Friday, March 20, 2009

Matt Van Wyk-Out!

This, my friends, will be my last post on the Flossmoor Beer blog. It's with a little sadness and a little excitement for the future that I leave Flossmoor Station after nearly six years at the helm. It has certainly been a great run and I wouldn't change it for the world. I definitely "grew up" as a brewer not only reflected in the awards we were fortunate enough to earn, but in other things like recipe development, brewing techniques, public speaking, and business etiquette. And I definitely couldn't have done it without a lot of help along the way. First, Andrew-thanks for putting this blog up so we could have a little corner of the web, and thanks for being my right hand man for so long. Your fingerprints are on FSBC, even if folks don't know it.
Dean and Carolyn, thanks for giving a young inexperienced brewer a chance to give it a whirl at your brewery. I think we did alright.
Next, Thanks to all the people I worked with over the years at FSBC-and especially Sandi who now keeps the boat afloat. You're more important than you realize.
Also, thanks to all my Illinois Craft Brewers guild buddies who have been so valuable to me. Thanks for all your advice and support when I was coming up clueless.
Finally, thanks to all the people who think enough of me and the beer I make to spend your hard earned money on it. I've enjoyed making it for you, but more importantly, I've enjoyed your friendship and conversation (most of you ;) ).

I'd also like to wish the best to Bryan Shimkos the new brewer. He is going to do great and I know you are all in good hands. Please stay loyal to Flossmoor Station. It is bigger than just the guy who makes the beer.
Bryan, I know you've been waiting for me to get out of the way, so here ya go-make some new friends ;)

Thanks everyone! If you feel like seeing what is going on in Eugene Oregon at Oakshire brewing, check in now and again at


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I went to Belgium. Wow! (Part IV) The final chapter.

They always say save the best for last, and in our last full day in Belgium we had a blast. From castle exploring to experiencing lambic straight from the barrels to dinner with great people, it was an awesome day and we couldn't have capped it much better.

If you're just joining in, you might check the three previous posts that detailed the 8 day trip my wife Jenni and I were fortunate enough to take before I left Flossmoor. Here's Tuesday in a nutshell:

We trained south of Brussels to Beersel. Here, we had a tour set up at Drie Fontienen and Boon, courtesy of Alex, the production manager of Palm breweries. On this day we were meeting up with the San Diego crew, but they were driving from Ghent to Westvleteren to have some Westy 12s in the cafe. Since the tour was set at 3F for 2:30, Jenni and I went early to see the castle.
The Beersel castle was very cool. Some better pics can be found at this site. Regardless, we braved the drizzly day and walked up and down several steps in search of the dungeon. We finally found it and I'm sure Jenni was happy because the annoying accent I was using as I pretended to be a knight running around a medieval castle was likely getting rather annoying. And I don't think she could stand another, "Have fun storming the castle" quote. Anyway, if you need something to divert your Belgian beer adventures, you must see the Beersel castle. They continue to renovate the site and it should be even better next time we go.

A break for lucnh inside the castle.

Jenni and I had a little more time to kill so we walked to Oude Beersel. Sadly, it seemed only open on Saturdays. We popped into two more cafes, Oude Pruim and Centrum Hotel for a beer while we killed time. These two places are listed in Tim Webb's "A Good Beer Guide To Belgium", a must have for the beery traveler. Thanks for loaning it to me Jeff.

Finally made it to the first stop on the brewery tours, Drie Fonteinen. Armand could not have been a better host. We met up with Alex, who is the production manager at Palm Breweries and he had arranged for us to see this brewery. Armand and his wife Lydie do all the work at this small lambic brewery. That, of course makes him very busy, but he graciously gave two hours! of his time to the American tourists.

Jeff Bagby, head of Pizza Port pubs in San Diego was the fearless leader throughout Belgium. Lookin' good Jeff.

Armand is telling us how lambic is REALLY made. He learned the gueze blending skill from his father (he learned it rather well, I must say). He has been doing it for many years and is now brewing and blending in Beersel. They also opened a cafe around the corner, but sadly it was closed that day so we couldn't indulge ourselves. This is me and Vince, the owner of Pizzza Port learning from the master.

3F had a coolship just as in Cantillon, but much smaller. A micro lambic brewer if you will? The fan is to keep the air moving so the wonderful organisms that make lambic special can find the sweet wort.

All lambic brewers seem to have a different way of "bunging" the casks when primary fermentation is finished. Armand just had a glass that perfectly fit in the bunghole. I didn't get a picture, but at the next brewery, Boon, they used cue balls from a billiards set!

Sampling Kriek in the tsting room. Armand pours it on beer engine as there is little to no carbonation and should not be pushed via CO2. Great Kreik.

Back in Armands cellar sampling lambic straight off the tank. This was quite a treat!

Drie Fonteinen is not only making some of the best lambic and gueze beer I tasted in Belgium, but Armand was such a great host during his busy day. Thanks!

Next stop, a little down the road in Lembeek, Boon Brewery.

A view on arrival.

The mash tun at Boon Brewery

The holding tank as the wort moves from Coolship to wooden barrel. Owner Fran Boon told us that if the barrel that the wort is going to is not ready it could sit in this tank for up to 3 days. Fermentation starts and is proof that the spontaneous fermentation from wild yeast in the air really happens.

The most amazing thing here was the barrels used for fermentation. They were nearly 10 feet tall! And he had 84 of them! They have a on-site cooper just for tending to the barrels. Really cool!

Once again, sampling from the casks. That is Frank Boon, another gracious host. He stayed late at work to show us his brewery, which was an amazing tour. The highlight was sampling a vertical of lambic of 1 month, 3 month, 1 year, 2 year, and 3 year. We could see how the lambic aged and get a glimpse into what the brewer/blender goes through as they try to make a consistent gueze. This was something I never would have been able to do on my own. Thanks Jeff and Alex for setting this tour up.

From there, the pictures end, but know that we had an amazing dinner with many bottles of lambic beers with Alex from Palm. Jenni and I had to take off the next morning to get home and pack up our house for the move to Oregon-not done yet as I type, yikes!-so said farewell to our friends from San Diego and hopped on the train back to Brussels. The trip back was uneventful and the beer I muled back made it safely (I can't say the same for the Kindereis-small chocolate eggs with toys inside- that we bought for our kids. Evidently they are illegal in this country and they had to take them. Thanks U.S. for controlling me so much and letting me know I am a bad parent and don't have the sense to take caution with my children. I toast you with the wonderful beers I brought back from Belgium!)

I wish I could better narrated the experiences I had while in Belgium. I hope a few of these pics and words in some way do it justice. I learned a ton, I drank a ton, and we laughed a ton. Thanks for the memories guys. Until we get back to do it again......

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I went to Belgium. Wow! (Part III)

Part III in the voyage de Belgium starts on Sunday morning as we boarded the train (which is remarkably easy to use) and headed to a little town called St. Niklaas. Why the Zythos beer festival is held there I will never know, but it was a nice little trip and a pretty good festival. IF nothing else, you could get a lot of great beers all in one place. And they served food, some of it traditional Flemish dishes, for just a couple of tokens. We had a great time sampling. Three of the San Diego crew, Julian, Yiga and Noah pose with Matt Brynildson of Firesone Walker between beers.

We were also lucky to have a friend to guide us around a bit, and that was Carl Kins. I met Carl a couple of years ago judging at the GABF. Carl judges at that event and the World Beer Cup. He has visited Flossmoor Station and I was happy to meet up with him both Thursday at the Pre Zythos fest and Sunday at the Zythos fest-Thanks for the ride from Alvinne Carl!!

Finally, I was also fortunate to see Joris Pattyn on both Thurs and Sunday as well. Joris is amazing and his knowlege and palatte with beers is incomprehensible. I had sent him a couple of special beers from my brewery and the moment I walked in he had two beers from his cellar. Wow! what a greeting. One was a very special beer from Westmalle that I can't get. The other was from a closed brewery, and the beer was 20+ years old, I think. It was actually a "mistake" beer that was double cherried. It has been resting in Joris' cellar for quite some time. I can't wait to try it.

Back to Brussels. When you are there, you must see the Mannekin Pis, a statue of a little boy pissing. You have to see it, because, well, that's what you do. Jenni was dissapointed at it's lack of size. I mean HEIGHT you sicko!

The Grand Place, which was just two blocks away from our apartment was beatiful. None of our pictures will do it justice, despite the fact that Jenni takes pretty good pictures. This was one building. The architecture and the grandeur of it all was amazing.

Since our San Diego buddies had full cars as they headed from Brussels to Ghent, we couldn't join them on a couple of brewery tours, so Jenni and I roamed around Brussels a bit. We hit a couple of churches, St. Catherines and St. Michel. St. Cats looked dirty and run down but was bery much a working church. That's the first shot below. And St. Michel is beautiful. While the pics below again won't do it justice, the stained glass and the statues were really cool. It was SO big as well.

We also hoofed it across town to see what the EU building was like. While not impressed (and we assumed that would be the case) it was neat to see where the capitol of Europe is located. And we burned some calories in the meantime.

Finally, after a couple of more beers, Jenni played with her night setting on the camera and tried to get the "lit up" Grand Place. Not bad. Trust me, it was gorgeous!

So, with one day of brewery travel to go and one day of traveling home, the trip is winding down. Tuesday is the tour of Beersel castle, Drie Fontenein, Boon, and dinner with Alex from Palm breweries. This was one of my favorite moments of the trip. Stay tuned for that....

Friday, March 13, 2009

I went to Belgium Wow! (Part II)

If you didn't read in previous versions, we have returned from our trip to the Motherland and you can read about the first two days of our trip below. This will give you a little 411 on the middle part of the voyage. So...we left beautiful and picturesque Brugge (with the oldest bridge in Brugee pictured there-a mere 600 or so years old!) Actually, before we left, we took a little side trip to Kortrijk. Just north of there in Heule, resides the tiny picobrouwerij, Alvinne. At that location can be found the pre-Zythos festival hosted by the aforementioned Alvinne and their friends at Struise and de Molen. Urbain from Struise and Menno from de Molen were there along with Glen from Alvinne hosting a smashing little fest to welcome in ZBF. In addition to that, I was able to hook up with Devon, Beejay, and Garrit who are interning at Struise for three months as they plan their soon to be in Chicago Brewery, Pipeworks. They have been working hard not only on a business plan but also the nuts and bolts of becoming a professional brewer. Their exploits can be found here.

Above is a pic (from the right): Devon, Beejay, Me, Glen/Alvinne, Urbain/Struise, and William? (am I right here??) And then also the bottle shop at Alvinne. Way cool beers for even way cooler prices. Got me some!!

One last word on these great brewers in Belgium. You have likely heard of the great things coming out of Struise. Black Albert, Pannepot, etc. Well, you've heard of it for good reason. One word Awesome. Not only the beers but the guy behind them. Wow. In my opinion, Urbain is one of a handful of Belgian brewers who aren't afraid to veer from tradition and brew what he wants. IF it's hoppy, he brews it. If it's strong he brews it. Barrel aged, no problem. Out of style, no problem. MAde a mistake? just rename it. Sounds like tradition that we are used to on this side of the pond........ Oh, and did I mention, he's a great guy. My hope is to one day join forces with Urbain and make the beer of all beers (hint: I think he's going to allow it;) stay tuned.)

Ok, now we're headed to Brussels, don't forget to grab a Jupiler in the train station vendo machine!!

In Brussels we got settled into our apartment and raced to another hotel to meet up with my friend Jeff Bagby of Pizza Port fame and his crew, brewers Noah and Yiga, owner/chef Vince, jack of all trades Dave, bottle shop Sean, and brewer at large Julian. Let me just say-what a great bunch of guys to hang out with in a foreign country.
We were fortunate enough to catch a tour bus to Grote Dorst for a special dinner and sour beer tasting. Pix below:

How would you like to drink 20 year old Gueze? Damn tasty folks!

Then, as luck would have it, we ran into Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker, John Mallet of Bell's and Hedwig, the head of production of Duvel. Yeah rollin' with royalty.

Now it's time for Saturday and time to find Jeff and crew to head over to Cantillon for Open brew day, basically an open house where they are brewing for 12 hours and you walk around bugging them and drinking lambic beers. Well, it's quite a long story but we had trouble locating Jeff because he finished Friday night with a secret cellar tasting at Meoder Lambic, pub crawlin' through Brussels where the doors were locked and the shades were pulled, hit Cantillon once for mash in, taxied to Hannsens for a tour he had set up and then hit Cantillon again for the start of the boil. Quite a 20 hour session and sorry Jenni and I missed it:( Below are some scenes from Open brewday a VERY cool experience.

The very old mash tun with the mash mixer that was powered by large pulleys. The lambic style of brewing involves a turbid mash, so it starts out very dry and thick and eventually gets loose and thin. They need a little more than an assistant with strong shoulders.

To clean out the mash tun, you have to take your shirt off. I think I plan to do that next week. It get's hot in that brewhouse!

Jean Van Roy is the 4th generation brewmaster. Fantastic host despite the fact that he was brewing about 100 hl of beer that day.

This is the coolship where lambic beers lay in wait overnight, cooling by the crisp evening air and being innoculated by the wild yeasts in the air.

This little number strains the whole leaf hop flowers out of the wort prior to going to the coolship.
The most wonderful part of a lambic brewer is that they don't have stainless steel fermentors. All fermentation happens spontaneously in wooden casks. Many of them are wine barrels but some are specially built barrels called foeders. At Cantillon, they had rows and rows of barrels. A few still had the funky yeast goo gurgling up from the bunghole. Cool!

Since we lost much of the Pizza Port crew due to the "Friday Night explots" Jenni and I were on our own. We grabbed a kilo of mussels from the fish market and had a little night in....well til we went out late to Delirium Cafe, Beer Circus, and Mort Subite....I love Belgium!

Tomorrow, Zythos Beer festival and a day of churches and the EU in Brussels.
stay tuned...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I went to Belgium. Wow! (Part 1)

So my wife Jenni and I wrapped up my tenure here at FSBC with a whizzbang tour of Belgium. In a few posts, I'd like to let you know some of the things we experienced along the way. Know that we merely scratched the surface on all the things we could have done and experienced as a brewer wandering Belgium.
So we set of on 3 March (that's the European way ;) ) and flew all night to Brussels. This picture shows what it looks like when you arrive:

I guess Jenni is looking a little more excited about the week ahead!

First stop, Brugge. This was an old medieval city which has kept it's "oldness" and charm. We liked this city much more that Brussels.

The fist think we noticed were the hundereds upon hundereds of bicycles at the train sation. Wow! that's a good way to commute.

Then of course, you notice the canals.

In Brugge we visited De Halve Maan(the half moon), the only brewery still operating in Brugge. They make a beer called Brugse Zot. Light and Dark. Oh and they have started making the Tripel again.
Included in this place is a the modern brewery and also a brewery museum with a lot of old equipment from days gone by.

The best part is walking through the coolship to the top of the brewery with a fantastic view of the city. Our only regret is that we did not try the Flemish stew, Carbonnade, that came highly recommended.

You like Chocolate? They have it all over Belgium!

We also hit the canal tour. Chased some Geese, ya know.

While in Bruge you have to hit t'Brugs Beertje, the little Brugge Bear, but it's full of a lot of tourists.

For a little more local flair, try to find De Garre. It's down a VERY little alley that is very hard to find. If you know you are on the right street, just stop and ask someone. the alley is so narrow, it looks like a doorway. What a great little, old building that is hard to find. We went back the next day to take pictures of this little place we wer so happy to find.

Finally, ya better have some Mussels. Or Moules frites if you will. Good stuff!

Next Stop, Alvinne Picobrouwerij and then off to Brussels!