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 bound for 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 first entry:
It started with my annual, standard $20 "donation" to the Philly Beer Week raffle.
Just my simple way of supporting the cause each year, with nary a hope to win the trip to Belgium. This year, the untimely (are there any other kinds?) emergency hot water heater repair at home demanded that I skip the night of the raffle drawing at City Tap House.
Less than two months later, courtesy of 12% Imports and the luck of the draw against most odds, I find myself now just days away from landing in Brussels for a week of dabbling in Belgian beer and brewing at Hof ten Dormaal.
Joining me will be John Stemler from Free Will Brewing (the Perkasie, Pa. brewer's name on my drawn winning ticket) and a star-studded representation of Philly Beer Week's finest, including Eddie Friedland, Casey Parker, Tom Peters, and William Reed.
It sounds as if Scoats has a lot to attend to at his Grey Lodge over the next couple of weeks and will not be able to join us this year, as he has done in the past for this annual collaboration brewing trip.I believe it has something to do with groundhogs and firkins.
I was last in Belgium in 2012 and couldn't have imagined I'd be heading back less than three years later.
And for as scatter-brained and unprepared as I am this week, I couldn't be more excited. I'll figure out this weekend if I have clean clothes and toiletries and a suitcase to take.
What I know here today is that I have a flight itinerary, valid passport, hotel room, and an idea of how I will get from the Brussels airport to downtown Brussels by train. Next up is ensuring that I have an international calling and data plan, warm and weatherproof outerwear for the cold and rainy season in Belgium, and a new set of noise-canceling headphones for the eastbound redeye.
I also know that I will be spending time with one of the rising stars on the Philly area's brewing scene, John Stemler, in the early part of the week. I'm looking forward to what he's arranged for brewery visits and some quality eats and drinks along the way.
On Wednesday, Feb. 4, we meet up with the rest of the traveling group at Cantillon to kick off four solid days of exploring Brussels and the surrounding area.
Tom Peters has earned his rock star status in Belgium over the past 20-plus years and his frequent travels there.
During my last visit to Belgium, I learned that the name Tom Peters, according to some locals, was more recognizable than some native Belgian brewers, so I expect the group visits to Boon and some others still being firmed up to be second-to-none.
I'm sure there will be other planned and unplanned stops dropped into the itinerary as well which will only add to the excellent trip. You'll have to continue following along here each day to see what we come up with.
Bryan Kolesar of The Brew Lounge is author of the forthcoming Beer Lover's Mid-Atlantic, May 2015
John Stemler writes:
I have always enjoyed the possibility of going to Belgium to visit breweries and drink some of the best beers in the world from the source.
Being selected by the raffle was a dream come true and being able to go with Bryan and some of the Philly Beer Week and craft-beer pioneers was just too much to handle.
I was not able to attend the raffle this year as I had in the past due to a conflict in scheduling which put me far away. Given the news while driving home, I was so excited I almost had to pull over. Then came the social media blitz, followed by phone call after phone call. It was surreal.
The next few weeks were a blur of holiday craziness and trying to find and renew my passport. By January, it was time to start working on a recipe.
Hof ten Doormal is a true farmhouse brewery, growing most of the hops and grains on site. They have even cultured their own yeast from the area. This beer will truly have a distinctive profile simply because the ingredients are used nowhere else.
The week and a half before the trip has become a train of emails between all parties to collectively create something unique and wonderful. It seems this year may be a first for something new and wonderful. We have started discussing brewing a second batch here in the States to age and infuse with some unique local ingredient and ultimately release a year later.
Now to designing a recipe with an unknown selection of flavors: My experience with their beers was limited, so some hard work was required at Monk's with Tom, Fergie, William, and Bryan on the range of flavors this brewery already created.
Now to the recipe . . . oh, but wait! That would really ruin the surprise in June.
Now just days away from leaving, I cannot believe it is actually happening and I get to do it with my wife, Nicole, and Bryan Kolesar, author of the forthcoming Beer Lover's Mid-Atlantic. Meeting us there and giving us the dream beer experience are Tom Peters, William Reed, and several others who have paved the way for craft beer and Philly Beer Week.
I cannot wait to get to know them better on this trip and truly learn from the masters. We will be posting as often as we can throughout the week abroad.
John Stemler is brewmaster at Free Will Brewing Company.