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 sixth entry:
Finally, we get to the part of the story that is central to this trip: the Philly Beer Week collaboration brew day at Hof ten Dormaal (HtD) with John Stemler from Free Will Brewing Company. This happened, for the record, on Thursday, Feb. 5 and lasted nearly 14 hours from mashing in until final cleanup.
I joined John and Jef Janssens at around 7:30 a.m. for a brew day that they had begun at 6:15 a.m. Sources believe that no other Philly Beer Week collaboration brew in the first four years had begun this early. In fact, the grain milling had begun the night before and this marked the first full brew day since the devastating fire on Jan. 6, 2015.
In his blog post, John will cover much more of the brewhouse operations behind the collaboration beer. I'll try, as vividly as possible, to describe the complete farmhouse brewery environment.
After passing through either the university town of Leuven from the south, Tildonk to the southwest or Wespelaar to the northwest, the family property is reached by a half-mile, nearly unpassable one-lane road. Janssens says that they can tell which cars belong in the area by whether cars pull off in the appropriate small areas that make the road passable when they see an oncoming car. Otherwise, it's a standoff until the likely out-of-towner reverses to safety.
There should be little doubt that HtD is a bona-fide farmhouse brewery, even after you arrive through neighboring farmland properties. Any remaining doubt is resolved after passing through the front gates to see three generations of family going about their daily life, the family dogs roaming the property, and the animals including draft horses, English pigs, and cows.
Andre, the father, began the brewery nearly six years ago after a life-resetting trip to the U.S. saw him returning with brewing equipment from Montana, an idea, and the readiness to take the chance to leave behind an accounting career.
His son, Dries, was involved in the brewing for some time, but now they have both yielded to the 25-year-old brother Jef who is simultaneously attending brewing school. The brothers, plus their sister and her four children, all live together on the property with their parents.
The farm property also is home to several hundred hop plants and a grain field from which nearly all of their grain supply is sourced. The grain is malted at Dingemans just outside of Antwerp. While the Janssens brew some extremely nice "regular" beers such as the Blonde – the beer that introduced me to HtD three years ago, they also applyquite an experimental curiosity that comes out in special beers from the Taste Lab series of beers.
Amidst the family house, the fields, and the barnyard sits the brewery. The fire on Jan. 6 devastated the bottling and storage areas but left the adjacent animal pens largely unaffected and the brewhouse in partial disarray but still usable. Some inventory was salvaged and a current tour of the property finds crates of beer and stray single ones nearly anywhere room could be found in the weeks after the fire.
This Philly Beer Week collaboration beer – with a name still to be determined – will have an additional element to the back story in that this was the first full brew day since the fire. You might imagine the spirited conversations we've had among the group with regard to the naming of the beer – particularly each night as the drinking went later into the wee hours. John will get into more details about the brew itself, the process, the recipe, the brewhouse equipment, and the challenges of brewing in a post-catastrophe situation.
The family is obviously touched quite deeply, and even a bit humbled and embarrassed, in their words, by the outpouring of support for them in their challenging times as they recalibrate the future. A crowd-sourcing charitable fundraising website has already raised nearly 13,000 euros and now this high-visibility beer for Philly Beer Week will carry their name.
The farmland, the agriculture and animals, the family, the brewing. All tied together presents an idyllic picture of true farmhouse brewing. Brian Ewing of 12% Imports loves these kind of places. He sought them out for his portfolio not long after they opened nearly six years ago and was a key sponsor and liaison for this trip.
With all these words on Hof ten Dormaal (though deservedly, given their characteristics and the central being to this trip), and since you may have tired by this point of hearing how decadently and excellently we've eaten and drank along the way, I can spare the later evening's dinner and beers back in Brussels.
However, I will call your attention to CafeBizon, our last stop of the evening-slash-early-to-mid-morning. I must have been on my fourth wind by this point, but very glad I was. Bizon had just celebrated its 21st anniversary and is a lively local pub of live music and great beer. No food, but customers are welcome to bring in outside food and their dogs, as well, for that extra neighborhood feel.
We've got one more day of beer touring to share with you and it involves two well-regarded giants in the Lambic brewing world: the large Boon Brewery and the smaller, but in no way any less respected, DrieFonteinen. This trip is closing out with nary a whimper.
Bryan Kolesar of The Brew Lounge is author of the forthcoming Beer Lover's Mid-Atlantic, May 2015
John Stemler, brewmaster at Free Will Brewing Company, was tied up with brewing issues. His dispatches will resume.