Cross-cultural beer pioneers

All About Beer Magazine - Volume 34, Issue 4
September 1, 2013 By Heather Vandenengel
Peter Bouckaert, a native Belgian and brewmaster at New Belgium Brewing Co.

Early last June of 2012, Brian Purcell, CEO and brewmaster of the soon-to-open Three Taverns Craft Brewery in Decatur, GA, took a seven-day beer tour of Belgium with his wife. He and his partner and CFO, Chet Burge, had almost reached their funding goal to open a Belgian-beer-inspired brewery, and the trip served as inspiration—in more ways than one.

“While touring breweries, I started to have this vision for bringing a Belgian brewer to the U.S. to work for us,” he says, calling from the brewery, which in early April was still a construction zone.

“I felt like there’s something in the DNA of Belgian brewers that you just can’t reproduce in an American brewer. At least it’s very hard, and I wanted to make as authentic Belgian-style beers as we can make, with an American creative twist or flair.”

Brewing Belgian beers had become an obsession for Purcell. As a homebrewer of 10 years, he dedicated himself to mastering Belgian-style brewing and learning as much as he could about Belgian beer. After four years of planning, his production brewery brewed its first batch in June.

“I learned that there are techniques, sensibilities, a philosophy or approach that Belgians have for brewing that is unique to that country, and I wanted to learn that and I wanted to discover it more,” he says of his Belgian trip.

Purcell’s pursuit—to bring a Belgian brewer to America to brew the best Belgian-inspired beer possible—raises questions of origin and its influence. How much does a brewer’s native culture influence his brewing? And what happens when a brewer makes beer in a brewing culture far different from his or her own?

The global brewing scene has become a melting pot, or mash tun, of beer cultures, styles and techniques. While Americans have always taken inspiration from other cultures and brewed styles that originated abroad, the relationship has grown stronger and shifted in a different direction. More and more, American brewers are drawn to the wild side of Belgian brewing, even investing in koelschips and isolating native yeasts, while some small Belgian brewers are brewing American-style IPAs and coming to the U.S. to brew collaboration beers.

It’s cross-cultural beer pollination, and nowhere is this more clear than in the stories of the pioneers—the brewers who were born, raised and trained in Old World brewing cultures of Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom and then came to brew in the States. While backed by tradition, they’re inspired by the potential for change and the chance to be immersed in America’s craft beer culture. Here are a few of their stories.

Heather Vandenengel
Heather Vandenengel is a nomadic beer writer and the News Editor for All About Beer Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @heathervandy.