interview

Vantage point 1: Nacim Menu sees a future for his open city brewery L’Ermitage

© Saskia Vanderstichele

The young brewer Nacim Menu of nano-brewery L'Ermitage has opted for the lift at the Place Poelaertplein as vantage point to climb out of the Covid valley and look to the future.

BRASSERIE DE L’ERMITAGE

Started out as a project betweenthree friends in Elsene/Ixelles

Has been a professional brewery since 2016, with headquarters in Anderlecht

Best-known beers: Lanterne and Théorème de l’Empereur

Used to sell 80 percent of their beers in bars, but the Covid crisis forced them to switch to direct contact with customers

Have started a new project in which beer matures in wine barrels

“A classic of course, but I love the contrast between the high and the low city that you find here, and the elevator that is a symbol of the connection between the more working-class parts with the Marolles and the more upscale neighbourhoods. The vibrant centre that has suffered for so long is also in view here, with traders who had to close and people who live with large families in small houses. The Covid crisis has had a financial impact on our brewery too, and we will never be completely carefree again now that we know our freedoms can always be drastically curtailed. But we have always carried on working and have many plans.”

Nacim founded Brasserie de l'Ermitage with Henri Ben Saria and François Simon. It all started with home brewing in the Kluisstraat/rue de l'Ermitage in Elsene/Ixelles. Since 2016, they have been brewing professionally on Lambert Crickxstraat/rue Lambert Crickx in Anderlecht. They also have a beer shop on Gheudestraat/rue Gheude, and a bar on Moskoustraat/rue de Moscou in Sint-Gillis/Saint-Gilles. Lanterne and Théorème de l'Empereur are their best-known beers. “From the beginning of the crisis, we went into survival mode with online sales and home deliveries to our community of customers and friends of the brewery. They responded quickly which meant that we could continue our activities. That was the first profound lesson from the crisis: until then we had been selling 80 percent of our beers in bars, so we did not always have that much contact with all our customers. Now we realise how much people really love our products and notice a greater tendency among people to buy and consume locally. This has strengthened us in the philosophy with which we started the brewery: brew in Brussels and consume in Brussels. An open city brewery with a circular and local economic model is possible.”

1760 VANTAGE POINT Nacim Menu
© Saskia Vanderstichele

Another project that saw the light of day last year is called Les caves de l'Ermitage: a project to allow beers to mature and ferment in old wine barrels. “Our twelve fermentation vats in the brewery have to be refilled every three weeks, but we can leave the wine barrels up to one year. So rather than reduce brewing capacity due to declining sales in pubs, we have continued to produce for the wine barrels where special, slightly more acidic lockdown beers are now maturing for a year until they can be bottled in October. In other words, the crisis has also diversified our activities.”

Further into the future, Nacim and his companions are thinking about a new site with more production capacity. Small local breweries will be able to grow again, he says. “We have to refuse back orders due to high demand. Smaller breweries won't have to compete but can still nibble at the industrial segment.” The city will also change, Nacim says with a last glance at this urban landscape. “On the one hand, we have become aware of the importance of quality public space in the city, and on the other hand, telecommuting will ensure that many from outside Brussels will no longer do the route every day.”

Meer nieuws uit Brussel
Vooraan op BRUZZ

Brussels in your mailbox?