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Weekly Therapy: Americans in Belgium

Look out, Belgium. You’re about to be a chapter in Sam Calagione’s next book.

Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, will be joined in March by four more of America’s most innovative brewers for a whirlwind tour of Belgium.

The goal of the trip is to introduce Belgian brewing luminaries to some of the “extreme beers” being made in the United States while allowing the American brewers to pay respect to Belgium’s brewing heritage. Lorenzo “Kuaska” Dabove, an Italian beer writer and well known Belgian beer enthusiast, will act as a guide for the tour and has built a busy itinerary.

Calagione and CilurzoWhat the fivesome of Calagione, Tomme Arthur of Port Brewing, Vinnie Cilurzo (on the left of Calagione) of Russian River Brewing, Adam Avery of Avery Brewing and Rob Todd of Allagash Brewing means by introduce is actually serving samples of their beers. Each will offer two beers at a variety events.

Wish you were a “fly on the wall” for this trip March 3-8? Calagione plans to write about it in Extreme Brewing, a book due out in the fall. Photojournalist Kevin Fleming, whom Reader’s Digest has called “America’s best observer,” will make the trip to document it for the book.

“We look forward to sharing our beers with them,” Calagione said. “We’re not saying our stuff is better than yours or anything like that. We want to recognize they are the mecca.”

All five brewers make beers that take inspiration from Belgium.

The idea for the trip came as Calagione was writing Extreme Brewing. This book will be much different than Brewing up a Business, his 2005 project that targets entrepreneurs more than beer lovers. That book has been very well received and is in its second printing.

When Rockport Publishers approached him about Extreme Brewing, Calagione said: “I struggled thinking of that (“extreme”) as the best terminology. The name has certain connotations – young, alternative, punky.

“That’s why I spend a lot of time at the beginning of the book explaining what I mean by extreme,” he said. “Extreme beers are brewed with more amounts of the traditional ingredients or non-traditional ingredients.”

Rockport wants to target an audience of homebrewers, and those ready to jump in. “It is definitely geared toward the novice,” Calagione said. He’ll offer plenty of recipes, including some that will produce very strong and very hoppy beers like his while using mostly malt extract as a base.

“I don’t want to overwhelm people with technical stuff,” he said. “Otherwise the beginner is going to think, ‘Wait a second. I’d have to be a rocket scientist to make a 10% beer.”

Arthur, Cilurzo, Avery and Tod will contribute recipes to the book.

“In writing this book I wanted to make sure I conveyed the idea that extreme brewing didn’t start with Dogfish Head or even the American craft brewing renaissance, but that it has been a part of the Belgian brewing tradition for centuries,” Calagione said.

“What I’m trying to do in this book is tell people that this philosophy has existed in the United States for 25 years and in Belgium a long time before that,” he said.

The diversity of the beers the American brewers are sending reflects the breadth of inspirations Belgians have offered. They are:

Dogfish Head: Festina Lente and Fort.
Port Brewing: Cuvee de Tomme and SPF 45 Saison.
Russian River Brewing: Damnation and Supplication.
Avery Brewing: The Beast and Salvation.
Allagash Brewing; Allagash Wit and Allagash Interlude.

Perhaps as well as being a fly on the wall you’d like to be a fly on the wall with a glass (or Belgian-style goblet).


Weekly Therapy: Winter warmers

You wouldn’t have heard this exchange last year:

       “Have you tried the new bourbon oak barrel beer from Anheuser-Busch?”

       “Which one?”

A-B regularly tests a variety of products in many markets, often with hopes they’ll develop into something bigger. That’s not the plan with three beers available now – they are one-offs (seasonals) willing to appeal to a smaller audience. The beers:

Celebrate: A 10% abv lager infused with with milled vanilla beans and aged with heavily toasted bourbon oak barrel staves in the maturation tank.

Brew Masters’ Private Reserve: An 8.5% lager brewed only with first runnings (the richest part of the mash) and offered in a 46.5-ounce magnum bottle.

Winter BourbonWinter’s Bourbon Cask Ale: The new draft-only seasonal, a 6% abv ale brewed with dark roasted caramel malts and whole Madagascar vanilla beans, and also aged on bourbon barrel staves.

Not only are these beers different, but producing them is as well. At the A-B plant in St. Louis where Celebrate and Private Reserve were brewed a small run usually produces 3,000 barrels (9,300 gallons of beer). These two were brewed in smaller quantities.

“We’ve been learning to use our equipment in a more flexible way,” said brewer Nathaniel Davis, a member of the New Products Group formed in 2004. “We’re coming at these beer from the consumer’s standpoint. We’ve scaled down or used partial tanks, and this allows us not to require enormous volume.”

Although A-B has not released a holiday-type beer since the late 1990s, the company has a tradition of brewing such specials. “We have evidence of rich Christmas brews, but we don’t have the recipes,” Davis said. In earlier days, these beers were sometimes made only at local breweries and given to employees and special customers.

The Private Reserve comes with a swing top closure. “It lends itself to camaraderie. The pop is like a champagne cork,” Davis said. He said the beer has enough carbonation to pop a couple of times, but the beer really is meant to be consumed in a single session by several drinkers.

“I like it as it warms up,” he said. The same is true of Celebrate, which is sold by the single 24-ounce bottle or with two 13.5-ounce snifters. “You want to serve it in an appropriately wide glass. You really want it to open up,” Davis said.

“I’d taste it (Celebrate) up to room temperature,” Davis said. “I’ve even mulled it.”

Is there a target audience for these beers? “We are getting tremendous feedback across the board,” Davis said. “We love to talk about beer. We’re passionate about what we’re doing.”

The Winter’s Bourbon Cask is the second in A-B seasonal series, following Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Ale.

Although the ingredients are similar, “Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale and Michelob Celebrate are two different beers,” said brewer Florian Kuplent, another member of the New Products Group. “Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale is an all-malt, draft ale that is best enjoyed served cold and has a tawny color and hoppy aroma.

“Michelob Celebrate is a lager beer best enjoyed while sipping at room temperature. … Although both beers share a few of the ingredients we’ve found people enjoy during the winter and holiday seasons – each one has a distinct taste.”

Just as Davis points out the swing top on Private Reserve invites sharing, Kuplent says Bourbon Cask is designed to be enjoyed in a communal setting. “It’s a great complement to an evening out with friends and family and is perfect for enjoying over storytelling, taking refuge from the stresses of the day, and escaping the blustery weather outdoors,” he said.

A quick note: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently profiled the Research Pilot Brewery and the Brewing New Products Group. An interesting read, including the fact that Chairman August A. Busch III suggested a beer using blueberries.