The beer put the village on the map

Hoegaarden Travel Blog

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Sculpture in a roundabout entering the village of Hoegaarden - it is based on an old beer brewery kettle

After having walked the wet and quiet streets of Hasselt we wanted to go back towards Brussels but instead of taking the motor way I wanted to drive along the small roads since we had no reason to hurry.

At some point I saw a sign to the village of Hoegaarden which also is the name of Belgians most popular blonde beer. Just before entering the village we got the first indication of the importance of the brewery; in one of the roundabouts entering the city they had put up an old copper kettle that is normally used for brewing beer.

The brewery
We entered the village and were met by the huge brewery laying there like a huge grey brick.

The city centre looks like many of the other small cities in Belgian especially the ones where they brew beer like for instance Cimay.

The village of Hoegaarden had been known for its witbieren (white beers) since the middle Ages. However, around 1955, the last local witbier brewery, Tomsin, closed its doors. Pierre Celis, a milkman, decided some ten years later to try to revive the style. He began the new brewery in his hay loft. Celis used the traditional ingredients of water, yeast, wheat, hops, coriander and dried CuraƧao orange peel known as Laraha. With demand for the product continuing to grow, Celis bought, in the 1980s, Hougardia, a local soft-drink factory that he rebuilt into a brewery.

After a fire in 1985, as is traditional in Belgium, several brewers offered their help.

Grote Markt
One of these was the largest brewer in the country, called Interbrew (after a merger with AmBev, renamed InBev). Interbrew lent money for the purchase of other buildings to rebuild the brewery. Over time, Celis felt very strongly that the company used the loan to pressure him to change the recipe to make the beer more "mass market".

Celis decided instead to sell them the brewery, and with the proceeds, he moved to the United States, where he set up the Celis Brewery in Austin, Texas to continue making witbier to what he described as the original Hoegaarden recipe.

In November 2005, InBev announced the forthcoming closure of the brewery in Hoegaarden, among other changes in Belgium. The brewery was to close in late 2006 with production moving to InBev's larger brewery in Jupille. The beer 'Julius' is said to have been an immediate casualty, and worries were that all beers that were bottle conditioned would be changed.

Town hall

The closure sparked protests from Hoegaarden locals, upset at the loss of the town's most famous symbol (and largest employer).The move was never completed. The brewers in Jupille remained unsatisfied with local production of the witbier, so on September 10, 2007 Inbev decided to keep the production in Hoegaarden. Inbev also decided to invest part of a 60 million Euro budget in the Hoegaarden site to upgrade the facilities.

After selling to Interbrew, Celis founded Celis Brewing Company in Austin, Texas, which was later acquired by Miller Brewing. He never fully relocated to Texas, but his daughter and son-in-law, who operated the brewery, did. Miller ultimately closed the brewery and sold the equipment and brand names to Michigan Brewing Company.

The witbier he brewed in Texas, which he described as the original Hoegaarden recipe, was at the same time brewed in Belgium, first by Brouwerij De Smedt and then by Brouwerij van Steenberge. The beer is still being actively brewed in Belgium.

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Sculpture in a roundabout entering…
Sculpture in a roundabout enterin…
The brewery
The brewery
Grote Markt
Grote Markt
Town hall
Town hall
Sculpture in a roundabout entering…
Sculpture in a roundabout enterin…
Sculpture in a roundabout entering…
Sculpture in a roundabout enterin…
City centre
City centre
The church
The church
Hoegaarden
photo by: Chokk