The Beginning – On 17th May 1892, in the office of Notary Public Verwée, the sale of a house, farm and brewery to Remi Vander Ghinste was concluded. Thus began the history of a brewing dynasty that has now been at the helm of the Bellegem brewery,
Omer Vander Ghinste, for over 120 years. Remi, then 62-years old, had just purchased the brewery for his son Omer.
He started by brewing that characteristic red-brown beer – the roodbruin – that's so typical of the region of South West Flanders.
His beer was hugely successful, both within the region and outside its borders, reaching over into French Flanders.
As a result, the red-brown beer has always formed part of the brewery’s range. Today we know it under the name of VanderGhinste Oud Bruin.
Behind every successful man stands a strong woman. For Brouwerij Omer Vander Ghinste, this was Marguerite Vandamme.
Omer married this brewer’s daughter from Kortrijk in 1900. She immediately made her mark on the commercial and business aspects of the brewery.
Under her initiative, the cafés were fitted with leaded glass windows, displaying the name of the brewer.
An excellent marketing strategy, but not an inexpensive one.
This is the reason why each and every first-born son of the family, since that time, has been baptised ‘Omer’ – so the windows don't have to be replaced with each generation.
Brewery Omer Vander Ghinste wouldn't be where it is now without Brasserie Le Fort. Or so the latest in the line of brewing Omer's – Omer-Jean Vander Ghinste – tells us. This was the brewery owned by Marguerite's grandfather, Felix Verschuere.
It was a family that was, sadly, not favoured with luck, with the early deaths of Felix’s daughter and son-in-law. That meant that Marguerite inherited the brewery far earlier than was planned or expected.
But as a result, Omer saw his brewery grow from a village brewery into one that was far larger, especially for that era.
So the seeds of today's Omer Vander Ghinste brewery very much lie in that inheritance of Brasserie Le Fort.
Fifth-generation – Omer-Jean himself is a fifth-generation Vander Ghinste, born of the marriage between Omer III Vander Ghinste and Cecile Vandevyvere.
Under the wings of this new generation, Omer Vander Ghinste has grown into a fine brewery, one that has stepped effortlessly into the 21st century, without letting go of its artisan traditions.
In particular, the last five years have seen the brewery making waves in world of Belgian beer. The Omer brew is in no small part responsible for this.
The brewery's blond beer, it has been gaining fans all over the world since its launch in 2008. And this award-winning brew has already provided the brewery with many medals in the short time of its existence.
So a brewery long-known for its pils beers is now predominantly famous for its wonderfully diverse offerings, with the Omer as its star product.
The only thing missing from the range was a brown beer. In 2013 this gap was filled, with the arrival of Le Fort.
This isn't simply an ideal complement to the whole Omer Vander Ghinste range, though.
First and foremost it's a homage to Brasserie Le Fort – the brewery which has long-since disappeared, but which played such an important role in the brewery’s history.
The growing interest in low-fermentation beers didn't escape Omer Vander Ghinste’s attention back in 1929. He had an installation built for exactly that purpose in that year. The same year also saw an open cooling basin, installed for the spontaneous fermentation beers.
The Ghinst Pils was introduced to the market in 1932, and Bock Export saw the light of day not long after.
Both beers are still around, but under different names: Bockor Pils and Blauw respectively.
The success of its pils beers prompted the brewery to renovate and expand, after the Second World War.
In 1947, the current brewing hall was established on the ground floor of the low-fermentation tower. Under the new generation, the brewery saw even more changes.
The malthouse was discontinued, and most of it was demolished in 1964 to make room for new storage facilities.
There was also a new bottling plant built, which was equipped with a vacuum bottler – the first one to be taken into production in a Belgian brewery. However, the most prominent change of direction to be implemented by Omer III, and his brother, Pierre, was to be the introduction of spontaneous fermentation to this Bellegem brewery.
Following in the footsteps of Van Honsebrouck, the other West Flanders brewery where production of lambiek and geuze was started in 1958, the Jacobins Gueuze Lambic was launched in 1972.
The name of ‘Jacobins’ was a reference to the Dominican abbey of ‘Hospice Saint-Jacques’ in France, where Omer-Remi Vander Ghinste spent time as a child refugee, during the First World War.
The brown beer, Cuvée des Jacobins, completed the assortment. Its production was halted before the Second World War, but was resumed in 2012, initially for the US market. Recently it has been re-introduced to its home country as well.
And with Cuvée des Jacobins we are dealing with something rather special – an uncut lambiek matured for 18 months in the brewery’s oak barrels. This beer is viewed by most as a real delicacy!
Omer III implemented a number of other technical innovations and expansions.
These included the building of a new fermentation room – with cylindrical-cone shaped tanks – in 1989, and the installation of a special water-filtering facility in 1994.
With the placement of two new tanks (of 700 hl and 460 hl) in 2001, the brewery’s capacity was almost doubled.
Omer-Jean, representing the fifth generation, developed a range of fruit beers with his father.
From 2002, this range of beers has been branded under the name of Max. However, it was the Omer that turned out to be right on the target, right from the start. A strong blond beer, it was only introduced to the market in 2008.
But already, in just its first few years of existence, it has managed to garner numerous awards at several international competitions.
Unsurprisingly, then, Omer has turned into the brewery’s star product.
In November 2013 the brewery introduced its latest addition: Le Fort.
This 8.5 % brown beer is a homage to the eponymous brewery, now vanished, but one that meant so much in the brewery’s long history.
It is a dark beer, full of character, and the ideal complement to a range of beers that is already beautifully varied.
You could say that Omer Vander Ghinste has been at the helm of the brewery for over 120 years. Obviously, though, that's not one and the same man – five generations of fathers have passed on the brewery (as well as their first name) to their first-born son.
So Omer Vander Ghinste is really the ultimate family brewery, one that truly values tradition.
But in no way is this custom, of passing the brewery father-to-son, felt to be an obligation, as Omer-Jean explains.
He is leaving his own son free to make his own choices. He emphasises the importance of choosing the profession because you love it, not out of a family obligation.
Despite the popular appeal of its beers, Omer-Jean is a brewer who has always had quality as his central tenet, rather than commercial success.
‘We are always striving for a balance between modern management and retaining artisan traditions’, he explains.
As an example, the decision to retain the Omer VanderGhinste Oud Bruin, the former Bellegems Bruin, as part of the brewery's assortment, was never in question.
‘It would be highly regrettable to lose this typically West Flemish red-brown beer.
Even at times when this beer style was less popular, losing it was never an option’.
Before succeeding his father as brewery manager, Vander Ghinste majored in law, obtaining an MBA from Northwestern University (USA), and then gaining marketing and sales experience with Coca Cola.
He then oversaw Omer Vander Ghinste transition into the 21st century in exemplary fashion. Throughout the years, the brewery never stopped growing, yet it has managed to retain its historic and family character. Omer-Jean highly values the social aspect of his trade.
Three-quarters of the brewery’s production is destined for cafés and restaurants; the other quarter goes to distributors and warehouses.
‘It is important to pay regular visits’, says Omer-Jean Vander Ghinste. ‘In fact, the brewing trade is all about keeping in touch’.
The brewing team is managed by head-brewer Sam Quartier. Sam majored as a bio-engineer at the Catholic University of Leuven, and gained experience at the Sint-Bernardus brewery.
He counts Professor Delvaux amongst his mentors.
So for the development of the brewery's high fermentation yeast, he naturally called upon the professor, and his son Filip Delvaux (also a yeast specialist and beer consultant) for advice.
Ask Sam what he likes most about his job and he will reply: ‘My highest reward is seeing people enjoy the beer that you have brewed’.
- Brasserie LeFort
- Cuvée des Jacobins
- Kriek des Jacobins
- Kriek Max
- OMER. Traditional Blond
- Tripel LeFort
- VanderGhinste Roodbruin
Some years ago, the brewery's ancient tower was renovated completely, a job that took up as long as four years to fully complete. This 28-metre high tower dates back to 1929 and, since its restoration, is now considered a true brewing gem.
Such a brewery tower, which is still in working order, is unique for this region, and in fact far beyond its borders.
So it stands to reason that the tower is a central feature of group brewery visits.
The visitor who manages to scale the top of the tower is well rewarded – they will discover a huge copper basin, which is used for the spontaneous fermentation.
The middle floors hosts the ‘De Brett’ visitors’ centre. The name is a reference to the wild yeasts, the brettanomyces, needed for the spontaneous fermentation.
The tour finishes in the retro-style 'Bockorbar', where you can taste all the beers you were introduced to during the tour.
You can visit the Omer Vander Ghinste brewery on any working day, either at 10am or 2pm, with the exception of Monday morning and Friday afternoon.
The visit will take approximately 2½ hours, and includes a welcome by a professional guide, a brewery tour with a visit to the tower, and a tasting session.
The Omer Vander Ghinste brewery is the pride of Bellegem, a village forming part of the town of Kortrijk. This town, centrally located in the Leie region, has a plenty to offer the visitor.
Kortrijk has around 200 listed buildings and monuments at present.
Two are even registered as UNESCO World Heritage sites: the medieval Belfort (Bellfry), and the 17th-century Begijnhof, with its chapel, Sint-Mattheuskapel, dating from 1464.
On top of that, there are around one hundred fascinating building facades that are well worth an investigation. Kortrijk’s heritage also includes a range of statues, mills and natural landscapes.
Prefer to take the bicycle? Go ahead! Kortrijk and its surroundings are well placed for exploring on two wheels.
And if you don’t have a bike of your own, naturally you can rent one in town. Toerisme Kortrijk will provide you with everything you need to discover the city when cycling.
You can do this at your own leisurely pace, using a signposted cycling route, or a map displaying all the sites (or knooppunten) along the way. A fine example is a 'tour of discovery' alongside the Bossuit-Kortrijk canal, a waterway that celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2011.
You will encounter a number of beauty spots along its banks.
Keen walkers will also find much to enjoy in the Kortrijk area, especially those inclined to a spot of refreshment along the way.
There are various culinary tours organised, where ‘ramblers’ are truly pampered.
A hot tip is the ‘Sneukelen met stijl’ route.
This two-hour trail takes you to quaint and friendly Kortrijk establishments, where you can taste the specialities of the house.
Tuck in, and get to know the town's secrets, all at the same time.
Getting There & Around
Kortrijk is within easy reach from most points of the compass – and most modes of travel. You won't find it hard to get here, whether you arrive by car, bicycle, using public transport or even by boat. This last option is not so surprising, once you discover that Kortrijk is a town with a famed river running through it.
The river Leie made this region famous for its excellent flax, and gave it its nickname of ‘Golden River’.
In fact, from Kortrijk, the highest quality flax was exported to all parts of the globe.
The Vlasmuseum is therefore highly recommended to anyone who wants to learn more about flax, and its importance in the history of Kortrijk.
Many train connections will take you to the heart of the town. More information can be found on the Belgian Railways website.
There are plenty of good bus connections into the town centre, as well as from from the outlying communities. All the details can be found on the De Lijn website.
Kortrijk is also easily reached by car, via the E17, A19 and E403. The ring road around the city is known as the R8, and provides ready access to all parts of town. Information about where to park can be obtained from the Stedelijke Parkeerbedrijf (or Parking Department).
Gastronomy, Food & More Beer
Looking for a gastronomic pampering in Kortrijk? Well, the town offers many fine establishments, with a number of regional specialties. Those with a sweet disposition will enjoy the Kalletaart, a specialty of Kortrijk patissiers. It's a rectangular cake, prepared with frangipane, apples and Calvados.
You are also are guaranteed to find a chocolatier or patissier who sells one of Kortrijk's many other famous sweetmeats.
Not forgetting, of course, plenty of scrumptious pralines. Sint-Pol, a jenever from Kortrijk, is another local favourite that just begs to be enjoyed.
This spirit, distilled from 100% rye-grain, can be found in most specialised drinks stores in town.
Kortrijk is increasingly putting itself on the map as a 'gastronomy town'.
There are a number of highly-rated restaurants, among the best (and most popular) being the Table d’Amis. Top chef Mathieu Beudaert puts taste and simplicity at the centre of his creations.
Last but not least, the town has a lively café culture. A great way to round out your Omer Vander Ghinste experience.
Tourism information for the Lys (Leistreek) area: