Good Beer Hunting

no. 202

A crowd of folks celebrate a birthday at one of the monthly open brew days at Brasserie à Vapeur, Belgium's last remaining steam-powered brewery. They guzzle down En Folie Blonde and Cochonne Brown, playing traditional games which involve throwing coin-like pieces into holes on a wooden board.

On August 25, 1990, 36-year-old Anne-Marie Lemaire—or Sittelle, as she was known locally—was killed inside the brewery. According to court reports, a huge burning cloud of black dust and steam was suddenly released from the coal furnace nozzles of a boiler, causing serious burns of which she died later that day.

Sittelle’s husband and the owner of Vapeur, Jean Louis Dits, was brewing the day of the accident. He poured water on his wife and called emergency services to arrange a helicopter. He lost more than 30 pounds in the weeks after the incident due to stress. One of his daughters would later leave the village, never to return.

Jean Louis decided to continue brewing after that accident with the antique equipment. “We have to continue,” he says. “There are car accidents involving people all the time. And yet people still drive to the graveyard.”

Vapeur is a place where the past isn’t forgotten, whether that’s the unique engineering or the stories of the families who have maintained it. It’s a place where visitors laugh and talk and enjoy food and beer made with passion. It’s a place where people celebrate together. It’s a place where life goes on.

—Breandán Kearney