Beer in the front, party in the back: Schaerbeek gets a new brewery
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Beer in the front, party in the back: Schaerbeek gets a new brewery

Brussels’ Schaerbeek, nicknamed “the city of donkeys,” has made way for La Mule with the opening of a new brewery, in spite of – or perhaps because of – the global pandemic that’s all but completely shut down the service sector.

German-style beers are being brewed out of what used to be a stablehouse for the horses that pulled the old trolley cars back in the 19th century. And what happens when you combine a horse and a donkey, like those that Schaerbeek residents of centuries past took to the Brussels market, laden with sour cherries for making Kriek?

A mule – or Brasserie de la Mule, in this case.

Joel Galy is the man (and the mullet) behind the new venture, whose name captures both the history of its storied location and the eccentric hairstyle of its young owner.

“I’m a fervent supporter and have had my own mullet for 12 years,” said Galy, who has been brewing for even longer than he’s been rocking the unusual do.

“I was 21 when I started professionally, but brewed with my mother at home when I was 16 or so,” Galy told The Brussels Times. “It’s quite common now. It was less common when my mother was doing it in the 80s, but home brewing is something happening more and more now.”

While some might think it bold to start a brewing business while bars and restaurants have been shut down due to a health crisis, if it weren’t for the coronavirus pandemic, Galy might never have opened La Mule.

“I normally go to Mexico to work in a brewery there in May, but last year it couldn’t happen because of the virus, so I jumped into the project here,” he explained. “Back then, we couldn’t fathom that it could stay like this for so long.”

Still, while measures haven’t yet relaxed enough to enjoy one of La Mule’s beers from a bar stool, the just-turned-28-year-old isn’t too worried.

“I can do cans. It will not be the best until the bar can open, but I don’t think it’s so crazy,” said Galy. “Now that we see the terraces can open in a few weeks, I hope that we are near the end of that crisis.”

One benefit, at least, to starting the venture during a time of crisis is that it kept him busy enough to stave off stress: “With my head in the project, I didn’t have the time to think about the craziness of it all.”

Galy isn’t taking aim at the beer snob market with La Mule, setting his sights instead on the exact aspect of getting a pintje that people miss the most right now: the social part.

“The beer itself is not the point. The real point is to drink it with friends, to drink it in a bar with family. It’s why I don’t want to do too special a taste, or beer that you want to sniff for 20 minutes before drinking,” Galy explained.

“Beer has to be something social.”

He admires the German bierhalles where people grab a table with friends and are brought beers without ever lifting a finger – or a menu, as there’s usually just one beer on tap. Nothing fancy, just something to sip while catching up with loved ones.

“I’ll be doing easy, drinkable beer,” said Galy. “That’s a little bit my style – old school, nicely done, really more about the yeast than the hop. I’m a hop lover, and I’ll use really good hops, but it will be more on the yeast and less on the hops.”

Galy is already there nearly every day of the week, brewing in the old stablehouse.

“Never mind the bollocks,” reads an advertisement for La Mule. “Here’s the hefe weisse.”

Soon enough, Brussels residents will be able to do exactly that in the heart of Schaerbeek’s historic district.

Helen Lyons
video: Esmée Beurze
The Brussels Times

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