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When Nino Bacelle and Guido Devos started homebrewing together in the ’80s, Belgian beer was in the midst of a sea change. Consolidation was afoot—larger industrial breweries were swallowing up smaller concerns, an earlier generation of brewers had reached retirement age, and few among the younger generation were interested in carrying on the tradition. The beers they loved and grew up drinking were disappearing—subsumed by a wave of sweeter, mass-produced crowd-pleasers. While there were a few historical holdouts, such as Saison Dupont and Orval, bitterness had nearly exited from the lexicon of Belgian brewing.
Bacelle grew up around beer—his father was a guezesteker, or blender—and he longed for the beers he had tasted growing up. Together with Devos, he launched a beer brand, De Ranke, to make the kind of beers that they wanted to drink. First was their Guldenberg Tripel, followed closely by what is now considered a paragon of hop-forward Belgian ale: the aptly named XX Bitter.
Today these beers feel familiar, but they were groundbreaking at the time. They remain unique today due to the peculiarities of De Ranke’s process. In this episode, Bacelle explains that process and more, including:
- the challenges of buying and brewing with whole-cone hops exclusively
- working with growers to source local Belgian hops
- the qualitative difference between whole-cone and pellet hops
- brewing with a kettle purposely designed for whole-cone hops
- using closed fermentation vessels to mimic open fermentation
- two-stage cellaring with a free-rise fermentation, followed by a cooler secondary fermentation, then bottle-conditioning
- stylistic changes over time in classic Belgian abbey styles
- differences in hop terroir
- De Ranke’s approach to aging and blending acid-forward beers
“The Belgian public is so used to sweetness from all the industrial beers they know,” Bacelle says. “Sweetness is easy selling, and bitterness needs a public that is more aware … and is willing to experience other tastes.”
This episode is brought to you by:
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