Belgian Beer Meets Vegan Cuisine at the Olde Depot

One of the more pleasant serendipities of the growth of craft beer popularity in the U.S. has been a revival of traditional craft beer in Europe. Nowhere has this been more true than in Belgium, which like much of the Continent has succumbed to the ubiquity of yellow fizzy eurolagers from industrial producers. Not too long ago, iconic lambic ale styles like geuze and kriek were on the verge of extinction in their country of origin.
Thanks to the efforts of American breweries like Russian River and Lost Abbey and others, craft beer drinkers have been exposed to the distinct flavors of underappreciated Belgian Trappist ales, sours and saisons, and Americans, it turns out, seem to like them quite a bit.
Begun in 1982, Belgian beer importers Vanberg & DeWulf  preceded the current Belgian beer revival, but the couple who founded the company, Wendy Littlefield and Don Feinberg, now find themselves in the middle of the transatlantic love affair between American beer drinkers and Belgian producers.
Belgian beers are renowned for their affinity for food, and to prove it, Littlefield and Feinberg were involved in several beer-pairing dinners in the Bay Area last week. One of their stops was the brand-new Olde Depot, which is next door to Beer Revolution in Oakland. While Beer Revolution is beer-only, Olde Depot is a vegan restaurant with 35 revolving taps. Vegan is probably not the first cuisine to come to mind with traditional Belgian fare, but we are nothing if not adventurous.
Olde Depot paired four vegan dishes with four of Vanberg & DeWulf’s Belgian imports. I decided to try the quinoa salad with asparagus, tart apple, ginger and carrots not with the suggested Belgian trippel, but instead with a Blond Biere de Garde from Brasserie Castelain. French farmhouse ales like this are extremely food friendly, especially with salads, light and creamy soups and appetizers and first courses. The sweet quinoa and tart apple brought out a little of the beer’s astringency and they complemented one another very well.
Think of this style as beer’s answer to sauvignon blanc or Semillon.

Session Announcement: The Business of Brewing

Like sandlot baseball players or schoolyard basketball junkies, many amateur brewers, including some beer-brewing bloggers, harbor a secret dream: They aspire to some day “go pro.” They compare their beer with commercial brews poured in their local pubs and convince themselves that they’ve got the brewing chops it takes to play in the Bigs. Some of them even make it, fueling the dream that flutters in the hearts of many other home brewers yearning to see their beer bottles on the shelves at City Beer or their kegs poured from the taps at Toronado.
Creating a commercial brewery consists of much more than making great beer, of course. It requires meticulous planning, careful study and a whole different set of skills from brewing beer. And even then, the best plan can still be torpedoed by unexpected obstacles. Making beer is the easy part, building a successful business is hard.
In this Session, I’d like to invite comments and observations from bloggers and others who have first-hand knowledge of the complexities and pitfalls of starting a commercial brewery. What were the prescient decisions that saved the day or the errors of omission or commission that caused an otherwise promising enterprise to careen tragically off the rails?
Drop me an e-mail at