Wednesday, August 31, 2011

About beer culture (and happy birthday, Dad!)

The last day of August was always special, growing up. It marked the last day of the summer vacation, as on September 1st school would start again. It also meant party time, as our family celebrated my dad's birthday. Today they are celebrating again, with an open house where the whole extended family and friends and neighbors are welcome to stop by, partake in great food and ample drinks. Central in this, of course, is honoring Luc Vanraes, patriarch of the clan. And a lot to celebrate there is!
Apart from a loving father, hard working, who loves his wife dearly, he was always close with his children. Strict, but fair (even when at times we would have disagreed with that, of course, hard headed teenagers that we were).  One of the greatest things he gave us, was his example of how to live life. His joie-de-vivre and hospitality are legendary, literally around the world (for some reason, we always had guests in our house, from all 5 continents). So often we would take these guests around and show off our beloved Flanders. A typical stop would include touring Brugge (Bruges), a medieval town that is often referred to as the 'Venice of the North', and a true gem. We loved going there, and after a few times we had our tour down, to show the most beautiful and interesting places. A standard stop was always the Brewery "De Halve Maan", famous for their Straffe Hendrik and Brugse Zot. It is an old brewery, right near the idyllic Beguinage. They have an operating brewery in a small part of the original building (the green beer is cellared elsewhere), and the actual installation of the old brewery is open for tours, put together in a very nice overview of the brewing process and history. The entry ticket you have to buy for the tour also gives you a free beer at the end of the tour. Very often we would start the afternoon in the bar area of this brewery, talking about our country and the countries of our guests, over a shared beer.
Bonifacius Bridge, Bruges
One of my dad's favorite places to go would be the fish market. There he would buy 'maatjes', some sort of sardine-like fish, eaten raw (slightly pickled with onions). He would relish in the horror of some of our poor guests, who did not dare refuse their gracious host in his insistent encouraging to taste. Some people had no qualms and were asking for more of this delicacy. Either way, they would be rewarded by a stop at a nearby chocolates shop.
Cathedral of our Lady, Antwerp
Another city we would often go to was Antwerp, a great port city with very old roots. There was this nice 'cafe' (pub) we would go to, in this old building with a very picturesque open inner court. We'd bring our guests there, and had them try some more of our delightful beers. Very often, people had their first encounter there with 'Kwak', from Brewery Pauwels. My dad would explain the name as derived from the sound made by the beer, once you reach that tipping point when the beer suddenly rushes out of the ball shaped lower end of the glass, held in their classic wooden holder. A good number of people had their first real encounter with beer at this place! Needless to say they were converts ever since.
Back at home, he would spare no expense preparing the best food he could find, together with of course the best of beers.
So apart from honoring the man who taught me how to savor beer, there is another point. These stories about my dad (believe me, I did not even scratch the surface) show something important: beer is meant to be enjoyed and shared. As we grew up, we often were allowed to sip from the beers of the grown-ups, without any taboo. We learned that drinking means savoring quality, not pounding down quantity. The rich encounter over beers with so many different people who each brought their own culture to the table, was fabulous.
That is what beer is about. That is what we want to bring here. An example of how to enjoy life, and how to savor beers, in moderation, but often and in good company. It is our wish that Saint William Brewery, together with the other craft breweries here in New Jersey, can help create such a culture, and become part of that meeting place where people can come together, to share and enjoy each other's company and culture, over a glass of cold brew.

So with that, cheers to you, papa, and thanks for the lessons learned. May this coming year be the best one yet for you, and the worst of those still to come!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Wim !
    Thank God you are following in my footsteps in receiving guests and giving the example of enjoying beer - you even want to go a step furter and make your own beers ! May God always be at your side in the realization of these plans - NJ will benefit from your labor and your example.