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…