THE FIRST BREWERY IN NORTH AMERICA to make beers in the classic belgian styles
From the very beginning, Unibroue has carved out a special niche in the beer world with top quality products and a brand rooted deep in Quebec culture. It made history by becoming the first North American beer maker to use a brewing method inspired by the two-centuries-old tradition developed by Trappist monks in Europe—particularly in Belgium. Over the years, Unibroue has remained faithful to its origins even as it has grown to become an icon of the brewing world. Unibroue products take you on a journey filled with legends and fabulous tales.
The Unibroue adventure began in 1990, when André Dion and Serge Racine decided to vie for a share of the fast-growing craft beer market. Mr. Dion was determined to offer Québec consumers something other than British Ales or German Lagers. Mindful of the competition, their goal was to create world class, bottle-refermented ales stemming from the Belgian monastic traditions.
The inspiration for this came from a recent trip to Belgium that Mr. Dion and his wife took. They both visited the Trappist monasteries and enjoyed the ales they had to offer. A revelation struck Andre when he discovered that his wife (a wine drinker that didn’t normally enjoy beer) was enjoying the Trappist ales. He thought, “If my wife who doesn’t like beer, likes these… I think I have something here.” He took this inspiration, partnered with Serge Racine and became majority shareholders of La Brasserie Massawippi, a financially troubled Lennoxville brewery.
André Dion and Serge Racine finalized their acquisition of La Brasserie Massawippi in late 1991. They changed the name to Broubec Inc., and then to “Unibroue” in early 1992. The new company immediately established itself as a specialty brewer. Mr. Dion became the President and CEO, and Mr. Racine sat on the Board of Directors.
Unibroue partnered with Belgium’s Riva Brewery and purchased their recipes in return for a short-term, 10% investment in Unibroue. Next, they hired the skills of the renowned Belgian brewmaster Gino Vantieghem specializing in beer on lees. Under Gino’s guidance, Unibroue made history with the launch of Blanche de Chambly—North America’s first abbey-style ale. Later that same year, Quebec’s legendary singer-songwriter Robert Charlebois became one of Unibroue’s major partners. He then became vice president, and occasional spokesperson for Unibroue.
Unibroue moved to a new, cutting-edge 30,000hl microbrewery in Chambly, Quebec. This strategic move proved easier access to the province’s two key markets- Montreal and Quebec City. The brewery gradually started to build its export capacity by developing a distribution network throughout Quebec and across Canada.
Unibroue began exporting its products to the international market by opening subsidiaries in the U.S. and Europe.
In 1995 and 1996, major investments allowed Unibroue to increase production and expand its facilities. Its products became increasingly popular, capturing markets in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick, and several American states as well as France, Switzerland, and Belgium.
Unibroue consolidated its reputation as a brewer of distinction by opening Le Fourquet-Fourchette, an innovative concept-based restaurant-museum on the shores of the Richelieu River that celebrates the fine art of drinking.
At this point, Unibroue also became a public corporation listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Between 1998 and 2000, Unibroue responded to strong consumer demand for lager beer by introducing a new line of bottom fermented products, the refreshing and thirst-quenching U Blonde, U Rousse, U Miel, and La Bolduc. Chimay brewmaster Paul Arnott joined the company in 1999. Trained in Belgium’s great monastic brewing tradition, he helped breathe new life into the company’s classic products and expanded the Unibroue family with new vintage beers and the Éphémère series of fruit-based beers.
Sylvain Bouchard also joins the Unibroue team this year as its Beer Sommelier. As a Certified Cicerone ®, Sylvain travels extensively educating consumers and is a proud ambassador of the Unibroue brand across North America. Besides Jerry Vietz, he is the most recognized face of the company to this day.
Jerry Vietz joins Unibroue as highly valuable member of the brewing department. Prior to joining Unibroue, Jerry worked in the wine and cider industries in the Québec region, most notably Ciderie Du Minot. Andre Dion immediately recognizes Jerry’s talent for fermentation and quality control. Upon his arrival, he surveyed the plant and immediately saw where he could improve day-to-day operations. Having a background in plant management and optimization, his first tasks were to work on such projects as R&D and automation.
In 2004 the Sleeman Brewery became interested in the Quebec company’s ultra-modern facilities and highly qualified labor force. After purchasing Unibroue, Sleeman renamed itself Sleeman Unibroue Inc. The merger gave the brewery a powerful presence right across Canada. Today iconic Quebec beers like Blanche de Chambly, La Maudite, and La Fin du Monde are readily available right across Canada.
Another chapter in the story of the little Chambly-based brewery was written in October 2006 when Japan’s oldest commercial brewer, Sapporo International, purchased Sleeman Unibroue. With their profound respect for art, tradition, and culture, the Japanese recognized Unibroue as a Canadian treasure to be cherished and shared with the entire world.
Jerry Vietz is named Brewmaster of Unibroue. He is set with the immediate task of brewing a new ale to celebrate the brewery’s 17th anniversary. The 17 Grande Reserve is immediately recognized as one of the best beers in the world, and the 2007 version was named the best Dark Ale in the world overall in 2010 at the World Beer Awards in London, UK.
2008 – PRESENT
Within the decade, Master Brewer Jerry Vietz continued his path of award winning success after success garnering multiple Platinum, Gold and Silver medals in numerous global beer competitions. Jerry has added several recent new ales to Unibroue’s product portfolio. The most recent are: Éphémère Bluet, Éphémère Strawberry and Rhubarb, Lune de Miel, A Tout le Monde, the 25th Anniversary ales Blonde de L’enfer and Ale Gâteau Forêt-Noire, and Autre Chose Peach IPA. To this day, Unibroue continues to gain new consumers all over the world with their classics and their new releases.
The very newest project is the now infamous collaboration with Brouwerij Verhaeghe in Vichte, Belgium with a release date for Fall 2019. We can’t wait.
THE HISTORY OF UNIBROUE – AS TOLD BY JERRY VIETZ
This audio is our exclusive, in-depth interview with Unibroue’s Master Brewer Jerry Vietz on the history of the brewery. We recorded this interview on October 14, 2015, shortly after our BrewView on Unibroue’s Raftman Peat Smoked Whisky Malt Ale.