by Daniel Neuner
The influence of Philadelphia’s beer community extends beyond North America. Trappist beers, saisons, and lambics remain in America due in part to the decades of hard work of beer goliaths and organizations from Philly. So when Tom Peters of Monk’s Café, and a group of representatives from Philly travel to Belgium each year, the group is welcomed with open arms into some of the most cloistered breweries. Besides sharing bottles of 1996 Cantillon Gueuze with Jean Van Roy or full glasses of Petite Orval with Francois de Harenne, the highlight of these annual trips is the Philly Beer Week collaboration brew day. And since its inception, Philly Beer Week has raffled off the chance to brew to one lucky person and the brewer of his/her choice. Somehow, that lucky person was me.
For the collaboration, Tom reached out to Wendy Littlefield and Don Feinberg—owners of Vanberg & DeWulf Importers (two figureheads of Belgian beer in the United States)—asking them if they would be interested in working with Philly Beer Week by recommending a brewer for this year’s collaboration beer. Wendy and Don’s approbation of brewer Anne-Catherine Dilewyns convinced Tom and others of the incredible brewing prowess of Brouwerij Dilewyns. In the words of Wendy Littlefield, “Anne-Catherine is one of the leading lights (and the youngest) in the Belgian [craft brewing] renaissance.”
Anne-Catherine began her brewing tutelage under a homebrewing dentist. Vincent (Anne-Catherine’s father, and that dentist) began homebrewing in 1999, surrounding the young Anne-Catherine in the craft. But her brewing heritage goes all the way back to the 19th century, as Anne-Catherine’s great-great grandmother, Anna-Coletta Wauman, owned a brewery until WWII. Yet, Anne-Catherine has broken through into the predominately male brewing industry because of her reinterpretation of the traditional family brewing operations. Anne-Catherine continues to brew the same quality recipes her father concocted 15 years prior, but at only 26-years-old she has already
revolutionized the family business through her innovative, entrepreneurial drive. Here is a window into their world:
Thursday, February 13th, began as a typical workday for the Dilewyn brewery in Dendermonde. Wake up early, start early, finish brewing more than ten hours later. When we arrived at the brewery, we were greeted with warmth by the entire Dilewyn family. The Dilewyns were genuinely humble about their beer and their business, never flaunting the ultra-modernistic space that they have created to perfect their brewing method.
From the exterior, Brouwerij Dilewyns is a square, utilitarian, art nouveau-esque concrete monolith. Not surprisingly, the building was once home to a Harley Davidson Motorcycle dealership, and visually, the architectural re-appropriation as a traditional Belgian brewery works. The brewery’s 25 hectoliter kettles along with the four 80 hectoliter, 40 feet high fermenters are displayed magnificently through a continuous row of two story high windows, showcasing the mechanical beauty of the stainless steel. During the brew day, a gentle steam fogged the windows, enhancing the allure of the activities inside.
Inside, an omnipresent but subtle buzz of activity permeates; typifying the efficiency of the Dilewyns’ brewing process. A young man quietly darts through the spotless concrete and stainless steel room. The brewery is immaculately organized and bathed in natural light, which makes it easy for Ludwig (Anne-Catherine’s assistant brewer) to navigate seamlessly through each step of the brewing process. Brouwerij Dilewyns at work is a visual spectacle. Each piece of the Italian-made brew house is equipped with a porthole and a spotlight to watch each step of the process without having to open the kettle door. The brew house is also equipped with touch screen color LCD monitor stations with graphics of the kettles depicting water level and numerous other important chemical and mechanical measurements: this interface is reminiscent of something you would only see inside a post-cold war era submarine. For the most optical engagement, a floor to almost-ceiling steel spiral staircase sits in the middle of the brewery. Though meant for access to the catwalk at the top of the fermenters, the staircase provides a bird’s eye view of the whole brewing process. And it is a stunning ritual.
Dilewyns follows a standard step mashing process. Roughly speaking, this involves a protein conversion followed by additional water additions at gradual temperature increases, and finishing with the mash out at 70-75 degrees Celsius (158-167 F). Dilewyns also utilizes supplemental advanced modern technologies—which includes an automatic spent grain removal system and a conveyer-belted bottling line—to fine tune their technique. At the end of the day, it seems neither a speck of grain touches the ground, nor an ounce of beer comes in contact with the open air. Due to this, their quality control remains extremely consistent from brew to brew.
So What Did We Brew?
Philly Tripel is a wonderful take on a traditional Belgian Tripel. Based off of Vicaris Tripel—an ale with complex phenolic flavors and a balanced amount of banana-like esters—we added a cocktail of fragile but flavorful Belgian honeys and paired it with pungent, appetizingly aromatic local Pennsylvania honey. The Pennsylvania honey complements the tripel’s noble hop varieties and, when added at whirlpool, it provided the complex sugars for a rigorous fermentation and an even higher ABV. After fermentation, this beer was naturally carbonated and then it made the journey across the Atlantic (in both 11.2 ounce bottled format and the kegged formats).