Imagine getting to work at 5 a.m. for a 13-hour day—grinding, cleaning, mashing, cleaning, shoveling, cleaning, repairing, cleaning, hand-bottling, cleaning, etc.—to find yourself occasionally, if politely, interrupted by foreigners who traveled halfway around the world because they love your beer. They probably don’t speak your native language, but they want to talk. They might not say it aloud, but to many of them you are a hero. Or something like a rock star. It would be rude to turn them away, right?
It wasn’t always like this. Not so long ago, brewers like Cantillon, Fantôme and Struise were little-known or liked among their countrymen, and even more obscure abroad. But things change. Maybe we can blame (thank) Michael Jackson. Or Ratebeer.com.
Two common threads of those three brewers depicted here: They are especially welcoming to random visitors. And they are especially well-regarded among craft drinkers abroad. That’s not a total coincidence.
The cynic would note that these brewers depend on exports, and foreign visitors are among their best customers. But the cynic also forgets that these brewers were friendly and open before, and that—along with some truly distinctive beers—helps to explain their popularity. Friendliness makes friends. And friends are fans for life.
It’s worth noting that most Belgian breweries are shut to random visitors. Many require large groups and a pot of money before they will assign a tour guide. One theory is that this protects their own brewers, who often are willing to talk all day about their work once they find eager listeners.
Below, three of these brewers share stories from the front lines: