The Beginning - The year is 1871 when we first meet Jan-Leonard Moortgat, a descendant of a brewing family from the village of Steenhuffel, together with his wife Maria De Block, standing at the cradle of the-then farm brewery - named, naturally enough, Moortgat. Throughout those pioneering years, Jan-Leonard was to seek buyers for his range of high fermentation beers, such as Stavelot.
And although not all of those first beers were popular, their quality was never in doubt. The brewery always strove for success, and even the first generation of Moortgats had the highest of standards. A range of take-overs and expansions followed, which were directly responsible for shaping the modern Duvel Moortgat brewery.
The End of the Beginning - In 1963 the brewery acquired the licence for the production of the Maredsous Abbey beers. And the Moortgat beer family continued to expand. In 1965 the Vedett name was launched, re-baptising an export pils that had been in production since the 1940s. At the start of the new millennium Vedett took on a new lease of life, with Vedett Extra Blond hitting the spot. Shortly after the white beer, Vedett Extra White, was added to the range.
2006 saw the acquisition of Brasserie d’Achouffe. In 2008 the Liefmans brewery was taken over. In 2010 the Antwerp crown jewel, De Koninck, was added to the Duvel Moortgat collection. The group also became owner of two American micro-breweries: Ommegang Brewery (New York) and Boulevard Brewery (Kansas).
Duvel was now starting to enjoy world-wide recognition as a reference point for speciality beers re-fermented in the bottle. Investments continue to be made, and not simply in the areas of technology and infrastructure.
The company follows its own distinct philosophy, and adheres to its founding business creed.
Great attention is paid to research and sustainability, with a marketing approach that takes its cue from the beer – not the other way around. Innovation, authenticity and originality are the key watch words here.
Vedett, for example, is an ‘alternative’ brand; it does not take itself too seriously and incorporates elements of both modern and retro design. The picture found on the label is a concrete mixer, atop a concrete truck, magically transformed into a bottle or even a motel.
No surprise then, that recently, Duvel was elected one of the coolest brands in the UK. Duvel also has flirtations with art. At the end of the 1960's the unique Duvel glass was conceived, the very first tulip-shaped beer tasting glass.
You can pour the entire contents of a 33cl bottle into it. The glass is designed with the aim of enhancing the beer experience. The bulb shape allows the taste and aroma to be enjoyed to the full. The glass has now become an icon and can be recognised by its sensual, female shape.
If you drain the glass you will see a ‘D’ engraved at the bottom. And if you fill up the glass completely, you will be rewarded with a column of bubbles rising up from D in the middle. The glasses that form part of the ‘Duvel Collection’ testify to the skills of artists such as Arne Quinze or Daan.
Duvel is without a doubt the brewery’s star product, subtly bitter with a refined aroma. The beer occupies a unique position within the rich Belgian beer tradition. It takes three months before the freshly brewed Duvel gets to touch the sides of your glass.
After bottling, the beer will re-ferment for fourteen days in warm storage rooms (24°C). It will then stabilise for six weeks in cold storage (10°C). This process really is unique, after which you can enjoy its beautifully balanced taste.
The beer is brewed using Saaz-Saaz and Styrian Golding aroma hops and the Duvel recipe has remained unchanged throughout the years. The beer owes its bitter strength to the aroma of hops only. Using these hops makes its bitterness far more bearable.
The beer has the light appearance of a pilsner, but has a surprisingly abundant character (8.5% ABV). And Duvel will surprise you through its huge frothy collar, its delicate pearlisation and its velvety mouth feel. Duvel partly owes its refined taste and pure aromas to that unique, extra long maturation period.
The Duvel Tripel Hop is a recent introduction. This stronger version of a Duvel was brewed using three varieties of hops. In addition to the familiar Saaz-Saaz and Styrian Golding there is a third variety which changes every year.
The Duvel Tripel Hop remains a Duvel, albeit with a higher alcohol content, a higher density and a more powerful bitter flavour. Its pearlisation and frothy collar contribute to the familiar Duvel signature. However, the beer is explosively different when it comes to aroma and taste. “You should never be in doubt between a Duvel and a Duvel Tripel Hop,” says the brewer.
Vedett Extra Blond is the descendant of the Export Pils which became popular just after the Second World War. It is a thirst-quenching, dry pils recognisable by its colour. The use of rice in the brewing of this beer is quite remarkable.
Besides the premium pils, Vedett Extra Blond, Duvel Moortgat is also brewing a white beer called Vedett Extra White. During the brewing process, only natural ingredients are added, such as wheat, barley, hops, coriander and dried orange peel. The beer will re-ferment in the bottle for a number of weeks, both in-bottle and on tap, so the taste palette can develop fully.
The beer is bottled unfiltered so all of its natural taste is beautifully preserved. When pouring out a Vedett Extra White you swirl around the remaining contents of the bottle to loosen up the natural yeast at the bottom and allow it to mix. The freed-up sediment helps to form a natural wonderful cloudiness. “This is a complex beer to brew”, finds Hedwig Neven. “We aim for a naturally cloudy beer that does not turn flaky. Not an easy combination to get right”.
Duvel-Moortgat has recently launched a spirit based on beer, matured for six years in oak barrels previously used for bourbon and sherry. “We are combining the best of two worlds,” head brewer Hedwig Neven tells us. “To the Filliers Distillery we are offering a top-quality beer – Duvel – that has been produced with the utmost care. Our Duvel is the result of three months of brewing, fermentation, re-fermentation and storage”.
As part of the distillation process, the alcohol and aromas from the beer are concentrated and captured separately. The process is repeated two or three times. The pale, straw-coloured result (40°) has the appearance of a whisky and could be said to form a bridge between beer and whisky.
The flowery aromas you are able to discern originate from the Duvel house yeast. Also, the maturation in wooden barrels gives a subtle hint of vanilla. You have to be a very regular consumer of Duvel to be able to recognise the beer in the finished distilled product.
“As a brewer, we do want to expand our boundaries”, CEO Michel Moortgat argues. Hedwig Neven agrees: “Also in the beer area! At the moment we are experimenting with hundreds of yeasts”. We can’t wait to see how this works out.
After Jan-Leonard Moortgat and his wife laid the foundations, the second Moortgat generation took over in 1900. Business was booming and Albert and Victor, both sons of Jan-Leonard, decided to join the business.
As in each family, everyone was allocated a task. Albert was to be a brewer, responsible for the brewing process. Victor took charge of deliveries and set off with horse and cart to the-then far-away Brussels, to deliver the beer.
The First World War brought Belgium into contact with Britain, and more specifically with the typical British ales.
Albert Moortgat decided to embark on a journey to Scotland, to hunt for the ideal British yeast culture for his Belgian beers. Unsurprisingly, at first he encountered resistance from local Scottish brewers.
After a veritable crusade, however, he did end up with the bacteria he so coveted. To this day the brewery uses yeast cultivated from the same original culture.
In 1923 the brewery introduced a new beer. ‘Victory Ale’ refers to the end of the First World War. However, the local cobbler was to decide otherwise, after he tasted the beer. He pronounced it ‘a real devil’. Legend? Coincidence? Or a divine inspiration caused by this ‘devilish beer’?
From 1923 the beer was marketed under the name of Duvel. Production is slow to start, with just a few batches in 1923. The great breakthrough in its appeal happened in the 1970s (Duvel used to be a dark beer).
In the 1950's, the third generation of Moortgats were handed the baton; Bert and Marcel Moortgat, and the two Moortgat brothers Leon and Emile. In the 1980s Ben Gevaert also joined the group. This management team was responsible for the further technical and commercial expansion of the brewery.
At the end of the 1990s, it was time for the fourth generation to join the brewery’s management team. The three brothers, Michel, Philippe and Bernard Moortgat together with their niece Veerle Baert continued to invest in the brewery and safeguard the perfect quality of the beer.
Head brewer Hedwig Neven has been working for Duvel-Moortgat for over twenty years. His main focus - which he shares with the Moortgat family – is quality and know-how. “Duvel is a complex beer to brew, but we are not taking any shortcuts”, Hedwig Neven assures us.
The brewer still uses his centrifuge and plate filter for filtering, so preserving the unique quality of the beer. Fermentation is achieved under the best possible circumstances in fermentation tanks which have been constructed, filled and layered at the ideal temperature.
But make no mistake. Even though traditional methods are used, high-tech equipment also comes into the equation. Duvel-Moortgat calls this ‘procescontrole’, or process management, a definite requirement for quality.
Now and again, of course, fans of Duvel do take the brewery to account. But Duvel-Moortgat understands the importance of listening. As an example, the Lambiekstopers beer lovers’ association asked the brewer to re-introduce the Duvel Tripel Hop – which was a one-off brew – having gained 12,000 signatories on its Facebook petition.
The company heard that message loud and clear: ever since then, the beer has been a permanent feature in the brewery’s range.
The close ties and frequent contact with consumers only serve to emphasise the family character of this brewery.
Naturally, you can readily visit the brewery, which has a well-equipped visitors’ centre and its own brewery café: the Duvel Depot. The café itself is reserved for those who have joined a brewery visit and is not open to the general public. But in case of emergency, there is a typical Flemish café just opposite the brewery. After all, beer is never far away in Belgium.
The visits come in various formats. The brewery tour can be experienced in different ways, depending on your interests and your level of beer knowledge. Find out more about the brewing process or learn how to pour and taste the beers. Whichever option you choose, you are guaranteed a unique beer experience.
The first option offers you the classic brewery visit, which ends in an extensive tasting session conducted by a professional beer sommelier. If you want to go a step further you can opt for a tour that's complemented by an initiation into the noble art of beer pouring, as well as a degustation and a little something to take home.
There is also a luxury package that includes cheese paring. A visit will last between 1½ and 2½ hours, depending on the formula you choose. BeerTourism.com holds a weekly prize draw where you can win a visit to the brewery for two people.
The brewery is located in Puurs, a small town of 17,000 in the Flemish province of Antwerp. Traces of human habitation have been found dating back thousands of years before Christ. The first century AD saw the Romans settle here, and after the French Revolution, Puurs became the administrative centre of its canton.
Nearby Breendonk used to belong to the town of Puurs. These days Breendonk is best known for its fort that was converted into a concentration camp by the Nazi occupiers.
The camp has now been transformed into a museum and is the best preserved of its kind in Western Europe.
Duvel feels at home in the tourist regions of Klein-Brabant and Scheldeland. The banks of the river Scheldt offer many enjoyable opportunities for walking or cycling. So too do the car-free towpaths</b in the area around Rupelmonde, Temse, Weert, Sint-Amands, Mariekerke, Bornem, Vlassenbroek and Dendermonde. Also, using the ferries you can ‘cycle’ effortlessly from one bank to the other. A trip into the countryside is equally rewarding.
From the brewery you can also drive into the direction of Rupel. In Boom you will find De Schorre, a nature park and recreational area that has become world famous through the festival of Tomorrowland, the electronic-music spectacular.
Getting There & Around
From Brussels North Station you take express bus 460 which is run by De Lijn and travels in the direction of Boom. From Mechelen train station you board bus 286/287, also run by de Lijn and also with the destination of Boom.
The well-established cycling network in this region comprises over 500 kilometres of tracks and over a hundred extra nodes. There even is a Duvelroutewhich is 50km long and takes you to interesting sights and natural beauty spots.
257 kilometres of well-maintained walking routes will keep any walker happy.
There is a wide choice of well-signposted thematic routes alongside a number of rivers such as the Scheldt, Durme or Dender.
If you are keen on a challenge you can take part in the 100 kilometres long Dodentocht (Tour of the Dead), which is held every year in mid-August. The route passes the brewery. Without a doubt, the most dangerous stop for thirsty participants.
Gastronomy, Food & More Beer
The area around Puurs is known for its asparagus thanks to nearby Kalfort, only a five minutes’ drive away from the brewery. After Mechelen, this is the second largest epicentre of white asparagus growing in Belgium. In fact, in-season there is no escaping them. You will find them on well nigh every menu, prepared in many different ways including the best-known one: ‘op zijn Vlaams’ or ‘in the Flemish way’.
Wherever the Scheldt flows through Flanders, you will find eel dishes on the regional menu. The traditional “in het groen” preparation, using a green sauce, is the most authentic one. Unfortunately, eel fishing has as good as disappeared from the region. Nowadays most eel is farmed in the Netherlands. If you are after something a little more exotic or trendy, Antwerp is the place for you at only half an hour’s drive away.
The Duvel-Moortgat brewery itself is focusing more and more on gastronomy, and on building bridges between their beers and food. For example, there is a Duvel cheese on the market. Belgium’s best-known cheese affineurs, Michel and Frederic Van Tricht, are also collaborating with Duvel-Moortgat and use its De Koninck brewery to ripen and refine their cheeses.
Het Landhuis Boomstraat 1
tel. +32 (0) 3 899 28 68