St-Feuillien's style IPA
St-Feuillien recently launched its very own production of IPA beers. Why did you decide to start making IPAs?
Dominique Friart: There is obviously a fashion phenomenon around RPNs. At a time when the beer market is exploding, with the creation of tens or even hundreds of artisan breweries per year, I think it is important to adapt to new trends. The IPA is one. To date, we produce two beers of this type: West Coast IPA with 8.1% ALC and Belgian Coast IPA with 5.5% ALC.
It’s a Belgian-American collaboration, right?
D.F.: The West Coast IPA is actually a beer owned by the American brewery Green Flash Brewing (San Diego, California), but we manufacture and distribute the beer for them in Belgium and Europe. Since 2015, it has been entirely produced on our premises based on their recipe and their ingredients. The Belgian Coast IPA was created in 2013 to celebrate our 140th anniversary. It was initially a collaboration with Green Flash Brewing and was destined for the American market. Later, we launched the Belgian Coast IPA but a different version at St-Feuillien; lighter than the first edition. It has been available on the market since last November of 2016, and it works very well.
Erik Verdonck, a photographer and well known author in the brewing world, recently told us (Golden Hops, May 2017) that Belgian breweries should concentrate on what is special about them, such as bottle fermentation, interest, and added value to produce IPAs - a typically English / American product - in Belgium. What do you think?
D.F.: On one hand, I believe we can keep our peculiarity and our specificity while changing the product according to trends. Our two IPAs, for example, differ from their big American sisters by a second fermentation in the bottle, something that is not practiced in the United States, and which is indeed a Belgian specificity. This gives them a longer life span and there is also more roundness in the product. On the other hand, I feel much closer to an IPA than a beer with added flavors like apple, raspberry, or even pineapple! The IPA is a bitter beer which, in my opinion, is much more traditional than a flavored white beer ... and yet, it has made its way to Belgium. In short, I think we can improve our traditional beers, make them evolve, and vice versa.
St-Feuillien contains family heritage*. Did your predecessors have the same vision?
D.F.: I remember that my father and my grandfather were already making beers of this type, very bitter. The other day I even found a label produced by my grandfather on which it was written “India Pale Ale”; and that, it dates from the post-war years! So, there was already a tendency or an interest in things a little new. For me, the IPA phenomenon is very interesting, as long as we do not fall into too many things, like in the United States where some beers have such high levels of bitterness that they become undrinkable. In Belgium - and I think that’s where we’re good - we always come up with balanced and therefore appreciable products.
* The Brasserie St-Feuillien was created in 1873 by Stéphanie Friart, the great great-aunt of Dominique Friart.
Earlier, we were talking about the fashion phenomena around the RPNs. Does this beer have a strong following in Belgium?
D.F.: Quite hardly, I have to say. I thought people would bite a lot faster. In Wallonia, we have more trouble. But our IPAs find their audience in Flanders and especially in Brussels, because it is a cosmopolitan city focused on novelty. Our biggest market though remains France; I did not expect it but the Belgian Coast IPA is in very high demand there!
The IPA is a slightly alcoholic and a very tasty beer; could it become an alternative to the Pils, whose consumption has been diminishing worldwide?
D.F.: The Pils is a basic beer, a lager. It’s a ready-to-drink beer, I would say. In contrast, the IPA is a more refined, more complex beer. Its raw materials are more expensive too. In ours, we put seven kinds of hops. Therefore, the selling price is somewhat higher; this is not the Jupiler pack! Moreover, it is true that people who are not used to drinking beer and fall on an IPA are surprised. I think the IPA attracts a consumer who wants to expand his palate. There is an educational and cultural side. We are looking for other flavors than Pils. What I notice most, and what I like, is that people, even the younger ones, come back to this taste of hops and leave a little drop to all those very sweet beers that we saw at a given moment which have never had much success except in Belgium.
Born in England and brought up to date by North Americans, the India Pale Ales (IPA) are now present in breweries all over the world. The IPA is a style of beer with high fermentation (ale), the peculiarity of which is to be highly hopped.
According to popular belief, RPNs would have been developed in the 18th century. For export, notably to supply English settlers in India. Their alcohol and hops content (a natural preservative) allowed them to better withstand high temperatures and long journeys - at the time, the journey to India lasted nearly 4 months.
However, various testimonies found throughout history have shown that RPNs were already present on English soil, especially in London. On the other hand, Porters (other types of English beers) had an equally strong conservation as RPNs. So, when, why, and by whom were they created? The mystery remains entire.