When I was a kid, my mom used to rent my brothers and I VHS tapes of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show from our local library. My favorite segment of the show consisted of Mr. Peabody and Sherman as they traveled through time in their “wayback machine”. In various episodes, they visited such famous people and events as Sir Walter Raleigh, Paul Revere, the first golf match, Pancho Villa and the surrender of Cornwallis.
For this week’s article, let’s make like Sherman and Mr. Peabody and jump into the wayback machine to visit the origins of some of the most famous Belgian beers in the world. Some of these Brews even date all the way back to the sixteenth century. That’s a fairly long time before Colin Farrell and Brendon Gleeson spent several weeks hiding out In Bruges.
Palm Breweries, of Steenhuffel, Belgium, is home to Palm, Rodenbach, Steenbrugge, Brugge Tripel, Estaminet and Geuze Boon. These brands are widely popular throughout Europe and the US, but Palm and Rodenbach are probably the most commonly known to those of us in the America.
A brief history of Palm:
The history of Palm dates all the back to 1597 in Steenhuffel. That is the year the first official deed to the land where the brewery would eventually sit was signed. In 1686 an inn resided on the spot and had an attached brew house. Might this have been the first ever brewpub? Who knows? 1747 was the first official census listing for a brewery. In 1801, Jan Baptiste De Mesmaecker (awesome name) purchased the brewery on that site. At that time it was called the De Hoorn Brewery.
In the early 1900’s, the brewery was thriving, the top fermenting beer they produced was selling well and then World War I happened. Bam! The brewery was completely destroyed in 1917. The granddaughter of De Mesmaecker married Arthur Van Roy who decided that the family brand was worth saving. He rebuilt the brewery on a much larger scale and renamed their “Steenhuffel Beer” “PALM Speciale”. The brewery changed names and owners a few times before finally being renamed Palm Brewery in 1975. You can find Palm Speciale, a 5.4% ABV Belgian Pale Ale, at any number of bars and stores all over the United States.
A brief history of Rodenbach:
This brand (my favorite of the group), has the shortest history. But, with it’s origins in the early 19th century, Rodenbach is no spring chicken either. Back in 1821, Pedro, Alexander, Ferdinand and Constantin Rodenbach pooled their meager money together and purchased a tiny brewery in the Flanders (No relation to The Simpsons’ Ned) region of Belgium. They ran the brewery together for the next fifteen years until Pedro and his wife purchased the business from the other brothers. It wasn’t until their son Eugene took over in 1878 that the brewery finally began to grow in size and popularity. Eugene traveled throughout Europe studying brewing techniques. In England, he learned how to age Rodenbach in oak barrels. This oak aged sour ale style is what Rodenbach is most famous for. If it wasn’t for that fateful trip, Rodenbach probably would have fallen by the wayside like hundreds of other European breweries. Just like Palm Speciale, Rodenbach (5.2% ABV Flanders Red Ale) can be found in many stories throughout the United States.