Trophy Brewing’s Les Stewart describes his style as “Belgian-American fusion.”
It’s evident in one of the Raleigh nanobrewery’s flagships, Best in Show, an “American saison” with a Belgian farmhouse ale body and citrus hop aroma.
To further steep himself in Belgian beers, Stewart traveled with Trophy’s chef Dave Mitchell and owners Chris Powers and David “Woody” Lockwood to Belgium and France in mid-February.
In a recent interview, Stewart talked about the trip and how it will influence his brewing. Here’s an edited transcript:
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Q: How did the trip originate?
A: It was really Chris and Woody’s idea. They really wanted to bring myself and our chef over and visit a section of Belgium that will show us some beer styles you don’t typically see in the U.S. This was a new experience – the first time I’ve ever jumped the pond. Of course, I’ve read a lot about Belgium, mostly in the context of beer, but never had the opportunity to go.
Q: What makes Belgium so special in the beer world?
A: They are such independent thinkers. You look at Germany and you look at Britain (where beers fit traditional styles) but Belgium doesn’t even like to classify their beer styles. It’s a Wild West kind of atmosphere. You can bring in tart cherries, you can use lavender and bizarre ingredients and nobody blinks an eye at it. It’s their tradition.
Q: What did you see there that you will bring back to Trophy?
A: A lot of it is just mind-opening – what beer is and what you can use in it and the way you can ferment with multiple strains of yeast are things I can embrace now. Honestly, some of the best stuff I walked away with is what I see for the vision of our brewery in the future: how we design it to be as flexible as we can.
Q: How do the American and Belgian beer scenes compare?
A: In some ways, I think the American spirit mimics some of the Belgian spirit across hundreds of years, in the sense that we’re adventurous and don’t hold anything sacred. They have always defined their brewing traditions against the German styles; perhaps that’s even what the American craft beer industry is doing against the American macros (such as Coors Light). This is our chance to really open up and be something different, and in a way that’s what Belgium’s been doing for hundreds of years.
Q: Did you get to talk to fellow brewers in Belgium?
A: At Oud Beersel, we got to talk in a very open and deep way with the brewers and the owners. When you are talking beer, the language barrier that would otherwise exist kind of falls away because you understand each other’s context when you’re talking, so it’s really easy to communicate.”
What I’m tasting
Just in time for the warm weather, Mother Earth’s award-winning pilsener is now on bottle shop shelves in 12-ounce cans. The Kinston brewery won a bronze at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival, now named Park Day.
It tastes like the weather with a bready, light fruity taste that finishes spritzy clean. And at 4.8 percent, it’s built for a long sunny day outdoors.