It’s renowned as Belgium’s best open air museum but now Bokrijk could soon be known for something else: its very own beer. The reason is that the historic Limburg attraction has launched a new beer which is only available at the famous visitor attraction, located in Belgium’s eastern most province.
Called “Wildeman”, a 9% strength beer which is actually brewed at the Brouwerij Boon in Lembeek and will allow visitors at Bokrijk to sample how beer probably tasted in the 19th century.
“This dark beer, which is based on historic flavouring traditions, can only be found at Bokrijk”, says Igor Philtjens, chairman of the non-profit making organisation Het Domein Bokrijk (Domain Bokrijk) provincial deputy. The new beer is part of a major new project about beer and beer craftsmanship which was launched in a special ceremony at the museum on 28 April.
There are also plans to brew beer in the open-air museum six times a year, which itself is highly impressive to watch. As part of the same ‘Branded by Bokrijk’ project, there will also be a beer exhibition to be visited at the Paenhuys, a former 17th century brewery from Diepenbeek, which was transferred to the museum back in 1954. The exhibition brings together the historic and contemporary stories of beer.
The project, says Philtjens, “highlights the past, present and future of craftsmanship.” After bread and textile exhibitions in the past, it is now the turn of one on brewing, he said. “With the new exhibition, we are stepping up our focus on preserving the heritage and demonstrating the contemporary relevance of traditional and historic brewing. This craftsmanship has a long-standing tradition and at the same time is undergoing an evolution,” says Philtjens.
The new initiative also reflects a strong brewing tradition in Bokrijk and Flanders.
For many years, brewing was part of the daily life in the countryside of Flanders, one reason why, for a long time, Bokrijk has devoted itself to safeguarding and using these traditions. In 2016, UNESCO included beer culture in Belgium on its List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of Humanity. In its role as a recognised centre of expertise for ICH, Bokrjik also supported the new project to promote safeguarding of the beer culture.
A museum spokesman said, “Through this new exhibition, Bokrijk is taking this one step further.”
Because of an extensive knowledge about brewing and the beer culture in Belgium, Flemish brewer Frank Boon worked with Bokrijk on the project as a professional curator. For many years, Bokrijk has been able to count on his expertise in relation to brewing in open brew kettles. The new exhibition focuses on craftsmanship, with particular attention being paid to the brewing process, for example, the various steps are explained visually.
The historic brewing installation in the Paenhuys, which originates from the Tomsin brewery in Hoegaarden, has undergone a restoration and has been enhanced with a present-day cooling, yeast and storage installation. This enables Bokrijk to brew beer six times a year.
Here, visitors can see a selection of objects relating to beer consumption from Bokrijk’s own historic collection, such as beer jugs, glasses and bottles. Using listening horns, visitors learn more about the profession, with forgotten stories about the history of brewing thanks to personal testimonies of beer experts. Visitors will also pick up plenty of interesting facts, for example, that brewing was originally women’s work that, for centuries, was simply done at home in a pan over an open fire.
A “showstopper” is the large bar that runs from inside all the way to the outside of the building. Visual artist, Fred Eerdekens, created a piece of art in the outdoor section of the bar that consists of an ingenious collection of rods that catch the light. Together, the rods form the word WORT, a reference to the brewing process, the important Dutch verb ‘to be’ (worden) and the German translation of ‘word’.
A total of four separate brewing events are also planned to showcase the region’s brewing culture.
At these, visitors will be given the rare opportunity to see the Bokrijk master brewers at work during an impressive reconstruction of the historic brewing process, with each time a different recipe being worked on. The experimental brews are not bottled and are therefore not sold. On certain Sundays – 2 June, 25 August, 15 September and 20 October – you can see and sample the entire brewing process live.
Wildeman beer, which was commissioned by Bokrijk, is an old Maasland beer, traditionally brewed with parts dark malt and spelt malt. The beer obtains its fine, vinous aroma by adding a three-year-old 8% Lambiek, matured in oak barrels, as was traditional for the old stock beers. Wildeman is for sale at the cafés and restaurants in and around the museum and here
The name of the beer refers to the popular late medieval legend about the knight Valentin and wild man, Ourson. The choice of name is a reference to the year of Bruegel 2019 and ‘The World of Bruegel’ exhibition which is taking place this year at the museum. The BKRK beer exhibition can be visited at the Paenhuys museum brewery (Haspengouw museum section) during the museum’s opening hours, from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10am to 6pm. Closed on Mondays, except those that fall on national public holidays and in July and August. The museum itself is open until 20 October.
Meanwhile, with the May Day public holiday looming, there will also be a huge gardening event at Bokrikj on 1 May the public can buy flowers and plants. A visit to this could be very easily combined with a tour of another of the venue’s attractions: its wonderful Arboretum.