The majority of “general” beer drinkers - nay even most enthusiastic independent/craft beer drinkers – may have no idea what or where Cantillon is. There is a small, but growing, group who knows of Cantillon, and may even have some idea about the magnanimous Jean Van Roy. Some will have heard stories of his family’s small, very old, lambic brewery in a rough neighborhood in Brussels, far away if not in distance then in culture, from the grandiosity and awe of the Grand Place. Even in Brussels, the home of Jean and Cantillon, most taxi drivers still have no idea how to find this magical place.
But for those lucky few who have had the pleasure of visiting, you know. You know the power and beauty of this brewery and these people. You have had the rarified and lovely experience of walking through the doors – and instantly, viscerally understanding the definition of the word “terroir”– where the wine (or - in this case - beer) is inextricably linked to the actual place where the beverage was created, through its distinct aromas and flavors. When you walk in to Cantillon, if you have ever enjoyed a glass of the beer made in this brewery, you know you are there. There is simply no mistaking it, and it is exceptional.
And then there are the people. Jean and his sister Julie are still there almost every day, and besides their actual jobs (brewing, aging, blending for Jean and business ops for Julie), they are busy speaking to visitors, pouring glasses from their tasting bar, selling and boxing up bottles by hand for guests to take away (on one visit, Jean grabbed an as-yet unlabeled bottle, and proceeded to label it on the fly for someone). He is the kind of guy that will carry your boxes of beer to your rental car in the snow, to be sure you (and the beer) make it safely. And the legacy continues: Jean’s son Florian is now in his apprenticeship here.
Jean has humbly shared stories of his family’s brewery struggling in years past, but he had nonetheless adhered to their century-long traditions, and has tenaciously maintained their brewing and blending techniques. He has spoken of this “new” sour beer renaissance, and how the demand for his beers has grown to a fever pitch. Even in the face of such demand, he stays staunchly, steadfastly certain in the beer he and his family have been making for a very, very long time. He laughs and shakes his head at the raucous beer fan, who crassly orders him via social media to “just make more beer!” in an effort to satiate demand. If these folks had even once been there, or had an honest appreciation for their timeless, classic techniques, they would know this is not as simple or as easy it might sound (recently they have, however, after more than a century in operation, acquired some more maturation space, but the growth in production will take years, as the beer still must age appropriately before blending).
Remember that terroir? If this brewery moves, you see, the beer will change. This is because much of the awesome Cantillon experience is related to the traditional “cool ship” technique of helping the wort get ready for fermentation– this is where the hot wort (pre-fermented beer) is pumped into a shallow, copper bath, a knee-deep swimming pool of sorts, and allowed to cool there gradually over night. As the steam rises from the wort, it engages the lumber, the roofing materials, everything in the building, as well as the outside air of this neighborhood in Brussels, initiating what is known as spontaneous fermentation. All the native organisms that can aid in fermentation (or that will contribute to the beer’s characteristics) are given an opportunity to inoculate the now-cool liquid, and they will do the hard work of converting sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This “wild” fermentation by both bacteria and yeast creates unusual and incredible flavor and aroma profiles – each one has some small piece of the brewery Cantillon within it. The beer is eventually placed into barrels where fermentation continues, gradually, and it is aged, and will later be blended, barrel-by-barrel, to achieve the precise flavor and aroma profiles that Jean is seeking. It is this exact process in this exact place that defines Cantillon, and thereby Jean and his family.
Even still, there is room to play – and this is where the Zwanze beer (and resulting celebration) comes in. This is so much more than just another beer event. In short, Zwanze Day is a celebration of friendship, in the context of this rare, carefully brewed, aged, and blended, beer. Each year, Jean formulates a unique beer and creates just enough for the chosen, curated Zwanze outlets all over the world, in an effort to bring people together, to celebrate friendship. We're sure there aren't enough occasions these days to stop, to make a toast, to take a day to celebrate beer and friendship - and the history and beauty of beer. Zwanze Day is one of the best days of the year for us.
We continue to be humbled and inspired by Jean, his family and that of Cantillon, and the history and legacy they champion; we are so grateful for the invitation extended to us to participate in Zwanze Day. We want nothing more than to honor his objective - a big part of that is conveying the importance and our delight in these essential roots and long standing traditions of beer, in Belgium and beyond. It is our hope to ensure they are understood and genuinely valued. In the current craft beer climate, both locally and globally, it feels like there is a diminishing camaraderie between young, innovative brewers and the more experienced, established ones. It seems there is less appreciation for one another, and particularly for the folks that maintain excellence and stay true, for over 100 years, even when it is difficult or less-than-fashionable to do so. Cantillon is a terrific example of this.
We hope you’ll raise a glass on Saturday - whether you’ll be with us at the brewery or not - in honor of Jean, his family, and Cantillon, and also to finding a way to embrace and celebrate the historical foundation of beer, as much as we look forward to its future.
This blog was originally posted on our website January 30, 2014 - we were in the midst of construction at the time, and this blindsided us. This experience resonated with so many people, reminded us about the meaning of community, and galvanized who we are as people and as a business.
It has been nearly two years since then, and even still, not a day goes by that we don't think of Kenny, his inspiring wife Robin, and every single member of their loving family and extended group of kind and generous friends. Much love to each and every one of them, today and always.
In the months since we opened, we have been contacted by countless guests, local and otherwise, who ask about Kenny and Robin, and inquire about the status of the wall. Most of them ask if it is still in place. It is, and it always will be.
It is our mission to keep Kenny's spirit and memory alive - please feel free to share.
So, the Bagby Beer Company was vandalized over the weekend. We came in to the brewery on Monday morning to this:
As a fledgling business in Oceanside – one that in fact is still in the midst of construction, this immediately felt like a blow. Our property, one we have been laboring over and painstakingly renovating over the past half of a year, not to mention dreaming about for the better part of a decade, had been defaced. Someone scaled the fences, hid behind a newly-built wall, and added their ‘touch’ to what will be the maintenance area for the brewery we are installing, all while managing to elude the surveillance camera that runs just about 24/7.
“This sucks”, we told ourselves. We thought about the work and the cost that would be needed to restore the wall to it’s previous state, what it meant that someone had so little regard for what we are trying to build. We wondered: should we expect more such vandalism episodes? Was there more we hadn’t yet discovered? Did this mean we aren’t wanted or welcomed in Oceanside? We called the Police to report it.
And then we took a minute, stood outside of ourselves, and really read the piece.
“Kenny - Cancer Can’t Kill Me”
And we instantly realized: there is far, far more to this story, and we’d like to know what that is. Why would someone express this message, in this way, in this spot? Who was Kenny? Was he still battling? Had he already won or lost? Who were these people? Not unlike nearly everyone we know, we, too, have been devastatingly impacted by cancer – we have seen it destroy too many of our friends and loved ones over the years. It was evident to us that this “graffiti” was bigger than us. It told a story to which we all can relate, and in its honesty and boldness, did what so few of us have had the courage or means to do – “Fuck Cancer” it says. Indeed. We couldn’t agree more.
Here is where the story takes an astounding turn. It was the next day, Tuesday – about 1:00. We were gearing up for our weekly construction meeting when I looked out the window of our on-site office, and noticed a few people looking through the construction fence, and attempting to photograph this tribute to Kenny – from about 60 feet away. Without hesitation, I approached the trio. I asked them if they knew the story behind the art, did they know Kenny or the artist. Right away, instinctively, they denied knowing anything, that they had just heard about it, that they were just driving by…no way, I thought. I pressed them. I assured them that we weren’t interested in punishing whoever had done it, that we merely wanted to know the story, to find out more, to see if there isn’t an opportunity to prepare a tribute to Kenny that can be more permanent, more visible…and that’s when one of the women started crying. Her eyes welled up, and in a hushed and broken voice she uttered “he’s my husband”. I was speechless. I asked if I could give her a hug, and then I did. We were all crying as she recounted the last several days with Kenny in ICU, battling his second round with cancer, how he had beat the disease once several years ago, how she believed he could do it again, but this time it is much worse. She told me how he is suffering, how they have been together nearly two decades, how their dream of having a child was shattered by the course of his testicular cancer, how adoption wasn’t an option because it is too expensive (she’s a teacher and he, a surfboard shaper). I invited them to take a closer look and get a better view; they hugged one another, and cried, and took pictures together in front of the wall.
And then she apologized. For defacing our property. She explained that the artist felt badly, but he knew it was a construction site, and that maybe the impact to us would be minimized. She told me how when Kenny saw a picture of the piece, he broke down crying. I was disarmed and forever transformed by her vulnerability and her honesty. The feeling of “why us” was – in an instant – replaced with gratitude. We are so grateful that we were given the opportunity to be touched by this incredible couple, to get to know their story, and to try – eventually – to find a proper, fitting, tribute to Kenny and his gallant battle with this annihilating disease.
There is a chance Kenny will be released from the hospital this weekend – if so, we’ll be at the brewery, hoping he makes a visit in person on his way home. We’ll be thrilled to meet him, and tell him we are pulling for him, that as long as he wants, the mural shall remain.
So, this is why we will not be painting over this, until we can figure out how to replace it with something else, forever.
UPDATE - 1.31.14:
We were devastated to learn last night that Kenny had succumbed to his illness, surrounded by his gentle, loving, devoted wife, Robin, his extended family, and a massive group of friends.
We were honored to host an incredible group of people today at the brewery, to remember Kenny. There were countless tears and the heart break was palpable - but there were also so many smiles, and laughter, and long embraces - just how Kenny would have wanted it. Kenny's legacy is reflected in this collection of truly exceptional, humble, kind, generous, warm people. Although we did not get the chance to meet him, we are beginning to get a sense of just who he was through this remarkable circle of his loved ones. This is a huge loss for our community.
We continue to be amazed at the impact Kenny's story is having on so many people. Thank you for allowing us to share it, and for being touched by his life.
The epic Beer Camp Across America is BACK!
By now just about anyone who knows anything about craft beer is familiar with Sierra Nevada’s groundbreaking Beer Camp series from last year – where they invited some superb, big name breweries to their facility in Chico, CA to brew unique, one-off beers that they then bottled and kegged for our drinking delight. The series allowed for some terrific creativity that provided a unique view into some of the best brewing minds in the country – not to mention incredible exposure using Sierra’s already massive distribution capacity and network.
They then followed this effort by hosting a travelling beer festival, visiting a handful of cities all over the US where the Beer Camp beers were featured along with other great beers from participating breweries.
Well, they are going to be doing this again for 2016, and Bagby Beer has been invited to join! It’s no secret we are big fans of Sierra Nevada, and continue to be super grateful for their foundational contributions to modern-day craft beer movement – it is not an overstatement to say that without Sierra Nevada, there is a good chance this industry would be very, very different today. Needless to say, we cannot begin to express what a massive great honor this is. There are just 30 breweries across the country who have been asked to be a part of this…and when you consider there are about 100 breweries in San Diego County alone, you begin to get a sense of what a special treat this is for us.
So, what does this mean? It probably means we’ll get a bit of attention from folks far away! It means Bagby Beer Company’s name will be on packaged beer (for the second time, actually – see below!)! It’s a pretty big deal, and we hope you feel as proud as we do to be a part of this. The Southwest group we are a part of includes Beachwood (host), Smog City, Societe, and Lost Abbey – what a ridiculously talented and creative set of brewers. The beer is a bold, hoppy, roasty American Stout.
There is a whole itinerary that details the process, when the beer will be made, packaged and distributed. We’ll do our best to keep you informed as we move along the schedule. For now, check out the latest video detailing the beers being made for the 2016 Beer Camp Across America.
Yesterday we decided to close the Bagby compound for a day and let our entire staff celebrate all of their hard work with an employee only BBQ and cocktail contest. We played games, hung out in the photo booth and had some delicious food courtesy of Mastiff Sausage Company.
Sous Chef Tyson and Jeff judging the employee cocktail contest, there were some amazing entires, and the winners will get their drinks featured on our next drink menu which is coming soon.
The sky was the limit when it came to crafting new cocktails, we're amped to share our newest drinks with you soon!
Jared doing a bit of QC on the contest entries, judging is hard work.
Caught Christi and Devin singing some Sonny and Cher tunes on the mini-deck.
Pretty sure Elise won't ever try to sprinkle chili lime salt right on her tongue ever again.
Selfie game was strong all day, it's so rad to see how these team members have bonded over the past 12 months.
Margaret, Elise and cocktail contest winner Scarlett striking one of many poses.
"OK, everyone pretend we're on a roller coaster!"
Assistant brewer Brandon, hard at work on his entry into the contest.
Jared is stoked on the lunch choices.
Ryan, one of our original team members enjoying a beer with our newest employees Nanette and Chris.
Guess who's excited for Chargers football?
Josh, Albert, Raj and Justino, just a small portion of our amazing back of house team.
All smiles for this gang today! We're so proud of this team and the rest of our crew, without them our vision for bagby Beer Company would be impossible to execute. They all work so hard, love what they do and we appreciate them all.