Monday, September 26, 2011

Old World tradition, New World innovation

Belgian beer made in New Jersey by a Belgian, as an American for Americans.

That's the vision Wim Vanraes has for his planned Saint William Brewery, a project that the Somerset County resident has been nurturing for a year, building momentum via blogging and paying calls on other beer-makers on the Garden State craft brewing landscape that he seeks to join with a triple, a honey ale and an amber ale.

Wim, 31, is a Belgian native who lives in Warren Township and became a U.S. citizen last year.

So far for his planned production brewery, Wim has met with financial and branding consultants – advisers who will become his core management team. The first round of financing is expected to be in place by year's end, Wim says, and a third-generation Belgian brewer who trained him has agreed to work as a consultant and help set up the brewery.

Right now, he's siting a location (the New Brunswick area is a possibility), searching for a viable building that can be adapted to a brewery. Constructing a building is also an option, should a suitable existing building prove elusive. Other details being worked out include what size brew house and fermenters to start with. Of concern is keeping within a financial safe zone, but also ensuring appropriate growth potential has been accounted for.

"There is a lot that comes with opening a brewery nowadays; it isn't sufficient anymore to have a great beer you can make. There is the whole production side to it, but that is not enough in itself," Wim says. "In order to be able to keep making great beer, the brewery has to be successful as a business as well, balancing the passion and art of the brewer with the calculations and projections of the economist. Especially in rough times as we see now, everything needs to be planned and anticipated and prepared for, beyond the beer and production aspects. The reward will be there in the end: great beer, made in a healthy brewery."

Wim was born in Sint-Niklaas, a town in the province of East Flanders. He was raised there and lived there until after graduation from Ghent University eight years ago with a master's in archaeology. (His wife, Melissa Lariviere, teaches second grade. Melissa is originally from Detroit, but moved to New Jersey when she was little.)

Right now Wim works as a freelance translator/proofreader (English to Dutch, Dutch to english). Before the economy soured, he worked with a company that cleans air conditioning units and commercial kitchen exhaust systems. Starting a brewery is a path to career change.

But Wim notes there's much more to it than that. Beer is central to Flemish culture, part of its folk traditions, and something he's been involved with since his youth. It's a catalyst for socializing, a force that unites people.

And that makes it a natural fit.

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