Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Brouwerij Den Toetëlèr, Hoeselt, Belgie

(Photo, above: Brouwerij Den Toetëlèr.)

Last September, I visited a number of interesting new breweries in Belgium. While some were small and some and were big, all were run by enthusiastic people who enjoy tasty, artisanal beers.

On my first day, September 24, my friend Danny van Tricht was “Bob.” He picked me up at Brussels airport, with our friends Andre Van Gansen and Wim Wouters, and we toured three new breweries in Limburg Province. There's nothing like stepping off a plane and getting right to Belgian Beer Research!

The smallest brewery that Saturday was Brouwerij Den Toetëlèr, in Hoeselt, not far the Dutch city of Maastricht.

(Photo, above: Erwin Duts.)

The brewery is located in a former small automotive shop, at the home of Luc Festjens. Luc began homebrewing about ten years ago, when he joined the Bier Gilde in Kortessem, a beer appreciation club. When he closed the mechanic shop, he and Brother-in-law Erwin Duts, joined by Stefaan Huybrehts and Kurt Meers, decided to brew a few beers together.

(Photo, above: Luc Festjens pouring a kriek.)

They wanted to do something interesting, and local to their region. So, they brewed a white beer (witbier) and added flowers from an Elderberry tree to it. Those first few batches were consumed (and enjoyed!) by friends and relatives. Elderberry trees are common in that part of Limburg Province, hence the local ingredient.

That first beer was so much appreciated, in fact, that many of their friends said they would buy it. So, the four decided to go professional, and obtained a brewery license in March, 2010. However, they did not sell any beer until Spring, 2011. They sold 120 hectoliters of beer last year, all told.

(Photo, above: the brewhouse.)

The brewing equipment comes from a former dairy, modified to brew beer instead of produce milk. The mash tun has a capacity of 800 liters, and the fermentation tank, 2200 liters. Lagering (cold-conditioning) takes place in a 1600-liter tank.

(Photo, above: fermentation and lagering tanks.)

(Photo, above: the mash tun and boiling kettle.)

As the four partners have day jobs, they usually brew on weekends. They always brew two days in a row, typically Saturdays and Sundays.

(Photo, above: the Toetëlèr Witbier.)

For the flagship beer, Toetëlèr, the brewing process is as follows: after boiling, the hot wort is cooled to 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit) and is pumped into the fermenter for seven days of primary fermentation. It is then pumped into one of the lagering tanks for seven days at 10 degrees Celsius (about 50 F.)

The Elderberry flowers are added at the end of the boil.

The beer is then bottled or kegged, with refermentation, and undergoes two weeks in a warm room. After this it is put into a cellar for a further two weeks before being sold. “So it is a six week process, overall, for our white beer,” Erwin commented.

(Photo, above: the brewery is powered by 65 solar panels.)

I found the Toetëlèr Witbier to be very refreshing, with a definite light spicy character. It really hit the spot on an 80 degree summer day!

(Photo, above: the kriek.)

Erwin and Luc also opened an experimental kriek beer, brewed with local cherries, that was very tasty and interesting.

Toetëlèr is the local dialect for an Elderberry tree. Why, you ask? The branches of the tree have a sort of foam that can be removed, and when done so, the branch is hollow. It can then be made into a whistle. In the region, a “toet” is a whistle. Hence, the name of the brewery. “It’s because ‘vlierbloesembier’” was too long a name,” Erwin told me. That name would mean “Elder Flower Beer.”

For more info about Tourism in Flanders, see Flanders Tourism

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Max's Belgian Beer Fest is this weekend!

(Image, above: the label for Stillwater Artisanal Ales
second anniversary beer,"As Follows.")
See the bottle below!

(Photo, above: Brian "Stillwater" Strumke with a nine
liter bottle of his 2nd anniversary beer, "As Follows."
It will be opened at 11 am tomorrow at Max's.
Better get there early!)

One of America's Premier Belgian beer events begins
tomorrow, and it's right here in my hometown of
Baltimore, Maryland.

The 8th Annual edition of Max's Belgian Beer Festival
will feature over 200 Belgian beers on draft and over
275 in bottles over the course of the weekend, running
through Sunday.

Max's 100 taps will rotate. As one keg kicks, Casey Hard
and crew replace with another.

As last year, I will have a slideshow running on Max's
big-screen TV (downstairs) showing images from about
70 Belgian breweries represented at the fest.

It will be about 1,100 slides total and run time will be
about 90 minutes from start to finish. It will run on a
loop all weekend beginning tomorrow around noon.

The rare ones I am looking forward to include Tilquin
Gueuze and many others.

See: Maxs for the draft list.

I hope to see you all at Max's this weekend!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

De Lambiek, Belgium’s Lambic beer visitor center

Belgium has a brand-new visitor’s center, and it’s a good one.

Really good!

De Lambiek (“The Lambic”) opened on May 14, 2011 in the
village ofAlsemberg, near the town of Beersel. This 1.7 million
euro (about 2.25 million U.S. dollar) project was created on the
initiative of several organizations.

The Municipality of Beersel, with the cooperation of Tourism
Flanders and the Tourist Office of The Province of Flemish
Brabant, as well as HORAL (The High Council for Artisanal
Lambic Beers) collaborated on the venture.

Flemish Brabant is, of course, the locale of the Payottenland:
the home of lambic, geuze and kriek beers. De Lambiek’s
location makes perfect sense, as the Municipality of Beersel
consists of the towns of Alsemberg, Beersel, Dworp,
Huizingen and Lot.

With three of the eight members of HORAL within a few
kilometers, it is an idea location. Brussels is just 12 km away.

Without doubt, this classy new center is the Payottenland’s
equivalent of the Maison du Vin in Bordeaux. The three
members near De Lambiek are 3 Fonteinen and Oud Beersel
in the town of Beersel, and Hanssens of Dworp.

The other seven members are Boon, De Cam, Girardin,
Lindemans, Mort Subite, Timmermans and De Troch.

“This is no museum. It’s a living history center,” my
guide, Peter Aelaerts, head of De Lambiek, told me during
the tour. “It’s a place to see and learn, where all your senses
are stimulated,” he continued.

A 100+ seat movie theater provides enough room for even
very large groups to view a 15-minute video about lambic
and geuze production, filmed at HORAL’s member breweries.
The video is offered in four languages and is highly informative.

There is a short history of beer from around 500 A.D. to the
present on one of the walls, focusing on lambic. Each
HORAL lambic blender and brewery has its own dedicated
display case to showcase its products.

Other highlights include a pair of hollowed out foeders:
large wooden barrels, where you can listen to the sounds
of the Oude Geuze brewing process and match which part
of the process you think is happening in the audio.

Another interactive display stimulates the olfactory senses:
want to smell cherries, hops, wheat, and barley? You can, here.

You can also touch these beer ingredients. Perhaps even better,
though, is that you can taste the final product just meters away.

De Lambiek’s tasting room faces the outside in this modern,
bright, airy building, with seating for around 100 inside and
dozens more outside on the patio in nice weather.

The beer selection is excellent, with 26 different bottled brews
on offer. Prices are “very democratic” as they like to say in
Belgium (meaning, very reasonable!) Oude Geuze and
Oude Kriek are stocked in 375 ml (12.7 ounce) bottles,
making them easy to share, using the special De Lambiek
tasting glasses.

All the Oude Geuze costs 3 euro a bottle, while most of the
Oude Kriek is as well, save a couple. The only 75 cl bottle
on the list during my September 30, 2011 visit was HORAL’s
Oude Geuze Megablend, at a reasonable 12 euro.

There is always a draft “Beer of the Month” on, and
Oud Beersel’s one year old lambic was it during my
visit. This beer is also offered in bag-in-box, at just
17.25 euro for 5 liters.

De Lambiek is open from 11am-6pm on Wednesdays,
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Group visits are also
available by appointment on Mondays, Tuesdays and
Thursdays. Cost is 2 euro per person, or 1 euro each
for groups of 15 or more. See: beersel.be.