So, at Rodenbach, the main technical problems are controlling the fermentation process, and blending?
Controlling isn’t so easy, because it’s a natural process. We can control the quality of the vats, the quality of the cleaning of the vats, but when there is one wrong bacteria, then you have the wrong taste.
The most important thing is to have enough vats to blend the beer. Some with less ethyl acetate and some with more ethyl acetate, then you can blend very good beer.
Rodenbach has modernized recently, hasn’t it?
After the First World War, there was a brewing engineer, Mr. Leon Lambert, and he expanded the brewery. After him came his son, Jaques Lambert—he left the brewery in ‘82. I was enlisted by Jacques Lambert. The whole rebuilding of the brewery, the restoring of the brewery was made by the son of Jacques Lambert, Bernard Lambert. So, three generations of Lamberts.
Rodenbach was taken over in ‘98 by Brewery Palm. I think that was a good evolution. The brewhouse of Rodenbach dates from 1864; we used it for 140 years. Our bottling room we also had to renew at that time. Palm was looking at bottle capacity and we were looking to economize. So Palm took over and they do the bottling for us now. We have a new brewhouse and the whole restoration of the brewery. That was very important for the future of the brewery.
You are so involved in the brewery. What do you do to relax? Do you relax?
My opinion is that beer is more about people than about beer. Why? Because beer is a communications product. You come in and drink a beer, and ten minutes later you are talking with persons that you didn’t know before. So it’s a very social product. Because of that, I find a great part of my relaxing is in my job.
Now we live in a house three miles from the brewery, so in five minutes I can be there. We have a garden, we have some goats, and for me it’s very important to have something else. Food interests me very much—we’ve been making our own bread now for twelve years.
Then, I have a food question for you. Why is Rodenbach such a wonderful food beer?
Because there is no bitterness in it. You know, bitterness isn’t in our genes. We only can appreciate bitterness after the adolescent state, because we are protected against bitterness. Bitterness in nature is normally poisonous. You have to pick up some knowledge to know which bitter herbs are good for your health.
Our beer is made sour-sweet, not bitter. First you have a sour taste, then a little sweet aftertaste to compensate the acidity: that’s just the same as white wine. So we have in Rodenbach the same pH as white wine, and white wine goes better with food than red wine. Red wine has more tannins, and when you have too much tannins you need a very heavy meal to compensate.
But what you are seeing now in the wine industry, is that the wines that have less tannins. They are more drinkable: like the Syrah, it has more acid. Taste the Syrah blind, in a black glass, and someone will say, “Is this a white wine?” It’s very fruity, with less bitterness, less tannins. So bitterness and tannins are on the same level as taste.
The important thing in Rodenbach is that you have the triangle of taste just as you have in wine. In wine, you have the acidity, and the sweetness and then you have the tannins.
In Rodenbach, you have acidity very similar to white wine—3.5; the sweetness to compensate the acidity, you need that; and the tannins [instead of] dryness. So we have a little dryness in the product, and it is a triangle of taste.
You need a little bit of dryness, because that gives you the possibility to have another drink. That’s what I’ve heard from Rumanian brewers, Czech brewers, German brewers—the beer is in balance. There is no flavor that is dominant.