Patrons flocking to bars in Belgium this weekend will very possibly be getting the freshest beer – or pintje – they’ve ever had, due to several changes brought on by months of closures.
While the UK may have been facing possible beer shortages, Belgium’s brewers have said they expect no problem meeting demand when bars and restaurants reopen their terraces.
So why will it be different? That starts with the beer itself.
The Freshest Pintje
Belgian breweries have been busy brewing in recent weeks in the run-up to the reopening, with market leader AB InBev alone saying it already has 20 million beers ready to go.
“One of the reasons brewers were so impacted by the constant opening and closing of bars is the need to have the beer freshly brewed, delivered in kegs and ready to serve every time the bars reopen,” Simon Spillane, director of communications for the association Brewers of Europe told the Brussels Times.
This need for a new supply represents the first big potential change to your glass, as you are almost guaranteed a freshly brewed beer no matter where you go.
“In normal conditions a brewer brings his beer to his customers in the best possible conditions and the time between a keg being produced and hooked up to a tapline can vary from 2-4 months,” Krishan Maudgal, Director of the Belgian Brewers Association, told The Brussels Times.
“Now this will be less than one month, down by potentially 3 months, that already means that the beer you taste now will be incredibly fresh and young, with no potential risk of oxidation and not the slightest deterioration of flavour.”
This isn’t to say that beers left for longer are bad. Bars and breweries strive to give customers the product in the best way possible, but the simple fact is that beer is widely accepted to taste the best when it is fresh. As Collin McDonnell – co-founder of the HenHouse Brewing Company – put it, “freshness can’t make any bad beer taste good, but staleness can make any beer taste muddled and lame.”
A Massive Supply
Even if the weekend crowd proves larger than expected, the breweries say they’re ready for what hits them.
For InBev, the site in Leuven (home of Stella, among others) is still operating with two shifts instead of three, while the brewery in Jupille (Jupiler) is running at 88%.
“This should be more than enough for the reopening. If necessary, we could easily scale up. So Belgians don’t have to worry. We are ready for the reopening,” AB InBev spokesperson Pascaline Van de Perre explained.
Not a Jupiler drinker? Well, Alken Maes has also been taking steps to make sure it has made enough beer for its customers.
At Alken, the group’s largest brewery, 16.7 million litres of beer were brewed during the entire month of April, the equivalent of about 66.8 million glasses, the company explained. The focus is on specific products for customers in the catering sector, such as Cristal and Maes.
Palm too has also been working hard to make sure it is ready for 8 May, with a total of 12 million consumable products sitting ready in the warehouses in Steenhuffel (Palm, Cornet) and Roeselare (Rodenbach).
The product, however, is only a part of the process that could see your beer take on a new taste.
The Purest Pour
The vast majority of patrons this weekend will be getting their pintje through freshly cleaned or new pipes, which will have its own impact on the first drink.
“Even if you have tap lines used and cleaned properly, there’s always some substance left because of the beer inside the line when it is not running,” Maudgal explained.
“It’s not dangerous, or even bad, but if you don’t clean after every keg there can be an impact on flavour.”
By the time bars open, AB Inbev alone will have cleaned about 800 kilometres of pipes at about 9,000 pubs and cafés in Belgium. Similar mass exercises have been undertaken by Alken Maes and Palm.
Bars have been working round the clock to get open.
While routine cleaning of pipes is a regular occurrence, this massive exercise was made easier by the shutdown, leading to a situation where the majority of establishments across the country will be opening at their best.
“Now there is a once in a lifetime opportunity if you are a beer lover. You can have a very pure sensation of drinking your favourite beer in a way you have never had it before,” Maudgal added.
So, after all of that, will you taste a difference?
People are excited, so – if you have a terrace beer this weekend – let @johnstonjules know if you taste the difference.