A Rose for All Time
Updated: Nov 17
By Tony Forder
Madame Rose said one of the happiest days of her life was when she heard the news that Duvel Moortgat had bought Liefmans Brewery.
That was in 2008 and Rosa Merckx at 84 years old was retired from almost half a century of involvement with the Belgian brewery Liefmans. Many said she was the heart of Liefmans but that heart was almost broken when Liefmans declared bankruptcy. Madame Rose had seen the writing on the wall as she saw the dwindling truck traffic from her home next to the brewery. Although Liefmans had a storied history, based on the creation of the Oud Bruin style, modern times were not so kind as the brewery went through a series of owners including Riva.
From the top: Madame Rose, a spritely 98, sips her favorite Goudenband; Liefmans is preserved on the banks of the Scheldt River in Oudenaarde, its home since 1679.
Open fermentation still exists; the author with Olav Blancquaert (right) and La Chouffe Founder Chris Bauweraerts (center). Liefmans Goudenband label and painting of Madame Rose by Chris Herteleer of De Dolle Brouwers. (top right photo courtesy of Duvel Moortgat)
From her home, as we sipped a Liefmans Goudenband, Madame Rose, now 98, reminisced.
"I've worked very, very hard. Now it's time for amusement. But I always liked to work in the brewery so it wasn't that hard because I met plenty of foreign people – like Chinese, American, Russian – and they stayed friends with me and that's good.
"The beer is very good to assemble the friends. That's the beginning of friendship – the beer."
"When I heard Duvel had taken over Liefmans, I was so pleased. It was one of the best days of my life. Duvel is a serious brewery; they respect what they take over. Michel Moortgat phoned me himself. He said, 'You come back to the brewery, you will taste the beers, and if there's something you don't like in the beers you will tell it.'"
She took Michel at his word and would often be in the brewery two or three times a day, visits that were recently curtailed by a mild stroke. "I hope to be back in the brewery in a couple of months," she said.
Rosa's son Olav grew up with the brewery (indeed was almost born in the brewhouse!) but long since moved on to a position with Duvel Moortgat. With the acquisition he was asked to add Liefman's Ambassador to his job title.
Olav, who is the current secretary of the time-honored Knighthood of the Belgian Brewers, showed us around the brewery last September. The history, dating back to 1679 is well preserved, along with the tasting room. Original artifacts such as the old mash tun and wort chiller are also on display along with many tributes to Madame Rose, Belgium's first and for many years only female brewmaster.
As it was in the days of Riva, the wort is brewed off-site, and tanked back to Liefmans for fermentation, where the resident bacterias (lactobacillus) give Liefmans' mixed fermentation beers their special signature. Conditioning tanks have been refurbished to preserve the traditions of Oud Bruin, Kriek-Brut (cherry) and 8% Goudenband.
Liefmans is no longer in its heyday, but thanks to Duvel Moortgat, its tradition, on the banks of the Scheldt River in Oudenaarde, is preserved, along with the legacy of Madame Rose. The brewery's restaurant Odnar is open on the weekends.
A rose with a cherry makes everyone merry
Goudenband is good in the hand
Liefmans gives life to woman and man