deep into the impact of tank geometry on ester production, and credits their squat, wide fermenters with creating a lower-stress environment for their yeast—thus favoring subtlety and reducing higher alcohols. His approach to mixed fermentation, acidity, a new pilsner (influenced by the inimitable Eric Toft of Brauerei Schönram), and science-driven takes on traditional brewing techniques all enter the conversation.
De Baets, however, is not a “purist” in any sense of the word, happy to give credit where due and celebrate those who brew with a sense of purpose to keep traditions alive.
“American brewers and consumers have saved many traditional Belgian styles that were simply dying in Belgium, because the Belgians didn’t care about them any more, which is a shame and extremely sad,” he says. “Some of the Belgian-style saisons made in the US are better than most of the saisons we have in Belgium. Some Flemish reds are the same. I will not say, of course, that some lambic-like American beers are better than the best of Belgium now, but some are approaching them and extremely, extremely close.”
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