The Hopper Diaries

The Road To Belgium

Does the name Brindco ring a bell? Do you remember reading this on a bottle somewhere at some point in time?

If you do remember, pat yourself on the back. Brindco is India’s largest importer and distributor of alcoholic beverages dating back to 1967.  You would have probably seen the name on a wine or beer bottle, in the past.

Sampling Table – Park Hyatt, Chennai

In my case, I brushed across this company four years ago whilst assisting the Belgian consulate in Chennai doing a tasting session of Belgian Beers. Various distributors including Brindco had attended the session. Fast forward to mid 2018 and friend of mine from the AlcoBev industry contacted me to let me know that he’d joined Brindco and was part of special Craft Beer project for the company. This aroused my interest immediately.

We met and he explained how Brindco had been working on a new Craft Beer brand of it’s own and they would be launching it in India very soon.  We’ve seen several labels contract brew abroad and that eventually shift shop to India, sometimes with disastrous consequences, in terms of quality.

These new brands have opened up the market but one must remember that Craft Beer revolves heavily around innovation, quality ingredients, zero brewing short cuts and batch consistency leading to a quality product through and through. Brands must hence focus on quality without any compromises.

I learned that Brindco has heavily invested in a state of the art brewery in Belgium that has over 125 years of brewing experience. This was very encouraging to hear since Belgium is a country with such an incredible brewing heritage, known for top quality beers. Belgian’s love Beer and it’s the country’s national beverage!

Belgium is know for it’s wonderful architecture, diamonds, chocolate, waffles, fries and most importantly Beer. Beer is Belgium’s national beverage and wherever you go, you’ll find people drinking beer. Beer is very much a part of culture and daily life. The average per capita consumption of Beer here is approximately 70 liters per person/year. Here in India, we average approximately 5 liters per person/year. 

Table Beer (very low/no alcohol) at one point was served to school children till 1980’s. You’ll see Beer paraphernalia everywhere you go – the photo above is a scooter I saw in Bruges, covered in pictures of Beer bottles. As a tourist, one finds it difficult to decide on what to buy when the price of  a Beer sometimes is cheaper than a bottle of mineral water! 

Belgium has been producing Beer for over 1,000 years and has a diverse range of styles of Beer no where to be found in the rest of the world. Compared to the rest of Europe this nation that has been invaded and occupied by several settlers and the best practices were left behind.  With its high quality water, rich soil perfect for growing barley and hops, Belgium has produced diverse styles of beer that are rich in complexity and quality. You can thank the land and the invaders for making Belgium the Mecca for Beer lovers.

Monks Drinking – Image Courtesy: stmichaelradio.com

There are so many diverse styles of Beer in Belgium ranging from White (Wit) Beers, to lagers to blondes, strong ales, farmhouse ales, trappist/abbey ales, sour beers, spontaneously fermented beers, mixed fermentation beers, blended beers, fruit infused blends and so many more. In short, a great country to choose for innovation and excellence for Craft Beers. 

A few months after meeting Brindco, I found myself on an airplane bound for Belgium with a team they had handpicked. I was being sent this historical brewery in Belgium that had already started making specialty Belgian Beer for India. My tour would also include select Belgian cities close to the brewery.  

Meet Hopper, the new Craft Beer brand for India, made in Belgium.  We’ll be diving into these two variants, the blonde Belgian Lager and Belgian Wit in a bit but first I’d like to take you all to Belgium and give you a first hand experience of the brewery that brews Hopper and show you why these new Beers for India are special. 


Brouwerij De Brabandere

Brouwerij De Brabandere is located in the small village of Bavikhove, about 15 minutes from the town of Kortrijk & about 2 hours west of Brussels, in the Flemish province of West Flanders, Belgium.

The brewery is spread over a space of 60,000 sq. ft and has seen several expansions over the course of the last 125 years. It is one of the largest family run production breweries in the country. Five generations of brewers from the Brabandere family have preserved brewing traditions, craftsmanship, sacred recipes & signature yeast strains over the years. 

 The brewery produces over 20 million liters of Beer and soft drinks that are sold in Belgian, other European markets and exported internationally.

They recently upgraded their brewhouse and production line with assistance from Brindco.  In addition to a normal Stainless Steel Fermenters & Bright Beer Tanks, they also have a Foeder (large oak barrels) room for sour beer production. 

 Branbandere’s three Brewmasters, Chris Van Acker, Pieter Maes & Yves Benoit are responsible for making some of the best Beers in Belgium. 

Chris has been working at the brewery for over thirty years and practically lives on site. His house is adjacent to the brewery and is being converted into a brand new visitor center. 

I got to meet Chris and Pieter and spent most of my two days at the brewery with Chris. What better person to show you around the property than Chris. He knows this brewery inside out and has thirty years worth of stories to share. 

We started out tour like malted barely does from grain to glass. So, strap yourselves in, sit back and enjoy the tour folks!                                                                                                 


                                                                                            Brewery Tour

Mill / Malt Room

We passed by their malt room on the way up to the mill at the top of the building. The brewery uses malts from neighboring France, Germany and all over Europe.  Base malts are stored in silos and other specialty malts are stored in the malt room.They also use other specialty grains such as oats and wheat for some of their beers. The only “adjunct” you’ll find here is Belgian Kandi Sugar – used to fortify some of the stronger ales and traditionally used by Trappist monks to make beers such as the Dubbel. 

 Chris took us up to their mill which in itself is a relic. The mill has been operational for decades and there’s not much space to move around and doesn’t have the greatest lighting, hence not many photos. The purpose of the mill is simple, crack the malt/grains open to expose the starch at the center of the grain. The husks are carefully preserved during the milling process as they will serve as a natural filter bed during the brewing process. 

A flex auger feeds the mill from the grain silos above and passes them through a weighing scale to ensure the correct amount of grain according to the recipe is fed through the mill. 

The product that comes out of the mill, the “grist” is then pushed through into the brewhouse. 

WATER SOURCE

One of the most important ingredients in brewing is water.  Browerij De Brabandere is blessed to have it’s own natural spring right besides the brewery. They use this water, untreated for all the beers and soft drinks made on site. 

I never realized spring water could taste so good until I tried their line up still and sparkling water – both plain and naturally flavored variants. 

 What’s even more interesting is you’ll see a cast iron “Frog” at a few spots in the brewery and also at one of the village roundabouts! 

The “Frog” represents purity and is a sign of the quality of the spring water used by the brewery. Frogs love sources of fresh water hence the use of a frog to represent this. 

Hot Side

This is where you see a mixture of old and new technology. The old, original brewhouse is still in existence and used as a back up. The main brewhouse is a Krones system 200 HL capacity – Mash/Kettle and Lauter Tun configuration. 

The grist goes into the mash during the mashing process then transferred to the Lauter tun (separate sugars/proteins from the grain). Once the sweet liquid or wort has been collected, it’s transferred to the kettle, where it is boiled and hops are added. 

The brewery has a special hop dosing system by Krones. This basically allows better hop extraction efficiency and can be used in a variety of ways – as a hop back, for infusion (hops, fruit, spices) at flame out and so forth. It’s also much easier to clean than directly adding these ingredients to the kettle. 

From here the hot wort is put through a whirlpool to separate unwanted proteins, grain and hop residue. It is then sent to a PHE (Plate Heat Exchanger) that cools down the mixture.

The entire system is fully automated and controlled by a computer that has an access panel next to the tanks. This is where the brewers can set customized parameters for each type of brew. 

Cold Side

The brewery’s fermenters are of mixed capacities and massive. Being used to a small brewpub environment, these tanks are at first overwhelming to see! Perhaps these photos give you a sense of their scale but you must see them in real life to comprehend how big they are!

The yeast pitched here comes from the in-house yeast lab that houses thousands of proprietary strains that have been preserved and cultured since the time the brewery was established. They also keep a vault of yeast strains off-site in case of anything happens to the lab at the brewery. 

15 Fermenters of, 70,000 L (700 HL) Capacity
10 Fermenters of 110,000 L (1,100 HL) Capacity

Most of the beers made here are fermented for a minimum of a month and then for a further 3 months before being sent off to packaging line.  

The one thing that is critical when brewing is allowing proper time for primary and secondary fermentation and not rushing the process. Proper maturation times result in a better tasting beers – as simple as that. 

 

Several 110,000 L (1,100 HL) Bright Beer Tanks

These are the Bright Beer Tanks (BBTs) where Beers condition for up to 3 months before being transferred to the packaging line. These tanks just like the fermenters are massive. 

SOUR BEER PRODUCTION

27 Oak Foeders of 22, 000 L (220 HL)

The brewery has a separate Foeder room with massive 220 HL oak barrels – a mixture of new and old. This is where beers are aged up to 2 years. Inside the barrels, bacteria in the wood sours the beers over time – a controlled oxidation process. The resulting beers are then blended with a younger beers to create various flavor profiles. Fruits like cherries are also added to some of the barrels to create a unique flavor profile. These sour beers have a unique aroma are fruity, sour and extremely dry. Brewing these sour beers in a consistent manner is no easy task and the fact that they have won awards for their sours is a testament to this fact.

Pre-Packaging processing

Once the beers are fully matured, they are ready for packaging but the beers need to be stabilized.

There are 3 options to do this – centrifuge, filter or pasteurizing system. Depending on the type of beer being produced, they type of stabilization will be chosen either just one type or a mixture of these.

Product Line

This is the one of the most aspects of the tour and helps you understand how efficient and fast the product line is – one of Europe’s fastest and I’m told one of only two breweries in Europe that has this system from Krones, Germany.

Peter, Chris & Aman Dhall, Executive Director, BRINDCO

The line has output of 35,000 bottles (330ml) per hour and 14,000 large bottles per hour. Try and imagine that! Seeing how fast the system is blew my mind. Not only that but the state of the art Krones systems can fill different types of bottles to extreme accuracy, handle various different types of labels, has several quality control check points and in essence is extremely flexible.

New bottles are inspected, faulty ones rejected before they go in for sanitation and checked once again for flaws before they go to the filler.

Then onto the filler, checked again for filling accuracy and capped.

The filled bottles are inspected again and then send to the packing line to be put into boxes.

The bottles are then filled into cardboard boxes, labelled and shrink wrapped and kept in the warehouse, ready for dispatch either locally, throughout Europe or export to destinations around the world including India.

Here’s a comprehensive video from Krones about the entire packaging system

Product Line Up

So we’ve seen how the brewery and production line operates at Brouwerij De Brabandere.

They produce a wide range of beers, soft drinks (spring water), some wine and of course Hopper, the new brand for India. I got to taste test almost all their offerings along with Pieter Maes, brewmaster at their in house tasting room in the brewery.

I tried most of their mainstream brands and their specialty sour range also. Unfortunately I did not get time to try their brewmasters select brews.

Product Portfolio

The brewery is best known for it’s award winning pilsner – Bavik and it’s range of sour beers from the Petrus line. It is also well known for it’s Wit beer, Witekerke, strong wheat, Wieze and a strong blond popular in the cycling community called Kwaremont.

From this heritage of over 125 years, comes the new line up for India, Hopper. It was a privilege to see where Hopper is made and to try the beers fresh off the production line. The batches I saw being produced are just about hitting Indian shelves right now. I can’t wait to try these.

Not only did I get to sample Hopper but I was also given lessons in how to pour the Perfect Pint, Belgian style and the importance of glassware cleanliness.

The Belgians have a wonderful ritual for glass cleaning. First, the glasses are cleaned in a sink that contains multiple brushes, filled with low fat, low sud soap. Then they are rinsed in another sink with clean water. Before dispensing, the glass is given another quick spray with the rinser built into the dispensing tray.

A little beer is sacrificed to drain the line, before being poured into the glass using the standard 45 degree technique. However, the Belgians let the Beer overflow and then cut the froth with a knife. This results in a finer foam head that last longer and makes the Beer taste a lot fresher. The glass is then dipped into the sink with clean water, once again before being presented to the customer.


Hopper

Branding Inspiration

Hopper’s branding elements all come from Belgium’s rich brewing history and the heritage from the Brouwerij De Brabandere.

The shape of the label & the white/black and gold lettering and outlines on the label come from Belgian architecture. The font represents archways from historic buildings. The detailing on the label represents stars and constellations, something you’ll see on the roofs of cathedrals and other historic buildings.

The bottle shape in itself is unique and sourced from Europe along with high quality labels sourced from various parts of Europe. Thanks to the precision of the Krones line, the labels themselves are all aligned perfectly and there are minimum bubbles.

Additionally, all Hoppper bottles are capped with special crowns that feature a special scavenger liner which absorbs oxygen molecules trapped in the headspace during bottling and prevents further oxygen ingress over time, keeping flavors fresher and extending shelf life.

The bottle design concept was done by an international agency dating as far back as 2012.

https://beta.thedieline.com/blog/2012/10/9/hopper.html

Where does the name Hopper come from?

Image Courtesy: Brussels.info

If you’ve ever been to Brussels, you would have noticed double-deck buses with the words, “Hop On, Hop Off” printed on the sides. You can literally hop on the bus, hop off at tourist sites and do the same thing all over again.

Hopper, the beer represents something similar. It’s a lifestyle – hop into a bar/restaurant, soak in the experience and then hop out and go to the next one thereby making your evening not just exciting but memorable.

For me personally, the name “Hopper” makes me think of hops. Even though Belgian hops are not as potent as American ones, the hops used do make their presence known subtly.

MERCHANDISE /PARAPHERNALIA

Going back to aesthetics and design elements we talked about earlier, the stylishness continues with Hopper’s line of merchandise/bar paraphernalia. These are very well made and designed.

STYLES – TASTING NOTES

There are two variants of Hopper, for the Indian market – a Belgian Blonde Lager and a Belgian Wit.

Hopper – Belgian Blonde Lager

4.3% ABV | 15 IBU | MRP 200 Per 330 ml (Karnataka)

Appearance

Golden with excellent head retention and subsequent lacing with a fine, fluffy head. High on carbonation. There is no doubt, this is very well made lager.

Aroma

On the nose, malts dominate be it cold or warm – so typical of a lager. There is no contribution from the yeast here and you’ll have be a bloodhound to trace the noble Saaz hops used throughout the brewing process here.

Flavor/Mouthfeel

On the palate, clean , crisp, low in sweetness, light bodied with a slight bitter finish (nicely balanced). Not as bitter as a typical lager but easy drinking, hence definitely sessionable & versatile when it comes to pairing.

Impression

Not as hoppy as other Craft Lagers in the market but made to be easy to drink and light. Making a clean lager is no easy task and Brouwerij De Brabandere have done an excellent job with balancing the malt and hop profile here.

I’m not telling you to drink this lager and be satisfied because I went to their brewery in Belgium. Absolutely not. Try a pint and make your own notes and see how they stack up!

Food Pairing

The blonde pairs very well with rich, meaty dishes and helps cut through that richness very efficiently. Pizzas, Red Meat, BBQ, Burgers and Spicy Asian foods all pair well with the blonde.

Hopper Wit – Belgian Style Wit

4.9% ABV | 11 IBU | MRP 200 Per 330 ml (Karnataka)


Appearance

Cloudy, straw colored with a fluffy, moussy head with excellent carbonation and retention. The Wit is bottle conditioned meaning it is unfiltered and additional yeast added to the bottle prior to packaging. The result is a continual fermentation taking place in the bottle that helps build flavor and carbonation.

This does require a special pouring technique. Once you fill the glass 3/4 full, you must swirl the bottle to arouse the yeast layer at the bottom of the bottle. Once this done, pour the remainder of the beer into the glass. You’ll see the beer turn color and go cloudy immediately. The yeast, will enhance the taste of the beer.

Occasionally, you may see this in the beer but do NOT be alarmed. These flakes are just yeast particles that have been aroused.

Aroma

On the nose, muted notes of orange/citrus and even on warming, hard to pick out the coriander used. It’s very delicately flavored and this is done on purpose to keep the overall profile mellow.

Flavor/Mouthfeel

On the palate, neutral feel, clean, no sweetness, light bodied and thirst quenching. This is unlike any in the country and designed for someone who has never had exposure to wheat beers or one that knows different beer styles well.

Impression

Most other Belgian Wits or Belgian Style Wits make one think of a strong citrus aroma/flavor component backed by a dose of coriander. The Hopper/Brouwerij De Brabandere team decided to keep the flavor profile here subtle, so that this beer can be enjoyed by beer drinkers across several demographics.

Unlike most other ales that go from grain to glass in fourteen days, the Hopper Wit takes thirty two, making it even more rounded in its flavor profile. That’s a product of good craftsmanship.

Food Pairing

The Wit pairs well with lighter dishes such as Fries with dips, light fish, sushi, smoked salmon, Indian tikkas and kabas and salads.

Future Releases

One must keep into account that these beers are just the first of several variants we will see from Hopper.

Brindco also plan to launch other labels from Belgium and also build a massive production brewery in Karnataka.

Availability

At present, Hopper is available in Delhi, Noida, Dehradun, Haldwani, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai.

Soon to be launched in Chandigarh, Hyderabad & Goa.

La Cave Store

Brindco are also launching several new premium Wine, Spirits and Beer stores across the country. Besides the existing store in Delhi, they have just launched their latest flagship store in Bengaluru.

Spread over 5,000 sq ft, this store not only carries the most sought after spirits and wines but also a selection of the best Beers both commercial and craft.

If you’re in Bangalore stop by.

La Cave Fine Wine & Spirits,

#655, Viansh, 10A Main, Cross, 100 Feet Rd, Bengaluru, Karnataka 560034

Google Map Link: https://goo.gl/maps/gsGf2uqJhhQ2

Please call ahead to check availability at your local store before heading there.

Hop Spots

During my time in Belgium, we didn’t just visit the brewery but quite a few cities along the way. There are so many more stories to share with you. The good news is that I went to Belgium with a film crew and we filmed a few episodes at iconic bars across a few select cities.

Stay tuned for the “Hop Spots” video series – launching soon.

Hop Spot Snippets

Reference/Links

Thank you for getting this far. Here are some useful links for you to check out:


All Images Courtesy Brindco/Hopper & Tales Of Froth Unless Otherwise Specified.

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