Many a beer drinker in Belgium will say that the De Ranke beers are among the best (if not the best) for their line of products that span a wide variety of classic Belgian styles, which have been received with much favor in the Belgian beer marketplace.
ABOUT BrOUWERIJ DE RANKE
Brouwerij De Ranke and it’s history actually goes back 35 years ago. Brewery founder Nino Bacelle was a homebrewer who took up the hobby in 1981. Thirteen years later, Nino decided after many “experimental” homebrewing sessions that he was ready to release his own beer to the Belgian market. Thus, Brewery Nino Bacelle was born.
He decided instead of being responsible for raising a large capital investment to start a new brewery, he went the “contract” brewing route, and coordinated with the Deca brewery in Woesten to allow him to make his beers on weekends there. One of Bacelle’s first beers, Guldenberg- (a high fermentation Abbey style beer) sold 9,000 liters after just one year into his new ‘venture’.
In 1995, Nino met his future business partner Guido Devos at a meeting through the beer tasters association HOP. Guido was a founding member of HOP and had been active as an amateur brewer for years.
1996 found Nino and Guido pooling resources and knowledge and changed the name “Brewery Nino Bacelle“ to Brewery De Ranke. The name ‘De Ranke’ refers to the vines on which their main ingredient for beer grows: hops.
After 11 years of brewing at Brewery Deca, Nino and Guido decide to start their own brewery in Dottenijs located in the province of Henegouwen. In 2010, Nino decides to turn what started as a hobby into a full-time profession. By 2015, their annual production reached 5.000 hl (500.000 litres). About 50% of that is exported to more than 20 countries. 6 people are now employed at the brewery and plans are made to expand production to 10.000 hl/year.
BREWING PHILOSOPHY – AS TOLD BY BROUWERIJ DE RANKE (condensed version)
Why start a new brewery in a country like Belgium where breweries are everywhere already? In the early 80’s we –“beer lovers”- were concerned about the mass-disappearance of many small and medium-sized breweries in Belgium. Considering that they were the breweries capable of making the best beers.
It was also alarming that during that period lots of outstanding, bitter beers were sweetened to meet the demands of mass-consumption, assuming that people didn’t like the bitter taste anymore. The reality was that new techniques allowed using hop-extracts rather than hop-flowers, which allowed for cheaper production. Also, the industrial manufacturers believed that the taste of beer should be neutral in order to reach the masses (combined with mass-marketing). These developments in the beer industry led to us undertaking action to prove that quality can only be guaranteed with the best raw materials and with respect for traditional methods.
From the start it was clear that establishing a brewery meant only one goal for us: making the best beer possible according to our standards:
1. Using natural raw materials, without adding exipients or artificial ingredients.
2. Respecting old traditional methods, without ignoring new techniques. These techniques are only applied if they guarantee quality-improvement and not for cost-reduction.
3. The project can’t depend on commercial success. A long-term strategy is planned, where all revenues are re-invested and word-of-mouth is our advertising. Gradually our company grew, but the same philosophy has been maintained.
ETHICAL, ECOLOGICAL AND SUSTAINABLE
For both founders it was obvious from the beginning that the customers approach should be the same as they would expect if they were customers themselves: providing honest and correct information. That’s why we don’t have secrets at De Ranke. We offer our customers insight in our brewery, the brewing process and the materials used, with nothing to hide.
We choose to use the best raw materials in their most natural form without adding excipients or additives during or after production. Our beers are not filtered or pasteurized. We prioritize the happiness of our neighbors and our staff above profitability: we don’t work nights, or do shift rotations. We always strive to maintain the best environment possible, so both the neighbors and the staff can be proud on their local brewery, and the beers created here.
Ecological and sustainable entrepreneurship
The brewery uses exclusively local raw materials, hops from the region of Poperinge and malt from Belgian malting houses. Part of the energy is generated by solar heaters on the roof of the brewery, so in the summer all of our cleaning water and the majority of our brewing water are heated by those boilers. We use very little cooling during the brewing process, so less energy is used than in a classic system. (Source: Brouwerij De Ranke)
BEER STYLE AND COMMERICAL DESCRIPTION
Style category: Belgian Hoppy Blonde Ale
XXX-Bitter is a variation on the existing XX-bitter, where we add an additional 50% more hops.
Taste: Full-bodied bitter beer. Despite its higher IBU-value, the large amount of aroma-hops makes this beer taste smoother than XX.
HOPS: Brewers Gold, Hallertau Mittelfrüh
COLOR: 10 EBC
OUR BREWVIEW on DE RANKE XXX BITTER
APPEARANCE / THE POUR:
6% ABV. Poured into a tulip-shaped glass and served at 48°F. The white colored head poured an easy 3-finger height, large and small bubbles and a cotton-ball density (we did ensure that it was a “Beer Clean” glass).
SRM value is around a 4-5 (Pale Gold.) There was some murkiness to it; our initial pour did not include a “yeast dump.” 8 minutes later, it retained a 1/2″ height head. As the head collapsed, it left behind even-sheeted, spider-web patchy lacework on the sides of the glass.
The meniscus is medium to slow rising, the rim color variation has an SRM value of 2 (Pale Straw.) POST YEAST DUMP: Of course, the murkiness became more intense…
AROMA / BOUQUET:
Intense earthy and spicy hop aroma, lime citrus, Scotch moss, pink grapefruit, elderflower. There is a nice caramel malt bouquet that follows in the background, and blends perfectly with the intensity of the hop aromas. There is a refreshing, light grassy aroma to it.
Four your first sip, prepare to be wowed! The hop bitterness is very sharp, heavy in the black pepper, super huge spicy phenols with this beer. The malt flavor that follows compliments the hop spiciness extremely well. We agree with Belgian-Style Ale’s assertion of having a “woodsy” flavor. The hop bitterness is not your ultra-piney variety, no… this is much more sophisticated and super complex. Almost a “Bouquet Garni” taste. POST YEAST DUMP: The yeast gives it more of a pink grapefruit flavor.
MOUTHFEEL / PALATE:
Super dry and spicy, the hop bitterness lingers strongly at the back of the tongue, but because of the bitterness, the beer almost gives you a feel of drinking a much more effervescent one, but not so. The effervescence level is medium, but it is full-bodied in the texture. This one is difficult to explain… there is the hop bitterness that raises curiosity in the drinker, but is not so bitter that it is off-putting. It does have a gentle creaminess that compliments.
FOOD PAIRING SUGGESTIONS:
APPETIZERS / CHEESES: High quality Blue cheese, Bethmale, Brillat-Savarin, Delice de Bourgogne. Pair with garden salads with freshly chopped herbs, Tomate-crevette- the spiciness of the beer would cut the mayonnaise nicely. Salt and vinegar chips would be heavenly!
ENTRÈES: Moules-frites / Mosselen-friet without a doubt! Waterzooi, Paling in ‘t groen. Sushi, pizzas with pesto bases or white cream sauces, topped with lots of fresh veggies and roasted chicken, Grilled Halibut with Cilantro Garlic Butter.
DESSERTS: Pears with herbed ricotta and honey, charred pear sorbet with goat cheese, rosemary and toasted caraway shortbread, three-seed cookies with citrus flavored herbs.
We’ve said this many times before: we are generally not fans of the ultra-hoppy, piney, railroad tar, petrulli oil , cheek pain inflicting hop-bomb beers that seem to plague the modern-day beer scene. Products as such tend to do this for bragging rights or to hide off flavors in their beers.
When breweries like De Ranke use large amounts of hops, they do it to add a truly sophisticated level of complexity to their beer. The Belgians are famous for their well-balanced hoppy beers- a level of brewing excellence that many other breweries have a hard time replicating.
The De Ranke XXX Bitter is nothing like we have ever had before in a Belgian ‘hoppy’ beer. Drinking it and experiencing the layers of complexity is like enjoying a well-timed, multi-course meal. For those of you who are hop-heads, you will love this beer! And because it is at only 6% ABV, it is very sessionable.
Seek this one (and all the De Ranke beers) out for certain! Aging this beer would be a very interesting outcome; we’d love to hear from fans that have any that they have aged and have tasted recently. Our eyes have been opened to the possibility of great world-class hoppy beers!
BrewView author GORDON A. PONCE is the main driving force behind Belgian Beer Journal.com. Since 1983, Gordon recognized that beers from Belgium were special, set apart from the typical craft beer.
He views beers from Belgium (plus Belgian-style and Belgian Inspired beers from other countries) great examples of the brewer’s art. Gordon and his wife live in beautiful Northern California- a great place to enjoy Belgian beer! Ecclesiastes 8:15