Inside Brouwerij Roman

Yesterday I toured Brouwerij Roman, one of Belgium’s diminishing number of old family breweries. The family is based in the region of Oudenaarde, and for generations maintained a farmhouse brewery. In 1927, the Romans decided to go big and built this gorgeous brewery you see below. At the time, they were making a typical brown ale of the region but after WWII switched to pilsner.

In 1983, they introduced the product most Americans would be familiar with, Sloeber, a strong pale. The Ename line of lower-ABV abbey ales came in 1990. They also do a wonderful brown, Adriaen Brouwer, not vat-aged but still very much a product of the region.

I visited because I wanted to see how these old breweries evolved and survived over the generations. In Roman’s case, the answer is to plant one foot firmly on tradition and regionality and the other on creating new lines to attract young drinkers. A recent addition made with Brettanomyces is called Rebelse Strop, and it’s been winning awards and garnering a niche following. Most curious to me was a beer that closely resembled a brut IPA—Sloeber IPA, “triple hopped” with Citra, Amarillo, and Simcoe. (Thanks to Duvel, the phrase “triple-hopping” has caught on to describe American production methods and especially point to dry-hopping.) It’s a clarion gold with a roiling head, a layer of those classic Belgian esters, quite a nice American nose, and they typically lean body for a strong beer. They had never heard of the brut IPA phenomenon, and blithely made a strong pale using American hops. It was a perfect example of what happens in Belgium: brewers inspired by beers of other countries decide to make an example, but inevitably put it through their cultural-distortion field so that it ends up tasting tres Belgique (or erg Belgisch in these parts).

This is something I’ve wondered about since this phenomenon started—why not lean on Belgian methods, which already exist to produce beers like this? The style was retrofitted from American IPA with enzymes for attenuation. But Belgians have for decades made brut ales, so why not try building one from this model? What’s especially noteworthy is that it’s a classic Belgian beer and so finished with refermentation in the bottle. So lots of esters, but Belgian, not English, for a very different interpretation. (Their yeast seems to produce no phenols.) And the aromatics survive refermentation quite nicely.

Okay, to the pictures…

From the street. Sorry I cut off the name there.

Picturesque out-buildings I did not visit.

The brewery was built around a giant courtyard where, when it opened around 1930, horse wagons would have come in for delivery.

More buildings around the courtyard.

More buildings around the courtyard.

Lode Roman, a member of 14th generation the family can trace back, and the third generation since his grandfather, pictured behind him, built the brewery.

The insides of the equipment have been replaced with steel, but the cladding is original. (It was a German system.)

The mash tun in an alcove above the grant, which the brewery no longer uses. This was an absolute classic design.

This little guy is the cereal cooker, now little-used. It’s also a classic piece of equipment to prepare (usually) corn for the mash. Despite what the Brewers Association believed 20 years ago, corn was a common and perfectly acceptable ingredient dating back decades in Belgium.


The old steam engine. Look at the size of that belt! It is theoretically in working condition, although I think they’d be scared to actually fire it up.

The entire brewery was scrubbed and neat as a pin—even this passageway between the brewhouse and cellars had recently been mopped.

Giant warm room. (The brewery makes about 100,000 hectoliters.) They do the packaging for St. Feuillien, which is why you see those crates in yellow.

Bottling equipment.

The little pub at the brewery.

The buildings are just amazing, and even if you’ve been to an old brewery, you might not have gotten to see how elegant the office spaces often are.


As with many Belgian breweries, this date is at best impressionistic. The family don’t have records much past the late 19th century except about family members. Brewing happened there, but they don’t have any info about it past about five generations. (Other breweries seem to acknowledge that Roman has a good claim to be Belgium’s oldest, however, so this isn’t a case of pure fiction as with other dates you see attached to some breweries.)