Today is the birthday of Jan Léonardus Moortgat (September 13, 1841-May 15, 1920). He was born in Steenhuffel, Belgium, and worked at his parent’s brewery until he was thirty, in 1871, he married and co-founded the Moortgat Farm Brewery with his wife in Breendonk, which is part of Antwerp. His son Albert created their most famous beer, “Duvel,” in 1917 as “Victory Ale,” but renamed it Duvel in 1926.
This is a Google translation of Moortgat’s Dutch language Wikipedia page:
He was born into the family of Petrus Jan Moortgat (1809-1857), brewer in Steenhuffel and Maria Anna De Geest (1811-1884). Jan Leonardus initially continued to help his mother in the brewery until he was thirty. Afterwards he left the company there to his brother Louis.
In 1871 he married Maria De Block (1846-1910), together bought a piece of land in Breendonk and founded a beer and vinegar brewery. She was the daughter of the tenants of the Spanish Castle, the centuries-old farm on the border of Breendonk and Tisselt. Brewing was combined with running a farm. Brewing was a winter activity, agriculture was used the rest of the year.
Leonard was also alderman at Breendonk from 1876 to 1915 under the mayor of the counts Maurice Louis Marie Gaston de Buisseret Steenbecque de Blarenghien (1831-1888) and his son Robert (1863-1931).
In the early 20th century, he left the management to his son Joseph. He introduced the lager but died early. Afterwards, the leadership passed to the other sons Victor and Albert Moortgat. After the First World War, the Duvel was launched and the brewery was further expanded from a family business to a major player on the Belgian market.
This account of the early history of the brewery is from the company’s website:
It all began when Jan-Léonard Moortgat and his wife founded the Moortgat brewery farm in 1871. Around the turn of the century, Moortgat was one of the over 3,000 breweries operating in Belgium.
Jan-Leonard experimented by trial and error, and his top-fermented beers were soon greatly appreciated in the brewery’s home town of Puurs and far beyond. Before long, the Brussels bourgeoisie was also won over by his beers.
Business was booming and Jan-Leonard’s two sons, Albert and Victor, joined the company. There was a clear division of labour: Albert became the brewer, Victor was responsible for delivering the beer to Brussels by horse and dray.
The First World War brought Belgium into contact with England and especially with English ales, which were quite popular at the time.
Inspired by the success of English ales, Albert decided to create a special beer based on the English model.
To create this type of ale, Albert wanted to work with only the best ingredients.
He travelled to the UK to get the specific strain of yeast he wanted and initially met with considerable resistance from the local brewers. It was only after a veritable odyssey across England that he was finally able to get his hands on a precious sample from a Scottish brewery. Our yeast is still cultured from the very same strain to this day!
The two brothers continued to search and experiment until they had perfected the recipe.
To commemorate the end of the First World War, the new beer was initially dubbed ‘Victory Ale’.
Today, of course, it’s known as “Duvel.”