Thursday, April 28, 2011

New life

I am thrilled to announce that on Tuesday April 26th, my wife gave birth to a healthy son, Wolf (from the germanic Wolfhart) William Vanraes. Weighing in at 5lbs4, and 18.5 inches tall, he was born a little early, but is doing great now! Both baby and mother are recovering quickly.

This is also a perfect time to share some old wisdom regarding beer and babies. My great-grandmother (God rest her soul) was quite the example of strong womanhood. There are many tales of her facing the German commander of our hometown during WWII, or bands of armed 'resistance fighters' right after the war as they were going too far in exacting revenge, just a strong fearless woman. Those stories would make for a great post, if you'd be interested! She lived to turn 89, and I have a very vivid memory of her as always loving a Westmalle Dubbel, up to the end. Anyways, one of the things she is remembered as saying, was that every time my mother or one of her sisters was pregnant she would urge her granddaughters to regularly drink trappist beer. 'That will make the baby grow', she'd say. And as soon as baby was born, she'd urge the mothers to keep drinking good trappist beers. 'That is good for the milk!', she'd then explain. The pre-pre-natal pill of the day! Knowing that good beer is a source of proteins, potassium, and substances such as riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, vitamin B and others, our ancestors were not that stupid. Of course, all within reason, and without over-indulging. (So: DISCLAIMER: this post does not make any medical recommendations. - Why do I even have to disclaim my very own great-granny?) There are other medical reports that highlight the benefits of drinking beer that I cannot immediately find again to reference here, so I suppose that one can safely assume that my great-grandmother with her old school folk wisdom was on to something!


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Brewing in Belgium

The small brewhouse, with its nice copper metalwork

What a trip this was! I bottled and labeled a few 100 cases, brewed over a thousand gallons of beer, cleaned 5-6 fermentation vats, and sampled plenty of bottles (Some of the American craft brews I brought, the Weyerbacher Simcoe double IPA being a favorite of the brewer). We discussed flavor profiles, the different aromas and flavors of different beers, and the off-flavors that indicate a problem in the brewing process or in the handling. I also presented my plan and vision, which made him quite enthusiastic about the whole project, very encouraging!

The new system

The most important thing I learned during this trip was, I think, seeing and experiencing the difference between ‘artisanal’ brewing and ‘professional/semi-industrial’ brewing. We worked on both his old 6 hectoliters system, and his new 30 hectoliters system (approx. 5, respectively 25 barrels). Brewing on the old, smaller system with 2 copper tuns was a blast. 9 hours for 1 batch, it provided ample time to check, do other things, and set a slow pace. Main reason was the old gas burner heating system, which needs quite some time to heat up large volumes of water or wort. Brewing here relies much more on feeling than on science, and provided a valuable insight in the old brewing ways of our forefathers: tradition handed down from master brewer to apprentice, looking at tell-tale signs, judging the wort, working their magic.

Ready at the Mash Tun

In rather stark contrast stands his new system, a shiny 3 vessel stainless steel system, steam jacketed, able to make 25 barrels at a time, in less than 6 hours (2 consecutive batches would be done in less than 9hrs!). Here, everything is much more precisely controlled; larger volumes are brewed in less time, and with much greater precision: each batch of the same beer will be much more similar then with the older system.

Removing the spent grains

It helps me see the craft scene with a new understanding: we should not judge breweries on the size of their systems or their output, but on the heart they put into making quality beer. With ‘quality beer’ being a term that allows some personal taste and preference to slip into judging that, we should also accept and allow for some difference in opinion about which brewery is a ‘quality brewery’.  Experience the rush of excitement when the hot liquor (the water used for brewing) is ready to have the milled grains put in, going through the several stages of heating in a wink, pumping everything to the lautertun, seeing how a great bed of particles forms that quickly filters the wort from the spent grains, and so on, is just incredible. It is a direct, hands-on experience. Where with the old systems you get the feeling that the system is doing it’s thing, with this new brewhouse you really feel you are a much bigger part of it. If our brewing ancestors would have such brewing equipment, I bet they would not hesitate a second to use it, and make large quantities of their beloved brews.

Second hopping, with Cascade hops

Anyways, what an experience! I will go back a few more times in the coming months, but this has laid an excellent foundation for me personally, and for the cooperation between Saint William Brewery and his brewery. I look forward to keep working with them to ensure that the beers we will be brewing here will display the same balance between the artisanal touch and heart, and the professional scale and quality control options.

So a heartfelt thank you to Chris, the master brewer, Koen, the brewing engineer, Nikolai, the brewing assistant, and Piet, brewing hand for all the knowledge and experience they so openly shared, helping me to get a much deeper understanding of the requirements, needs and possibilities that brewing offers. And a loving thank you to my wife, for putting up with me leaving her during her break, to ‘travel abroad and drink beer’, and encouraging me at every step and turn. Saint William Brewery is looking forward to be able to toast to them and many other great supporters with our own New Jersey brewed beer!

Cheers all!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Final preparations before leaving for training in Belgium

Am almost ready to leave...

There, am about set. Packed my bags, and got some extra bottles of beer for the brew master in Belgium. A sample of what is happening here in the US beer world.
Given the current hype to barrel age beer, I got a nice bottle of the bourbon oak barrel aged 2009 Cellar Reserve Old Stock Ale from North Coast Brewing Company, a bottle of La Fin Du Monde, from Unibroue ( a personal favorite), 2 bottles of Brooklyn Brewery Pennant Ale 55, Paper City Brewery's Rileys Stout, Blue Point Brewing Co's Toasted Lager, Weyerbacher Simcoe Double IPA, Southern Tier Brewing Co's UnEarthly Imperial IPA (both the 9.5 and 11 % ABV versions), and  McNeils Extra Special Bitter Ale. It is only a sample, of course, not meant to be a complete covering of everything that is happening.

Got a bottle of Knob Creek Bourbon for my dad as well. Nice drink as well!

For the rest, I packed my books and paperwork, my camera (pics will be coming starting midweek!), passport, e-ticket printed out,... I think I am ready. Next time you hear from me, it will be from the land where my passion for beer all began! On the program for me: bottling, 6 barrel and 30 barrel brew house batches, from mashing to maturation, and in between taste testing, quality control, and more interesting technical discussions and sessions. Got a whole box of pens and loads of paper to take notes!

Cheers all!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New Poll: why do you buy the beer you buy?

You must have noticed. More and more stores are offering an ever increasing selection of beers. New brews from old and well established breweries, obscure and small micro to nano breweries, weird looking labels, interesting labels, bottles that look so exquisite (and expensive), bottles that look just right to chug down after a hot afternoon's work in the garden, small ones, large ones, huge ones... Beers you grew up with, beers you have never seen before or even heard of, imported, domestic, premium, craft,... The choice offered to you seems dazzling!

So now I was wondering. Is this explosion in choice a burden? A nuisance? An exciting treasure trove waiting to be explored and sampled?

Or to put it differently:
Are you one of those people that run into a liquor store, pick up the closest six pack or case, and race back past the counter to your car? Do you perhaps spend hours strolling through the aisles, pondering which beer would go well with the meal you are thinking to cook later that day? Or do you have a target list, consisting of beers you read about and have to try?
Perhaps a commercial you saw, a special announcement you read...

Let us know how you go about buying your beer, and leave any additional comments to explain that in greater detail (especially if you selected 'Other'), if you so wish. You can find the poll on the right side of this window ==>

(And the slogan competition is still open, with some really great suggestions already given. Do not miss your chance to win, and challenge your friends to try to outdo you in creativity! Check this link, and forward to your friends: Good luck!)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Preparation update

Wow, you guys are awesome! There are some slogan entries that are just fabulous! Keep up the work, and you might just be the one winning the exclusive goodies!

This coming week will be all preparation to leave for Belgium, where I will receive brewing training on a large 25-30 barrel brew house. If you are not acquainted with that unit of volume, 1 US barrel is 31 US gallons, 117.3litres, or just about 55 six packs. That means that I'll be making about 775 to 930 gallons of beer at a time, worth 1650 six packs of delicious brew, at a time! What an upgrade from a 3 gallon carboy... There will be a lot to learn about the recipes I will be using, about quality control, consistency, the fine inner workings of the equipment, and just the traditions and know-how that this 3rd generation brewer has acquired. It will be a privilege to be learning from him!

Of course, once I am there, I will keep you updated about all the *ahum* hard work I will be doing there, and post pics as well. For now, time for me to study some more biochemistry and engineering, to be fully prepared!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Slogan competition!!!

Yes, a chance to win stickers and a t-shirt and baseball cap with the brand new Saint William Brewery logo, be the first to wear and display it!

So, what do you have to do to get these awesome and exclusive goodies?

At the same time of submitting the trademark for the brewery name, I looked into trademarking 'Taste the Legend', to capture the spirit of our brewery: rooted in long gone history, shrouded by centuries, offering great beer today, building for the future! An invitation to share and enjoy, and to become part of a long line of people who live life to the full.
Unfortunately, research showed that Stewart's Restaurants, the makers of Stewart's Root Beer (a soft drink), have been using that very same slogan since the early 1990's. And have trademarked that this year... So I have to go back to the drawing board.

This is where you come in. Look at the very first post in this blog, for a short telling of the story of our brewery. Then, leave your comments and submit your best and most creative ideas for a great slogan! With the outline for the previous slogan and that story as the basis, you are free to do whatever! I will pick the 5 I think capture our brewery the best, and will put those up for a vote in a poll, within about 1 month. The first to post a certain slogan will be credited with it (the time stamp on your comment will be proof).
Get a nice cold beer, and start thinking! Pass out the word, and share the chance to win awesome prizes!

The 5 slogans picked in the end will all win a sticker, the first prize winner will also take home a t-shirt and baseball cap!

  • Use the first post on this blog as starting point (click here to view), and the initial slogan 'Taste the Legend' with the explanation of it I gave here earlier.
  • Pour yourself your favorite brew (optional) and start being creative and inspired, and come up with the best possible slogan to promote Saint William Brewery.
  • Post a comment in this thread, with your name and the slogan. (First click on 'post comment', then click on the drop down menu  'comment as' and select 'name/URL'. Enter your full name, and you can leave the field for the URL empty.
  • Then send an email to us (click here) with your name and that slogan, in order to be notified if you are a winner. (This way you don't have to leave your email in public. We will not use your email address for any other purpose as to notify you in case you are selected. Your privacy is important to us!).
  • You can submit as many entries as you want. You are also allowed and encouraged to pass this competition around, to share with your friends, giving them a chance to win as well!
  • I will select the 5 entries I judge to be the best and most fitting, which will then be put up for a vote in a poll. Deadline is May 5th. The 5 selected entries will win an exclusive sticker with the brewery logo. The entry with most votes will be used by Saint William Brewery, and the person who submitted it will win, apart from bragging rights, a t-shirt and baseball cap with the  brewery logo. When you are notified you are a winner, that email will ask you to reply with your address, so we can ship the stickers and first prize (we will also ask for t-shirt size in that email).


So i just found out that my application to register "Saint William Brewery" has been accepted by the United States Patend and Trademark Office. It is now running through the administrative mill to get approved, after I submit a statement of current business use.
Take a look:
(Or if you want the try through the official USPO website: go to, click on 'search marks', then 'Basis Work Mark Search (New User)'. Then search for 'Saint William Brewery'.)
Another step to set everything up! Making it more official, and protecting all the hard work we put into this brewery!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Logo in the works

At the moment I am working with a graphic designer in Belgium, Hans Verdoodt ( He has this rare skill to be able to rework old and traditional images, giving them a new, modern and contemporairy look, while at the same time preserving the familiar, old feel of that image. Another reason to go to him was that he knows beer in and out, so the project to create a design for the Saint William Brewery is in good hands with him. At this moment we decided on a draft, that now is being worked out in different variations, out of which we will then choose the final image, brush it up, and then unveil!

This will then be the foundation to start working on beer labels. For a lot of people, that label will be the very first impression they have of the brewery and our beers. So this is of vital importance! It needs to convey the story of Saint William Brewery, in a blink, look attractive and inviting. It needs to be recognizable and powerful in it's imagery. A tall order! There are so many ways to go, very modern, very classic, and everything in between.
The question we are asking ourselves as we look at each draft is this. Imagine standing in a liquor store, and you are holding two bottles of beer in your hands. One random beer, one of Saint William's beers. Would this logo, this label, invite that person to take our bottle home for a great savory experience?

At this moment there is nothing to show yet, but I can assure you that I am at least as anxious to see the finalized logo as much as you are, after this teaser post! ;)