back to the future for beer…

David Holliday of Moon Gazer Ale tells us how Norfolk and Belgian brewers have united to create a historic brew.

As spring is upon us, I feel I should be writing about golden ales since this change of season traditionally heralds beer-lovers’ transition from the malty, darker beers of winter to the fresh hoppy, golden taste of spring. 

However, this spring, Team Moon Gazer has been busy recreating history – quite literally – as part of an initiative to bring Norfolk’s brewing heritage together with the world-famous brewing region of Leuven in Flanders, Belgium. 

The initiative – the brainchild of renowned beer writer Roger Protz – will see the beer cities of Leuven and Norwich twinned, along with their wider county areas. Four Norfolk breweries have paired up with a Belgian counterpart to create unique collaborations thanks to the support of Visit Flanders.

The two regions owe much to each other; in the 16th century it was the ‘Strangers’ who fled from flooding and persecution in Flanders to be welcomed in Norfolk. With them, they brought weaving and textile skills that would help transform the prosperity of Norwich and Norfolk. 

We teamed up with Dimitri of Adept Brewery and we both wanted to brew a beer that recognised these historic links, but also celebrated the sharing of modern local skills and knowledge – in particular Maris Otter, the malt for which Norfolk is rightly known across the world. 

The first challenge was to identify a 16th century recipe from Belgium. This brought with it the first complication for us as brewers. You see, the Hoppenbier style brewed in that day was 100% oats – barley was not used. 

Without getting all technical, the easiest way to explain why this would be a major brewing challenge is to ask you to think about how sticky porridge oats can get. Now, as brewers, we don’t like sticky, as we need the water we have soaked in the grain to be free flowing so we can transfer it to the kettle for boiling. Sticky means getting the water out is tricky.

However, in bringing Maris Otter into the recipe would help to some extent, but since we wanted the beer to be an homage to the 16th century brew, we decided we would keep two-thirds of the recipe as oats while introducing Maris Otter to the recipe. This would hopefully help in some limited way to stop the oats from sticking.

The next decision was to decide which British style we would marry with the Hoppenbier. Now, Dimitri had a big say in this decision since he has a particular passion for the dark side of beer making and was bowled over when trying Moon Gazer Bouchart, our dark English mild. It made sense – a traditional Belgian beer with a very traditional British style. 

All that was needed was to add some dark malt to the recipe to bring the darkness and some complexity to the flavour. 

As for the hops – these, too, twinned the two countries – with Fuggles representing British hops and Adept selecting Strisselspalt, a French hop typically used by Belgian brewers.

All that was left was to name this beer. 

As you’d expect with Moon Gazer, it had to be named after a hare, but also reflect the dark colour of the beer, so ‘dark hare’ was born. To be more precise, the Donkere Haas, since Dimitri won the coin toss for the beer to be named in his native tongue. 

That said, we think this is a great beer and a great initiative in any language. Two brewers coming together to remind us that for centuries, Norfolk has benefited from welcoming others and embracing shared passions. 

Long may it continue. 

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