Interview: brewmaster Bruno Reinders (Mort Subite)
Mort Subite translates from French as “sudden death,” but for the past 26 years, brewmaster Bruno Reinders has helped ensure the Belgian brewery takes nobody by surprise. He regularly and consistently brews a number of Lambics, including the classic Kriek, an Old Gueuze that he refers to as “the Champagne of Brussels,” and the latest release, Lambic White, which captures some witbier qualities. On October 11, we met at Rosewood Tavern in Los Angeles, and Reinders better explained how he started working with craft beer, and what makes Mort Subite unique.
When did you know you would work with beer professionally?
It was actually for me a big surprise. I did my service in the Army, and after the Army, I started working in the brewery, but I never thought it would be for life, and I’m sitting, next month, 26 years in the same brewery.
How did you end up working at Mort Subite?
I started as a brewer in the brewhouse. It was a small family brewery at that time. I did everything in the brewery, brewing, filtration, cleaning tanks, going to the pubs and delivering to the pubs, special events, working at the bar. I closed, I opened. I really did everything, and then at the time, I learned more about the fermentation and microbiology. I was responsible for fabrication in 1998, and in January 2002 I was responsible for the brewery, and I’m still brewing now.
What was your very first beer memory?
I think when I was 13 years old, it was really good too. I remember sitting with friends and drinking gueuze that first time, and now, the coincidence is that I’m working at a Lambic brewery.
What’s the criteria for a beer that you brew?
The criteria for beer is that beer must be pleasure. When people drink your beer, they must have a good feeling. They have to ask for a second pour.
What was the most recent beer that you brewed, and what was your inspiration?
The most recent beer was actually the white Lambic. The white Lambic is actually quite a unique beer, and we create the white Lambic, I’ll tell you why. Customers from the Brussels café, Mort Subite, normally they want a white beer. We were thinking in the brewery, clients order a white beer, were not drinking a Mort Subite beer. After all, we were a Lambic brewery. What could we do? What was our answer on that? We start thinking, okay, let’s start making our own white beer, because the ingredients of white and Lambic are the same: wheat and malt. That’s the same. We did a test with a brew and we used the same spices in a white beer, but the big difference is, a normal white beer is with normal fermentation. We do a spontaneous fermentation. The very rich taste we have in the Mort Subite white is the uniqueness of the fermentation, because the microflora of our brewery in Kobbegem is so rich and so fruity, that it gives a special taste to our Mort Subite white.
Would you say that you have any brewing mentors?
I learned everything at the brewery. You cannot learn to brew Lambic in a university. Lambic is a very special microbiology, because the fermentation is very important, but the human impact is also very important because a Lambic brewer’s between a normal brew and a winemaker because we work with and blend beers. It’s not because the beer is technically okay, that we don’t use the beer. You really have to learn Lambic brewing in the field. You have to know about the territory, you have to know what is brewing, but really the fine touch of the Lambic brewing, you really have to learn in the brewery, to do it.
Is there anyone in particular that helped guide you?
I learned it from a guy, the microbiology specialist. He takes something and put it under a microscope and blend different Lambics to learn how to taste. It’s an art of course, because nature has a big impact on our beers. When we do a blend, today, of a special Lambic, and we do a blend in two months, we have to see that the taste is as close as possible to each other, because when a person orders a Mort Subite Lambic, the taste is right. A gueuze must be like this, and a Lambic can be like this, but the taste cannot be like that.
Who was the original microbiologist that taught you?
His name was Marcel Lebeau. He worked many years in the brewery, but now he don’t live any more. I learned it from him, actually.
How did being in the military help you with what you do now? Did it?
At that time it was a duty, but now it’s not a duty to go do your military service in Belgium. I worked before where you get chickens, but that’s before I went in the Army. After the Army, I never thought I’d work so long in the brewery, but now working in the brewery is actually part of my life, because I live eight kilometers from the brewery, so I do everything. You wake up and go to sleep with the brewery.
Are there any beers that you’ll never stop brewing at Mort Subite?
The most famous of course is the Mort Subite original kriek, because we work with fresh cherries. We’re using fresh Belgium cherries. They come always in July, and I think at Mort Subite, we’re the only brewery that’s really using fresh cherries. We don’t use frozen cherries or work with cherries from eastern Europe now. Fresh cherries from Belgium. That’s always to look out for, when fresh cherries arrive in the brewery, it’s really a special event.
What do you drink and where do you drink when you’re not working?
My favorite is Mort Subite original.
Where do you like to drink it?
In Brussels, the city where I live, mostly with my friends, they drink it too and like it too, and you can drink it all evening.
What do you look for when you’re hiring someone to work at the brewery?
It’s a long time ago that we take new people, but first of all, they have to be enthusiastic.
If you could only drink one more beer, and it wasn’t Mort Subite, what would it be?
An Aflligem Blonde, absolutely.
It’s my preferred beer. I like having beers like Affligem, and I live not far from the Affligem brewery.
Would you pair any food with it?
Oh yeah, absolutely. A nice piece of meat, you can make your game, make a sauce with game, eat it with a lot of meat especially. And I think even with fish, it’s possible too.