Roots Abroad, But America Calls
Cross-cultural beer pioneers
What started as “just buying wood” has grown into one of the biggest wood-aging projects in the country, and has, in part, earned Bouckaert the Russell Schehrer Award for Innovation in Craft Brewing at the Craft Brewers Conference this year in Washington D.C. Since releasing its first wood-conditioned beer, La Folie, in 1999, New Belgium has 35 foudres (massive oak barrels) in use, around 4,400 hectoliters, and 32 more arrived this spring.
“Never have brewers been allowed to be so creative,” Bouckaert says, thanks to America’s “very receptive audience” of adventurous craft beer drinkers.
In recent years, American drinkers have also proved to be a very receptive audience for sour and wild beers as well, although it is still a very young part of the American brewing scene, Bouckaert says.
“It’s underdeveloped in craft brewing. It’s hard to do good, but [American brewers] are going to experiment the heck out of it, make a lot of mistakes, and we’re going to make fantastic beer, but also keep in mind the origins—sour brown, sour Flanders, and we’re going to keep on supporting those breweries over there.”
His nephew, Van Ginderachter, who became interested in brewing after writing a paper in high school about lambic brewing and spontaneous fermentation, could also become part of that tradition. Purcell says he hopes to introduce a sour program at Three Taverns, in addition to the Belgian-inspired-with-an-American twist lineup. The brewery is launching with a Belgian-style single, a 5.5 percent ABV blond ale called Single Intent, and a planned Belgian-style IPA, A Night in Brussels, which Purcell describes as an “American IPA on a Belgian road trip.” The brewery will also have a four-vessel system in order to practice the traditional Belgian method of step mashing, Purcell says.
Neighbors From Afar
German brewers too are bringing their technical strengths and creative pursuit to American brewing, and that’s perhaps most clearly manifested in St. Louis’ Urban Chestnut Brewing.
Co-founded by two former Anheuser-Busch employees, Bavarian-born brewmaster Florian Kuplent and David Wolfe, they opened in January 2011 with a clear philosophy: beer diversity, the idea that both American craft and Old World beers and techniques could co-exist.
“In a way, [the philosophy] is pretty self-serving,” Kuplent says, because it allows him to re-create and enjoy Old World Belgian and German styles under the Reverence line, as well as have the license to brew beers inspired by American craft under the Revolution line. The name, too, harks to both worlds: Urban refers to the growth of American craft beer in cities like St. Louis, and Chestnut refers to the chestnut trees that traditionally shade European beer gardens and keep the cellars underneath cool.
Drinkers are drawn to both the Reverence and the Revolution series, Kuplent says. Their most popular beers are split down the middle: Zwickel, their flagship unfiltered Bavarian-style lager, and Schnickelfritz, a Bavarian-style wheat beer from the Reverence line; and Winged Nut, brewed with milled chestnuts, and STLIPA, a double IPA, from the Revolution series.
Heather Vandenengel is a nomadic beer writer and the News Editor for All About Beer Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @heathervandy.