It’s been a little bit since we offered an update as we’ve been hard at work on our historic 25th anniversary Altbier Collaboration Ale. The great news is it’s actually here!
This picture shows the beautiful cans coming off the line a couple weeks ago:
And here’s one of the proud ladies on the line as they watched their hard work make the rounds:
Visitors to the brewery, the Beer Academy in Toronto, and the Toronto Festival of Beer a couple weekends back, were the first to sample our first ale. Now, Ontario, we’ve started shipping to the LCBO and a few select venues throughout town. Make sure you track it down because once it’s gone it’s gone! And make sure to drop by Facebook and let us know what you think!
So it’s been a few weeks that we have been back now, but our work on bringing the Altbier to fruition hasn’t slowed at all. We’ve spent a fair amount of time with the yeast samples we brought back with us. It took a couple of weeks of growing, plating, re-growing, and re-plating, but we finally got it to the point last Tuesday where we had a sufficient yeast population grown up to go ahead with a pilot brew.
We like to use our pilot brews as opportunities to teach people from other departments a little more about the brewing process in the hopes that they can then pass knowledge on to others as they continue to work as beer ambassadors with their customers and friends.
One of the great things about Altbier is the quick turn around time in the fermenter. We got busy as soon as our first batch of yeast was ready to make sure we had another ready to go yesterday. The week of fermentation time also allowed us to get a pretty good idea of how the first brew is turning out sober could make a few tweaks and push another one through the pilot brewery today.
Despite everything I said about our plans for today, it turned out to be much more adventuresome that was previously believed. We were up at a good hour to make our way to Timmermans. What an interesting tour. Our guide was an 80-year Scottish fellow named Bertie who had worked many years in sales for Timmermans and now runs tours in his spare time. Very knowledgeable fellow. The brewing equipment there was very similar to what we had seen at the other Lambic breweries. century old mash tun, large copper cool ship, and wooden barrels everywhere.
After Timmermans, despite our original plan of enjoying a quiet afternoon, we made a nice drive through some country villages to visit Lindemans. As our arrival was unannounced, there was no one around to show us through, but at least we got to say we’ve been there. A similar visit followed that to another Lambic brewery called Boon’s. There we couldn’t get in because the whole building was under construction. In the picture below you can see the shell of the expansion on the top left. As we walked around the building on the surrounding road we came across a newly installed brewhouse that had the vessels in place, although there were no piping connections made as of yet.
We decided at that point that we were thirsty so we stopped in at one of the small cafes that we passed on the way to Boons, in the town centre of Lembeek. There we were able to sample some Oude Geuze as well as Marriage Parfait Kriek, both from Boons. The bartender was also kind enough to give us the name of a small shop in the next town that carried a wide selection of Lambic products. We were hoping to pick up a couple of bottles to bring back to Creemore and share with some of the brewers. It turned out to be quite difficult to make a selection. I can’t wait for the day when the LCBO in Ontario can offer a selection like this in a single style that isn’t pale lager.
That’s it from Belgium. We leave here tomorrow at 9AM to arrive in Toronto at 3PM. Add 6 hours for time difference, and I think we’ll both be ready for bed long before we actually get back to Creemore.
We’ll keep everyone updated as our work progresses in Creemore in the development of our own Altbier and look for it late this summer as we prepare to celebrate the Creemore Springs 25th Anniversary this August. It should make for a Copper Kettle Festival to remember.
It was an early morning today to get back to Zum Schlüssel in time to watch them skimming the yeast from the beer we helped brew on Monday. We arrived at the brewery at 6AM to find that they had already skimmed, transferred, and cleaned the first fermenting tub, which was to be re-filled later that day, and they were already collecting yeast from the second. I didn’t even want to ask what time they had to start this morning.
We then said our good-byes and hit the road to begin our return trip to Brussels. First stop on the way back was the Sint Jozef brewery in Bree-Opitter. Our visit there was unannounced, so our host ended up being a sales representative (we later found out he was their only sales rep). Although we didn’t get to tour the brewery itself we had an interesting discussion about the local beer market. Quite a revelation for us that they can sell as much beer in a 20km radius around the brewery as we sell across 3 provinces.
We left there and headed to the De Troch brewery in Wambeek. This is another Lambic brewery with a centuries old tradition, and the equipment to match. While the equipment was reminiscent of our visit to Cantillon, the layout was much more scenic. A gate led to a small court closed in on 3 sides by buildings, and the fourth by a wall. One building housed offices, one the brewery, and the last the packaging equipment. The brewer, Pauwel, was busy with the bottling line when we arrived, so his father, Jozef, took us on a quick tour. The brewing equipment I could only describe as archaic. It was no surprise when Pauwel told us a typical brew day would run from 6AM until 8PM, but there’s something about a 4 hour boil in two kettles that are heated with coal that indicates they don’t do anything the easy way.
After the tour we sat down and tasted some Gueuze with Jozef and Pauwel. In the tasting room, we noticed something on the wall that brought a smile to Jozef’s face. It was a picture of Jozef and famed beer writer Michael Jackson, at the De Troch brewery. There really was no stone Mr. Jackson left unturned in his lifelong search for great beers.
We decided that after a long few days in Düsseldorf and a very early morning today, that we were taking a vacation from our trip. Tomorrow is an early morning at our last brewery visit of the trip, Timmerman’s in Genval. This is another Lambic brewery, but one with slightly more financial backing, so it will be interesting to see what we find there in comparison to De Troch and Cantillon.
We got in to Zum Schlüssel a little later this morning, and headed straight down to the cellar to check out the beer we helped brew yesterday. We were greeted by the fabulous sight of the beer in high krausen—thick foam with rocky meringue-like peaks.The yeast was fermenting so vigorously that the foam was literally overflowing the tub, and the aroma it produced was intoxicating in itself.
We were then given a quick overview of the filtration and cask filling operations (with the obligatory quality control sampling). It’s amazing how the guys can move those 100 litre casks, each one weighing in around 140kg. Hard to believe they can go through one of those in 17 minutes on a busy night. And they say 17 because that’s as fast as they will empty with the tap wide open, literally filling glass after glass.
We then enjoyed a nice lunch with Karl-Heinz Gatzweiler, owner of the Zum Schlüssel, and the third generation of the Gatzweiler family to control the brewery. Mr Gatzweiler, as well as Dirk Rouenhoff, the brewmaster, were full of questions about Canada. It sounds like they are pretty excited to visit us in Creemore this coming August to help celebrate our 25th anniversary.
After lunch Dirk and Gord went over some of the fine print for this collaborative effort and were able to seal the deal as only brewers could—with a beer and a handshake.
We’re looking forward to a nice dinner out tonight with Dirk, who has promised to show us to one of the hidden gems of the Altstadt. Sure to be a wonderful experience.
Bright and early back at the brewery tomorrow to see yeast being cropped off the top of the open fermenter, and then back to Belgium in the afternoon.
What an early morning. After a long adventure in Köln yesterday, we were asked to arrive at Zum Schlüssel for 7AM this morning (first brew mashed in at 5AM, so they were being kind).
We spent a good portion of the morning with Dirk, the brewmaster at Zum Schlüssel, who explained a great deal to us about the Altbier market place in Düsseldorf, Altbier in general, as well as his brewery.
Eventually Dirk’s other work commitments required some of his attention, and that’s when the real fun started. That’s when he left us in the good hands of the two working brewers of the day.
These guys were fantastic in that they were able to show us the practicality of everything Dirk explained in theory. Every brewer knows there is theoretical knowledge that can take you so far, but at some point you are required to get in to the nitty-gritty and work with things like steam pressures, yeast brinks, spent grains, and malt cleaners to really understand how beer is made. That’s what these guys provided us in a well-worn, undateable, lopsided brew kit. Tomorrow I hope to get a little bit closer and be the one inside the lauter tun cleaning it between brews.
The fermenting ritual at Zum Schlüssel is like nothing Gord or I have ever seen or read about at any point in our long and storied careers [34 years combined (mostly Gord because I’m much younger, but not wiser)]. They brew 2 brews in one day, let them ferment overnight, then split them the next morning and top both up. It goes against all good reason in my brewing education that they wait 1 day (~16 hours) to add fresh wort to an already fermenting brew, with fresh oxygen, but that’s what they do, and without question it works, as far as our taste buds are concerned.
We came to Düsseldorf on a quest for the key (schlüssel, by the way, is German for key) to a perfect Alt, and we got a lot more than we bargained for.
For our 25th anniversary the brewers here at Creemore Springs are heading to Düsseldorf, Germany to meet with Hausbrauerei Zum Schlüssel, one of the original altbier breweries in the world. In partnership with Schlüssel we will brew an anniversary altbier for Creemore Springs fans. This is the story of our collaboration.