Beer Birthday: Wendy Littlefield

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Today is Wendy Littlefield’s 59th birthday. Wendy, along with her husband, ran the Belgian export company Vanberg & DeWulf, until quite recently, when the business was sold, although they’ll continue for several more months with the company before starting the next chapter. Their portfolio included such great beer lines as Dupont, Castelain and Dubuisson (Bush). They were also the original founders of Brewery Ommegang. Three years ago was their 30th anniversary of being involved in the beer industry and bringing great beer to America. Plus, they’re great fun to hang out and drink with, especially in Belgium. Join me in wishing Wendy a very happy birthday.

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Michael Roper, owner of the Hopleaf, Jonathan Surratt, and Wendy, when we had dinner there a couple of years ago.

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At an Avec beer dinner a few years ago.

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Wendy with husband Don Feinberg in Ghent at a beer dinner with Dilewyns last week.

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Don Feinberg, Anne (from New York’s Ginger Man) and Wendy in Belgium.

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Wendy and Don in 1979.

NOTE: Photos purloined from Vanberg & DeWulf’s website and Facebook.

Help Rebuild Belgium’s Hof ten Dormaal

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Yesterday, January 6, was a dark day in Tildonk, Belgium, located in the Flemish Brabant, near the center of the northern part of the country. Tildonk is located in the municipality of Haacht, and that whole area has less than 14,000 people, so it’s a fairly small village. It was also home to a true farmhouse brewery, Hof ten Dormaal. The small brewery made a wide variety of beers, including a range of Belgians, sours, wild beers, a barrel-aged series and a number of experimental beers, too. I say “was,” because yesterday starting around 6:45 a.m. there was a fire at the brewery which completely destroyed the farm brewery, and the “bottling line, warm chamber and a big part of the stock (another account mentions thousands of bottles) are completely lost.” The brewery originally came from Montana, and was installed in 2009. The following year, they added a bottling line. Fortunately, the brewhouse and fermenters appear to have been spared, and, more importantly, no one in the family was injured.

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During last year’s Brussels Beer Challenge, I had the pleasure of visiting the brewery, meeting André Janssens and his family, and tasting many of their beers along with my fellow judges. It’s out in the open countryside, a beautiful rustic setting. We visited the brewery, the tasting room, but spent most of our time in the garden, opening and enjoying the beer made right there at the farm.

The farm grows cereal and keeps cattle, and is “99% self-sustainable.” The farm grows its own hops and malt, their water comes from a well on the property and they make their energy from rape seeds grown in their fields. Yeast is the only ingredient they buy for brewing. They feed the leftovers to their livestock. Perhaps you’ve had their beer, it is imported by Twelve Percent Imports and available in California, along with Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Carolina, Washington DC, and Wisconsin.

Here’s a short video showing part of the damage to the brewery and the farm buildings.

It didn’t always look like that, of course. Below are a few of my photos from my visit last November. Happily, there’s already an effort underway to return the once-picturesque brewery to former glory. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up and is soliciting donations. If you love good beer, please be generous.

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Outside the farmhouse brewery.

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I loved these tiny clay shields on the brick wall outside of the farmhouse.

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From the gate outside looking in to Hof ten Dormaal.

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Cafe seating on a patio outside the tasting room of the brewery.

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Inside the tasting room, local artwork hangs on the wall above wooden kegs aging beer.

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Owner and brewmaster André Janssens leads a tour of his brewery.

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Hof ten Dormaal’s brewhouse.

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The courtyard garden, surrounded by the family home, farm buildings, and the brewery.

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Some of the Brussels Beer Challenge judges posing in the courtyard.

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Again, if you love great beer and want to help support it, this is a great way to help out a family and their farmhouse brewery. Please donate to help rebuild the brewery through Go Fund Me and definitely go visit the brewery the next time you’re in Belgium.

UPDATE: Sam Vanderstraeten, the creator of the GoFundMe campaign posted some Day 2 photographs showing more of the destruction wrought by the fire.

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Beer Birthday: Jean Van Roy

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Today is the 47th birthday Jean Van Roy, who took over the Cantillon Brewery in Brussels from his father several years ago, though he’d been working there all of his life. Considered a working brewery museum, they make some amazing lambics, and the tour is one everyone should take at least once in their life. Down an unassuming alley in Brussels, and not one you’d feel safe meandering along at night, Cantillon has been located there since 1900, when it was founded. I’ve met Jean a number of times, and he always strikes me as a man with beer in his blood, and a passion for what he’s doing, which makes him a kindred spirit as far as I’m concerned. Join me in wishing Jean a very happy birthday.

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Me and Jean at the Great Lambic Summit at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology & Anthropology on June 9 during Philly Beer Week in 2010.

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Tom Peters, Frank Boon, Jean, Fergie Carey and Armand Debelder at a Lambic Beer Dinner held at Monk’s Cafe in Philadelphia a few years ago.

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Jean (on right), Yvan De Baets (center, who plans to open Brasserie De La Senne by the end of the year) and I believe Bernard (on left, also from De La Senne) at Deep Ellum in Boston during CBC in 2009.

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Tom Peters and Jean at Cantillon during a visit there in February of this year.

Beer Birthday: Armand Debelder

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Today is the 63rd birthday of Armand Debelder, master blender and owner of Proef 3 Fonteinen — a.k.a. Drie Fonteinen — a lambic brewery and blendery making traditional geuze and kriek in Beersal, Belgium. According to their U.S. importer, Shelton Brothers:

Drie Fonteinen is the only remaining traditional geuze blender in Belgium, using only 100% spontaneously fermented lambik beer, aged in oak casks, with no artificial sweeteners or other additives. The blendery is connected to the very popular Drie Fonteinen Restaurant in Beersel, on the outskirts of Brussels. The proprietor, Armand Debelder, buys pure lambik from three breweries in Belgium, ages them in oak, and blends them, employing the skill, knowledge, and supreme passion for real geuze that his father handed down to him.

I had a chance to meet and talk with Armand a couple of times during Philly Beer Week a few years ago. And, of course, his beer is amazingly good. Join me in wishing Armand a very happy birthday.

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Tom Peters, Frank Boon, Jean Van Roy, Fergie Carey and Armand Debelder at a Lambic Beer Dinner held at Monk’s Cafe in Philadelphia earlier a couple of years ago.

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Armand and me at the Great Lambic Summit at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology & Anthropology on June 9, 2010.

Beer Birthday: Luc De Raedemaeker

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Today is the 43rd birthday of Luc De Raedemaeker, who’s the Tasting Director for the Brussels Beer Challenge, and also the owner of BIERinhuis. I first met Luc in D.V. when Stephen Beaumont introduced us during CBC, and then we judged together in Japan last year. We’ve since run into one another several time, both in the states and in Belgium, and he’s always fun to share a beer or three with. Join me in wishing Luc a very happy birthday.

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Luc with Jan Smets at Brouwerij Het Anker in Mechelen at an event in November of 2013.

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Luc at Brasserie Bahnhove in Belgium with Lisa Morrison and Mark Campbell in November of last year. [photo by Bart Van der Perre.]

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Luc, second from the right, at the World Beer Cup in Denver earlier this year.

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Judging in Japan in 2013. Luc is in the back row, right next to me on the left.

Beer Pipeline To Be Built In Bruges

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The West Flanders town of Bruges, in Belgium, is one of the most picturesque cities I’ve ever visited. Sadly, I’ve only been there twice, and one of those times was at night. The town center is a World Heritage Site, and it’s medieval architecture makes you think you’ve stepped back in time. In a way, it’s similar to our Colonial Williamsburg, where residents must agree to keep the colonial facade intact, so must people who live in downtown Bruges keep its exterior medieval.

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There’s only one brewery in the ancient downtown, De Halve Maan, which can trace its root as far back as 1564, and has been owned by the Maes family since the 19th century. BUt according to an article in the UK newspaper, The Telegraph, neighbors haven’t been thrilled by the rumbling of beer trucks in and out of the cobblestoned streets, and officials worried it could be damaging local infrastructure. The Maes family wants to keep their historic brewery in the city, so they came up with a unique solution to please everybody, including the city government, which approved the project. The plan is to “‘build a two-mile underground pipeline will link the De Halve Maan brewery … to an industrial park where the beer will be bottled and shipped to drinkers worldwide,’ company director Xavier Vanneste said.”

Construction is set to begin in 2015, and will be Belgium’s first beer pipeline, paid for by the brewery. The pipeline is expected to keep around 500 trucks off Bruges’ street every year, which currently is estimated to be about 85% of current truck traffic in the historic downtown area. The Telegraph article also claims that “to avoid harming the city’s gothic facades and medieval belfry, pipeline construction will use some of the latest technologies perfected for the transport of oil and gas.”

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Zwanze Day 2014

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Yesterday was Zwanze Day, an annual holiday deliciously made up by Jean Van Roy of Brasserie Cantillon. Cantillon made the first Zwanze beer in 2008, which that year was a rhubarb beer. In subsequent years they’ve made beers with elderflowers, pineau d’aunis (a red wine grape) and a sour witbier, made with the traditional coriander and orange peel. This year’s beer, Cuvée Florian, is essentially Iris Grand Cru blended with cherries, a new version of a beer Van Roy made for his son to celebrate his 18th birthday.

Each year, the beer is tapped at the very same time at locations around the world, regardless of times zone. This year the Zwanze Day beer was available at 56 beer bars or breweries in sixteen countries. One of those was Russian River Brewing, one of my local breweries, so I spent the afternoon there with owners Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo, along with Rich and Tammy Norgrove (owners of Bear Republic Brewing) and a few of their friends.

But before we get to the beer, here’s a little history of Zwanze Day. Belgium has essentially two separate regions, with the northern half known as Flanders. The language spoken there is a dialect of Dutch, known by the same name as the people of Flanders: Flemish. The word “zwanze” is unique to Flemish, has its origins in Yiddish, and essentially means a self-deprecating type of humor that’s typified by sharp-edged, playful jokes, usually good-natured. It’s said that this type of humor has become “a characteristic, defining trait” of the Flemish themselves, and for some a way of life. A “zwanze” is a joke, a “zwanzer” a joker. It was with that same playful spirit that Cantillon approached the concept of making a Zwanze beer. The goal was to create a fun beer; something a little unusual, using non-traditional ingredients.

And here’s Jean Van Roy writing his explanation of this year’s Zwanze beer:

Some of you have already had the opportunity to taste Iris Grand Cru aged 3 years in a 400-litre cask. This product was sold without having been blended with a younger beer and so there was no possibility of secondary fermentation. As a result, Iris Grand Cru is a non-sparkling beer and it is meant to be drunk like cereal wine. Without cold hopping, its fragrances tend more towards the characteristic acidity of a spontaneous fermentation product associated with a slight caramel taste.

In other news, my eldest son, Florian, turned 18 on 3 May. To duly celebrate his transition to adulthood, and as the worthy son of a lambic brewer, Flo received a rather original birthday gift: an entire cask filled with “Cuvée Florian”.

Admittedly, finding the name was easy, but it was another matter to come up with the actual beer we were going to produce on this occasion. When I first tasted the Iris Grand Cru, I immediately thought that adding a touch of fruitiness to the caramel accent could be very complementary. And since my son’s favourite beer is kriek, I based myself on a mix of these two products to create his birthday present.

As my goal was not to create some kind of kriek clone, I reduced the amount of fruit by 40% in this blend with the Iris Grand Cru. After all, the core idea was to contribute fruitiness and mellowness to the base beer, not recreate a beer that tasted like sour cherries. Although cold-hopping with the same quantities used for “traditional” Iris would probably have masked the blend’s very subtle fragrances, I still wanted to add a touch of bitterness to this birthday present and decided to opt for a small dose of superb and very delicate Bramling Cross hops. The linger on the palate is very complex while the fruity fragrances of the hops play a subtle role without throwing off balance the beer’s range of flavours and bouquet.

For this Zwanze 2014 I had originally planned on using the spontaneous fermentation stout brewed at the beginning of 2013, but despite the fact that this beer is already very good I have the feeling that another year of maturing in a cask will give it more delicateness and character. In light of this we needed another beer to replace our “wild” stout so as to be able to organise our Zwanze Day, and as you will undoubtedly have understood by now, the success of “Cuvée Florian” meant that it did not take very long for us to make a decision.

I did ask the kid if he was OK with me making a new version of his birthday present, and since this was not a problem for him, it was only logical to call this Zwanze 2014 “Cuvée Florian”!

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Natalie Cilurzo announcing that the Zwanze Day beer was tapped and explaining how each person would get their pour in an orderly fashion, in an effort to avoid the day devolving into chaos. Happily, everything ran smoothly.

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The first pour of Cuvée Florian for Zwanze Day 2014.

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In order to insure that everyone got a pour of the Cuvée Florian in the order that they arrived, Russian River handed out numbered tickets. Numbers 1 and 2 arrived at the brewpub last night, and closed the place, then waited at the door overnight to be first in line when they opened on Zwanze Day. This is customers #1 and #2, Steven Weinschenk and his friend Tony Carvutto, for the Zwanze Day beer, Cuvée Florian.

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My pour. After the keg emptied, about an hour after it was tapped, kegs of Cantillon Gueuze and then Rosé de Gambrinus were tapped, too. It’s always a great experience enjoying freshly tapped Cantillon. But they were also pouring aged Beatification, Russian River’s abbey double, which was tasting awesome. But I’m also really enjoying a couple of their new beers, Dribble Belt, a “hoppy session ale, and the STS Pils.

And finally, here’s a short video of the first pours of this year’s Zwanze Day beer, Cuvée Florian at Russian River. A special thanks to Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo for their hospitality. Another fun Zwanze Day.

Beer Birthday: Frank Boon

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Today is the 60th birthday of Frank Boon, from the Belgian lambic brewery Brouwerij Boon. In 1978, Boon acquired the small “R. De Vits” Lambiek brewery that dated back to 1680, relocating the brewery to downtown Lembeek in 1986. His beers are imported to the U.S. by Latis Imports. Like most lambic fans, I’ve enjoyed his beers for many years, and was fortunate enough to meet Frank a couple of years ago during Philly Beer Week. Join me in wishing Frank a very happy birthday.

Tom Peters, Frank Boon, Jean Van Roy, Fergie Carey and Armand Debelder
Tom Peters, Frank Boon, Jean Van Roy, Fergie Carey and Armand Debelder at a Lambic Beer Dinner held at Monk’s Cafe in Philadelphia a few years ago.

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Frank and me at the Great Lambic Summit at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology & Anthropology on June 9, 2010.

Beer Birthday: Don Feinberg

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Today is Don Feinberg’s 59th birthday. Don, along with his wife Wendy Littlefield, runs the Belgian export company Vanberg & DeWulf. Their portfolio includes such great beer lines as Dupont, Castelain and Dubuisson (Bush). They were also the original founders of Brewery Ommegang. Three years ago they celebrated their 30th anniversary of being involved in the beer industry and bringing great beer to America. Plus, they’re great fun to hang out and drink with. Unfortunately, this will be their last year running Vanberg & DeWulf, as they’ve sold it and will be taking some time off, before deciding on their next project. Join me in wishing Don a very happy birthday.

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Don, along with the Dubuisson brewmaster, being poured Lambrucha in Chicago in 2010.

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Wendy and Don at a dinner in Belgium last year.

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Wendy Littlefield, Don and Greg Engert at a Vanberg & DeWulf tasting in Washington, D.C. (photo by Chuck Cook)

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Wendy and Don in 1979.

Reveal Your First Belgian In The Next Session

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For our 91st Session, our host is Breandán Kearney, who is the beery half of Belgian Smaak, along with budding chocolatier Elisa. For his topic, he’s chosen My First Belgian, meaning to participate in the September Session, he wants to know about yours.

Our blog is called ‘Belgian Smaak’. We love (and investigate, write about and drink) fantastic beers from other countries around the world, but the reason we started the blog was that we were blown away by the variety of flavours that Belgium offers in its beer and wanted to enjoy our own adventure in taste.

Although David Turley of Musing Over a Pint did host a great session on Belgian-style triples (A Tripel for Two) back in February 2009, we noticed with no small element of surprise that there has not yet been a Session dedicated to discussing beers from this country generally and so we feel that we are the hosts to bring Belgian beer to the tip of your tongues both literarily and libatiously.

This topic was inspired by my own experience in moving to Belgium last year. Having only Guinness and Macro-Pils as a reference (until recently the only choice available in Ireland), my attitude towards beer was completely re-aligned when I first encountered Belgian beer culture.

There’s no rules for participating in this Session. If you’ve never tried a beer brewed in Belgian, now your chance. Or write about your favorite Belgian type of beer. The sky’s the limit. Their “aim here is to explore, discuss and hopefully celebrate the ways (if any) in which this fascinating beer culture has personally impacted on each of you, the passionate beer blogging community.” But see his thoughtful, detailed announcement for the myriad ways you can participate in next month’s Session.

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So put on your Belgian cap and write your blog post — no Flemish necessary — on Friday 5 September 2014, and link to Belgian Smaak’s announcement in your post. Also, he’s asking that you leave a comment below his announcement with a link to your post on that same day to facilitate doing the roundup.

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