Florence also gave me detailed instructions on how to use one of the quality-testing machines for alcohol and sugar density. Specifically, she showed me how to perform these tests for Timber. First, we took a sample from the fermentation tank and mixed in some kieselguhr (the same substance used for filtration) to remove the yeast. Next, Florence showed me how to properly calibrate the machine with water to ensure there was no residual sugar or alcohol left inside that would contaminate the sample. Finally, you can measure the beer sample by placing the filtered beer into a graduated cylinder and placing a straw-like hose connected to the machine into the filtered beer. The machine then sucks up the beer and gives an alcohol and density reading.
This machine provides a reading that is one hundred times more accurate than a hydrometer; therefore, it is the preferred method of testing during the fermentation. However, during the brewing process, (i.e. throughout the filtration and the boil), we take several sugar density measurements using a hydrometer because it is faster and more convenient.
We also measured the temperature and pH and took note of the pressure in the tank. After sharing our results with Tanguy, he decided to suspend the fermentation (by lowering the temperature to around 1 degree Celsius) and to purge the yeast.
He plans on having the machine ready for the next bottling day. The addition of this machine will relieve the duties of an entire person on bottling days, as it will automatically pack crates.
One of our last nights in Couthuin, my mom took me out in the rental car to an empty parking lot and taught me how to drive a stick shift. Cars with automatic transmission are as hard to come by in Belgium as cars with manual transmission are in the States. Therefore, my mom and I figured this would be as good of a time as any for me to learn. I think I stalled about twenty times going between neutral and first gear. After about the millionth circle around the parking lot, and experimenting a bit with second gear, I started to feel more comfortable with the timing of removing my foot off the clutch and onto the gas. I would not say that I know how to drive a manual now by any means, but at least I have a sense of what it is like so the next time I return to Belgium I could (maybe) rent a car.
When we returned the car at the airport, our receipt indicated that my mom drove 2,325 kilometers (1,445 miles) in two weeks. I suppose that is a testament to our busy weekends.
My mom and I explored the museum and completed the short 10-minute walk to the abbey through the forest and gazed in awe at the beauty of the grounds and architecture. Afterwards, we redeemed our glass of beer included in the entrance fee. I tried Chimay Tripel and my mom ordered Chimay Red Cap (the original Chimay beer) and we split a cheese plate consisting of five Chimay cheeses. Two of the five were made with beer. My favorite was “A la Chimay Bleue,” a mild and creamy cheese that is washed several times with Chimay Blue Cap during its two-week aging process.
Once in France, we spent two nights in Reims and toured the chalk caves of Veuve Clicquot. On Saturday, we journeyed the short 30-minute car ride to Epernay: “The Capital of Champagne.” There we visited the Avenue de Champagne, a street lined in with grandiose Champagne houses and villas. Here, we toured a mere 1 kilometer of about 30 kilometers (nearly twenty miles) of caves owned by Moet et Chandon.
The land in Champagne is absolutely gorgeous. The grapes that compose champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Meunier blanket the rolling hills. Pictures alone cannot do the Champagne region justice. All I can say is the terroir of Champagne provides an idyllic backdrop to savor in the France’s most festive beverage.
Over the past month and a half, I have cultivated a life here in Couthuin that I am not eager to leave. I fully intend to return to Brasserie de Marsinne someday. In the meantime, I will remain in contact with my new brewery family. I will especially miss talking with Florence everyday as we spent many hours bonding over our shared passion for beer and our roles as women brewers. We will keep all keep in contact through Facebook and e-mail as I am eager to receive updates on the brewery.
Thank you Nicolas, Tanguy, Florence, Bastien, and Bruno for opening your hearts and homes to us. I will cherish the time I spent in Belgium and am greatly appreciative of their generosity, kindness, and patience.
I would also like to thank the Rondia Family for going above and beyond to show Peter, my mom, and I a good time in Belgium. Our time spent together truly made this experience unforgettable.
The future of Leopold 7, Belgian Pacific, and craft beer in general is very promising. We all should feel very excited to witness the next chapter of craft beer as breweries embrace the use of social media, release collaborations with other breweries, experiment with new hop varieties, and take advantage of canning technology. I am honored to I personally contribute my experience and passion to the spread of the craft beer culture through the establishment of a brewery that will unite two of the greatest beer cultures in the world: Belgium and California.