Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Belgium: The Perfect Two Weeks" in special Travel issue of All About Beer Magazine

I'm happy to say that I have a 1,500 word article in "Beer Traveler:
Where Beer Love Meets Wanderlust" which is a special publication
of All About Beer Magazine.

The story is called "Belgium: The Perfect Two Weeks."

I'll take you through a fun-filled, beery week in Flanders, and
another equally great seven days in Wallonia and Brussels. Along
the way, you'll experience some of the most interesting beer
destinations in "The Beer Country."

The article is designed so that you could follow the route and visit
each place discussed, which should be open on the day and time listed.
I say 'should' as opening days and times change frequently in Belgium,
and bar and brewery owners do take vacations, of course.

Copies can be obtained wherever All About Beer Magazine is sold,
such as Borders and Barnes and Noble stores, and here:

I hope you like the article!

Gezondheid, Sante and Cheers!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

3 Fonteinen: the final Oude Geuze brewed on site

Top photo: Armand Debelder with his final brewed-on-site
Oude Geuze. The bottle is the same type used for Asti Spumante

There’s been a lot of conjecture about the future of the hallowed Drie Fonteinen (“Three Fountains”) geuze blendery in the last year or so. After “The Catastrophe” of May 16, 2009, when about 100,000 or so bottles of Oude Geuze, Oude Kriek and other lambics-nearly an entire seasons’ worth of production-was overheated due to a thermostat failure, things looked bleak.

The creation of “Armand’s Spirit” (called an "Eau de Vie van Oude Geuze" on its label, it is sort of bier schnapps/liquor of 40% abv) produced from distilling the unusable lambics, has provided a new revenue source for brewer/blender Armand Debelder. The profit margin is higher and the process of distilling is much less labor intensive than brewing, Armand, 58, told me during my visit to 3 Fonteinen on May 28th.

More than half the 6,000 bottles (500 ml size) had already been sold as of several months ago. There is definitely an interesting, subtle, geuze-like quality to the spirit, which is well worth seeking out if you just happen to be in Belgium.

(or, if you have a friend, relative, co-worker, or mere acquaintance, maybe you can convince them to bring you a bottle, while they last. Tell them I said so.)

“I also lost my brewery in 2009” Armand remarked as we talked in the lambic barrel room. “And the cost of the new brewery was the cost of what was lost in the catastrophe. So I won’t brew again here, for those reasons. But I do have some good news for lambic beer lovers” he stated.

I was eagerly anticipating his next comments, after that statement!

Happily, I was not disappointed.

“I had a stock of 13,000 liters of lambic brewed here in 2007, 2008 and 2009” Armand said. “So we have just produced a final, Drie Fonteinen-only Oude Geuze with these lambics. We are going to make this last-ever brewed on site beer one to remember!” he commented.

“I had a really exceptional 3 year old lambic, which your friends Brian (Stillwater) and Gunther (Bensch) tasted back in March” he continued. “It’s now been blended with my last 1 and 2 year old lambics, to make this Oude Geuze” he remarked.

Continuing, he exclaimed: “and now, Chuck” we are going to taste it!”

OK, twist my arm. Duty calls. Anything for Beer Research!

“As you can see, we are not using the typical lambic bottle for this one. This is because this beer will be one of a kind, the last Oude Geuze brewed here; the final single 3 Fonteinen blend. The bottle we are using is the Asti Spumante champagne type, which costs two and half times what a normal champagne bottle does. This product must have fine presentation, great taste and be unique.”

Armand continued “My wife Lydie worked in the marketing department of an American company for a number of years, and learned the value of presentation and marketing. I never cared about presentation in the past. She has taught me a lot about how to present my products.”

“Of course I used aged Challenger hops in this brew, as I usually do. These hops are not very much used in the lambic world, but I really like them. This Oude Geuze, which we have yet to name, is not filtered and no finings were used in it. It was just blended and then bottled” Armand stated.

He continued: “You are the first American to taste this beer, as it’s still young, and a bit soft. It was just bottled in March. But I think it will be a good one. We have not decided when it will be released for sale as yet. It won’t be offered until I feel it is fully mature and ready.”

That should keep beer lovers interested.

For a good, long while.

I found the beer to be a very enjoyable Oude Geuze, with great potential.

Only time will tell.

Armand will continue to buy wort from Boon, Girardin and Lindemans and place them in his own barrels for aging and later blending to produce Oude Geuze, Oude Kriek, and possibly other blends, as in the past. Plans to open a distillery on site are still being considered.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

St. Bernardus and Westvleteren: the Real Story

Top photo: me and Brother Joris in the lab at Westvleteren
(De Sint-Sixtusabdij van Westvleteren) about to open a 1969
Abt 12.

Hi everybody! I survived ten days in Belgium, three days of
Philly Beer Week,and the Sante event in Baltimore between the
end of of May and last Sunday.

I'm starting to feel like myself again after several days resting up.

I have five new articles out in three different beer publications
as of the first week of June.

Two of them are in Ale Street News. One is my regular "Belgian
Babble"column. The other is "St. Bernardus and Westvleteren: The
Real Story" which tells a brief history of the St. Bernardus and
Westvleteren beers.

This one is not on-line, so you'll have to get a copy of the
brewspaper and have a look at page 11-A. I might be able to
put the story on this site at a later time.

Photo: Marco Passarella, Sales and Marketing Manager for
St. Bernardus (left) in the brewhouse

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Belgium: Trip 21

Me with brewmaster/Director Olivier Dedeycker, in the brewhouse
at the superb Brasserie Dupont in Tourpes: one of the world's
greatest breweries.

Photo: me and Pierre Tilquin of Gueuzerie Tilquin

I just got back Monday afternoon from my 21st trip to Belgium and 25th to Europe overall.

Maybe that will explain the over three week lapse in postings here. Yeah, excuses, excuses.

I visited two lambic blenderies, nine breweries and two special lambic events while there.

Photo: Armand Debelder of 3 Fonteinen with a copy of the Canadian
Beer magazine, Taps. There are 2 photos of Armand in my article on
lambic beer in this Spring issue.

It was another superb trip, I'm happy to say.

Highlights were visiting all the barrel rooms at Girardin, within an hour and a half of the jetliner touching down in Brussels, and tasting Frambooslambik and two other straight lambics right from the fermenters and barrels; visiting the new lambic blendery in Wallonia, Gueuzerie Tilquin; my first meal at De Bistronoom in Ostende; return visits at 3 Fonteinen, Dupont, Liefmans, Rodenbach and De Ryck; the Weekend of Spontaneous Fermentation Beer Fest; the Day of the Kriek at In de Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst; visiting several new small breweries; and soaking up the atmosphere sitting outside at numerous cafes in perfectly sunny 75 to 85 degree weather for more than half the trip.

Look for a full report later. Philly Beer Week calls tonight.