The borders of the nations in Europe are the result of centuries of wars, changing political leadership, Royal marriages and treaties. It is what makes the borders seem random: squiggly lines that seem to make no sense.
Baarle-Hertog takes the cake with its borders. It is completely surrounded by the Netherlands but is 100% Belgian. 22 tiny enclaves, the result of a quirk of history. The border runs through streets, meadows, even through houses with some parts are only a few square meters.
It is in this part of both Belgium and the Netherlands that Ronald Mengerink started his brewery: De Dochter van de Korenaar (Daughter of the Ear of Corn). A brewer from Twente, who lived in Groningen and who now lives with his family in Belgium and who makes universally celebrated beers. Beers that are neither purely Belgian or Dutch but represent the fading borders in Europe. Borderbeer of the highest order.
Brewer Ronald Mengerinks interest in beer started while biking to school in Twente (part of Holland bordering Germany) with a friend. He came across wild flowering hops growing along a ditch. Ronald was 15 and it ignited his interest in brewing. Up to that moment he only knew that beer was made with malts, hops, water and yeast.
He later moved to Groningen where he lived for 12 years. In 1984/1985 he sold his self brewed beer called De Noorderzon (Northern Sun) until this brewery went bust. A mistake in a 5000 liter batch meant the end. Ronald went off the beermap for a while. Though costly he still calls it a good learning experience.
Bitten by the dog
His view on beer changed when he tried a Flying Dog Snake Dog I.P.A. and loved it, not the worst introduction to this style. The hoppy I.P.A. It was a revelation and back then a style that wasn’t known much in continental Europe. During a trip to the U.S.A. he tried more good I.P.A.s, something that has definitely influenced his ideas about what beer can be apart from the usual Belgian and German styles. The use of hops led him into a new direction.
Dochter van de Korenaar
The new brewery started in 2007 and takes his name from Emperor Charles V who in 1550 said that he preferred the juice of the daughter of the Ear of Corn over the blood of grapes. Behind their house Ronald and wife Monique built their own brewing installation and started brewing. Just two years later he already had his first prize: a silver medal for the Embresse Peated Oak Aged at the Zythos festival and another silver for the l’Enfant Terrible at the European Beer Star Awards.
Though the brewery is technically on Belgian soil his beer cannot be called ‘Belgian’. The beer is much more in line with newer, more experimental Belgian breweries like Struise, Viven and Alvinne, breweries who decided there was more than just traditional strong ales, dubbels and triples.
His influences are truly those of someone living on the border and hail from all the major beer nations (USA, UK, Germany and Belgium) and it makes Dochter van de Korenaar an international brewery. Most of all Ronald is an intuitive brewer, doing what he feels is best.
Red Devils vs Orange; a warning to new brewers
Ronald has been working with beer now for more than 30 years. First in Holland, now in Belgium so he knows what he is talking about when he describes the differences between both countries.
He sees tradition as the biggest difference. Belgium has strong foundations while the Netherlands doesn’t, or lost it.
“The huge growth of little breweries, brewery renters and other businesses popping up in Holland is both positive and negative. Positive because beer is once again living in the country and it is a clear sign that consumers are getting tired of pilsners.”
But he warns against the negative side, something I have heard more people say. “There are a lot of mediocre to bad brews that enter the market and this could lead to a bad name for specialty beer.” and “it is something I learned the hard way but starting brewers should be aware that starting a brewery is more than just getting the recipe, making the label and thinking of a quirky name”.
De Dochter van de Korenaar’s good name means bigger demand and to be able to answer this demand the brewery will now expand to four times its current size in the coming two years. At the moment the production is (only) around 1000 hl a year.
Half of the beer stays in Belgium (well, I say stays, it has to travel through Holland for a few miles), mostly to the bigger cities like Brussels, Gent, Brugge and Antwerp. Something he is very proud of. The rest goes all over the world to the U.S., Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Norway, Finland of course neighboring countries Holland and France.
If the specialty beer markets in these countries keep growing as they do, we wonder if the quadruplication will be enough. There is interest from China, but so far he has not started shipping to this massive country.