Today, 30 years ago, Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield launched Vanberg & DeWulf, one of the first companies to specialize in importing Belgian beer to the United States. Originally, they conceived of the company as a way to keep visiting Belgium on a regular basis and see the many friends they’d made when they lived there for three years after college, not realizing they’d be part of a larger movement popularizing Belgian beer in the states. At the time, here’s what they were thinking.
We lived in Belgium for three years right out of college and began importing so that when our companies transferred us to the States we would still have an excuse to return to see our friends and visit the places we loved. What began as a hobby turned into a career, and we have a decades-long wacky, improbable fascination with the culture of the country and its brewers.
As my friend Tom Peters from Monk’s Cafe in Philadelphia put it:
Toast to the pioneers of bringing Belgian beers to the US. Don Feinberg & Wendy Littlefield have been bringing us the likes of Duvel, Boon, Dupont, Scaldis and other top-flight Belgian ales for the past THIRTY YEARS! They were at least a decade ahead of the times. Their portfolio helped me start offering Belgian beer in Philadelphia way back in 1985. Without their efforts Monk’s Café probably would not exist, nor any of the other Belgian beer bars that came along later.
Like many bars and beer establishments, they’re taking part in the Coast-to-Coast Toast tonight, lifting a glass of Belgian beer to Vanberg & DeWulf, and especially to Don and Wendy, for their three-decade efforts.
When I spoke to Wendy last week, she said they expect about 350 places to participate in the toast, and around 200 have even signed-up on the Eventbrite page, where you can see if there’s one going on in your neighborhood. For a full list, by state, of the more than 350 events that were known as of yesterday, check out that list at their C2CT website.
Even if you can’t make it out — I’m staying in and toasting with the missus, for example — toast them in the comfort of your home. It should be easy enough to find one of the great beers they import. Any beer from the following Belgian breweries will fit the bill.
- Castelain (also St. Amand)
- De Cam
- Dubuisson (Scaldis and Cuvee de Trolls)
- Dupont (also Moinette, Foret, Les Bons Voeux and others)
- Slaghmuylder (Witkap Stimulo Singel Abbey Ale)
- V&D exclusive collaborations with De Troch (Lambrucha)
- V&D exclusive collaborations with Et Famille (Lambickx)
- V&D exclusive collaborations with Scheldebrouwerij (Hop Ruiter)
You can also find a list of all 30 of the beers in their portfolio at their C2CT website.
In addition, Don and Wendy have partnered with Untappd, the foursquare of beer. I confess I’ve only been using Untappd for a couple of weeks now, since I finally scrapped my Android for an iPhone 4s. But so far I really like it, in the same way I enjoy checking into Foursquare for absolutely no reason. It’s just fun. Anyway, check in today (and for the next 30 days) with any of the thirty beers in the Vanberg & DeWulf portfolio and you’ll earn a special Belgian beer badge.
Here’s an overview of some of their other accomplishments, and Lew Bryson has a nice tribute he did for a local Philly distributor.
Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield were the first to import Duvel, Rodenbach, Affligem, Boon lambics, Blanche de Bruges to the USA. They were the first Americans inducted into the Belgian Brewers Guild in its 500-year history. Ever and always they have represented beers from independent family-run breweries. They were the publishers of the first US edition of Michael Jackson’s The Great Beers of Belgium. They founded Brewery Ommegang on a former hops farm in Cooperstown in 1994. Ommegang was the first US brewery dedicated to all bottle conditioned, cork-finished, Belgian-style beers. They introduced the 750 ml format to the US craft beer scene, and built the first farmstead brewery in the US in a century.
I first met Don and Wendy about fifteen years ago when I worked for BevMo. At that time they were not just importers, but had recently founded and built Ommegang in upstate New York, a partnership with Duvel Moortgat and others. I saw and talked to them both for a number of years after that, but then I didn’t see them for a time after Duvel bought them out at Ommegang and they moved to Chicago. Happily, I was reunited with them when the Craft Brewers Conference took place in Chicago two years ago and I attended a Dubuisson (Bush) beer dinner where we had a chance to really catch up, before heading to the Publican for a nightcap or three. I love their passion for what they do, and how much they love and value their relationship with Belgian culture and its brewers. I hope I remain half as passionate for what I do after thirty years. They’re a great example of just how much fun you can have when you really and truly love what you do.
Happy Anniversary Don & Wendy, here’s to thirty more years of great Belgian beer!