Hello Dolle!

The Dolle Brouwers' Brewery

It has been a while since I posted, so I thought I’d start back with a post I’ve been planning to do for a while now. Some time ago I visited the brewery that brews some of my favourite Belgian beers, De Dolle Brouwers (The Mad Brewers), in Esen, West Flanders. Like pretty much the rest of Belgium, it’s about an hour or so on the train from Brussels. There’s no station in Esen, but

Beautiful Yellow Kegs

nearby Diksmuide is only a 2km walk. The brewery is on the mainstreet, and upon arrival you are greeted by a rather odd looking building with an old bottling machine, now retired, sitting at the front door, as well as stacks of bright yellow kegs.

The brewery tour is conducted by the aged mother of the brothers who founded the brewery, only one of whom is still involved. The tour was in English, and any description will fail to do justice to the wirey matriarch who conducted it. There was a Polish couple beside us near the start of the tour, he was translating and relaying to her, she was clearly not interested in the slightest, and it was soon stopped in most dramatic form, as our host laid in to the poor fellow for talking while she was talking, and

The Mash Tun

distracting her.

The brewery is quite old, as I understand it the two brothers bought it in situ in about 1980, it had been disused for some time. The old equipment is still in use though, the Mash Tun is a traditional shallow circular wood-clad vessel, with a false bottom made from pie slice shaped steel that slot together, In the centre is an axle that turns a big propeller shaped mash stirrer. Equally dated is the coolship, which I had seen in use in Cantillon, but I didn’t think many other brewers still used it. The coolship is a hude shallow copper vessel that the hot beer is flooded in to, in order to cool it quickly. The

The Mash Paddle

drawback (unless you are Cantillon) is that a lot of the wort is exposed to the surrounding atmosphere, and so infection by wild yeast is a danger. The coolship also prompted some of our guides wilder claims, for instance, that since ‘copper cures cancer’, using the coolship to make beer meant that beer was more likely to ward off cancer. She should know, her son told her (the one who is no longer involved), and he’s a doctor.

We passed a little laboratory, where the yeast is cultured and various other quality control issues take place. We also passed the fermentation room, although since it is atmospherically controlled, there was a lot of condensation on the window. I could make out maybe half a dozen large, dairy style

The Lab

horizontal cylindrical tanks inside. In the warehouse section of the brewery there was quite a substantial bottling line, since De Dolle Brouwers deal mostly in bottled beers.

At the end of the tour we were directed to the tasting room, in what was an old stable, or perhaps cattle shed at the back of the brewery. The room was really homely, and a larger Flemish language tour came in shortly after we did. We lazed around on comfortable chairs and couches, near open fires and braziers, sipping the generally quite strong

Coolship No.1, Eccentric Guide

offerings out of large, red wine shaped glasses. Since it was November, we tried the just released christmas beer for that year, Stille Nacht. I tried one of my favourites, and the brewery’s signature beer, Oerbier. We chatted to the owner and brewer, Kris, who is a keen artist, his pictures are dotted around the walls. When he learned we were from Dublin, he asked had we seen his picture in the Porterhouse, one of our brewpubs. I had indeed noticed it, but I never knew who had drawn it. It’s a black and white line drawing of the pub’s Temple Bar branch, and it’s very good.

The Lineup

All too soon it was time to catch our train, and Kris was kind enough to drop us back up the road to the train station. This was one of my favourite brewery visits, and it’s well worth the trip if you have a day free in Belgium.

Happy Days

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9 Comments

Filed under Brewery

9 responses to “Hello Dolle!

  1. kev

    Tremendous reportage stoutfellow. Glad to see Ireland premier beerblogger back blogging, hopefully it will continue.
    The big dolle man on the brewery front does look like mr tayto, doesn’t he?

  2. kenanddot

    I’m amazed they still use coolships. Nevermind the exposure to air, I don’t know how they can justify the floorspace that thing uses up. A plate heat exchanger would surely be faster and free up space for another fermenter or something surely. The value of the coolship as scrap would probably pay for it. Also were their fermenters completely enclosed, like cylindroconical ones but lying on their sides? what happens to the CO2 produced in fermentation?

    I’m glad you’re posting again Ritchie

    • stoutfellow

      Thanks Andrew! Yes the coolship was interesting but I think it’s actually not uncommon amongst the Belgians, I read about at least one other non-lambic that uses it. The benefit is it doesn’t take any energy or water to cool the beer, and if done properly and in a controlled environment it’s probably safe. They had plenty of space in this place. They also had an odd cooler that worked by trickling the hot wort over a series of horizontal pipes that had cold water running through, in to a trough at the bottom. As for the fermentors- you’re going to love this. They ferment in huge open square tanks, and then pump it to the horizontal cylinders. I presume they have some sort of airlock in case of gas buildup.

      • kenanddot

        Another advantage of a plate heat exchanger is that you heat up all the liquor for the next brew or for cleaning. The water for cooling is not wasted, but a cool ship is wasting a lot of thermal energy just letting it dissipate away.

        You are right, I’d have loved to see those big open fermentors. I’d worry about spiders and fruitflies and other nasties falling in to them myself, but fair play to them!

      • stoutfellow

        that’s only an advantage if brewing back to back though.

  3. so now you have been both in Essen and in Esen… no question who’s got the better brew though!

    • stoutfellow

      well Essen was a fine place for beer in fairness. And I loved our trip to Kurzerstrasse Alt in Dusseldorf.

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