We’ve been very quiet the past few weeks as we have been fully devoted to the project: trying to get the builders organised, ensuring the brewery equipment is on schedule, trying to get the site lease signed (it’s perpetually “two weeks away” it seems!). We’ve also gone through a heap of CVs and had plenty of interviews: we have finally started hiring a few staff which is exciting – soon we will have a few people join in the fun.
The featured image for this story was taken at Brussels Central Station, and remains one of my favourite photos from our travels. It kind of sums up our fascination with Belgium, which I am confident has been the scene of many a beer epiphany. Probably the scene of many a hangover as well for Belgian beer novices (and likewise many a Belgian beer veteran). We have interviewed many people the past couple of months, and we always ask the same question: “what was your beer epiphany”. We found the answers so diverse that we in turn were inspired to write this blog.
We took a trip through Europe back in 2005 which included a brief stop in Brussels. Although I had read plentyabout Belgian beers in prior years, I never actually quite “got it”, until this trip. The selection of beers everywhere was quite eye opening (especially when coming from Australia at that point in time) all with a certain special character – unsure if it is was history, the drinking setting and glassware, the spicy, phenolic, estery flavours, or simply everything combined (probably) – but whatever it was, I was finally enamoured with the world of Belgian brewing.
Fast-forward a year or so to Oct 2006. At this time I briefly left Little Creatures to have a go working for a slightly larger brewer based in Leuven (a beautiful town, and highly recommended if you are visiting Belgium…). I guess you can figure out who the brewer was. In the end I figured out that I took the job based on it being in Belgium rather than being something I was passionate about. It didn’t last long as I soon realised I love working in smaller companies, but what did last was my realisation that beer could be so much more. Enter epiphany no. 1.
Sometime in early 2007 I went with a workmate to one of the cafes that always ended up on the Saturday afternoon drinking circuit: Taverne Greenwich, which is somewhere in the St Gery area of Brussels. It is the kind of place where old locals went to drink, play chess and catch up on the day’s news. For those who find themselves in Brussels it is worth a look.
Upon arrival I quickly scanned the list and zoomed in on Rochefort 8. The order was placed and it quickly arrived (cellar temperature mind) with the requisite Trappistes Rochefort glassware. I poured this dark, ominous brew and was perplexed in what I found: a beer that was hoppy without being overtly hoppy, a beer that had a wonderful malt character without being sweet, a beer that whilst being very strong (9.2%) had such a light body it was actually sessionable (provided a session is comprised of only 2-3 beers, unless you possess some form of superhuman strength). I remember sitting in amazement as I drank that beer; it showed me that beer can be amazingly complex yet simple at the same time. I have been lucky enough to visit a few classic Belgian breweries (Westmalle, Cantillon, Duvel, Brabandere) and can’t wait to have to a chance to visit more in the coming years.
Epiphany no. 2 would come during a trip to Tettnang in Germany. I visited Tettnang in September 2014 for the hop harvest which was an amazing experience. What was really interesting was that the entire region seemed to pull together as a community during harvest to celebrate all things hops and beer; it showed that beer can really bring people together.
In Tettnang I stayed at a small guest house at the Kronen Brauerei (great traditional hotel if you are ever in town). It was an authentic German experience with the street in front of the hotel full of people enjoying beer in the evenings, complete with oompah band. There was even a road sign warning drivers of the dangers that lurked in the area.
Whilst I waited for my schnitzel I decided to have a beer – it would be a crime for a brewer to be sitting in Germany, listening to an oompah band to not have one. So I ordered the Keller Pils which was produced at the adjoining brewery, not more than 50metres away.
And so I experienced my second beer epiphany. I was already fascinated by lager production and all that goes with it, but this beer showed me that the most simple of beers – one malt combined with only one or two hops – can actually be complex and extremely satisfying. The people around me were also enjoying this dry, unfiltered, hoppy beer, with the wonderful bright foam on top, and for them it was normal. I just wondered why it couldn’t be normal to drink lager like this in the UK (or most of the world for that matter).
People have asked us what we intend on making at Lost and Grounded Brewers: if you read this and were to assume that we will make some German-inspired lager beer and Belgian-style beers you would not be too far from the truth (and this is a big reason why we chose the Brewhouse we did, so we could do step mashes and decoctions if needed). Of course it doesn’t mean that is all we will make, we are brewers and love all manner of beer, and would love to knock out a DIPA every now and then! For me personally I am excited by the challenge of not repeating history, but rather trying to make new beers which I have seldom been involved in brewing such as Saisons, Tripels, Bocks, etc. It is not about trying to imitate these great beers, but rather to take influence from these styles to create something new. This approach will also flow through to our branding which draws influence from the illustrative style of some classic Belgian beer art, delivered with an ultra modern twist. Thinking back to homebrewing in our kitchen in Melbourne in 2001: if someone were to tell me that one day we would be building a brewery in the West Country to focus on lager and Belgian speciality beer, I would have thought they were crazy. Be careful what you wish for!