Bertrand Van der Haegen
Bertrand Van der Haegen
Sour, Scotch Ale, Saison
The Silly Brewery – found some 40km SW of Brussels in the agricultural heartland of Hainaut – is far from a joke or a pun. Its eyebrow-raising name actually comes from a perfectly respectable, local river, the Sylle. In turn, it gave its name to the village of Silly, a collection of farmhouses that arose along its banks.
And the story of the Silly Brewery begins, as is often the case in Belgium, with one of those farms, and its brew-house. It was in 1850 that the first chapter was written. Marcelin Hypolite Meynsbrughen had just purchased a large farm called Cense de la Tour.
Satisfying the thirst of local labourers was something that was definitely on his mind. He started off by brewing a typical Hainaut ‘saison’ (for the farm-workers), together with a ‘grisette’ (for the miners) and a ‘belge’ (for everyone else). These beers soon gained a serious reputation: In 1900 Marcelin’s son, Adelin Junior, scooped a silver medal at the Exposition de Paris.
On the death of his father, he carried on the brewing activities along with his sisters, under the name of Meynsbrughen & Soeurs. Critically, they successfully managed to keep their copper out of the hands of the German occupiers, during the First World War. As a result, the brewery was able to expand between the wars.
The family purchased the local school, just next to the brewery, and used it to accommodate their new bottling plant. New beers also saw the light: Sylla (a type of bock, production of which ceased in 1945), an export beer and a Scotch ale.
This last beer was actually developed by Scottish soldier Jack Peyne. He was stationed in Silly during the First World War and went on to join the brewery afterwards. In the meantime, Adelin Jr harboured dreams of brewing his first bottom-fermented beer, as pils became increasingly popular. Up until then, only top fermentation beers were produced by Silly.
In 1950 a table beer, with the name of Triple Bock, came onto the market. It was followed by an export pils and then Myn’s Pils, re-named as Silly Pils in 1993. The brewery also launched its own Trappist and Christmas beers, but these did not catch on and were quickly withdrawn.
The year 1964 saw the introduction of the amber-coloured Super 64. Then the Van der Haegen brothers, Jean-Paul and Didier, joined the brewery in the 1970s, and the name finally became Brasserie de Silly in 1973. Two years on, and Silly took over the Tennstedt-DeCroes brewery in nearby Enghien.
The appeal of the Silly range was significantly broadened by this, with the taking-on of Double Enghien, a beer that enjoyed some local popularity at the time. After a period of consolidation, it was decided in 1990 to add a white beer – the Titje – to an increasingly diverse range.
Rrecent times have seen Brasserie de Silly continue its expansion into new beer styles. 2004 saw the launch of the Pink Killer, a fruity white beer with an aroma of grapefruit.
One year on and the Cré Tonnerre, a beer containing rum, was introduced to the market. The Abbey de Forest abbey beers formed another worthwhile addition in 2006.
Now a new generation has taken over at the helm. Bertrand, son of Jean-Paul Van der Haegen, is in charge of production, while his cousin, Lionel, manages the brewery, as well as overlooking exports and sales. The change of management has translated into excellent results.
In 2008 the brewery produced 10,000hl per annum. As of this year, this has risen to 15,000hl. Approximately forty per cent of production is destined for export, predominantly to France, Italy, the USA and Australia.