Bryan Kolesar of The Brew Lounge won Philly Beer Week's annual raffle, sending him and a local brewer of his choice to Belgium. Kolesar chose John Stemler of Free Will Brewing in Perkasie, and the two are now in Brussels to work on the annual collab beer to be served during Philly Beer Week, May 29 to June 7. The two will contribute blog posts to Philly.com during their trip.
Check in to Philly Beer Week for more information.
Here is Bryan's eighth entry:
According to the word-processor count, I've written nearly 5,000 words and John Stemler from Free Will Brewing Company an additional few thousand during the last week in an effort to share with you the wonder that is brewing at a true Belgian farmhouse brewery and touring the Belgian beer landscape.
Now back on homeland terra firma, a look back requires a few shout-outs and at the same time elicits a few shouts of "We really did all that?!"
Right up there in line for thanks is the Janssens family at HtD for the warmth they showed to this visiting bunch from Philly during a very trying time.
Breakfast, lunch, coffee, beers, and a personal tour around Leuven showed off their hospitality and appreciation that Philly Beer Week stuck by them which will help bring added attention to their growing, though temporarily set back, brewery.
The fire devastation on their farm property is very real and from which will take quite some time to fully recover. The U.S. market has been quite significant for them and there will be a gap in their beer's availability until they are able get production back to even a partially normal basis. But, they are a determined and hard-working bunch and we're confident they will get through it. They have a fan base that is firmly behind them.
Tom Peters (Monk's Café, et al) deserves a big mention as well for his coordination of brewery visits to Cantillon, Boon, and 3 Fonteinen, all of which were beyond compare. Each visit was personally hosted by the respective owner – Jean Van Roy, Frank Boon, and Armand Debelder - each of whom also get a big shout of thanks for their generous donation of time and interest, and the tours/tastings were above and beyond anything that could be imagined without Peters' assistance in arranging.
William Reed (Standard Tap, Johnny Brenda's) and Casey Parker (Jose Pistola's, Sancho Pistola's) played their roles likewise with Peters as consummate tour guides, ensuring that we found our way around Brussels and into some of the best bars where we were treated like royalty. Moeder Lambic for five lambics on handpumps, great meat and cheese plates, and too many numerous other first-rate beers to list. Le Coq because it was across from their hotel and similarly has a bottle list beyond compare to match a rollicking atmosphere. Café Bizon for a stellar bottle list, a nice lineup of drafts, plus a range of jenevers, and a down-to-earth pub environment that felt "real," local, and organic.
Finally, I could not have been more pleased with the brewer's name on my winning ticket – John Stemler – co-owner and head brewer at Free Will Brewing Company in Perkasie. Stemler exhibits a brewing wisdom and maturity at his three-year-old brewery that made him a perfect match for this likewise young and growing brewery in Belgium.
I've been fond of saying that it's easy to spot the new (and mostly young) brewers that are sprouting across the new brewing landscape these days simply by talking a few minutes with them. It's easy to hear those that have an understanding of what goes on inside the brewing vessels from mashing to boiling to fermenting beyond knowing simply which buttons to push and levers to flip at which times. With his background in biology and chemistry, it's quickly apparent that Stemler has a solid grasp of the brewing process and it's on full display in his beers.
No doubt he was on the well-deserved end of this prize-winning trip.
If you've not yet come across any of his beers that range in diversity from Coffee Oatmeal Brown to Techno IPA to Destiny's Wit to Danae Saison to Ralphius barrel-aged stout to various Lambic-style beers like Peach, Grape, Key Lime Pie, and others, I strongly suggest that you do so in short order. The annual fundraising beer, Saison de Rose, is also one to keep on your radar.
Then, be on the lookout for this collaboration beer during Philly Beer Week. The quantity made was small, so don't expect much in the way of bottles (partially due also to the bottling operations' being destroyed in the fire at HtD) but you can be sure to find it at Opening Tap on May 29 and around Philly Beer Week during the ensuing nine days after the kickoff event.
JefJanssens, and perhaps his brother and father as well, is due to visit during Philly Beer Week and initial plans call for him to brewing a follow-up batch at Free Will. Lots more to come, as you might imagine, for this beer with a long back story.
Fabulous trip - now the waiting game is on for this beer. Stay tuned for the final decision around the name and label choice for the beer; I think you'll dig it.
If all these words and pictures shared here by Stemler and me over the last 10 days have not convinced you to drop a few chances in next year's Philly Beer Week raffle for a trip to Belgium, you either don't like beer, Belgium, or flying.
Bryan Kolesar of The Brew Lounge is author of the forthcoming Beer Lover's Mid-Atlantic, May 2015