Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Warm Welcome

Work continues unabated in the brewery. The news that I'm taking over as head brewer has spread quickly, and the Danish brewing community has been quite welcoming so far. Several of Denmark's brewers here have contacted me, including Søren Wagner of Nørrebro Bryghus and Croocked Moon, and I'll be meeting many of them at the Copenhagen Beer Festival in late May.

Over Easter weekend, I traveled down to the island of Fanø to meet Ryan Witter-Merithew, head brewer of Fanø Bryghus and the person responsible for putting me in touch with Søgaards Bryghus. Ryan is, like me, originally from the US, and worked for Duck-Rabbit Brewery in North Carolina before coming to Denmark. He's been living here and brewing at Fanø Bryghus for over two years now. Fanø is a small island in southwest Denmark that's a popular vacation spot for Germans and Danes alike. According to Ryan, Fanø is often crowded and busy in the summertime, but over Easter weekend it was fairly quiet. The weather, however, was perfect, making it a very pleasant weekend.

Downtown Fanø. Notice the thatched roof on the right.
Ryan and I have known each other online for a while, but hadn't met in person before and wanted to get in touch. When I arrived in Denmark, he invited me to come down and visit whenever I had the time, and Easter weekend just happened to work for both of us. I took an express bus down to Esbjerg after finishing Saturday's brewday, and from there took the ferry to Fanø. I arrived just in time for dinner with Ryan and his wife Mahalia, along with the brewery intern Andres and Ryan's neighbors. We spent most of the night chatting at the table and having a few beers, including some from Amager and some from Fanø Bryghus itself.

You can keep your colored eggs: Ryan's excellent Scotch eggs.
We greeted Easter morning with something better than colored eggs: Scotch eggs, which Ryan made from scratch! After that, Ryan had a bit of work to get done at the brewery, which is literally right next to his house. Nice commute. I helped Ryan and Andres get a little bit of bottling done. Fanø's brewhouse is the exact same system as that of Søgaards, but their bottling line is smaller and less automated. After that, Ryan checked on a barrel that seemed to be a bit overyeasted, and needed to have some pressure taken out of it. Unfortunately, in the process, the bung popped off and showered us with beer, yeast and cocoa nibs, spewing a hundred liters of beer on the floor and requiring lots of cleanup! It was still a good time, though, especially since Fanø had their smoked beer, saison, and coconut porter (Ilan's creation from when he worked with Fanø) on tap.

Ryan: "This is how not to empty a bourbon barrel."
Afterwards, we took the ferry to Esbjerg to meet another US friend of Ryan's: Jean Broillet IV, brewer at Iron Hill Brewery and creator of startup Tired Hands Brewing Company. He traveled to Fanø to brew a batch of beer with Ryan, a dark saison called "Do Saison Dream of Electric Yeast?". Apparently Stillwater Artisinal Ales has already taken "A Saison Darkly," meaning that the Philip K. Dick references are rapidly being chewed up in the brewing world. I guess I should jump on that as soon as I can! We did some grilling - including some excellent sausages and pork chops - and some more drinking before crashing for the night.

A glass of Fanø's tasty saison.
I had to leave early on Monday to get back to the brewery, but it was still a great weekend. Ryan is a fun, down-to-earth guy and a generous host. He and I are already scheming on a collaborative brew, once we both get some time and I get more familiar with the system at Søgaards. I look forward to hanging out and brewing with him again sometime.

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