Friday, October 28, 2016

4. Belgian Beercycling 2000: A lobster evening at La Cave à Bière, Danes included.

As we rode our bikes down narrow Wallonian country lanes, not far removed from the outskirts of Tournai and our base camp at the Hotel d’Alcantara, a clear and warm summer Saturday afternoon suddenly turned blustery and overcast.

The Cochonette-laced warm fuzzies from a lengthy session at Brasserie à Vapeur on its monthly brewing day dissipated rapidly in the face of a brisk headwind, made more formidable by legs still tired from the previous day’s mountain biking excursion in the woods and fields of the Pays du Collines.

However, the sobering return workout was all for the best, because a taxing celebratory evening still lay ahead.

Awaiting our return at the hotel were the Three Danes of the Apocalypse: Kim Wiesener, Kim Andersen and Allan Gamborg. Coincidentally, they had gathered in Wallonia for the European football (soccer) championships being held in the summer of 2000 at various venues throughout Belgium and the Netherlands, and after being made aware of our beercycling visit, conspired to include us in the itinerary.

These three cosmopolitan natives of Denmark are bosom friends of long standing, each of them multilingual, well-traveled and professionally accomplished in his chosen field. When a football match is taking place, each of them also is prone to reverting with dazzling speed to a childlike state, one understood internationally and intuitively by all sporting males.

Their life stories would fill a volume, and such a biographical rendering lies beyond my immediate task of describing the 2000 beercycling trip, but according to tradition, I’m permitted one digression. Here it is, in one of several versions.

Back in the day …


My friendship with the Danes goes back to 1987, and is inexorably intertwined with that of my illustrious longtime partner in crime, Barrie Ottersbach, who was unable to join us in Tournai in 2000.

That fateful summer of ‘87, an unsuspecting Kim Wiesener was the tour leader for a “youth” travel group visiting the Soviet Union and Poland, and Barrie and I were enthusiastic and only marginally youthful participants (we were 27).

Legend has it that Kim fell under Barrie’s spell (or was it the other way around?) on a hair-raising Aeroflot flight from Copenhagen to Moscow, where I joyously met the group, having arrived in the capital of the evil empire by way of a 36-hour train trip from Hungary during which I was kept company by a bag of fresh cherries, two loaves of bread, a salami from Szeged and two bottles of Bull’s Blood wine.

On the morning following the boozy evening of the group’s belated arrival, all of us were supposed to meet in the hotel lobby before setting out for a bus tour of Moscow. Kim was mildly concerned when Barrie failed to appear for roll call; I reassured him that all was well, and that Barrie was in safe hands, having ventured into the Soviet underworld with “Bill,” the friendly neighborhood black market sales representative who I’d met earlier under similar circumstances.

At that point, and not even a full day into the excursion, Kim understood that it would be a long journey, but he was reassured when Barrie appeared later that afternoon brandishing a softball-sized wad of colorful rubles. For the remainder of our stay in the USSR, Barrie gleefully depleted the ridiculously huge bankroll on lavish restaurant meals, caviar, vodka and champagne; beer was difficult to find, and the rubles worthless elsewhere in the world.

For a brief time, Barrie himself occupied a sales representative position on the fringe of the black market, profitably reselling rubles back into hard currency for those members of our group who were too frightened or squeamish to trade on the streets.

This introductory lesson in entrepreneurial initiative duly completed, we moved on to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) by overnight express train just in time for an impromptu Fourth of July celebration. Kim, Barrie and I gathered on the grassy, mosquito-infested bank of an urban canal, a scene made complete when a bottle of the finest Russian vodka materialized from Kim’s backpack. Illuminated by the White Night, we were introduced for the first time to Allan, who was passing through the city with a tour group of his own.

Midnight at the Oasis, 1987.

Ominously, as the bottle was passed around, its contents ingested and people slowly got to know each other, Kim and Allan began speaking in hushed tones about Denmark’s answer to Barrie: Kim Andersen, hereafter to be known as Big Kim. Their descriptions of Big Kim were offered to us in impeccable English, although occasionally they would lapse into Danish or even Russian in search of the proper words to explain this larger-than-life phenomenon.

Brief stays in the oppressed Baltic lands of Latvia and Lithuania followed Leningrad, and then Warsaw and Krakow, with too many anecdotal tales to remember, much less relate: Hoisting Nick’s American flag above the hotel in Leningrad, and then watching him trading it to a railway employee for a huge tub of caviar … an elderly fellow tourist mistaking the liquid in our vodka bottle for mineral water and gulping it down on a scorching hot day at the Polish-Soviet border as we waited for the train’s wheel carriages to be changed … building the “Leaning Tower of Pivo” from empty export Carlsberg cans in a Riga hard currency bar … the well-endowed Danish lass Metta’s provocative push-ups at a meet-and-greet with Lithuanian students … wild going-away parties in Warsaw, where Barrie and I drank wine with our leggy blonde Polish tour guide and a few of the group’s stragglers before departing for the city’s cavernous train station and commencing desperate and futile foraging for food and drink prior to the long ride to Prague and our first taste of draft Pilsner Urquell.

Our amazing, hyperkinetic tour leader Kim Wiesener was right in the thick of most of these anecdotes, and at the conclusion of the trip we exchanged addresses with him, promising to keep in touch. In fact, Barrie and Kim agreed to meet later that summer, when Barrie would return to Copenhagen for his flight back to the United States. You can bet that even then, Kim’s wheels were spinning: What could be done to bring Barrie and Big Kim together in Copenhagen?

In the meantime, Barrie and I embarked upon the beer-based itinerary that we had plotted in advance for the remainder of our time in Europe, first traveling from Prague to Munich, where we met Don Barry and Bob Gunn for three epochal days of Bavarian beer hall carousing, then in the company of Bob to Paris and the D-Day beaches. Barrie and I crossed to Ireland aboard the “Guinness ferry”, meeting Tommy Barker, a newspaperman and good friend of Don’s, and later watching U2 perform at the Cork soccer stadium, then experiencing the wonders of Brian and his “High-B” Hibernian Pub, all the while marveling at the classic pleasures of the Irish countryside.

As the revelry continued, I didn’t think there would be enough time for me to accompany Barrie to Denmark and then double back to Brussels and my own return flight, but at a pub somewhere in Ireland, after my tenth pint of Guinness, I changed my mind.

Barrie and I concocted a plan to surprise Kim Wiesener with my delightfully unexpected presence, and we refined the insidious plot over smoked salmon and Bailey’s Irish Cream while aboard the ship back to France. In Paris, we caught an overnight train to Copenhagen, and contrary to so many plans that Barrie and I have made over the years, this one came perfectly to fruition.

Soon after debarking in Copenhagen we were reunited, burrowed safely in Kim’s tiny apartment with chilled Tuborgs in hand and songs in our hearts. Following opening toasts, our devious host divulged his own surprise: An evening with Big Kim had already been arranged. Finally, Ottersbach would meet Andersen, and the world was advised to forget the “Thrilla in Manila”; instead, onlookers were to get ready for the “Battle of the Titans,” to be held in the beer venue called the Elephant & Mouse, or Mouse and Elephant, where we were informed there would be copious quantities of draft Elephant beer, Carlsberg’s fine, sturdy and strong lager.

It was to be our first visit to the M & E, a small and dignified pub near the main square, where the only sign of identification above the front door is a small plaque depicting – what else? – a mouse and an elephant. On the second floor of the pub, a handmade elephant head adorns the wall behind the wall. Draft Elephant Beer pours from the snout; the tusk is the tap handle.*

Big Kim arrived along with Graham, a British friend who, like Kim Wiesener and I, chose to nurse just a couple of half-liter glasses (at $7 a pop, somewhat financially burdensome at the time) while watching the spectacle unfold. As predicted, Big Kim and Barrie proved to be perfectly matched human beings, both with a fondness for alcohol of any sort, hot and spicy food in large quantities, impossibly tall tales and jokes, and endless, infectious tsunamis of irresistible laughter.

Big Kim and Barrie approached the high-gravity Elephant Beer at full throttle, and much merriment ensued. Somewhere around the fourth or fifth one, Barrie stumbled; accounts vary, but we’ll gently infer that some of the Elephant Beer didn’t stay down.

Advantage, Andersen.

After several hours, and with monetary reserves reaching dangerously low levels, we decided to continue drinking at an establishment where Metta (of Lithuanian push-up fame) worked as a bartender. As we stood on the street corner contemplating taxi strategies, Big Kim suddenly broke free of the group and wildly staggered into the middle of the street in an effort to hail a cab to take him home. We quickly subdued him, dodging cars and loading him into our own taxi to proceed to the next planned stop.

With this unforced error of Big Kim’s, Ottersbach had again pulled even.

Now it was a brutal battle of attrition, with the clock ticking and everyone involved drunk and fatigued. Both Barrie and Big Kim made it through big export bottles of Pilsner Urquell at the second bar, after which we returned to Kim Wiesener’s apartment for obligatory nightcaps, the outcome still very much in doubt. Barrie and Big Kim both opened their bottled beers. Barrie finished his, but Big Kim stole away, ostensibly to use the toilet, and was found a short time later sleeping on the host’s bed.

Seemingly, it was a victory for Ottersbach, but as all concerned were physically unable to tally points in their besotted condition, the Battle of the Titans was fittingly declared a draw.

Many years have passed since that epic summer and our first meeting with Kim, Allan and Big Kim. Certainly all of us have changed, but the friendship lives on. We five have met many times, in many places, and too many for me to remember (Allan would love for me to relate the story of the “Danish lunch” at his apartment in 1989, the orange couch and the real meaning of P-F-L, but it will have to wait for another session), but they’ve all been special – as I knew the meeting in Tournai would be, even if Barrie couldn’t be a part of it.


The lady of the Cave.

Big Kim.


From left to right: Bob, Kim A., Roger, Kevin, Kim W., Buddy and Allan.

So it was that the beercyclists returning from the Renaissance brewer’s regularly scheduled seminar met the football-loving Danes at the hotel as scheduled, and we began haggling over the details of the evening’s festivities. The non-negotiable idea, as conveyed to me with much wagging of fingers, was to partake of the scheduled feast of lobster tail and ale at the La Cave à Bière at the precise time of the hour-long break between matches, both of which were far too important for the aficionados to miss.

Barrie’s absence was widely lamented, and each of us resolved to drink one or more beers for him, although we recognized that it would have taken far more than that to keep him going had he actually been present.

We set off on foot to search for a suitable place to watch sports, and a big screen television was duly located in a café just off the main square. There we settled into the Turkey-Portugal match with the help of draft Hoegaarden Wit, which served as a gentle restorative following the biking and imbibing rigors of the day. I stole away and walked down to the riverfront o tell the matron at the La Cave à Bière that we’d be a bit late for dinner owing to the imperative of sports. She rolled her eyes and smiled indulgently: Let boys be boys, and there’d still be enough food and beer left whenever we made it back.

Soon it became apparent that the critical match-up wasn’t taking place on the television screen. Much in the same way that Big Kim’s initial meeting with Barrie resembled a gladiatorial marathon, the merry Dane’s previous experience with Kevin Richards – an all-day beer-drinking session during one of Big Kim’s visits to New Albany – had been both effusive and expansive. Now there was renewal.

Appropriately, upon our arrival at the Cave for what was intended as a brief respite between matches, Kevin began urging Big Kim to join him at the high-gravity end of the Belgian brewing spectrum, and together they began despoiling the café’s excellent selection of Trappist ales: Rochefort, Chimay, Westmalle and Orval. The rest of us gamely followed suit, and to my surprise, as the stock of Trappists began to deplete to the accompaniment of a happily ringing cash register, the second soccer match was largely forgotten.

In short, yet another memorable evening had begun, and in the fashion of such gatherings, all betting ceased, and an internal logic took over. It would have to be respected.

Lobster tails and side orders of potatoes and vegetables soon appeared on the table and were quickly devoured, and the steady stream of Belgian ale, divided among the usual suspects, produced the expected tomfoolery and an escalating series of tales that purported to depict exploits of past drinking bouts. I recall a cell phone appearing, and an attempt to call Barrie. In the general cacophony, it isn’t clear whether the call ever went through, although our absent Musketeer later swore that not only was the call duly received, but that the phone was never properly shut off and he was left with twenty minutes of jocularity recorded on his answering machine for perpetual enjoyment.

The otherwise stern matron of the Cave seemed much amused at our antics and presided over the international gathering with grace, going so far as to pose willingly for a photo with Buddy. I made no attempt to take notes on the beers or to record what I’d sampled, seeing as all were old favorites that had treated me well before, and could be expected to be as forgiving again.

Bob blessed the raucous group numerous times: “Here’s to us … ” Kim, Allan and I recalled our previous 1999 meeting in Moscow, reliving the evening of the metal detector at the brewpub, the private table dancer who wasn’t minding the mint, and shoes filled with Volga mud. Big Kim and Kevin continued knocking them back at a prodigious pace.

At some point much later in the evening, through the haze of three too many Trappists, but after there had been a monetary settlement, I watched as Kevin, Big Kim, Allan and Bob Reed suddenly rose from their seats and filed out with the solemnity of a funeral procession – except it was they who were embalmed. Their destination was unclear. Apparently it was time to go, so Kim Wiesener and I pulled Buddy from the arms of our hostess and the three of us began weaving back to the hotel through darkened, damp streets, kicking at the litter left behind by revelers on a festive summer’s evening.

It was a stone cold sleep. I was curious next morning, so I asked Kevin: When you left the Cave, was it because Allan had called a taxi to take all of you back to the hotel? Kevin scratched his head and confessed to not remembering whether they had been driven or walked. Moments later, I asked Bob the same question, and he couldn’t recall, either. Suspecting it would be useless to ask Big Kim, I received confirmation of the taxi order from a shrugging Allan.

We went our separate ways on Sunday morning after breakfast, the Danes moving out by rental car to attend the next Eurocup match-up, and the bikers heading west by train to Poperinge and the second phase of the journey.

In the next installment, we commence a love affair with the good people of Poperinge.


* Sadly, the pub is no more.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Do you really think Dick Yuengling is the only brewery owner supporting Donald Trump?

Photo credit: What to drink if you're giving up Yuengling.

If you didn't already grasp the political inclinations of brewery owner Dick Yuengling, then I'm sorry. You should consider looking out the window every now and then.

Only recently I wrote about a similar case regionally; because the tweet in question disappeared so quickly, it seemed like small beer, and there wasn't any good reason to shift into outrage. Still, it helps to be realistic, and to understand that the producers of your favorite beer don't necessarily agree with your politics.

AFTER THE FIRE: New Albany’s Harvest Homecoming occupation isn't alleviating my "craft" beer Twitter depression.

... Since the dawn of the brewing revolution, it has been my operating assumption that most of us are leftists. In the 90s, I simply can’t recall meeting very many fascists in the business.

However, as someone told me back in kindergarten, never assume; you make an ass out of "u" and me. Probably my sampling was always too small, and in terms of demographics, it’s unlikely that "craft" beer would be any different in attitudinal composition than the nation as a whole.

Does this mean there should be boycotts falling like rain on a landscape already denuded of common sense? I don't know. America is Jonestown Redux at the present time. Ask me again on November 9, and I might conjure an answer.

Insofar as Yuengling interests me at all, it's because the brewery is family-owned, and far less owing to the flagship beer itself, which strikes me as purely average, though it sometimes is useful during road trips when few better options are available.

Can this election cycle please be over?

Dick Yuengling Supports Trump, and Beer Fans Aren’t Happy About It, by Claire Sasko (Philadelphia Magazine)

After Eric Trump visited America’s oldest brewery, beer fans found out that Yuengling’s owner supports Donald Trump. Now there’s a Yuengling boycott brewing.

First, Eric Trump held a short press conference at the Pottsville company, during which he attempted to convert Yuengling-drinkers to Trump-lovers. According to the Reading Eagle, Trump called the country’s oldest brewery “an amazing American success story” and likened it to many businesses that he said would have the opportunity to thrive under his father, President Trump.

And then 73-year-old company-owner Richard “Dick” Yuengling Jr. told Trump that “our guys are behind your father,” according to the newspaper. “We need him in there.”

It’s not really a surprising response from Dick Yuengling, a known conservative who’s been notoriously tough on union employees and was a delegate for George W. Bush at the 2000 Republican National Convention. In fact, the beer was reportedly banned from the inauguration of Democratic governor Tom Wolf.


3. Belgian Beercycling 2000: Brewing day with Jean-Louis at Brasserie A Vapeur.

(Bear in mind that this account was written in 2001; some facts may no longer be factual.)

Wallonia is the French-speaking half of Belgium. The cultural and linguistic divide between Wallonia and the Dutch-speaking Flanders is deep seated, politically charged, well documented and completely beyond the scope of this account, so I’ll confine my opening comments to observations that are safer and more relevant to beercyclists: Geography.

Landscapes in Wallonia vary. To the south and east, the low, wooded hills known as the Ardennes are darkly mysterious, enduringly scenic and sparsely populated. North of the Ardennes, stretching westward through the Meuse River valley from Liege to Namur, then along the Sambre River to Charleroi and Mons, runs an area similar to what Americans know as a “Rust Belt.”

The industrial revolution on the European continent took root and exploded in these environs during the early 19th century, with an emphasis on coal mining and heavy industries producing steel, glass and cement. As in other regions of the developed world, these old industries have been steadily contracting for decades, and the goal of every fair-sized municipality is to relieve the European Union of wheelbarrows filled with developmental money and to use the largess to create miniature Silicon Valleys behind the slag heaps, brownfields and abandoned factories.

The city of Mons (a battleground in World War I) is the capital of Hainaut province, the westernmost in Wallonia. Beginning in Mons, and continuing westward to Tournai, the terrain begins to flatten into what eventually becomes the Flanders plain stretching to the Atlantic. The industrial zone remains evident along the Sambre River and then the Escaut (in Flemish, the Scheldt), but it is intermixed with landscape of a more pastoral character.

The towns and villages reflect these differing influences. There are tidy modern cottages and the homes of people who commute to work in the larger towns. Next to them, one might see the manure-caked tractor of a family still engaged in farming. Crops in Hainaut include wheat, oats, sugar beets, chicory – and yes, barley. A simple bike ride through the countryside yields abundant olfactory evidence of hogs and cattle.

Even in the tiniest settlements, there usually can be seen sturdy, drafty brick buildings and rust-stained ground. Back in the day these were workshops and factories, the smaller satellites of the industrial complexes concentrated elsewhere. Many of these relics now are dilapidated, while others have been reclaimed and are used as auto body shops, storage facilities, art studios, or for whatever modern purpose that they can be adapted and renovated to serve.

Although it is certain all these archaic red brick buildings have historical stories to tell, it’s just as unlikely that one would find any of them, apart from farming structures, still being used for the purpose originally intended. Even if this would be the case, it’s a considerable stretch to fantasize the work still being performed in the way it was in olden times.

Yet this is the case at the Brasserie à Vapeur, a brewery housed in a utilitarian relic of the 19th century located in the sleepy village of Pipaix. It's a thoroughly “retro” operation helmed since 1984 by the the indefatigable Jean-Louis Dits.

Brewing at this location began in 1795, and all the heat and power for the brewing operation is generated by steam, this being the result of an extensive “modernization” -- undertaken in 1895!

Upon closer examination, the boiler is of recent vintage, and there are stainless steel fermenters (open fermentation having been abandoned several years ago). Various spare and replacement parts also are of newer vintage, but in amazing measure the brewery operates as it would have when Queen Victoria reigned and Louisville had a major league baseball team.

I’d seen the Vapeur (“steam”) brewery previously in 1998 during the first homemade group tour of Belgium, but in 2000 our biking group had a timely opportunity not possible two years before: We would be able to visit Vapeur during the actual brewing process, which takes place only once each month and is open to the public.

Riding bikes to the Vapeur brewing day? Priceless.

Saturday morning in Tournai was cool and cloudy. It had spit rain intermittently during the night as we crawled from café to couscouserie and back to café, absorbing ales great and small. Heavier rain wasn't expected on Saturday, but it mattered little to us, as there were far too many activities planned for the day. If we became wet, so be it.

The morning’s ride began absent precipitation along the bank of the Escaut in the center of Tournai, taking us quickly across the river and to the outskirts, where an access road to the highway ran east toward Leuze. Although heavily traveled, the bike lane provided suitable buffering from the roar of passing traffic. Pedaling through a succession of villages clustered around the old highway, it was noted that the scene was similar to that glimpsed along roads anywhere: Gas stations, video stores, cafes, and dozens of ordinary people tending to weekend chores.

Upon spotting a sign that pointed the way toward Pipaix, we exited south onto a smaller, less noisy highway and entered a verdant countryside filled with fields, farms, villages, rows of trees ... and breweries.

In fact, our quartet of amateurs was cycling into a veritable Golden Triangle of artisan Belgian brewing, because nearby in this portion of rural Hainaut province, almost within walking distance of each other, are three world-class breweries: Vapeur, our archaic destination for the day; Dubuisson, home of the heavenly 12% Bush Beer (known as Scaldis in America); and Dupont, preserver of the tradition of Saison, or Belgian farmhouse ale.

Dubuisson dates from 1769, and the eighth generation of its founding family runs the business today. In addition to brewing, the company is a beer wholesaler, and it exports Bush/Scaldis throughout the world. Since the 2000 trip, a sleek new tasting café has risen on the site, testament to the family’s faith in the future of quality ale.

In like fashion, Dupont began its working life in 1850 as the Brasserie Rimaux, which was taken over by the current owning family in 1920. The family now brews, malts barley, bakes bread, makes cheese, and does a little farming on the side. Dupont was a Belgian pioneer in brewing organic beer, and in contract brewing for other companies in the country. The brewery’s ales, which like Dubuisson’s are aggressively exported, include Saison Dupont (I), Moinette (II), and the delicious seasonal Avec les Bons Voeux (III).

Where else in Belgium can be found three breweries of such high quality, located so close together? We’d have liked to make a pilgrimage to each of them; however, because of the novelty of Vapeur’s brewing day, it would be the sole destination, with the others reserved for subsequent journeys.

After a hard left off the main road, perhaps two kilometers and a few puzzled moments trying to locate the village of Pipaix, the unprecedented and grudging step of asking a village passer-by to point the way to Vapeur was undertaken. He shrugged and pointed. It was the building just behind us, perhaps twenty yards away.

Embarrassment ensued. Couldn’t we smell the mash?

Bikes were abandoned and we followed our noses into the brewery, where Jean-Louis Dits, his assistant and Jean-Louis’s wife were hard at work before a handful of interested onlookers.

By almost any standard of measurement, Jean-Louis is a Renaissance man whose talents extend beyond brewing renowned ales like Cochonne, Saison Pipaix and Folie. He is an educator, a naturalist, a museum curator, a cheese maker and a bread baker.

To visit Vapeur on the monthly brewing day is to attend an eclectic seminar about all things germane to Pipaix, one taught by a passionate, patient, bilingual instructor. You will learn about the medicinal lichen that once was an ingredient in Vapeur’s beer, but that has been degraded by air pollution.

You will learn of the many breweries that once operated in the area, and how so few remain today.

You will learn about the power of the steam and the system of pulleys and shifting drive belts, and just when stirring of the mash grinds to a halt and it’s time to let nature work, the lecture abruptly ceases, the bell figuratively rings, and recess begins – thankfully, without any need for dodge ball.

At Vapeur on brewing day, resting the mash is rushing the growler. Everyone is guided across the courtyard to the tasting room, where ample pitchers of draft house brews are passed along the wooden tables and a contagious communal appreciation envelops the surroundings.

Jean-Louis noted that lunch would be served for those willing to ante a small fee. In these simpler pre-Euro times of 2000, roughly $12.00 sufficed for the museum admission, the many “recess” beers and the meal. He described lunch as a simple plate of bread and locally made cheeses.

It turned out to be anything but simple: Two enormous platters laden with cheeses – hard and soft, white and yellow, stinky and mild, some incorporating locally grown herbs, and taken together, all quite overwhelming to the already besieged senses. Crusty crumbs and cultured shards flew, pitchers of Cochonne continued to appear with breathtaking speed, and we began to fear the ride back to Tournai.

As trained professionals, we persevered, toasted, drank, and ate more cheese than any human should attempt. Back in the brewery, it was approaching the time for the boil (the wort is pumped upstairs to the brew kettle), but we concluded with much sadness that because of the evening festivities planned in Tournai, it was time for us to bid “adieu” to Jean-Louis and his grand, archival Vapeur brewery. He graciously consented to a photo-op in the courtyard, which for some reason turned out somewhat blurry to the camera lens, and we were off to retrace the path.

It never rained … but the deluge was only just beginning.


Next: Returning to Tournai, we discover Danes waiting in ambush at the Hotel d’Alcantara, proceed to La Cave à Bièreand lose contact with Mission Control.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

2. Belgian Beercycling 2000: Tournai warm-up, Cave a Bieres and Pays du Collines.

Back in 2000, the city of Tournai (Doornik in Flemish) seldom surfaced in prospective Belgian beer-hunting itineraries. The omission was understandable on the surface of it, though a closer look proved very beneficial for us.

This historic city of 70,000, famed for its Cathedrale de Notre-Dame and UNESCO world heritage belfry, possessed no working breweries.*

Furthermore, there was only one specialty beer café, La Cave à Bière**, deemed worthy of mention in the British writer Tim Webb’s essential guidebook of the time, The Good Beer Guide to Belgium and Holland.

Nonetheless, we elected to make Tournai our home for the first three days of the inaugural biking and beer-hunting Belgian holiday, a choice primarily reflecting the city's relative proximity to top-flight breweries in the countryside. Also, our choice of accommodations, the Hotel d’Alcantara, had inexpensive bicycles available for use in reaching these beer places.

Just how inexpensive soon became apparent.

We never regretted those Tournai days. Apart from brewery proximity, the city proved intriguing in its own right. Founded as a Roman settlement, Tournai was ceded, regained, swapped and passed around between various feudal and imperial powers for much of its history. The vibe was relaxed, with a pleasing mixture of new and old Europe.

Tournai suffered damage in both of the 20th-century’s European conflagrations, and in World War II, it had the distinction of being the first Belgian city to be liberated from the Nazis. In addition to the cathedral and belfry, there were plenty of shadowy back streets to explore, as well as the Escaut River's eclectic pathway through the city, which included a squat, massive 13th-century bridge we found fascinating.

The otherwise attractive Grand Place (central square) seemed to function primarily as a huge car park, though it had a strange on-again, off-again sidewalk fountain made possible by European Union economic development funds.

Photo credit.
The square was ringed by respectable, if not spectacular, pubs and cafes where the thirsty beer traveler might reliably find mid-range selections as well as predictably good espresso and snacks.

(My last visit to Tournai came in 2004. What's it like now?)

Roughly ten miles west of Tournai is the French city of Lille. We didn’t have time to visit Lille in 2000, but it was considered a center of northern French brewing even then, with many beer bars in the city center and breweries in its outskirts. I'm told it's only gotten better since.

The rural Brunehaut brewery is located ten miles south of Tournai; it dates from 1992 and makes several fine ales available locally and throughout Belgium. One beer that stood out from the rest was a specialty Brunehaut ale spiked with Genever, a distilled counterpart to gin, and indigenous to the Low Countries.

Twenty miles northeast of Tournai is the region known as the Pays du Collines, which is a rural area of low hills, towns, patches of woods, farms, and a recently renewed focus on ecotourism. With the invaluable assistance of a Hotel d’Alcantara staffer, we booked a guided mountain bike tour of the Pays du Collines for our second day in town.

Most importantly, ten miles east of Tournai there is an amazing concentration of classic, small breweries, each just a few kilometers from the others: Dubuisson, maker of the incredible Bush strong ale (known as Scaldis in the USA); Dupont, brewer of classic Saison ales; and Vapeur, the archaic steam-powered museum/brewery scheduled for a visit on Day Three.

Before mountain biking Friday and brewery schmoozing Saturday, there was an open biking day Thursday. We had plenty of raw adrenaline, but not much of a plan. Having examined the four bikes and found them to be rickety but serviceable, we chatted with the friendly hotel manager, who suggested charting a course for Mont St. Aubert, a few miles north of Tournai. This choice seemed as good as any, so we followed the manager’s directions.

Along the way, our quartet received an introduction to the joys of biking and bruising over dry cobblestone streets; wet cobblestones were yet to come and provided thrills of an even greater magnitude. These gave way to smoother paved roads as we left the inner city area and entered the more modern districts on the outskirts.

Following signs into the countryside, the hill could be seen clearly, looming ahead of us. Climbing it was a challenge, with each of us having only a handful of gears in operating condition, but we made it to the top and were rewarded with a spectacular view of Tournai and the surrounding region.

Actually, some of us made it in better condition than others. When you see Buddy Sandbach at the Public House, ask him the French pronunciation of “Ralph.”

Curiously, it’s almost the same as the American.

Bob Reed had thoughtfully procured a map of the area, and using it we rode off on country lanes, through the surrounding farmlands and their reassuring aromas of fodder and dung, eventually coming to the town of Pecq. From there we took immaculately groomed bike paths along the river back into Tournai.

It was unlikely that we rode more than 15 miles all day, but the historical significance of this inaugural bicycling foray simply cannot be exaggerated.

It didn’t matter at all that the bicycles were inferior. During the course of European travels dating back to 1985, I’d traveled by rail, bus, boat, automobile, and on foot. All of the previous experiences were special in their own way, but in the year 2000 – for the first time in years – I felt exhilaration and the pure joy of discovery. Perhaps rediscovery is a better word.

Kevin Richards and I had talked about it for months, and now we’d done it, and I immediately understood. I was hooked. Puffing up Mont St. Aubert, I knew Europe would never be the same for me.

We were judicious and kept the ride short the first day, devoting the remainder of the afternoon to walking through town, pausing to have a restorative ale in the street level café of the Hotel Europ (Bush Blonde, an easy-drinking, elegant 10.5% ale), then dining on beefsteak and fries at a nearby restaurant.

The aforementioned La Cave à Bière, then considered Tournai’s finest specialty beer café, opened at 5:00 p.m.

La Cave à Bière was revealed to be a variant of the “shotgun” bar, filling space below street level mere yards from the river in a venerable old European warehouse. The walls and vaulted brick ceiling were painted white, with a small bar, big wooden tables and chairs lining both sides of a central walkway, and Belgian brewing memorabilia nailed everywhere.

The café appeared to be run by a male head waiter and a female chef, perhaps husband and wife, perhaps not, but with the latter being firmly in charge of the proceedings. In addition to a bottled beer list of 75 to 100 choices, there were typical Belgian café snacks, and as we were to discover on Saturday evening, tasty full meals on weekends.

Settling in, I concentrated on regional ales: Brunehaut, Quintine and Dupont. Vapeur was available, but there’d be plenty of that on Saturday at the monthly brewing day in Pipaix.

On Friday morning following an exemplary hotel breakfast, it was time for yet another new adventure. Etienne, a teacher, coach and superbly conditioned all-around athlete, loaded us into his pristine van for the trip to the rural Pays du Collines for the day’s mountain biking excursion.

At a sparkling new athletic club in a town on the periphery, we were introduced to our snazzy fat-tired bikes and met Etienne’s bubbly aunt, who would be following us in her car and stopping occasionally to provide commentary in English.

Etienne confessed to speaking only French, but as usually is the case in such times, we were able to communicate wonderfully through gestures and snippets. With regard to mountain biking technique, Etienne showed us what to do, and we followed his lead.

Off we pedaled into the beautiful natural area for an unforgettable day. For Bob, Buddy and I, it was a first-time experience on a mountain bike, off-road in the rough – over steep hills in the mud, across dirt paths in wide, cleared fields, and through old railroad cuts in the woods. Kevin and Etienne bonded immediately, finding a common language in their love of sporting endeavors.

Along the way we stopped at a traditional farmstead to view an old mill under restoration, and visited a museum of local culture for an exhibit telling the story of the small workshops once common to Hainaut province, which made products like wooden shoes.

Two hours into the ride, Etienne took us to his mother’s rectangular brick farmstead for juice, coffee and pastries. Later, in the village of Ellezelle, there was a much appreciated re-hydration sag at the Brasserie Ellezelloise.

At the time of our visit to the isolated country micro/brewpub, its high quality ales in stopper bottles all were brewed in-house. Since then, production has been transferred to Brasserie Des Légendes, a brewery nearby. Hercule, an intense, high-gravity sweet stout named for fictional detective Hercule Poirot, remains the pick of the litter.

Etienne took care to point us in the direction of Ellezelle's pay-to-spray witch, squatting atop a waist-high pedestal, a regional symbol often compared to the Mannekin-Pis in Brussels by virtue of its ... plumbing. On normal days, one puts coins into the adjacent slot, and if you're unlucky, only water comes shooting out from beneath the witch’s skirt … but during magical times, beer flows instead -- or so we were told.

Just remember to bring a cup in case of magic.

At the end of the afternoon, we retired to the posh local club within the athletic complex and drank a round of Hoegaardens to Etienne, a superlative guide and true gentleman.

How many YMCAs in America even have bars?

For a second consecutive evening back in Tournai, the consensus choice for dinner was couscous (kews-kews), the North African ethnic delight as widely available in Tournai as Chinese or Mexican is in Southern Indiana.

Perhaps it should be noted at this juncture that my newfound joy in biking was not accompanied by unnecessary restrictions such as dieting or moderation in drinking.

After all, the whole point in riding hard during the day was justifying massive meals and fine ale at night. Thus acknowledged, couscous proved to be ideally suited for an exercise regimen like ours. The tiny rice-like granules are in fact pasta; grilled sausages and skewered meats accompany the rich vegetable-based sauce, all of it uniquely spiced and smothered with fiery harissa sauce. Chickpeas and pine nuts appear alongside raisins and dates.

The red wine? Also memorable, and proof of our versatility.

Finally returned to the hotel and sated, with a final round of ales safely beneath our belts, we slept well.

Saturday would be the highlight of the Tournai segment of the trip. There'd be a ride to and from the monthly brewing day at Brasserie à Vapeur (the steam-operated brewery), followed by televised Eurocup soccer in Tournai, then a special meal of lobster at the La Cave à Bière, and best of all, the delightful company of three dear friends from Denmark: Kim Andersen, Kim Wiesener, and Allan Gamborg. They were in Belgium for the Eurocup, and had booked rooms at the a’Alcantara to meet us for one evening’s dining and drinking.

Next: Would the novice beercycling team survive these rigors?


*  It appears that a brewpub exists there today.

** There seem to be no on-line references to La Cave à Bière since around 2013, which suggests that it's no longer in business.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

1. Belgian Beercycling 2000: From Brussels to the Tournai base camp in 15 drinks or less.

Buddy Sandbach.

Here’s to us.
May we never quarrel or fuss.
But if by chance we should disagree,
#%@* you, and here’s to me.

-- A toast to cycling togetherness, as masterfully articulated by Bob Reed.

I was stuffing bags into a coin-operated storage locker at the disconcertingly subterranean Brussels Central Station when suddenly Buddy Sandbach popped around the corner, having spotted Kevin Richards strolling through the concourse. Buddy was freshly arrived in Brussels from Amsterdam, where he had spent several days fulfilling his longtime dream of experiencing Holland’s many and varied species of, er, tulips.

Kevin and I had flown together from Louisville, via Atlanta. Buddy’s unexpectedly early debut in Brussels put us squarely ahead of schedule, always a bonus, because down the road it might translate into free time for an extra beer.

And free time for an extra beer almost always is a good omen.

After a pitfall or three in pursuit of a place to store Buddy’s various bags and prized bulbs -- these obstacles finally overcome in spite of the best efforts of an obstructionist baggage room bureaucrat named Eric -- the transaction finally was arranged, stairs were mounted, and we greeted the bustling streets outside the station.

Wayfinding signage and a handy public map determined a course for taking us to the famed Grand Place, an ornate central square pictured on jigsaw puzzles, coffee mugs and boxes of Belgian chocolate shipped worldwide.

One feels giddy enthusiasm when visiting a great city, whether returning like I was, or feeling it for the very first time as with Kevin and Buddy. The adrenaline makes it easier to ignore trifles such as garbage trucks emptying dumpsters filled with yesterday's fish parts, kamikaze taxi drivers and intermittent rain.

We dodged these impediments and rushed headlong into a bustling, vibrant urban environment filled with touristy restaurants and their multi-lingual menu offerings, the delivery vans of florists and family butcher firms, tacky souvenir stands, suavely attired Euro-businessmen and even the occasional tattoo parlor.

Would an artist really etch a genuine facsimile of the famed Mannekin-Pis-Boy into your virgin rump while you wait, cruelly intoxicated with Stella Artois if not life itself? I wasn’t eager to know, but too cynical to rule it out entirely.

The Grand Place remains the place for aficionados of gilded guild halls, and the ambiance was duly photographed even if it can be only imperfectly captured on film.

Random web pilferage.

When the clicking of shutters had subsided, I broke the news to my friends as gently as I could: From the beer traveler’s rarefied point of view, truly noteworthy cafes from which to view the splendid architectural setting weren’t likely to be found around the square itself, where rents are sky high and cautious sightseers demand predictable pilsners.

(Has this reality changed 16 years later? Let's hope so. It's been 11 years since my last visit to Brussels, and I'm all too aware of the lag.)

Nonetheless, there was time to kill before Bob Reed’s arrival at the pre-arranged meeting point at the front door at Maison des Brasseurs (a brewing museum), and the steadily escalating rain suggested that any nearby café would do in a pinch. Accordingly, we entered the café known as the White Rose, which had an above average beer list and provided the perfect vantage point to watch for Bob.

The uniformed waiter brought the first of three rounds to our low wooden table by a window open to the square. Through it wafted the echoes of scattered throngs in the square and the steady drumbeat of rain on cobblestones, and while the White Rose isn’t the best beer café in Brussels, it is by no means the worst.

My first three beers of the trip were Palm (a Belgian pale ale), Rodenbach (sour red ale from West Flanders) and Rochfort 8º (heavenly Trappist ale). They're three choices you’d love to have almost anywhere while mulling the meaning of life.

Many soggy tourists quietly crossed the expanse beyond our window, and among them we soon spotted the angular Mr. Reed loping across the pavement wrapped in a brilliant reddish-orange rain poncho. We motioned him inside and had another round. Soon the rain dissipated, and we were back on the streets in search of food and drink.

Historically, Brussels and environs are lambic country, and on previous trips to Belgium I’d begun to develop a taste for the funky nectar. The next two cafes we patronized both were located in the warren of streets beyond the Grand Place, and they yielded good examples of Belgium’s indigenous, spontaneously fermented specialty.

At Notredame, there was Timmerman’s Faro; although by definition sweetened, the characteristically tangy lambic character still was present. At Toone, a textbook example of sharp, sour and rigorously authentic lambic, Cantillon Gueuze, was chased afterward with a smooth glass of Antwerp’s signature De Koninck ale. Three hours, six beers, and a veritable cross section of Belgian brewing … all before dinner.

Our quartet’s quintessentially Belgian evening meal was composed of four pots of mussels, just as many baskets of crusty bread for soaking up the broth, and mounds of fries. After all, one must always eat vegetables for a balanced meal.

These delicacies were washed down with famously balanced, deceptively drinkable Duvel, Belgium’s signature golden ale. It followed a draft portion of forgettable Jupiler mass-market lager, allegedly “bought” for us by the restaurant’s street hawker as an enticement to eat there, and which served as a valuable calibration beer in the sense that everything else I drank the entire day represented an improvement on Jupiler.

Soon the mussels were gone, as was our afternoon in Brussels. It was time to return to the train station to reclaim luggage and board for the hour-long ride to Tournai, a city located in French-speaking Hainaut province chosen as our base for three days of cycling in the Wallonian countryside.

Blessedly, we were once again early, so there was the chance to have that extra, cherished, final beer -- remember, free time for an extra beer always is a good omen -- at a café across the street. Mine was Brugs Tarwebier, a citrusy, representative Belgian-style wheat ale. Blessedly, there was no orange slice to throw angrily at the server.

Rumbling through the suburbs aboard a nearly deserted train, our bountiful harvest of opening day libations suddenly became even more fruitful as Kevin magically produced a bottle of 40-year-old Noval port wine, technically a tawny port with indication of average age as pertains to the blending stocks, and not a vintage port as such, but no matter.

Kevin Richards had cleverly procured the bottle in advance from our fifth wheel, beer salesman Kevin Lowber, who was to meet us in Poperinge later in the trip. The Kevins having conspired, we resolved to drink the Port while still on the train, with only one small problem: There were no available drinking vessels.

But Buddy dug into his bag and produced two souvenir Parisian shot glasses, and with little choice except thumbing our noses at universally accepted decanting protocol, we happily took turns imbibing the sinuous, concentrated nectar from them, watching tidy fields and shuttered small villages fly past as dusk approached.

A taxi waited in front of the queue at the Tournai rail station, and two hundred Belgian francs later (Euros were yet to come), we were deposited at the gate of the Hotel d’Alcantara.

I don't remember it looking this plush.

This momentous first day in Belgium ended without a trace of bicycling, but with Chimay Trappist “blue” ales taken on the pleasant, landscaped terrace of the hotel, our base in Tournai. We drank deeply, toasting ourselves and the surroundings, which included neon blooms in hotel flower boxes and the lovely vista of a floodlit church spire. Then Kevin spotted four ancient bicycles.

They were chained together in the corner of the walled courtyard. In a few hours, these machines would be our introduction to European biking … and my travel world would begin to change.

In the next installment: Tournai, couscous, a beer “cave” and steam-powered beer.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Remembering Kevin Richards as prologue to the tale of Belgian beercycling in the year 2000.

A more recent photo.

My friend Kevin Richards died on October 23, 2016. Cancer took him at the ridiculously young age of 58, and to be completely honest, I'm heartbroken.

We'd seen less of each other these past few years, but remained solid. I'm an only child, and especially for a period of 15 years or more, Kevin was what I always imagined a brother to be -- and so he will remain, forever and always.

Very different animals, Kevin and me, but in the way life often works, opposites attract. Our acquaintance began in the late 1980s at the package store where I worked, and was renewed when the Public House came into existence in 1992. He became a fixture there, and not only in my own three-sizes-too-small heart.

If the pub had a Mt. Rushmore, Kevin would be one of the four faces.

Beer obviously was a shared theme, and then a bit later, bicycles. Kevin often rode motorcycles, but human-powered transport was a better match for his innate, personal zen. Going for bicycle rides -- and refueling afterward -- suited him well. I helped get Kevin into better beer. He definitely got me into a bike saddle, and some of the best times ever.

A group of pub-going cyclists gradually came together, and one late summer's day in 1999, Kevin and I rode to the top of the Knobs via Corydon Pike's switchback grade. We stopped to sag at Polly’s Freeze, the venerable ice cream haven. An earnest discussion began. Might we venture a biking trip to Europe?

And -- heaven forbid -- have a few fine ales in the process?

The planning began. We booked hotels at three beer-oriented urban venues in Belgium, along with rental bikes for day trips radiating from each stop. Faxes (!) and e-mails were sent, and the itinerary came into shape. As the calendar turned to June, 2000, there were five of us ready to make the journey, and it proved to be a classic.

A beercycling group was born, and my European travel instincts were reborn. During all my previous journeys to the continent, I'd been dodging bicyclists while walking between train stations, never stopping to consider how much fun it might be to ride myself.

Correction: Actually, never stopping to consider that I could do it. Kevin patiently taught me the art of the possible on two wheels.

The 2000 trip proved to be the first of seven European bicycling adventures in nine years, with the last occurring in 2008. Kevin was with me for four of the seven, and without his guidance, I'd have lacked the confidence to "lead" the other ones, although in fact all these trips were genuine group efforts.

By 2003, I was able to take my bike apart and reassemble it, pack it in a hard shell case, ride it all the way from Frankfurt to Vienna (meeting friends along the way), and get the bike and me back home without incident after a month on the road.

As a humanities major with almost no technical aptitude, I've never been more proud of myself, and eternally grateful to Kevin for showing me how. He and I wrote, orchestrated and performed those beercycling trips together, and while the cast revolved, each time out we functioned as a band of brothers (and on a couple of occasions, sisters).

Last spring, standing in his usual nook position at the pub, Kevin began prodding me in his gentle but firm manner.

Had I been riding?

Was I going to?

What was my problem, anyway?

One day, Kevin notched it up. We needed to get the band together again, and start planning a trip. It might be a simple reunion, or perhaps even a finale, but we needed to do it soon, before we got too old. The chat lasted an hour, and I went right home and told Diana it was inevitable; there'd be another ride somewhere in Europe in 2017.

Alas, if there is one, Kevin won't be there. The cosmos had a different sort of ride planned for him. At this precise moment, I don't know what any of it means, except that my thoughts turn to past triumphs.

This story of Belgian beercycling in the year 2000 was first written for the old FOSSILS newsletter, circa 2001. With a few revisions, expansions and contractions, it was posted to Potable Curmudgeon in 2007, and later to NA Confidential. This time around, I'm scanning the photos for added spice, and will be reposting the series from October 24 through November 1.

My "After the Fire" weekly columns of October 24 and 31 are supplanted.

Next: A beer orientation in Brussels, and our arrival in Tournai.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Iraq, Prohibition, and how religion interferes with the proper enjoyment of life.

Nice beer name. Photo credit here.

If "god" created everything and fermentation is a natural process ...

Iraq's parliament passes law banning alcohol (Associated Press)

Surprise move has angered many in the country’s Christian community who rely on the business

Iraq’s parliament has passed a law forbidding the import, production or selling of alcoholic beverages in a surprise move that angered many in the country’s Christian community who rely on the business.

The law, passed late on Saturday night, imposes a fine of up to 25m Iraqi dinars (£17,000) for anyone violating the ban. But it’s unclear how strictly the law would be enforced, and it could be struck down by the supreme court.

Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol, but it has always been available in Iraq’s larger cities, mainly from shops run by Christians. Those shops are currently closed because of the Shia holy month of Muharram.


Saturday, October 22, 2016

And now for something completely different: St. Benedict’s Brew Works beer and brewing retreat at the Sisters of St. Benedict in Ferdinand, Indiana.

Not only is this one of Indiana's most unique breweries. Surely it ranks high on the national list.

Located at 860 E. 10th St. in the Benedictine Sisters’ former art studio, St. Benedict’s Brew Works is believed to be the only U.S. craft brewery on the grounds of a women’s religious community.

But there's even more.


Beer-brewing retreat Nov. 11-13

Sisters of St. Benedict of Ferdinand will offer a retreat, “Brewing with the Spirit: A Monastic Craft Beer Experience,” from November 11-13 at St. Benedict’s Brew Works, a craft brewery on the grounds of Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand, Indiana.

Brewery owners Vince Luecke and Andy Hedinger will share the history of beer and spiritual reflections on Gospel parables about grain, earth, yeast, and water. Participants will sample beers, learn beer terminology, and make craft beer.

The retreat begins at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time on Friday, November 11, and ends at 2 p.m. on Sunday, November 13. The first evening will be a social and a discussion of beer styles for the second day, which will be the actual brewing of the beer. The first night is optional.

The cost of the retreat is $320, including meals, abundant beer sampling, and two nights’ lodging at Kordes Retreat Center. The cost for one night is $270. Commuter cost is $200. The size of the retreat is limited to 12 people. Two other retreats are scheduled, from February 24-26, and March 3-5.

Register by calling 812-367-1411, ext. 2915, by visiting, or by sending an email to For more information on the retreat, contact Vince Luecke at 812-719-2301 or email

Luecke has a master’s degree in Catholic Thought and Life from Saint Meinrad School of Theology. He is the editor of two newspapers. Hedinger holds a law degree from Indiana University Mauer School of Law. He practices law full time and also owns and operates Monkey Hollow Winery and Distillery near St. Meinrad.


Friday, October 21, 2016

My suggestion to Stone is Pogo: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

"Quotes for Stone Berlin."

On October 9, I received this e-mail from Greg Koch, founder of Stone Brewing Company and a great favorite of mine. Has it really been nine years since Greg visited the Public House?

Hello Friends!

I would like to ask you for your quotes!

I need two types….

#1 – I am looking for philosophical quotes that relate to beer, ethics, and your personal philosophies. We are writing these quotes in various places at Stone Berlin. You can see an attached example from our friend Sam Calagione. I am open to both quotes that you have coined, as well as quotes from (other) famous people. If you give me a quote in German or other language, please translate it into English for me (although we’ll write it in its original language).

#2 – Many of you have already had a chance to visit Stone Berlin. I would love a quote from you of your experience, what you thought of the project, how you’d describe it to other people, or just an out-and-out testimonial. Anything you’d feel comfortable sharing would be appreciated!

So many of you have made a special trip to Stone Berlin already, or have one planned in the future. We appreciate your friendship!



A few days later, the Interwebz began chatting about layoffs at Stone California, and after a week, this story appeared of October 21.

Stone Brewing lays off about 5% of its workers
, by Peter Rowe (LA Times)

Stone Brewing Co. announced this week that it has cut “approximately 5%” — about 60 — of its 1,200 employees, a sign of the growing pressures on craft beer.

Dominic Engels, who in August succeeded co-founder Greg Koch as chief executive of the Escondido, Calif., company, was not available for comment Thursday. But in a statement he said that despite these layoffs, “Stone remains one of the largest — if not the largest — employers in the craft brewing segment.”

Yet Stone is caught between global conglomerates and small independent operations. There are now 4,800 breweries in the country, including 130 in San Diego County, both historic highs.

Consolidation is also rattling the industry. Last year, New York-based Constellation Brands bought San Diego’s Ballast Point for $1 billion, and MillerCoors acquired another San Diego brewery, Saint Archer, for an undisclosed sum ...

I'd take a stab at telling you how I feel about it, but that's the point: I don't feel anything at all.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

"Against the Grain and Dauntless Distributing Announce Shelton Brothers’ Festival Events."

This press release is presented verbatim. If you're attending the Friday and/or Saturday evening sessions of The Festival, say hi, because I've volunteered to work both.


Against the Grain and Dauntless Distributing Announce Shelton Brothers’ Festival Events

2011 marked the beginning of a partnership unlike any other in the beer industry. Kentucky’s most unique craft beer distributor, Dauntless Distributing, and Louisville’s first brewer owned and operated brewery,Against the Grain, opened for business and joined together to help in the expansion and evolution of the bluegrass beer scene.

Watch our video here. <---- font="">

That same year, world-renowned beer importer, Shelton Brothers, held their first beer festival. The Festival, as it’s simply named, is the world’s greatest and smallest artisanal beer, cider, and mead festival.

The 5th annual Shelton Brothers’ festival will be held in Louisville October 28-29. This coincidence has made it possible for Dauntless and Against the Grain to highlight their unique five-year friendship and ability to host the world’s greatest beer festival. Together they’ve planned a host events leading up to the fest and a plethora of after parties during the weekend. They also brewed a beer with Mayor Greg Fischer to welcome brewers and attendees from around the world coming to Louisville for The Festival. The beer is a pale ale brewed with pineapple, as a symbol of welcome.

Shelton Brothers' Festival Events 

For more information surrounding The Festival events please reach out to Kayla Phelps

For questions about events at Against the Grain please contact Katie Molck at

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Piss off, Spike: Trojan Terrapin's baseball-themed "brew lab" is just another multi-national concept, isn't it?

There's the intended "craft" imagery, whether the exact word is used or not:

Brewery goes to bat with the Atlanta Braves (CNBC)

Terrapin Beer Company is stepping up to the plate.

The Athens, Georgia-based brewery is opening a taproom and "brew lab" adjacent to SunTrust Park, the new home of Major League Baseball's Atlanta Braves, which will open next season.

"To have the Braves behind us with their branding and their fan base, I'm very excited," said Brian "Spike" Buckowski, Terrapin's co-founder and vice president of brewing ...

Then there's what it's really about:

... The deal is part of a multiyear partnership between the Atlanta Braves and MillerCoors (NYSE: TAP), whose Tenth and Blake craft division purchased a full ownership in Terrapin in July after owning a minority stake since 2012. Terrapin produced 57,000 barrels of beer last year, up nearly 25 percent from 2014.

MillerCoors is no stranger to the brewery connected to a baseball stadium concept.

Another Tenth and Blake brand, Blue Moon Brewing Company, has operated The Sandlot Brewery inside Denver's Coors Field since 1995.

It's bad enough that SunTrust Park is a paean to suburban sprawl. Now it gets to be a shrine for mockrobrews, too.