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Family values: After 250 years, Wallonia’s oldest brewery Dubuisson is all about tradition
In 1769 the world was a very different place. It was the year of Captain Cook’s first voyage. James Watt had just received the first patent for his steam engine. Napoleon Bonaparte was born. In 1769 most of modern-day Belgiumwas still part of theSouthern Netherlands. So indeed, plenty has changed since then. But not everything. Just as in 1769, there is a brewery in Pipaix, Hainaut, today, and it’s still owned by the same family.
The oldest brewery in Wallonia, Dubuisson, was established by Joseph Leroy, who previously brewed beer in the nearby Ghissegnies castle. The farmer-brewer, an ancestor on the maternal side of the current owner, Hugues Dubuisson, started a tradition that has lasted eight generations. However, as the brewery’s export manager, Stijn Destatsbader, points out, it was Alfred Dubuisson who finally closed down the farm in 1931 to become a full-time brewer.
“The passion and the visionary spirit of Alfred Dubuisson between the two world wars certainly helped the brewery in facing the 20th century,” says Destatsbader. “When most breweries tried to hop on the ‘Pilsner train’ at the beginning of the brewing process’s industrialisation, Alfred took on the challenge of creating a top fermented strong Belgian speciality beer: Bush Beer was born and kept the sales and renown of the brewery alive until the arrival of Hugues Dubuisson, who expanded the range from 1991.”
Under Hugues, the business grew considerably. New microbreweries and taverns were opened throughoutWallonia, and between 2013 and 2018 the brewery doubled its production from 45,000 to 90,000 hectolitres. The company now employs 45 people and Dubuisson beer is sold in 35 countries, including Australia and Chile. According to Destatsbader, amid the expansion it is very important that the brewery remains family-owned and managed. “No contract brewing, no outsourcing,” he says. “Being independent and having full control over our brewing process is the guiding principle of the Dubuisson spirit.”
It is therefore significant that Hugues is not only the company’s CEO but also the master brewer, who directly oversees the production of all 10 beers. “Each beer has its taste characteristics that make it best suited to one situation or another,” he says when of the current range. “I would gladly drink a Surfine, for example, after exercise. On the other hand, if I’m relaxing with friends, I usually drink a Cuvée des Trolls. Finally, at apéro time, I love to enjoy a Bush Triple. Or a Bush Caractère.” Which is, incidentally, one of the oldest speciality beers in Belgium – with the English translation of the brand name (‘buisson’ in French means ‘bush’), it was introduced in 1933 and the recipe has remained unchanged ever since.
Similarly, Hugues is hoping his brewery won’t change too much after the ninth generation of the family, represented by Séverine and Alexandre Dubuisson, takes over. “For the next 250 years of the Dubuisson Brasserie, I wish above all that it remains a family brewery and that it continues to defend the values that we hold dear today,” he says, meaning independence with respect for the tradition, the product and the environment. “The beer is brewed with living substances, and if these were lacking we could simply no longer offer quality products. Finally, I hope that the production and tasting of beer will remain at the heart of our passion. It is love for beer that motivates us more than anything today and I hope it will stay that way.”
This article was first published in the Wab magazine, summer 2020