Belgian beer culture enjoys worldwide renown for its rich history and artisanal brewing methods. One such brewery that places a premium on tradition is Brouwerij Cornelissen. The business has been sticking to its artisanal brewing methods since 1811, i.e. no less than six generations of the Cornelissen family, making exceptional quality beers.
Cornelissen Brewery’s story started out in a small village called Gerdingen, but was soon continued in Opitter, where the brewery will have occupied the same premises for the past 165 years in 2024.
A major turning point in the brewery’s history was the introduction of their oldest brand, Pax Pils. Shortly after the Great War, Pax Pils (meaning "peace" in Latin) was the perfect response to meet the rising consumption of pils beers and signalled the start of the brewery’s expansion.
International late bloomer
Since 2014, the brewery has been headed up by Jef Cornelissen Jr. who is proud to represent the sixth generation. Over the past decade, he has successfully captained the family business and together with Export Manager Mike Wildemeersch, he introduced Cornelissen Brewery on the international export markets in 2015.
A relatively late step actually compared to other Belgian beer brewers, but one that turned out to be highly successful. Currently nearly half of the company’s production output is intended for international export.
Cornelissen Brewery stands out in no uncertain terms. For one thing they have stuck with traditional and artisanal brewing methods. The brewing is still carried out in copper boilers, which new breweries have largely stopped using because of the substantial outlay involved. The beers brewed in these boilers are given the time it takes to mature. The entire brewing process for the Limburgse Witte (a white beer) takes up to four weeks, and up to eight weeks for the Herkenrode abbey beers.
A second distinguishing feature is the fact that Cornelissen uses Belgian ingredients as much as possible. The water is extracted from a well that sits 180 metres below the brewing room, whereas the yeast culture is ongoingly recultured, which is unique in Belgium.
And things do not stop at water and yeast. Cornelissen uses Belgian malt and for its fruit beers the fruit is almost exclusively sourced in Limburg and Antwerp whilst the hops the brewery uses is often bought in Belgium.
Running its own laboratory and a dedicated quality control team, the quality of the ingredients and products is closely monitored on a day-to-day basis. Quality that is widely recognised. So much so that Cornelissen recently bagged no fewer than 6 medals at the renowned World Beer Awards. The cherry on the cake has to be the Belgian Abbey Blond Ale Herkenrode Cister which won various gold medals and was proclaimed as the World’s Best Belgian Blond Ale 2023. That’s right, the world’s best blond abbey beer is brewed in Opitter!
Investments and expansion
In recent years, the brewery invested heavily to expand its range, which now includes white, fruit and abbey beers. Cornelissen even launched an IPA on the market so as to cater for demand from the younger generation. The King Mule Red Ale was recently also singled out for praise in London, winning a gold award. Moreover, the King Mule Saison IPA won a silver medal and the King Mule IPA won a gold medal during the WBA '23.
Cornelissen Brewery looks ahead to the future with a great sense of optimism and is continuing to innovate in order to deliver the right response to the changing needs of the market. The business is also looking forward to see the kind of growth pursued in emerging markets such as Scandinavia, the US, Asia and the Middle East.
Boasting 165 years’ experience and with a great passion for traditional brewing, Cornelissen Brewery is nothing short of a treasure in the Belgian world of beer.