Brewday at Brasserie a Vapeur

Originally posted: December 17th, 2012.

After a whirlwind GABF week and the following two weeks trying to catch up, my wife Carolee and I could finally start thinking about our vacation in Belgium.  We landed in Brussels, jumped in our GPS-equipped Peugeot, and headed straight to the southwest edge of Belgium and the town of Pipaix. Our destination was Brasserie a Vapeur where, on the last Saturday of every month, they hold a public brew day.

Originally known as Brasserie Cuvelier, the brewery has been producing its flagship Saison Pipaix on the same site since 1785 and is the last steam powered brewery in the world.  In 1984 when it looked like the brewery would close for good, a schoolteacher by the name of Jean-Louis Dits stepped in to save it.

The brewday started at 9am as crushed malt fell from the hundred year old Meura mill on the second floor and was hydrated before it hit the iron mash tun. The crowd watched as the steam engine chugged along, driving an axle via pulleys that in turn drove the mash paddles to mix the mash. The mash was very thick at the initial rest of 113⁰F and additions of hot liquor raised the mash temperature through various steps before finally reaching 165⁰F.

When the mash reached its final temperature rest and was readied for vorlauf, the crowd was ushered across the street to dine on homemade soup and rolls, 40 different local cheeses, smoked salmon, Ardennes ham, and of course, beer. It’s at this point most people lost their interest in brewing, but not Carolee and I. We repeatedly made our way across the street to monitor the progress of the runoff and observe the boil. I even got to lend a hand with graining out. By the time the boil was over in the evening the wort finally received its first touch of stainless steel by way of the new counter-flow wort chiller and cylindroconical fermenters.

At the end of the evening, we sat down with Jean-Louis to talk shop and sample some beers from the cellar. The conversation turned to perception of flavor and variables that affect how a beer tastes. Jean-Louis claimed that the vessel used to drink out actually affects the flavor of the beer. To prove his point, he produced mugs made from glass, new pewter, old pewter, and ceramic to sample the same beer. To our astonishment he was right, there is a difference!

Jean-Louis was a wonderful host. If you are planning on visiting Belgium and touring breweries you must make a point of visiting, it is like stepping back in time.

Here is a recipe for Belgian Waffles. I’m trying to replicate the waffle we had in Poperinge with limited success but this recipe is pretty close.


Belgian Yeasted Waffles

3/4 stick butter

2 C. milk

2 t. dry yeast

1 T. sugar

½  t. salt

2 C. flour

3 eggs, separated

1 t. vanilla extract


Melt butter in small pot on low. When melted, add milk and heat to lukewarm. Add yeast, sugar, salt, and flour and combine. Let sit for 1-2 hours for yeast to rise. Separate eggs. Add egg yolks and vanilla extract to batter and combine. Beat egg whites to soft peaks and fold into batter. Cook in waffle iron.