Roots Abroad, But America Calls
Cross-cultural beer pioneers
From West Flanders to East of Atlanta
Although Purcell felt confident in his vision for Three Taverns, he acknowledges that he had “zero knowledge” of how to lure a Belgian brewer to an upstart brewery in an Atlanta suburb. A breakthrough came one day last October when his brewery consultant tipped him off that Peter Bouckaert, a native Belgian and brewmaster at New Belgium Brewing, was in town.
After he tracked him down—not a very difficult task since he was actually at the bar next door—they spoke about Purcell’s struggles to find a Belgian head brewer. Bouckaert made a few recommendations and also added that he should talk to his nephew, Joran Van Ginderachter, a young Belgian brewer who studied biochemistry at University College Ghent. Purcell heeded his advice and reached out to Van Ginderachter; they connected, and now, as long as they can secure a visa, he will move to the U.S. to become head brewer at Three Taverns.
It’s a big move for a young brewer—Van Ginderachter will be 27 in August—but he’s already proved that he’s not one to shy away from opportunity. While he found full-time work at established breweries, most recently as a brewer at Bockor Brewery in West Flanders, he and two friends from brewing school opened a brewery on the side. While they don’t own a full production brewery, they brew the beer, which includes a Flanders oud bruin and a Belgian IPA, at other breweries, mostly Brouwerij De Ranke.
The name is telling of their attitude: Brouwers Verzet, Dutch for brewers’ resistance. He describes it as “putting your mind on something else”—a way to express creativity through brewing, an impossibility at the Belgian breweries they worked for.
“Over [in the U.S.] it’s all new. That’s what attracts me—getting new opportunities, but not forgetting the Belgian traditions,” he says.
Van Ginderachter says he still plans on being involved in Brouwers Verzet after he moves to the U.S., but in a “whole different way.”
Here, I Can Make A Difference
Van Ginderachter’s story resonates with two other Belgian brewers working in America—his uncle, Bouckaert at New Belgium, and Steven Pauwels at Boulevard Brewing Co. in Kansas City, MO.
Bouckaert saw a possibility for opportunity when he visited New Belgium for the first time more than 15 years ago. He was working as brewmaster at Rodenbach Brewery when he spoke at the Craft Brewers Conference in Boston in 1996—and met the people who sponsored his trip there, Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan, who had opened New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, CO, in 1991 and were now looking to hire a Belgian brewer.
Bouckaert was staying in Boston with friends from Cambridge Brewing Co. He recalls brewer Darryl Goss saying, “Why don’t you consider it? It’s an up-and-coming brewery.” So Bouckaert and his wife drove to Colorado from Boston—and he liked what he saw.
“I gave it a consideration and I came here, and there were mountains and a brewery where there was so much potential,” says Bouckaert, who remembers thinking: “Wow, I can change things here, compared to the speed of change in Belgium. In America, if you think about it, you should have done it already.”
Heather Vandenengel is a nomadic beer writer and the News Editor for All About Beer Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @heathervandy.