The following is part of a three-part series on the hard-working folks behind Belgium’s most magical beers. Read the entire series here.
“That kit is 1,000 liters. If we brew one week that’s six days, two brews a day, 12,000 liters a week. That doesn’t mean that we can brew every week. When the tanks are full, we have to wait until the tanks are empty.
“It’s from about 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. Well, we make sure that we mill the grains already the day before. We can put on a cup of coffee and not do too much stuff with the brewing until the other guys come at 9 o’clock.
“We have this very ingenious thing now in the mash tun. We installed this customized thing like a tea bag. We don’t have to shovel it out; we just lift it out. It is a big, giant stainless steel tea bag. It’s an idea [founder] Urbain had, and he transferred his idea to our stainless steel guy. He understood it and it works perfectly. It is due to working and having problems that we are thinking, ‘How can we do it better?’ That’s what makes such concoctions happen. We were actually able to solve our own problem with very good results, or even better results.
“At 5 in the morning, it’s Urbain because he lives on the spot there. He does some stuff the night before, the milling of grains. He takes some coffee; he has some time for his cigarettes. Actually he stopped cigarettes, but he’s kicking off with those electric cigarettes with the bullshit inside, you know. And he can do the paperwork and other boring stuff that has to be done at the brewery.
“To us, it’s always very nice [to have visitors]. You know our doors are officially open from 2 to 6 on Saturdays. We know that there are plenty of beer geeks traveling to Belgium. They want to see Westvleteren; they want to see other stuff that’s in the area. We have regard for these people because we have so many people from all over the world; they do the effort. They have to take a bus, or they have to have a car. We see them. To them, it’s kind of magic. Of course, if there’s plenty of work and there’s no time… We’d never kick them out, but if we have time, we receive them.
“We’re just ordinary small brewers, but I understand that some people have an immense respect for what we do, and that feeling increases if they can meet me or Urbain. They say, ‘Oh holy shit! It’s those guys, and they’re taking the time to receive us.’ I have the impression that people regard this as a beautiful moment. And for us, we regard this as very important to make people happy. They come back at home or wherever and they say, ‘Oh we had this fantastic little encounter.’ That’s a human thing. That’s how we are and that’s how we do it.
I’m a wine enthusiast and I have the same feeling when I go to France. There I’m a tourist. Some [winemakers] say ‘Fuck off,’ and you say, ‘That’s a pity.’ So we can understand what that feeling is for beer geeks. We are like that. We can barely say no. … To us, it’s like, it brings a smile on our faces too. It’s not fake. It’s genuine. If we have time for it, we just do it.”