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First brewery in 60 years to open in Schaerbeek

Illustration picture shows a beer kettle at a brewery. (BELGA PHOTO NICOLAS MAETERLINCK)
06:59 12/04/2021

For the first time in almost 60 years, Schaerbeek has its own brewery. At one point in the past, the Brussels municipality had 15 but the last one, Brasserie Roelants on Avenue Rogier, closed in 1962 ending the commune’s long and rich history of beer brewing. Now, the brewery ‘La Mule’ hopes to revive that tradition at a difficult time for the hospitality industry.

Joël Galy, master brewer and founder of the brewery in the former horse stables of the tram depot on Rue Rubens, understands those who question the logic of opening such an enterprise during a global pandemic that has severely affected the businesses of bars and restaurants, his main customers. But he hopes that his calculation of a reopening of the sector in the next few months will allow La Mule to continue production.

"It all started in my head in May last year,” he said, referring to his idea of opening a brewery. “I told myself that I might be ready to go at the right time, when the pandemic was over. But now we're still in it."

"Because I'm only starting now, I can last another four or five months, but after that it gets complicated,” he added. “Bars and restaurants are still the most important places for us to sell our products."

In addition to providing others with his beers, Galy also wants to open a café on the site, an additional complication should the restrictions on the hospitality industry continue longer than after the summer. “When we came up with the business plan along with the idea of the café, we had to include all these things related to the current situation, such as exit and entry points and how to serve the customers which is unusual.”

The café concept is part of his wider philosophy of focusing on small-scale, local production and being part of the immediate community.

“We didn't want to set up a big brewery from the beginning;” Galy explained. “I didn't have any money for it in the first place and secondly we mainly think about local consumption. The idea is to make enough for me and the employees to live, so we won’t be producing too much."

Galy’s goal is to sell a thousand hectolitres of beer every year (1 hectolitre = 100 litres). The first beers will be launched on 20 April. Initially, the brewery will mainly produce German beers. "I have a lager which is easy to manage, it's a low fermentation,” Galy said. “To put it simply, it’s a pilsner with a little more taste, a little more body. We have a Hefeweizen too. This is a German white beer with more fruity aromas: banana, cloves. I'm also going to brew Helles, Kolsch, Altbier. These are thirst-quenching beers, without fuss, that I particularly like. They have a low alcohol content.”

"The taste seems simple, but it still has an aromatic complexity," Galy added. “It is also quite technical in terms of brewing. But in the end, what I like about these beers is the simplicity and the spirit of consumption that they exude. Beer is not a goal in itself. The goal is to share it around a table or at a bar."

The brewer also wants to create a kriek beer from the traditional Schaerbeek cherries, "but lambic brewing is a process that takes two to three years."

Written by Nick Amies