If you have followed Unibroue at all, you have most certainly read the ‘history’ on the brewery at their website in the past. I will list the important historical dates for them here. I wanted to take it a step further. I have the historical perspective from Jerry Vietz, who has been with Unibroue since 2003, and as it’s Master Brewer since 2007.
Below is my exclusive interview video with Jerry Vietz, which was originally recorded on October 14, 2015.
Santé mes amis!
Gordon A. Ponce
CEO – Bières de Chambly.com
UNIBROUE’S HISTORY: 1990 – PRESENT DAY
From the very beginning, Unibroue has carved out a special niche in the beer world with top quality products and a brand rooted deep in Quebec culture. It made history by becoming the first North American beer maker to use a brewing method inspired by the two-centuries-old tradition developed by Trappist monks in Europe—particularly in Belgium. Over the years, Unibroue has remained faithful to its origins even as it has grown to become an icon of the brewing world. Unibroue products take you on a journey filled with legends and fabulous tales.
The Unibroue adventure began in 1990, when André Dion and Serge Racine decided to vie for a share of the fast-growing craft beer market. Mindful of the competition, their goal was to create a different product with strong consumer appeal. They became majority shareholders of La Brasserie Massawippi, a financially troubled Lennoxville brewery.
André Dion and Serge Racine finalized their acquisition of La Brasserie Massawippi in late 1991 and merged with Unibroue in early 1992. The new company immediately established itself as a specialty brewer. Mr. Dion became the President and CEO, and Mr. Racine sat on the Board of Directors.
Unibroue partnered with Belgian brewer Gino Vantieghem (of the former Riva Brewery in Belgium) specializing in beer on lees and made history with the launch of Blanche de Chambly—North America’s first refermented Witbier.
Quebec singer-songwriter Robert Charlebois became one of Unibroue’s major partners.
Unibroue moved to a new, cutting-edge microbrewery in Chambly, Quebec. The brewery gradually started to build its export capacity by developing a distribution network throughout Quebec and across Canada.
Unibroue experiences quick and massive growth, and begins to develop and market other beers brewed in the classic Belgian styles. The brewery began exporting its products to the international market by opening subsidiaries in the U.S. and Europe.
1995 & 1996
In 1995 and 1996, major investments allowed Unibroue to increase production and expand its facilities. Its products became increasingly popular, capturing markets in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick, and several American states as well as France, Switzerland, and Belgium.
Unibroue consolidated its reputation as a brewer of distinction by opening Le Fourquet-Fourchette, an innovative concept-based restaurant-museum on the shores of the Richelieu River that celebrates the fine art of drinking.
At this point, Unibroue also became a public corporation listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Between 1998 and 2000, Unibroue responded to strong consumer demand for lager by introducing a new line of bottom fermented products, the refreshing and thirst-quenching U Blonde, U Rousse, U Miel, and La Bolduc.
Brewmaster Paul Arnott joined the company in 2000. Trained in Belgium’s great monastic brewing tradition, (Chimay) he helped breathe new life into the company’s classic products and expanded the Unibroue family with new vintage beers and the Éphémère series of fruit-based beers.
Sommelier Sylvain Bouchard joins the Unibroue sales team. With his thorough understanding of Unibroue’s brewing method and the unique features of each of its products, he gets to travel all across North America to share the secrets of the taster’s art and teaches how to master beer and food pairings.
Jerry Vietz joins Unibroue. Trained in the art and science of fermentation, Jerry first worked in the cider and wine industries beforehand. A rare and chance opening at the brewery gave Jerry the open door to begin his journey with Unibroue. Some of his first tasks were to improve process optimization, and quality control.
In 2004 the Sleeman Brewery became interested in the Quebec company’s ultra-modern facilities and highly qualified labor force. After purchasing Unibroue, Sleeman renamed itself Sleeman Unibroue Inc. The merger gave the brewery a powerful presence right across Canada, and allowed Unibroue beers to have a powerful presence all across Canada.
It is at this same time that brewer Gino Vantieghem decides to return to Belgium where he rekindled the now defunct Riva brewery and turned it into Liefmans Breweries.
Another chapter in the story of the little Chambly-based brewery was written in October 2006 when Japan’s oldest commercial brewer, Sapporo International, purchased Sleeman Unibroue. With their profound respect for art, tradition, and culture, the Japanese recognized Unibroue as a Canadian treasure to be cherished and shared with the entire world.
In 2007, Jerry Vietz takes the reins of the Brewmaster position. This meant not only being responsible for new liquid development, but also an overseer of the entire plant operations in general.
It is also at this time that brewer Paul Arnott returns back to Europe to work for Brasserie Licorne in France for a few years, then to Brasserie Dubuisson for another few years. He eventually returned back to his Trappist brewery roots shortly afterward at Chimay, where he currently holds the position of Quality Control Lead.
Unibroue decides to stop its exports to the European market, refocusing product development and marketing for the domestic market. (Their European export market would return in 2017.)
Today, Unibroue has amassed multiple Platinum and Gold medals for many of their classic and specialty ales. (Visit my Unibroue BrewViews page to find out more about their ales). To this day, Unibroue has the most awards of any other Canadian brewery. The future looks very bright for them.