‘Brouwer met een bizar kantje, brouwer ‘met een hoek af’. Brewer with a bizarre side, a brewer ‘on the edge’. So said an article in De Zytholoog magazine about D’Oude Maalderij in Izegem recently. The article in question recognises the achievement of brewer Jef ‘Hiq’ Pirens being made a knight of the mashing paddle at last year’s Belgian Beer Weekend, the feast of Gambrinus and Sint-Arnoldus. What is amazing is that this accolade was awarded a mere 8 years after releasing his first beer Qantelaar in September 2012.
So the rise of this wonderful craft brewery has been rapid indeed but its beginnings go back even further to 2001 when a young Jef Pirens, 18 years young and brewed a beer at KIHO College in Gent for his end of school project. Displaying his ‘edgy’ credentials, his Geslacht beer was financed by selling it through his local youth club, Andere Geslacht – of which he was also President! Born in Hasselt, young Jef grew up in and around Brugge. His dedication to fine beer owes itself in parts to discovering new beers at Daisy Claeys’ Brugs Beertje with friends. From there his interest in beer became much more serious, a passion in fact.
Following a period of home brewing Jef finally released his first batch of Qantelaar (based on Kantelen the word for tilting, how one gets after a couple of drinks) beer in 2012 and took on the name D’Oude Maalderij (D.O.M. Brouwerij) from the former old millhouse in Koolskamp where the home brewed beer was produced. An unfiltered 8% bier bruin with wheat malt and candi sugar for a sturdy body, the beer remains a top seller for the brewery. Jef continued to brew further batches of the beer at Brouwerij Maenhout in Meulebeke and was rewarded with 8th place in the consumer trophy at Zythos Bier Festival.
Now, the nickname ‘Hiq’. No, it doesn’t relate to an insatiable thirst for dark beer, although this isn’t too far from the truth. Apparently this is an old nickname given when he was younger and has its foundations in Pinball and the Transformers comic series. D.O.M. Brewery continued to develop slowly but steadily and ‘Hiq’ hosted numerous beer tasting evenings, pushing the reputation of his beer. He also developed a slogan for his beer ‘Leer Proeven, Durf Genieten or Learn to Taste, Dare to Enjoy’. Possibly a swipe at the Jupiler generation perhaps? The English version is ‘Dare to Taste, Learn to Enjoy’, an unintentional volte-face but one that works as the interplay can be switched around.
D.O.M. Brewery were also participating in beer festivals, Zythos, Poperinge, Koekelare but the first big festival featured a stand at the 2013 edition of BAB in Brugge due to a last minute cancellation by Domis Ignis. Around this time, 2 further beers were launched – Redenaar at the 7th Brugs Bierfestival, a 6.5% bier blond and Hop The Brewer, another 6.5% beer but this one being an IPA. Beers were being produced by Jef at friends’ breweries, namely ‘t Gaverhopke, Gulden Spoor, Alvinne, De Leite plus he undertook a short brewing course at Glenn Alvinne’s brewery.
The next development would be the trio of dark beers, Deo a 4.8% porter, Optimo an 8% smoked stout and Maximo an 11.5% imperial stout. Borne out by Jef’s love for dark beers, the message was to educate drinkers that not all dark beers taste like Guinness (a Hiq guilty pleasure). This trio of beers, whose initials spelled out the D.O.M. Brewrey were sold in unique triangle packs so that all 3 could be tasted, compared and appreciated. It was 2015 and D.O.M. Brewery was gaining momentum.
A former flower shop became available in Izegem and Jef worked day and night from August of that year to install water and waste supplies and open his taproom. Opening just before his 34th birthday, the taproom was furnished like those cafes from a bygone era with plenty of memorabilia, both beer-related and otherwise from Jef’s collection of antique curiosities. Both D.O.M. beers and guests were offered alongside Jef’s collection of approximately 2.800 different vintage beers. Local snacks were showcased alongside Thai food from Kai Fa and a new beer, Farang (stranger) was produced in collaboration with them – an 8% Belgian Tripel made with galanga. The bar is a delight with plenty of beer-related heritage including old signs, religious artifacts, antique furniture while outside old dodgem cars and bikes compete with a (very) old campervan.
The next project was to remove the old greenhouses and build a new building to house the new D.O.M. brewery, pieced together by Jef from many different parts of brewing kit – a true Frankenstein creation and inspiring the brewhouse name ‘Frankie’. The only new piece of kit was the malt mill. 4 of the lager tanks and the bottling plant are from Alvinne, the pump from Van Honsebrouck, the yeast tanks are old farmers’ milk tanks and the labelling machine is from Fort Lapin. The fermenters are horizontal which is preferred due to the larger surface area and lower pressure. All bottles are filled under Jef’s expert eye and the brewhouse conditions are perfect for bottle conditioning with no added sugar required. The brewhouse launched in September 2016, a year after the bier café opened, continuing a long-standing brewing heritage in Izegem. Local fresh tapwater is used for all the beers, Belgian hops and sometimes herbs are added when necessary. On average D.O.M. Brewery produces 40 brews a year.
With a new brewery began a period of experimentation. The Homo Beerectus project with Brecht Kindt aimed to launch a new beer every 10 weeks, with 30 new beers produced over 6 years. However, the project came to a sudden end with the untimely passing of Brecht in April 2019. The beers were very popular and Eager Eagle became a regular beer, renamed Stoffoasje Tripel, 8% abv. Jef had decided that he needed a Tripel in his range and this sturdy beer has become his second best seller.
In May of the same year saw the opening of The Mash eetcafe on the site with Jef’s girlfriend Liesbet Schoonvliet. Focussing on tasty Belgian homecooking, you can create your own meal from choosing a Stoemp and a meat dish or go for a Mini Mash or Monster Mash, depending on how hungry you are. It’s little wonder that Ratebeer has voted the café Belgian’s best brewpub for 3 consecutive years! I can personally vouch for Liesbet’s cookies made with spent grain – hot from the oven and delicious.
Another new direction brought a barrel-aged series of beers with an oak aged Qantelaar with Makers Mark and Wild Turkey bourbon barrels. Putting the same focus on quality as with his other beers, Jef treats the addition of oak as a 5th ingredient in these beers. At the end of the year sees the annual release of Dominator’s Potion with Martinique rum and Blair Athol whisky flavouring a 12% Maximo over a year. However, Jef regards his Sea Monster series of beers as his showpiece. Inspired over games of Magic, The Gathering, these beers take their time to develop and are only released into bottle when they are ready. At 14% abv Leviathan, Kraken, Chtulhu, Scylla, Lorelei and Charybdis are beers to be both respected and appreciated on special occasions.
Which brings us to the present. Being knighted is an honour not lost on ‘Hiq’ Pirens. Nominated as deserving brewers who make an important contribution to Belgian beer its a reward for him being creative and progressive with his beers, and not being afraid to experiment. He feels that there is ‘no greater honour in the brewing world’ and you can see his medallion and framed charter on the wall in The Mash. So this honour has opened new doors. D.O.M. Brewery was selected as one of 8 brewers for the Barrel Boutique of Brouwerij Het Anker in Mechelen and launched at the Molenberg Fest. Fortunately 5 further barrels of beer remain at the brewery for an additional year’s ageing. D.O.M. beers were also entered into their first international beer competition and picked up an impressive 9 silver and bronze medals at the London Beer Competition. In typical Hiq style a lockdown beer ‘Antibirus’ was also launched this year plus a butternut squash Hallow’een beer. Further projects include a low alcohol tafelbier though an even more exciting development is underway.
Part of Jef’s Brewmance series of collaborations, the Mash of the Titans promises to be one of the most exciting project yet. A series of six barley wines will be produced in collaboration with six equally creative Belgium brewers. These breweries are Brasserie Minne in Wallonie, Brouwerij ‘t Verzet in Anzegem, ‘t Hofbrouwerijke in Beerzel, Brouwerij Alvinne in Zwevegem, Brouwerij Totem in Evergem and Brasserie Atrium, also in Wallonie. Many of the beers have already been brewed and they are expected to be ready for sale by the end of March.
Apart from being such a creative exercise, Jef feels that it is important that everyone has fun making the beers and has the opportunity to learn from one another. Equally important is that the beers are financially successful as this has been a very hard year for local breweries. Finally, the project is also a statement to advertise the fact that these producers are still around and continuing to make excellent beers. Half of these beers will be available as a 1,000 only limited edition 6 pack. To whet the appetite even further, the remainder of the beer will be barrel aged and available at a later date. On another note the old campervan has gone – sold – but Jef has added some classic cars to adorn the outside of the brewery as you can see below.
Finally – a date for the diary. On the 9th October 2021 D’Oude Maalderij will turn 10 years old and to celebrate The Mash will be hosting a party with a new D.O.M. beer launched every hour. This promises to be a major event with many guests on hand to assist in hosting the beers with stories, etc. Liesbet will be on hand to supply tasty beer food throughout the party of course – just in case.
As a footnote Jef feels that his story has been one of steady momentum, not rushing ahead too quickly but making steady progress from small, local festivals up to the bigger ones and on to international events, spreading the name of this unique part of West Flanders. To get a taste for what is happening in Izegem go and take a look for yourself and have a chat with Jef, sample his beers and enjoy Liesbet’s cooking. You won’t be disappointed.