Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Beer Chat with Simon Thorpe

“It’s a beautiful mess!” said Simon Thorpe, CEO of Brewery Ommegang, as he wrestled his way through the crowds at “Belgium Comes to Cooperstown”. BCTC is a three day camping beer festival held at Brewery Ommegang in upstate New York every August. The enthusiasm for this festival is evident when the $200.00 VIP tickets sold out in a mere 46 seconds. As with most beer fests, a non-VIP ticket holder would find over 50 breweries to drink from and numerous bands playing music throughout the event. What makes this festival unique is the juxtaposition of having high-end venues next to… well… typical beer fest venues. From fine dining Belgian beer dinners and Hop Chef gourmet pairing competitions to hundreds of patrons camped in tents around the brewery, BCTC looks like a mesh of a beautiful Sonoma vineyard with a large camping beer party. The brewery itself is designed to capture the grace and beauty of a Belgian style farmhouse on what used to be a hop farm. It is a romantic setting with fun, excitement, and high quality Belgian beer that makes actual Belgian brewers proud. In fact, the Knighthood of the Brewers’ Mash staff really are proud and have inducted Simon Thorpe to be knighted. We sat with Simon at BCTC to learn more about this honor, his background, and his vision for the future of Brewery Ommegang.

 So tell us about the Knighthood of Belgian Brewers Induction:
I’m really quite humbled by it because I never expect these things. For me, I’ve got the dream job that every boy would ever want anyway and I get to run a beautiful brewery in upstate New York, in America, and it’s taken me 30 years to find my way here and for me to just be here is really special. To get on the b… well it’s totally unexpected you know. I mean I really didn’t…

So you didn’t lobby for it or there’s no application process?
Honestly, I was truly very humbled and I’d rather talk about my people, brewers, and I’d rather do that and in all honesty I am really humbled by it, it’s a beautiful thing.

Thanks, yeah, Phil Lienart is the master brewer and he said the most important thing is on that day you get to wear the sash with the medal on it that allows you to get free beer at any bar in Brussels. So we’re planning to test out whether that really works. But it’s very serious, the academic ceremony goes back for hundreds of years to the mutual guild of brewers in Brussels and from that point of view it’s a great honor. There’s the academic installation in the morning where you meet and then go to the church for the blessing then you process through in robes and it’s fantastic, a great honor. Very wonderful. When you hear of a brewer and what kind of recognition could you have and well… the guild of brewers.

Well I’m curious, I know you don’t want to talk about yourself, but how does one go from InBev to getting knighted by the Belgians? I know that is a long winded question but…
It’s a very fair question. I’ve been very very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time in my career and, to me, my own career has been default rather than by design. It’s rare that I actually think more than about a week ahead. Some of the things that I’ve been fortunate to be a part of, in what was then Interbrew and became InBev and then became ABI they were… I was in the right place at the right time. In developing Stella Artois in Belgium I was fortunate to be a part of that. As the brewing industry had this cathartic heave and consolidation that happened over the 10 year period I happened to be in the right places. As we were here in North America and as China was exploding for international brewers I was lucky to be running an acquisition for InBev at that point. So I got involved in the acquiring of Chinese – big, big, BIG- Chinese breweries in developing and as well in Asia. As Eastern Europe developed the same thing applied and I was lucky to be, initially, developing some of the global brands like Becks and Stella. As InBev was looking at taking what had been a lot of regional brands and making them global power house brands so I’ve been very lucky, very lucky. And then when I left there and went into projects in Europe, went on to meet the Moortgat family. I tried to buy the Duvel market twice in my career and Duvel has always been my brand. For seven years I tried to buy the business and Michel would say ‘oh that’s interesting’ and ‘No we don’t need to do that, thank you’ and ‘oh that’s interesting evaluation of the company, I’ll make a note of that’. (When I was working for InBev, they would always come and say to me ‘well what breweries do you want us to buy in America’ and I would say ‘go back home to Belgium, buy Duvel Moortgat, and bring it back here to America’.) Finally, I managed to find myself at the door of Michel Moortgat’s office and he said ‘come around this US business’ and I jumped at it. So I say it was 30 years finding my road here and I am the least likely English boy to be in love with Cooperstown in upstate New York but it’s a dream.

So what’s the relationship with Duvel? Is it a situation where they allow Ommegang total freedom to experiment or are you somewhat restricted?
That’s a great question because if you look at the relationship in companies, it doesn’t matter if they are brewing companies or sub manufacturers. The relationship between the investors, the share holders, and the management is often one of the most critical things to a success or a failure of a business. We are, obviously, a family driven business. 25% of the stock is public, 75% is in the hands of the family. We are, I think, extraordinarily fortunate to have the type of family share holders that we do. They take a very very long term view. There are people that talk that, but very few people that walk that. So decisions about investments are very long term 50-100 year investment decisions, thinking long term on how to develop the brand. Michel is extraordinary. He is the younger of the three brothers. He is remarkably talented. As a family share holding they are more supportive than any other share holder group that I have ever worked with. Twice a year we have board meetings here in the US and every time they come they ask one question: “What can we do to help?” And that is pretty amazing. And sure, you have to be running a business properly for the share holders, developing brands in the right terms, maintaining top of the pyramid quality, that’s the philosophy that the Moortgat family has about all that. It’s a very simple recipe and it works if we stay on top of the quality pyramid for a long period of time and when we develop that reputation you are insulated from a lot of the ups and downs businesses have at times and it’s a remarkable relationship the way they choose to manage their legacy.

Did you always envision Ommegang being what it is now?
I’ve always believed that Duvel had the potential to be the next big high quality breakthrough in America. That’s the foundation. I’ve only been here three years and I think we’ve done really good things to develop it. The business here has doubled in three years. We’re on track to doubling it again in the next three. We focus very much on selective distribution. Frankly, I don’t care about being in the big volume beer bars. I want to be in high end hotels and restaurants. I want to be in the chi-chi bars of Los Angeles where the environment, the experience, the romance around what you are drinking is very exciting. We ask ourselves very often, how big is special? We will cap this business off at a certain quantity level if we thought that we were losing the specialness, the cache, of the brands. And again, there are a lot of people that talk that talk, it is very difficult to walk it. We’ve gone from basically 35,000 barrels to 75,000 barrels. Today, if you asked me how big is this going to be? That is about as big as it’s going to be. I think a lot of people are seduced by the notion of bigger is better. For us, special is better.

It sounds like that is the European influence since overseas everything is about quality vs. quantity?
It’s the Moortgat family. That is what they believe. We look at our margin pool of what we take, what our wholesalers take, what our retailers take. And part of our philosophy is we want everyone to make money. Some people put a lot of pressure on the wholeseller margin and the relationship falls apart. I want our wholesellers to be very happy with the money that they make on distributing our brands and similarly for retail. If everyone has been successful with our brands they will grow. We try to be the #1 or #2 most profitable brewery in their portfolio, if we do that then we’ll grow 30% a year – they will always take our calls.       

We couldn’t agree more! Congratulations Simon and everyone at Brewery Ommegang!

                                             James Hartle, Simon Thorpe, Aimee Hartle           

Check out our Facebook Page at  for more fun pictures of BCTC.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

2011 Raleigh Beer Week

The 2nd Annual Raleigh Beer Week
RALEIGH,NC – With 7 leaders of the craft beer scene in NC all located Downtown Raleigh NC , it makes sense for the collaboration to celebrate all things craft brewed.  From the ceremonial tapping of the first cask by Mayor Charles Meeker to the arrival of more than 20 breweries from 8 states and as far away as Belgium & Germany the 6-day event will prove that Raleigh is “America’s Smartest Beer Drinking City”.
The Busy Bee Cafe kicks the week off  this year's festival with ticketed "cellar clearing" beer festival of epic proportions with over 20 breweries being represented. The festival will include the Brewers Forum; a fan favorite event from 2010, brings barrel aging master Eric Salazar for a tasting of super-rare Felix Love & an informal round-table discussion on sour beers & barrel aging;  and many other types of beer events, food and beer pairings, cask events, prix fixe beer dinners as well as taste appreciation events with nationally recognized writers.  We have worked with Breweries and Distributors to arrange for dozens of rare and special beers to be kegged and casked for service during Raleigh Beer Week.  Allagash Brewing Company have sent Belgian Blonde, Curieux & this year's Fluxus.  The folks at Foundation will reinforce your love for NC beer by breaking out Sexual Chocolate and some barrel aged brews from their private stash as well as offering some of the most inventive & delicious beer cocktails in the South.  We will be celebrating the launch of Beer Prophet the smartphone app for beer novices and pros alike with Tir Na Nog & Lonerider Brewings' Local Beer Local Band event. And
 Check out for the full schedule.
About Raleigh Beer Week
Raleigh Beer Week is a 6 day celebration of the “Smartest and Best Beer-Drinking City in America”
Established in 2010, it hopes to become the largest and best beer week in the Southeast.  Celebrating the collaborative efforts of local businesses to put better beer into the hands of our diverse clientele.  Born out of conversations over dozens of pints of handcrafted beer, produced through the efforts of friends collaborating to bring separate businesses together through a passion great beer.
Raleigh Beer Week highlights the region’s diverse beer scene – its world-class breweries, neighborhood taverns, trend-setting restaurants and growing beer culture and history.  Raleigh Beer Week will draw thirsty beer fans from throughout the region and beyond, making it one of Raleigh’s key annual tourist events.
Raleigh Beer Week is organized and operated by a board of friends, restaurant owners and others, to promote Raleigh’s beer and hospitality industries.
For more information, visit
or email us

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

For What It's Worth Beer Dinner Calendar

For What Its Worth Beer Dinner Calendar
(Actual dates through August are 100% confirmed)

May 21, 2011 – RJ Rockers $25

June 25, 2011 – Wetten Importers – Het Anker (Gouden Carolous), Eggenberg, Castle Brewery Van Honsebrouck, L.Huyghe (Delirium) and Lucifer $30

July 16, 2011 – Westbrook Brewing $35

August 20, 2011 – Stone Brewing $40

September 17, 2011 – Bell’s Brewery $35

October 15, 2011 – Foothills Brewing $35

November 12, 2011 – Steven’s Point Brewery $25

December 10, 2011 – Brooklyn Brewery $25

January 21, 2012 – New South Brewing $25

February 18, 2012 – Sierra Nevada Brewing $30

March 17, 2012 – Left Hand Brewing $35

April 14, 2012 – Dogfish Head Brewing (waiting on confirmation)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Shae Dannemiller at the Landmark Resort, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

We just made it back from the third annual Myrtle Beach Beer Fest and we have to tell you about one of the up and coming beer bars located inside the Landmark Resort ( More specifically, about the determination of  Shae Dannemiller (the Food and Beverage Manager) to transform the Landmark's bar, The Pub, into a world class beer bar. We met Shae during the second day of the Fest. He and his wife, Jill, stopped by our Beer Connoisseur Magazine table and introduced themselves. Later, he stopped by with some of the best pretzels we've ever had with an amazing honey butter made from scratch. One of the first steps in his plan was to  transform the Pub kitchen from standard hotel fare to a scratch kitchen and we can attest to the results. We stopped by after the Fest and were greeted by Shae himself, a consummate host eager to please and share his knowledge of craft beer and food pairings (he's a certified Cicerone) and make sure that we had a wonderful dinner. Normally, when we think of hotel food, we're thinking over-priced under-sized portions with the usual beer suspects. Forget all of that. After dropping off 4 of the afore mentioned pretzels as table bread, out came our two sandwiches, the Club for Aimee and Chicken Parmesan for me. The prices and portion sizes were amazing.  More importantly, the beer menu has over 250 craft beers to choose from. Shae went all out for us and picked a bottle from his cellar to share. A 2007 vintage Rogue XS Old Crustacean! Needless to say, we waddled out of there with very happy faces and still had some to take with us.

Gearing up for a full scale renovation that will see 3 taps grow to 30, a new bar and a new moniker by Easter, we wanted to assure you that you don't need to wait, as the beer list and food now are already way ahead of the curve. Fortunately for the budding craft beer scene in Myrtle Beach, Shae is just warming up. He held an Allagash pairing this past Friday night and has plans to continue with a veritable who's who in brewery names coming soon. Next up will be Highland Brewing and we'll be sure to post all of the upcoming events as soon as we hear of them. He's also teamed up with Myrtle Beach's own New South Brewing for a unique twist on the standard brewery tour...folks had the opportunity to learn and brew a batch at the Pub before heading to New South to tour the brewery then returned to the Pub for complimentary appetizers and to meet other local home brewers. Shae is committed to bringing craft beer to Myrtle Beach in grand style. Do yourself a favor and stop by the soon to be re-named Pub and any other event that has Shae's name attached. With Myrtle Beach's craft beer man of vision at the helm, you can rest assured it will exceed all of your expectations.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Allagash Tasting @ the Landmark Resort in Myrtle Beach, SC

Landmark Resort
Allagash Tasting
Friday, March 25, 2011 8pm-10pm

Allagash White
House Pretzels
Our house pretzel served with a unique goat cheese spread

Allagash Tripel
Crab & Shrimp Cakes
Our house cakes made with jumbo lump crab, petite shrimp, roasted peppers, seasonings and fresh bread crumbs

Allagash Curieux
BBQ Tri-Tip Steak Sandwich
4oz Stock Yards Angus sirloin tri tip smoked with hickory chips and sliced thin tossed with BBQ sauce topped with bacon and cheddar cheese on a mini toasted Filone hoagie.

Allagash Black
Beef en Croute
Buttery puff pastry wrapped around Stock Yards Angus beef tenderloin, mushrooms, garlic and liver pate