New Belgium and Hof Ten Dormaal Collaborate for ‘Lips of Faith’ Series
Two Americans hunker down at the side of a bush on a Belgian farm to pick wild stinging nettles and collect them in a large red gardening bucket. “These are our new farm workers,” says Jef Janssens, brewer at the Hof Ten Dormaal farmhouse brewery in Tildonk. “Look how hard they work.”
The Americans are Research and Development Brewer Cody Reif and Wood Cellar Manager Lauren Salazar, both of New Belgium Brewing Company. New Belgium – the producers of Fat Tire Amber Ale – are based in Fort Collins, Colorado and are the fifth largest craft brewery in the United States. Cody and Lauren are carefully gathering ingredients for a collaboration beer they’re brewing today with Hof Ten Dormaal.
The beer – referred to jokingly throughout the day as ‘Heavy Nettle’ – will be a golden ale of 6% ABV using roughly two thirds of pils malt and one third of spelt. A generous addition of freshly picked nettles from the Hof Ten Dormaal farm is added towards the end of the boil. “Feel the sting,” says Jef. “I think that’s a good tag line for the beer.”
NEW BELGIUM BREWING COMPANY
It’s Lauren’s third time at the farm. She discovered it on a visit a number of years ago with a friend and felt an immediate connection with the products, the place and the people. “I met the whole family two years ago when I was here visiting their brewery and I stayed in touch”, says Lauren. “I find that the Janssens family is one of the most genuine, kind and gracious families I have met in a long time.”
Her second visit came while she was pouring beers at the Leuven Innovation Beer Festival on behalf of New Belgium last year. It’s a festival organised by Hof Ten Dormaal to promote innovation in beer which will take place again this year on Sunday 15 and Monday 16 May in the historic brewhouse of Stella Artois at De Hoorn.
The festival was organised just 6 months after Hof Ten Dormaal suffered a fire and their entire bottling line, conditioning rooms and most of their stock were burnt to the ground. “We were thinking about doing a festival for quite some time, but never in concrete ways,” says Jef. “Right after the fire at our place, we felt let’s just do it. Now the time is right. We’ve got quite a lot of attention. We want to do something unique in Belgium.
HOF TEN DORMAAL
The Janssens family travelled to Colorado last year to take part in ‘Lips of Faith’, New Belgium’s collaboration series featuring playful and esoteric beers with brewers from different parts of America and around the world. “The beer we brewed in Colorado with Hof Ten Dormaal was a homage to their farming tradition,” says Cody. “It’s such a huge part of their culture and who they are as brewers.”
On that occasion, they brewed a ‘Springtime Golden Ale’ together, using an ingredient used frequently by Hof Ten Dormaal – spelt – and sunflower seeds which had been malted by the local Colorado Malting Company.
“Hof Ten Dormaal sent their yeast over to us from Belgium to use in that beer,” says Cody. “We propagated it up here. It’s honestly the most gorgeous Belgian yeast strain I’ve ever worked with. It’s a beautiful blend of apples, pears and bananas; delicate soft fruit with just the perfect amount of spice to it.”
They’re using the Hof Ten Dormaal yeast again for ‘Heavy Nettle’ on what is Lauren’s third visit. They’re also using Magnum hops which are grown on the Hof Ten Dormaal farm. “Because they’re from our farm, we’re not exactly sure of the alpha acid values,” says Jef. “But we’ve made a calculated guess and we’re sure the balance will be just right.”
Most famously used in soups and supposedly rich in vitamin C and iron, nobody taking part in the brew is quite sure what the nettles will add to the beer.
They’re using them at the perfect time, however, with the freshest, young nettle plants sprouting in March and April (later in the year, they’re said to become coarser).
As Lauren grinds the nettles in preparation for their deployment in the boil, aromas of basil and mint are released, and there are suggestions that they might deliver the ‘green’ flavours of spinach, cabbage and broccoli. Nobody knows about the tingly sting.
LIPS OF FAITH
The New Belgium collaboration with Hof Ten Dormaal was Lauren’s pick. She also chose a collaboration with Oud Beersel as part of this series, a lambic brewery located in the Pajottenland with whom Lauren and New Belgium share a long relationship. “I remember going there years ago,” she says. “It’s been great watching their family grow up and it’s been great watching the growth of their brewery too.”
The collaboration with Oud Beersel is part of the ongoing Transatlantic Kriek project which began with Frank Boon in 2003. They’re using Oud Beersel’s spontaneously fermented cherry beer as a base, and blending in 25% of New Belgium’s ‘Felix’ foeder beer and 25% of their golden lager.
This year’s ‘Lips of Faith’ series also includes a beer brewed in collaboration with Anne-Françoise Pypaert, the Head Brewer at Orval. That one is a spiced dark strong ale of 9.5% ABV featuring the flavours of spruce tips, medium-toasted American oak and grains of paradise.
NEW BREWING SYSTEM
‘Heavy Nettle’ is the last beer ever to be brewed on the current Hof Ten Dormaal system. Next week their tanks are being shipped to South East Asia where a Belgian brewer will begin a brewing venture of his own in Vietnam. Hof Ten Dormaal’s new installation will be arriving later in the summer and they’ll be setting it up it in the larger space where the fire once destroyed the farm roof.
The new brewery is bigger. Hof Ten Dormaal will be able to brew 3,500 litres per batch as opposed to their current capacity of 1,200 litres. Just think about how many more nettles they’ll have to grow on the farm.