Beer is in Joran Van Ginderacther's blood. After graduating from brewing school in his native Belgium, the 26-year-old brewer interned for New Belgium in Fort Collins, Colo., the third largest craft brewery in the United States, and where his uncle, Peter Bouckaert, serves as brewmaster. In the four years since, he's worked and interacted with various Belgian beer makers, learning more about the trade he loves. In 2011, he started his own project with a couple college buddies, Brouwers Verzet, a small-but-critically acclaimed brewery in Belgium. Once his visa is approved later this summer, Van Ginderacther will move Stateside to become head brewer at Decatur's forthcoming Three Taverns Brewery. Why Georgia? As the story goes, Bouckaert and Three Taverns' president and CEO, Brian Purcell, crossed paths last year at the Fred in Sandy Springs. Purcell happened to be in the market for a Belgian brewer, someone to head up his brewery and produce the recipes he's been working on for years. Bouckaert's up-and-coming nephew was a natural fit.
During a recent visit to Georgia, just a few weeks out from Three Taverns' July 19 launch, Creative Loafing sat down with Van Ginderachter to discuss his life growing up in Belgium, beer-making, and his future adventures in the Peach State.
Describe your first beer experience.
My first was probably when I took a sip of my father's beer, but I don't remember that anymore. What I do remember is when I was 15 years old at summer camp for Boy Scouts. We would bike to the campground, which was a two-day bike ride, and after a day of biking, we were allowed to drink a beer. I think we all ordered Hoegaarden. That was the first one I can remember. I started drinking pilsner and Hoegaarden then, and then came the specialty beers.
How did you get interested in the business of making beer?
When I was younger, we were visiting my uncle when he opened [New Belgium]. But I was still small, I didn't even drink beer then. We didn't have as much contact with him then when he lived in the States. But at the end of high school, I was writing a paper about gueuze and lambic beers. We had to write a paper to graduate from high school. So I contacted him to see if he knew anyone I could go talk to. He put me in contact with Frank Boon [of the noted Boon Brewery in Lembeek, Belgium]. I visited the brewery, we talked about beers, and I was there for a whole day. I was sold.
How did Brouwers Verzet come to exist?
Here [in the United States], people go from homebrewing to professional brewing; we went from professional brewing to homebrewing. It was interesting, with our backgrounds, to get an insight into homebrewing and understand things better. It was very helpful for us, working in bigger breweries, because you sometimes just press buttons. You start to learn more about the process, get into more detail.
Translated, Brouwers Verzet means "brewing resistance." We called it that because we wanted to do something else. During the week, we worked in our breweries where we followed recipes. We never did something crazy. So on the weekend, we got together and experimented. The word "verzet" can also be interpreted as "doing something else." Getting away from normal and doing what you like to do.
What made you decide to relocate to the States?
Because I worked here at New Belgium, and I liked it a lot. Working in a U.S. brewery is different. It's kind of how we did Brouwers Verzet. It's experimenting more. Because Belgian brewing is more of a tradition. There are changes, but they are minimal, to improve taste. But the traditional breweries I worked at, we didn't go experimenting with American hops. And that's the thing I'd like to do. We did that with Verzet, but I have a feeling that over here it can grow even bigger. If you wanna be in the beer industry, you have to be in the USA at the moment, I think. There's so much interesting stuff happening here.
What kind of beers will you bring to Three Taverns?
Once we get off the ground here and everything runs OK, [sours are] something I'd like to experiment with. I'm not going to rush it — one or two years. Oud Bruins, and, of course, gueuze and lambic beers, those are my favorite. You can experiment with sours and make them for everybody, so everybody gets into them. And then you can make extreme sours. My most favorite beer is Orval. Its tradition, its craftsmanship, it's a brewery that only makes one beer. It's got Brett [yeast] in there. And it's low in alcohol. Very clean. Some stouts are like drinking coffee or eating an ashtray. I like some of them, but I think a good beer is well-balanced, and I think Orval is a good example of that.