It was recently discovered that Brouwerij Palm, then known by the De Hoorn name, was founded in 1686 and not 1747, as was previously thought. From there we skip quickly through the generations. Though not without noticing a number of names in the family tree that point to close ties with several Belgian brewing families.
Our spotlight lands on Arthur Van Roy, who married Henriette De Mesmaecker in 1908. Arthur was responsible for a 40-hectare farm (almost 100 acres), as well as the brewery, which was to grow in importance over the years.
It was Arthur who made the well-thought-out and resolute decision to produce top-fermented beers, going against the prevailing trend for bottom-fermented pilsner beers. The De Hoorn brewery produced just top-fermented beers for quite a while.
Palm is well known for its typical Brabant top-fermented beers, marketed under the Palm brand. It is, in fact, the market leader in the Benelux countries in the amber beer sector. Under Jan Toye’s current leadership the brewery has started promoting the preservation and development of a number of traditional Belgian beer styles: Spéciale Belge Ale, oude geuze and Zuid-West-Vlaams Roodbruin. For example, in 1998 Palm purchased the Rodenbach brewery, famous for its mixed-fermentation, red-brown beers typical of West Flanders. At Rodenbach the beers mature for two whole years in unique oak foeders, or barrels.
The takeover of Brouwerij De Gouden Boom in Bruges in 2001 saw the range of degustation beers expanded with the Brugge Tripel and the Steenbrugge abbey beers.
A 50/50 joint venture with lambic brewer Frank Boon could be described as a cultural project that aims to preserve traditional geuze lambic, made using spontaneous fermentation and involving lengthy maturation in oak barrels. The project includes lambics made with fruit. Nineteen-eighty-one saw the takeover of the Aerts brewery, which was integrated into Palm. A joint venture with lambic brewery Boon was set up in 1990. Investment in De Gouden Boom in Bruges was to follow, and that brewer was also assimilated in time.
Palm has been the owner of Rodenbach brewery, known for its red-brown beers typical of the West Flanders area, since 1998.
Brouwerij Palm is never quiet on the beer front. New launches come in quick succession: Palm Royale, Palm Hop Select (formerly Palm Hopper), Rodenbach Rosso, Rodenbach Vintage, Rodenbach Caractère Rouge…
Thanks to Viki Geunes of the two Michelin-starred restaurant ’t Zilte in Antwerp, who acts as an ambassador for the brewery, Palm beers have now entered the world of gastronony. Unfortunately, Alfred Van Roy did not live to see the day. He passed away in 2009, having been active in the brewing world for almost 75 years.
What’s more, Palm has been giving local hop farmers a leg-up since 2012, when the brewery established its own hop field. Palm planted the popular Hallertau Mittelfrüh variety, which has a very delicate and hoppy aroma.
Palm is one of only two brewery groups in the world to produce authentic Belgian beers using all four of the traditional fermentation methods. The Palm brewery in Steenhuffel produces both top-fermented beers (Palm, Brugge Tripel, Cornet) and bottom-fermented brews (Estaminet).
And at Rodenbach’s in Roeselare, mixed-fermentation beers are created. In this method a young beer is cut (or blended) with beer that has matured in oak.
Last but not least, the Boon brewery uses the spontaneous-fermentation method. Their characteristic lambic beers start to ferment naturally as the wort comes into contact with bacteria in the air and the foeders (barrels). No yeast is added by the brewer.
Brouwerij Palm in Steenhuffel produces in the rich tradition of Belgian top-fermentation beers. The Spéciale Belge Ale is an amber beer style with roots that go back to the start of the 20th century.
Back then the Belgian brewers were in search for an alternative for the successful – imported – pils beers. Top-fermented beers, the traditional Palm being a prime example, taste of the water used in the brewing process; the selected malts, unmalted wheat, rice or maize; hops; herbs, and yeast. The malts vary from pale to amber. They can be coloured in a dry oven (or eest) or be roasted in a drum.
To add bitterness, non-acidic hop varieties are added at the start of the boiling process. For contrasting flavours aroma hops are added towards the end of this stage.
The production process for the Palm Hop Select includes dry hopping, which is done post-fermentation. Finally, fermentation is achieved using a yeast strain from the family of very popular top-fermenting yeasts: Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, which is active between 15°C and 25°C. To this end, Palm has a large range of yeast cultures at its disposal, all of which have been extensively documented.
The main fermentation takes five to seven days. This is followed by storage in the warm cellar at 20°C, and a cooling-down stage at 0°C to continue the clarification process.
In 1928, Arthur Van Roy’s son Alfred, at the tender age of 15, started his own impressive career in the world of Belgian brewing. He attended brewery college in Brussels, where he discovered the 'Spéciale Aerts' amongst other beers. In 1929 the De Hoorn brewery launched the Spéciale Palm, their own Spéciale Belge style beer with its characteristic amber colour.
The Spéciale Belge style was introduced as a result of a 1904 competition between brewing colleges. The objective? To develop top-fermented beers that would provide a Belgian-made alternative for the successful pils beers, all of which came from abroad.
The Palm of the label symbolises the victory of the top-fermented beers – they will take the palm! During World War II, the raw ingredients for beer were in short supply and the brewery had to produce a pale beer.
It was a success, and led to the creation of the Bock Pils, followed by the Estaminet some years later. Dobbel Palm - a seasonal beer that comes across as Palm’s bigger, stronger brother with its robust flavours and fullness in the mouth - was launched in 1947. The Spéciale Palm was hugely popular at the World Exposition held in Brussels in 1958. In the meantime, the brewery had discovered that horses can be a great advertising tool. The brewery, renamed Palm in 1974, added a shire horse to its logo in 1980.
And when the brewery acquired Diepensteyn Castle, one of its first actions was to set up a stud farm for Brabant shire horses. Around 20 of these Brabanders, with their reddish-brown coats and blond manes, have found a home here.
This medieval castle, now completely restored, was first opened to the public in 1996. Alfred Van Roy, who did not have children, asked the nephew of his wife Aline Verleyen, Jan Toye, to take over the daily management at the brewery. Toye is a civil engineer but has taken postgraduate studies in brewery engineering.
Under his management, the brewery has grown into an international market player.
Jan Toye is now lobbying the Federation of Belgian Brewers to record all of the authentic beer styles, to define them, and to impose quality requirements.
This in order to thwart the copycats, of whom there are many. The High Council for the Authentic Belgian Beer Styles is submitting several applications for European protection. If successful, these European labels will act as a guarantee for the quality and provenance of these regional products.
The Palm Brewery receives over 20,000 visitors per annum. Palm offers an experience that is far more than a simple tour. You start off in d’Oude Bottelarij, the visitor centre, with a beer. There are rarities, unfiltered Palm for example, that you won’t easily find anywhere else. In the meantime, you watch a film about the company.
Then it’s on to the brewery to soak up your guide’s explanation of the brewing process from start to finish. The tour starts off in the brewing halls, both historical and contemporary.
This is followed by an introduction to the herb cellar, the fermentation chambers, the bottling plant and the distribution hall.
A new addition to the tour is the De Hoorn microbrewery. This was recently added to produce small volume brews and also to develop new beers, often in close co-operation with chefs and sommeliers.
The stud farm at the Diepensteyn estate is the last stop before a tasting in the visitor centre. Here, you can choose one of several freshly poured beers and buy your souvenirs in the Palmshop. If you want a bite to eat before or after your visit, we recommend the Brouwershuis just across the road.
Diepensteyn Castle serves a brunch on the first Sunday of each month, and it is also a regular party and event venue.
The former Steenhuffel station, ‘t Leireken, has now been converted into a gastro pub. It is the starting point for the 8.5km Molenbeekwandeling walking route. Places of interest along the way include Diepensteyn Castle, the stud farm, Drietoren Castle and the Herbodinne mill.
The village of Steenhuffel sits in Brussels’ Green Belt that stretches from Keersbergen to Bever and from Huldenberg to Londerzeel. Here, walkers enjoy splendid forests, parks, gardens and castle estates.
Between Wolvertem and the small village of Imde you’ll find the Wolvertemse Beemden nature reserve.
Take a walk along the Beemdenwandelpad (6.5 km) and enjoy the views across the meadows and the marshy wooded areas.
This path will also take you to such handsome buildings as the Castle of Imde, the Kasteelhoeve farm and the 17th-century forest chapel. The gently rolling fields of Brussegem, part of the 7km Callaris walking trail, will amaze you. It is one of the best-preserved landscapes in Flanders - varied and ever-changing with the occasional green vista. Hof te Lovegem, a religious house managed by the Church, dates back to the 13th century.
In nearby Meise you will find the Nationale Plantentuin, the National Botanic Gardens, which preserves over 18,000 plant varieties from across the globe.
From here, it’s only a short hike to the Atomium, the Boudewijn (Baudoin) football stadium and the Bruparck theme park.
The Heizel centre with its regular trade fairs housed in stately ‘palaces’ reminiscent of the 1958 World Expo. Another tip: the highest pod of the Atomium will give you a unique panorama across Europe’s capital.
Getting There & Around
Brouwerij Palm is located in Steenhuffel, part of the municipality of Londerzeel. By car from Brussels or Antwerp, take the A12 to Londerzeel, from there follow the signs for Steenhuffel – Malderen. By train from Antwerp or Brussels: use Malderen or Londerzeel stations located on the Mechelen – Ghent railway link or else alight at Merchtem or Mollem on the Brussels – Dendermonde line.
The region has plenty to offer to cyclists. The Flemish Brabant cycling network is 1,800km in total, so planning your own individual route should be easy.
From the former Leireken railway station, close to the village centre, the Aalst - Londerzeel cycle trail is built on a disused railway line.
The station lies between the Palm Brewery and Diepensteyn Castle and the trail passes the brewery’s hop field. With a bit of luck you will see Brabant shire horses grazing the meadows surrounding the castle.
Another cycling trail, the Brouwersroute, departs from Leireken station. Pedal along and you’ll see beer history brought to life as the cycling node network takes you to the Palm, Duvel, Mort Subite, Affligem, Malheur, Satan and Bosteels breweries. You can choose one of three distances: 33km, 65km or 100km. And don’t forget to take a break in one of the 120 cycling cafés in the region.
Gastronomy, Food & More Beer
The region of Flemish Brabant, close to Brussels, is proud of its agricultural tradition. Just think of the grapes produced here, the strawberries, chicory and asparagus. In about 1960 you would have seen around 35,000 greenhouses used for the cultivation of dessert grapes.
These days there are only around 30 growers of the crispy, sweet grape variety called ‘tafeldruif’ in Dutch.
Strawberry growers cluster in the Pajottenland area, close to the valley of the Zenne, and also in the Hageland region around Leuven.
The Mechelen-Leuven-Brussels triangle is the birthplace of chicory. Gourmets are especially keen on the variety grown in the open fields. Asparagus cultivation started here in the 18th century.
Today, the delicate spears are primarily grown around Brussels, Mechelen and Leuven.
Timing is key: the very best asparagus is found in season, from mid-April to the end of June. That is when you’re bound to find ‘asperges op Vlaamse wijze/à la Flamande’, or, ‘asparagus the Flemish way’, on your restaurant menu. This speciality involves chopped hard-boiled eggs and parsley covered in a sauce made with clarified butter. It wouldn’t be complete without a dollop of mashed potato.
The 51km Asparagus Route also starts off near the brewery. Discover a river landscape over the dykes of the Scheldt, with polders (reclaimed land), Canadian poplars and river locks. The restaurants all have local specialties on offer.
The Vlaams-Brabant region is a mecca for the beer lover. Nowhere else in Belgium will you find a greater number of breweries of every size. You’ll also come across traditional lambic beers from the Pajottenland area and the valley of the Zenne river. The Boon brewery in Lembeek is just one of the producers of lambic and its visitor centre in Alsemberg makes a great starting point for your journey of discovery in Lambic Country.
Tourist information for Vlaams-Brabant:
Provincieplein 1 B-3010 Leuven
Tel: +32 (0) 16 26 76 20