LEUVEN - It’s almost the last weekend in April. The air is sparkling with electricity and beer lovers are on high alert: “Zythos is coming to town!” We’re headed to Leuven for the annual Zythos Beer festival. Zythos is the ancient Greek word for beer and beer connoisseurs can be called Zythologues.
The festival started 10 years ago, modestly enough, in the town of Sint-Niklaas before expanding into its current home at the Brabanthal in Leuven.
In fact, a whole organisation grew up in tandem with the beer festival. Zythos was born in 2003 from "Objectieve Bierproevers" association and is now the umbrella organisation for 45 local beer consumers’ associations, primarily in Flanders.
Malt & Mout in Brussels and Slow Beer Club in Namen are temporary members and they are promoting the movement in the south of the country, where Zythos wants to grow.
The association stands up for the beer lover and wants to offer him or her the chance to discover as wide a range of brews as possible. If, at the Zythos beer festival you come face to face with stands from, at first sight, obscure breweries such as Warsage, Den Herberg, Angerik, Authentique, Den Toetëlèr, Danny or Dijkwaert or you hear fantastic beer names like 'Belle Pinup', 'Red Cardinal', 'Puitenkop' or 'Schapenkop', that is no coincidence.
Zythos does all it can to promote the diversity of Belgian beer culture and its festival is a showcase for many smaller breweries and beer firms that you may struggle to find elsewhere.
Laboratory of taste
“At the Zythos beer festival you’ll find out what is happening in the beer market. And there’s quite a lot going on,” is the opinion of beer ambassador Johan – aka de Wanne – Madelijns. De Wanne is the long-time president of De Lambiekstoempers, a local association from the Pajottenland area that is affiliated to Zythos. He has been taking an active part in the festival for years.
“This is where the brewers like to showcase their newest creations, present a limited edition or try out an experimental brew,” Wanne tells us. “Admittedly, not all of these make the grade, but there is always plenty to discover that does tickle the taste buds.
Some of my own favourites included the Oud Bruin Oak Leaf Edition from Brouwers Verzet, the festive edition from de Keyte van Strubbe, De Leite’s Merci Maman and the Chouffe Soleil on tap made by Brasserie d’Achouffe. But who am I to judge?”
Zythos gives an opportunity to taste a wide range of the latest beers. You’ll find exotic aroma hops; beers emphasising hoppiness and sour and bitter-sour beers; beers matured on wood with influences of whisky, wine, brandy, grappa... all in all, around 500 beers made by over 100 breweries and beer firms. A number of brewers, such as Alvinne and Struise Brouwers, have managed to build their own international communities.
Their fans crowd to the bar to get a chance to taste one of their many creations. So, is this beer festival a platform for larger breweries? Yes, you could say that, but the beer freaks who have descended upon the festival in large numbers are also expecting something out of the ordinary.
You don’t ‘do Zythos’ if all you want is a beer ‘of the common or garden variety’. On the other hand, you don’t have to go to extremes.
Take a look, for example, at the new Rodenbach Rosso (4% ABV), a light variation on the familiar roodbruin beer style from West Flanders blended with fruit juices.
“Blasphemy” some purists will cry. Perhaps, but bear in mind that a light beer such as this, with its characteristic sweet and sour touch, will appeal to a wider and younger audience that might not be tempted by the traditional Rodenbach with its sourer taste.
Also, this broadcasts the message that a new beer does not, by definition, have to be a strong one. In the end it is the taste that counts!
See you all at Zythos 2015.