Saturday, February 15, 2014

Final Gravity Podcast

Time to get this blog on track again!

I have been in talks with investors, working on a refined business plan, but as long as we have not secured investors, I was holding off writing more as there wasn't much to say without repeating myself.
But now I have something to talk about, a new experience. I was invited to speak on Final Gravity Podcast (website: finalgravitypodcast) about the brewery, Belgian beer, and a bunch of other fun stuff.

The podcast should be up shortly, I will follow up soon with some more commentary!

Cheers all, and don't forget something is still brewing in the State of New Jersey!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Saint William Brewery back on track!

It has been a while since our last post. A lot has happened in between, mostly personal things that needed to be finished so I could devote all my attention and time to the brewery again. One of those things was starting a new job in September. I became Editor-in-Chief for the Gazette van Detroit, an ethnic monthly newspaper for the Belgian/Flemish-American community. This is a very exciting opportunity, and one that will offer ways to promote my passion for beer in many other ways, well beyond the brewery. I have a few projects in the works that are designed to place the Gazette back on the map as a serious partner for all things Belgian/Flemish, and to promote our culture. The biggest of these projects deals with beer, the great rich traditions and heritage of the Belgian beers as well as the exciting innovative American craft beer world. As these projects are still being proposed to the Board, I cannot divulge more about them, but keep an eye out on this blog and on for more news. It will be fantastic!

Tim Besecker checking the mashing setup, left, with
recirculation pump and right boiler for sparging.
Yesterday, I met with Scott McLusky and Tim Beseker, two homebrewers par excellence who graciously allowed me to brew a test batch on their all-grain system, and got help from Ray Patton as well. Over the years, they have put together a very nice and efficient system, based around a 15 gallon kettle, with nice features such as a recirculation system during mashing that helps clear up the wort, allowing for an easy, quick and efficient lautering (on this batch, the overall efficiency was well above 80%, for a self-made home brew system quite an achievement!), a copper cooling coil that is placed in the boil kettle and that brought slightly under 12 gallons of boiling liquid in 25 minutes to a nice 68-69 degrees Fahrenheit, among other things.

Me mashing in the malt.
We made a test batch of Saint William Tripel, a nice Belgian Tripel, coming out to a nice 9.0% ABV that should be well hidden. From a simple base of Belgian Pilsener malt we made the wort, which we had to boil down a little to achieve the desired original gravity. The hopping is where we are adding an American twist, by using Cascade hops, in combination with some European noble hops such as Czech Saaz and German Hallertauer. As any self-respecting Belgian or Belgian style tripel, the main factors providing the beer's characteristic flavors are the malt and, more importantly, the yeast. The hops are there to support the overall balance, but should never be too strong. Adding Cascade adds very nice slight notes of floral and spicy that combine will with the flavors unlocked by the yeast, and add something distinctively American to this otherwise traditional Belgian brew.

Scott checking the lautering
We obtained a larger yield (slightly over 11 gallons) of brew at the correct gravity, which attests to the efficiency of the brewing system Scott and Tim (and others) had put together. A nice added feature they had built in with the cooler, was a whirlpool, by attaching the recirculation pump to the boil kettle and direction the flow back in such a way that it created a circular movement. This is helpful to sort out the 'trub', the organic remains of the hops and whatever husks of the malt that might have been left. The circular motion of the liquid traps these heavier particles in the middle, creating a nice cone. After it was cooled down to 69 degrees the beer was transferred to two six-gallon carboys, at which point we added the yeast, and closed off the carboys.

Cooling the beer
Tim has a temperature controlled environment to store these carboys, to ensure optimal primary fermentation. In about 2 weeks we will take this green beer, add a small dose of sugar and extra yeast (the 'priming'), and start bottling. This way, the beer can continue it's cycle of secondary fermentation in bottle (bottle conditioned beer). This step does not really add to the alcohol content of the beer, but it serves to achieve a good, fine carbonation. Given the fact that this beer will be on the heavier side, this bottle conditioning will make them better suited to store for longer periods of time (easily up to 5 years, if you have the patience to wait that long to drink a great brew). The live yeast in the bottle also prevents certain compounds in the beer from breaking down, in the process creating unpleasant flavors and aromas.

Ready for
The bottles will have to be stored around 71 degrees Fahrenheit for around 3 weeks, at which point they will be ready to be cooled down, opened, and served in a chalice type glass. Ready to be shared and enjoyed!
As this is a test batch, I will be looking for how well certain flavors came through, if some need to be strengthened or perhaps toned down, check overall quality, flavor and balance, etc. So I am very excited to see how this will turn out!

One of the coming weeks we will be brewing the Saint William Honey, again to have a first all-grain batch to check flavor and balance. If (when?) these batches turn out great, we will be using these bottles to help with the quest for investors. They will be a great way to showcase the identity and level of what Saint William Brewery will be as a professional production brewery. Needless to say that I look forward to the day we start our first real batch!

Tim Besecker, Wim Vanraes and Scott McLusky

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Craft beerds:a fun take on beer art

Everyone hates to find a hair in their food, let alone in their drink. But finding facial hairs on the label and/or logo of the brew you're enjoying is a whole different thing. There is a whole new subculture in the art world, driven by the explosion of Craft Beer. A good friend of mine, Greg, devotes his blog The PourCurator almost exclusively to beer art.

From his blog:
As the craft beer boom as introduced us to myriad and delicious flavors, it has also spawned a great deal of art and design work. Craft breweries are more than just sources of intoxication; they are community hubs for all types of creativity. So this Pour Curator will try and look at craft beer's contributions to art, whether it's through label art, posters, tap handles, or something even stranger, preferably with a glass or goblet of deliciousness in hand.
 And Fred Abercrombie is another beer lover with a knack for great beer and awesome graphics. And for beards. He is the brain behind a book that is slated to come out around December this year, called "Craft Beerds". What started as a small project to self publish, consisting of a collection of beer labels featuring noteworthy facial hair, quickly outgrew the original plan. So he is looking for some help launching the book on kickstarter (go here to support him!). Every cent goes to publishing costs, and there are some really cool rewards as well!

A sample of the vast collection, over 175 breweries and their art are included!

Go ahead, be an art patron and beer lover all at once, and support this book (and perhaps see our logo featured as well?). Cheers!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Blowing hot or cold: 'warm' beer

Just the other week I went down to my favorite watering hole again, and met Greg Katz there, thoroughly enjoying his beer at the bar. Well, two beers, actually. One for immediate consumption, and another one, a Founder's Curmudgeon, to slowly warm up a bit.

In Belgium, we kind of laugh with the warm British beers. And when I look around here in the US and see all the advertising about cold, colder, coldest beer, it strikes me as funny as well. But the truth is as complex and diverse as the difference between Belgian, British and American ales. Part of me instinctively knew that, but it was Greg who made me realize exactly what I was doing without thinking about it, and why. Before you continue reading the next paragraph, pick yourself a nice lager to start drinking (or a cider, I recently started liking to mix things up a bit with an Angry Orchard Cider), and pour yourself a more robust beer as well, but don't touch it yet. By the time you finish reading this article it will be ready to be savored, and by then you'll know exactly why you were asked to do that. And trust me, it will be a fun experiment!

The 'Gruuthuse' in Brugge, now a museum, back then house
of a family that traded in 'gruut', the spices used in the
brewing process before hops became widespread.
Here is the picture. Not that long ago, as I was a student at the University of Ghent, I loved to escape Ghent during exams in early summer. I'd go to Bruges, a very nicely preserved Flemish medieval town. A little change of scenery to relax the mind, something that pairs remarkably well with a great beer. On such occasions, my beers of choice would either be a Westmalle Tripel - one can never go wrong with that - or a Straffe Hendrik, from Brewery 'De Halve Maan', a very nice Bitter Tripel Ale. So imagine sitting outside on a hot summer day, incredible views of cobble stone streets and medieval buildings straight out of a movie set, and a glass of golden delight in front of you. In Belgium, beers are served cold. A beer like either of those two not as cold as a lager, but still cold. So as I sit there, slowly sipping my beer and enjoying that moment of freedom, there was always that moment where the beer suddenly seemed to explode with flavor. A little while longer, and the beer would either be finished completely, or it would have lost its crisp appeal. Time to order another one, or to make my way back to my books.

Now here is where the magic happens that Greg made me aware of. When you receive your beer, it is cold. It then slowly starts to heat up to room temperature or as warm as your hands are. As that heating up happens, the beer starts to release more of its flavors and aromas, up to a point when that effect is the greatest, and you can experience the full range of sensory experience the brewer has packed in that liquid delight he brewed up for you. The science behind that is fairly simple: as the beer warms up, the chemical compounds that carry the flavors and aromas become a little more volatile, the CO2 in the beer is released quicker (which in turn helps to release those aromas and flavors quicker), etc.

The British Campaign for Real Ale, or CAMRA, even has guidelines for how to serve real ale/cask ales, the traditional British way of understanding ales. An important part is the precisely described range of temperature at which bars are to serve the beer in order to do proper justice to the beer. A link to their site can be found here. For the Belgians among the readers: English beer is not 'warm', not even room temperature, but 'cellar temperature' (12-14 C (54-57 F)). That makes it warmer than the typical beer we'd drink, but still not 'warm'. But their beers usually only go through primary fermentation, and have no secondary (which gives the beer the more robust carbonation). This makes the typical British ale less lively compared to the average Belgian beer, and appears more flat, as it only has the very fine and more nuances carbonation of the primary fermentation.

So there we sat, at the bar of the Stirling Hotel, as Greg made me actually aware of this evolution of flavor within a single glass of beer. The right temperature accentuates certain flavors while masking others, and will let you experience the beer just the way the brewer intended it. When I sat there, slowly enjoying my beer, I was, without thinking about it, allowing it to slowly warm up, right to that point where it released its full flavor. Since Greg pointed that out, it will definitely help to savor beers differently, trying to find that 'sweet spot' where the flavor is the most intense and full. Now is this a life altering new guide on how to drink beer? No, but definitely something you would want to keep in the back of mind, next time you are drinking a nice rich beer. Make sure you do it justice! As with everything pertaining to beer, this is subject to personal preference. There, another excuse to keep drinking, if you ever needed one.

A little general guideline for temperature would be the following, taken from the website:

Very cold (0-4 °C/32-39 °F): Any beer you don’t actually want to taste. Pale Lager, Malt Liquor, Canadian-style Golden Ale and Cream Ale, Low Alcohol, Canadian, American or Scandinavian-style Cider.

Cold (4-7 °C/39-45 °F): Hefeweizen, Kristalweizen, Kölsch, Premium Lager, Pilsner, Classic German Pilsner, Fruit Beer, brewpub-style Golden Ale, European Strong Lager, Berliner Weisse, Belgian White, American Dark Lager, sweetened Fruit Lambics and Gueuzes, Duvel-types

Cool (8-12 °C/45-54 °F): American Pale Ale, Amber Ale, California Common, Dunkelweizen, Sweet Stout, Stout, Dry Stout, Porter, English-style Golden Ale, unsweetened Fruit Lambics and Gueuzes, Faro, Belgian Ale, Bohemian Pilsner, Dunkel, Dortmunder/Helles, Vienna, Schwarzbier, Smoked, Altbier, Tripel, Irish Ale, French or Spanish-style Cider

Cellar (12-14 °C/54-57 °F): Bitter, Premium Bitter, Brown Ale, India Pale Ale, English Pale Ale, English Strong Ale, Old Ale, Saison, Unblended Lambic, Flemish Sour Ale, Bière de Garde, Baltic Porter, Abbey Dubbel, Belgian Strong Ale, Weizen Bock, Bock, Foreign Stout, Zwickel/Keller/Landbier, Scottish Ale, Scotch Ale, American Strong Ale, Mild, English-style Cider

Warm (14-16 °C/57-61 °F): Barley Wine, Abt/Quadrupel, Imperial Stout, Imperial/Double IPA, Doppelbock, Eisbock, Mead

Hot (70 °C/158 °F): Quelque Chose, Liefmans Glühkriek, dark, spiced winter ales like Daleside Morocco Ale.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Beer, Music and Dave Tucker

I know it has been a while since the last post here on the blog, but we're still inevitably working towards our ultimate goal of opening the Saint William Brewery! We've had some very interesting conversations and meetings, and have a few more lined up. We'll let you all know when we find a place to start brewing! But as that is still in the works, time for something else.

We've talked about it often here, beer is culture, beer is life. One big aspect is sharing it with friends, another is music. Beer lends itself exquisitely well to be enjoyed while listening to music, and it quite often also leads -almost automatically, as if by some magic- to outbursts of song. One of those great little songs I remember from my days in Student Clubs while studying archaeology in Ghent, was this German gem called 'Bier her!'. It was sung by the club members when their glasses were empty, and was directed to the new candidate club members, a sign that they needed to come fill the glasses of the full members again.
It goes like this:

Bier her, Bier her, oder ich fall um, juchhe!
Bier her, Bier her, oder ich fall um!
Soll das Bier im Keller liegen
Und ich hier die Ohnmacht kriegen?
Bier her, Bier her, oder ich fall um!

Translated that would be:
Beer here, beer here, or I will fall down, wohoo!
Beer here, beer here, or I will fall down!Should the beer remain in the cellar,
And I'm here about to faint?
Beer here, beer here, or I will fall down!
A very good friend of mine, Dave Tucker, had a dream a while ago. Not to start making delicious beers, but to make great songs and music. He pushed through, perfecting his guitar playing skills and his song writing abilities, and met the right people to collaborate with. He is now set to record his first full album, which is quite an achievement! We have the chance to support him in that, by pledging a small amount in exchange for some excellent goodies, from signed CDs to Ipod nanos with all his songs on, and even executive producer credit or a living room show! You can go to this link here and read more about this young musician, listen to some demos, and hopefully find a pledge amount that works!

On my car I have this great bumper sticker from the Brewers Association, that reads "Support Your Local Brewery". I know you are all doing that already (what a selfless sacrifice that is, right?), but let's get together and also support our local musicians! Great beer and great music are another wonderful pairing, and now your chance to make such pairing reality.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mardi-Gras, Lent, and beer.

Today is Mardi-Gras. Originally, it was a moment to clean out your cupboards of all perishables that were restricted during Lent. Certain meats, greasy foods, dairy, eggs etc. were all part of the food stuffs with limited shelf life that had to be eaten. Some countries, such as England, have the tradition to make pancakes, others have much larger celebrations to mark the last day before the austerity of Lent. Any reason to celebrate is good, having no reason probably the best one. If you have to eat all those goodies, why not make it fun?
Tonight, my family will feast on crepes, with fresh fruits, ice cream and hot chocolate sauce. I think I will have a good beer with that, debating between a Chimay Grande Reserve or a Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout...

Not that I will give up beer for lent. On the contrary, I will try to emulate the strict observance of the Trappist and Cistercian monks. "Ora et labora, Work and pray" is the motto they live by. But during lent, when their calorie intake through food severely decreases, a kosher supplement is needed so the monks can continue their rigorous schedule of manual labor keeping up the monastery grounds and prayers. This left them with only one solution: a good, strong brew. Their best and heaviest beers were reserved for all the monks during Lent.
So in company of those holy men, I will be drinking my best beers in the following 40 days, not forgetting the work and pray part in this period of reflection.

So whether or not you observe Lent, it is a good period to drink a great brew, and to reflect on all we have. Cheers!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

State of the brewery

This year will be the year we start brewing!
So it is time to give you an update on what is happening. An important step was to set up a core management team to review my preparations, projections and plans, and to reconstruct it in a way that would work. I am very proud and honored to have found 2 exceptional professionals who were enthusiastically willing to join the Saint William Brewery. They represent 2 different sides of the beer medal. In later blog posts, they will introduce themselves as well.

The first person to join was Peter Renzulli, an accomplished accountant, who heads his own national accounting and bookkeeping firm. Currently in his final semester at Rutgers University to complete his MBA, he is a very meticulous and driven person, with a keen sense for business and numbers. Having tried his hand at home brewing, he loved the idea.
He is the man who will ensure the numbers work. Passion for beer is key, but if you cannot make a profit, our goal to share the best possible beer, born from Old World tradition and New World innovation, to as many people as possible, would stop before you know it.

Secondly, Alan Jestice joined Saint William Brewery. He is a very accomplished Craft Beer evangelist, with years of experience and understanding in the wonderful world of American Craft Beer. He is co-owner of the Blind Tiger Ale House in New York, for years responsible for managing the tap choices, branding and marketing, making it one of the most influential places to be for cutting edge brews you'd find nowhere else. With a vast experience in the restaurant and bar business, he knows how to bring Craft Beer to the thirsty consumers wanting the best.
He will assist us in navigating the Craft Beer world, help us bring our message and beer to beer lovers in NJ and beyond. To use his own words:
My work consists of merging ideological aspirations of the brewer and the practical realities of consumerism in craft beer — to sift out a brand that is specific, recognizable and truthful. Currently, as the basic story has been laid out, I am using the financial and physical parameters of this fledgling brewery a part of the brand's public persona — making the journey of the brand as unique and accessible as the beer that it is built upon. 
Between the three of us we cover the business side, the organisational issues, the branding and marketing side, the technical side, making us a formidable team to reconcile passion and vision with the reality of today's economy and market. I am honored and proud of their commitment to lift Saint William Brewery to the highest possible standards, and cannot wait to bring you the fruits of our labor!

Practically, we have been weighing different options, and at this point are ready to go out and find a location. The formula we are pursuing is called 'Alternate Brewing'. This is how Mikkeller  Brewery goes about brewing their highly successful beers, and several American Craft Breweries (such as the Rheingold Brewing Company in Connecticut and Pig's Eye Brewery in Minnesota) are following this route as well. The website of the TTB (the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, part of the US Department of the Treasury) defines it this way:
An “alternating proprietorship” is a term used to describe an arrangement in which two or more people take turns using the physical premises of a brewery. 
Generally, the proprietor of an existing brewery, the “host brewery,” agrees to rent space and equipment to a new “tenant brewer.”  Alternating brewery proprietorships allow existing breweries to use excess capacity and give new entrants to the beer business an opportunity to begin on a small scale, without investing in premises and equipment. 
This means that we are looking in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania to find a brewery with excess capacity, willing to enter into a contractual agreement with us, allowing us to rent their facilities for 1 or 2 brews a week. Once we have found that, and have the contract agreed upon, we can start the licensing and start brewing as soon as all the approvals are received. This would strictly be a temporary situation, for 6 to 18 months, as the goal is to have our own brewery as soon as possible.Under this arrangement, the 'hosting brewery' would receive additional income from their equipment, lowering their liability. We will also offer to buy any additional fermentation tanks needed, and once we leave donate them to the host. On the other hand, we would avoid the high initial start-up costs, while still being able to start brewing and get our branding and marketing started (meaning, getting our beers to you!).  This allows us to have something solid, to show investors real data, substantially lowering their risk as we get ready for the next phase. It's a win-win for both parties! As we go ahead with this, I would love to hear what you think of this formula. Leave us a comment!

And that, dear beer people, could only mean one thing: the official start of Saint William Brewery and our beers. We look forward to offer you our Saint William Triple, Saint William Honey and Saint William Amber. For starters. We know you'll be back... And we will be ready to fulfill your need for deeply satisfying beer, one glass at a time. Cheers!
Party in honor of tapping the first keg of Saint William's