Belgian beer culture, a UNESCO heritage for us all

Brewing beer, a man’s game? Think again.
In Flanders, countless women help shape our unparalleled beer culture. Meet our master brewers – because you can’t spell heritage without “her”.

It’s a cliché that most clichés are true, but like most clichés, that cliché is untrue. Now that this observation by actor, writer, and presenter Stephen Fry has left you a bit confused, we’re going to get rid of one of those stereotypes right away. From the outside, the beer world is often seen as a man’s business. Why on earth would that be so? Women also make Belgian beer what it is.

Rosa Merckx, Liefmans Brewery

Our first example: Rosa Merckx, the materfamilias of the brewery guild in Flanders. Her name is inextricably linked to the Liefmans Brewery. She began working there as a secretary just after World War II. It soon became apparent that she had a particularly refined palate and a passion for beer. She became one of the architects of the Liefmans Goudenband. This reddish-brown gem would become one of the monuments of Belgian beer culture. In 1972, in addition to being the spiritual mother of the Goudenband, she also became the official brew master at Liefmans. She has been retired for some time; she will celebrate her 100th birthday in 2023, probably with a glass of Goudenband.

Anne & Miek De Ryck, De Ryck Brewery

The Flemish Ardennes region has had a strong beer tradition since time immemorial, and family breweries continue to flourish in this rural area of Flanders. The De Ryck Brewery is an excellent example: The family has been brewing its beers in this region for over 13 (!!) decades. Today, Anne De Ryck is at the helm of the brewery. She took over from her father, becoming the fourth generation of brewers. The story continues with the fifth generation already getting involved: Anne’s daughter Miek is already brewing with her. From Spécial De Ryck to Steenuilke, from Clément to the Gouden Arend series, the women of the De Ryck family will bring their unique beers into the future.

Mieke Desplenter, Kasteelbrouwerij De Dool

In Houthalen-Helchteren, a small town in the rural province of Limburg, stands a magnificent castle.  In the Middle Ages it served as an outdoor residence for monastery superiors. Today, this historic building is the home of the Kasteelbrouwerij Ter Dolen. This institution was founded nearly 30 years ago by Mieke Desplenter, a woman with a brewer’s DNA, the fourth generation of brewers in her family. She brews her premium-quality abbey beers on a beautiful estate and serves it on-site on their equally lovely terrace. Highly recommended if you’re in the area!

The list is long

You’ve read about three wonderful examples of female brew masters, and that’s just for starters. Krystle Traen from Viven Brewery, Claire Dilewyns from Dilewyns Brewery, Annick De Splenter from the Ghent city brewery Gruut… The list is long and will only expand in the coming years – because beer is also a woman’s business.

Be grateful for Rosa Merckx, mater familias of Belgian beer!
Be grateful for Rosa Merckx, mater familias of Belgian beer! © Visit Flanders.

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