Belgian Beers such as De Koninck, Palm, Haacht 1900, Op-Ale, and De Ryck can proudly call themselves Special Belgian Ale. They have a tough history of getting themselves appreciated among other, more famous Belgian craft beers, especially because the taste is an aquired taste and not just for any beer lover.
They did get themselves out there quite well, with Palm and De Koninck also known as a ‘bolleke’ (little bowl of goodness, named after the shape of its glass) being the most famed. But recently, they have found themselves falling on hard times and things are not looking good for their respective breweries. The amber-colored beers known for its high fermentation have been in the corner for a while: the new Belgian youth doesn’t like its taste, and craft beer enthusiasts would like something a bit more special. The brewers themselves seem to have come to terms with the situation, brewing less and less of what was once was one of the top Belgian beers.
Last week, Palm Belgian Craft Brewers announced that Bavaria NV would take over 60% of the company. Together, they have about 600 years of brewing experience and brew about 6.5 million hectoliters of beer each year. The idea is that by 2021, Palm would be fully owned by Bavaria. They will face accusations of selling out. This is unfair as it comes after a last gasp attempt after tactics to get their Flemish Red-Brown beers of mixed fermentation such as Rodenbach and the Brabant amber beers of high fermentation, such as Palm, back on track failed.
De Koninck is turning 125 (beat that Queen Elizabeth!) this year and they are hoping to get exposure by bringing out a special birthday beer in August. Mostly described as soapy with a light caramel taste, it’s debateable whether it will be a hit. De Koninck was discovered after a local brewers contest. It led directly to the creation of the ‘spéciale belge’ beer style. De Koninck’s high fermentation amber beer was to be the Belgian answer to the pilsner beers that have started flooding the market. A ‘bolleke’ is traditionally consumed with a beef casserole or mussels, both famous traditional Belgian dishes and mostly consumed around Antwerp. In 2005, it was reported that their volume dropped with 40%. In 2011 they had a small growth, but five years later, their sales had dropped again.
Their biggest problem is probably the new generation. Beers like Palm, Rodenbach en De Koninck are generally more enjoyed by an older crowd. The way Palm markets its beer, with a big shire horse as its main subject, is not an aesthetic that would appeal to a hip crowd to begin with. But more importantly there is an issue with its flavour. It’s the kind of beer you have once to try but not regularly. That’s probably also the reason when you take part in Belgian Beer Tours, such as the Beer Casino and Brussels Beer Tour (we talked about these a few weeks ago), Belgian Special Ales aren’t always listed. The fact that a lot of people describe it as plain jane to even soapy or, well, … disgusting, doesn’t really help does it?
While they celebrate a milestone birthday they will be wary that it may be one of only a few left. Let’s hope the few die hard fans of the ‘Spéciale Belge’ keep the history alive.