Friday, July 8, 2011

Memories of Jean-Marie Rock and Collaboration No 1

We're very close to releasing Collaboration No 2 White IPA, a beer we brewed with Deschutes Brewery from Oregon. We've been talking about the process and the beer a lot around the brewery over the past week and all this has gotten me to thinking about Collaboration No 1 Imperial Pilsner that we brewed with Jean-Marie Rock, famed Brewmaster from Orval.

It was October, around Halloween time, and I'd been working for Boulevard for about a year and half when Jean-Marie came to brew with us. The day before he arrived, our Brewmaster, Steven Pauwels, asked me if I was scared. I can't remember exactly how I answered that question, but it was somewhere between "a little bit" and "Holy Crap! I'm freaking out, dude!" It was decided that we would brew a small 35 barrel batch of beer in the morning on Friday and then everyone would gather for the big 150 barrel brew from brewhouse two on Saturday. It started to sink in that I would be brewing with Steven and Jean-Marie Rock. It was as though I'd been invited to hang out with Alice Cooper.

The entire experience was pretty insane. Jean-Marie has been brewing for Orval almost as long as I've been alive. He brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and absolutely obsessive attention to detail to the table. I learned about things I'd never even thought of. Orval has cameras in their fermenters so he can watch the yeast do it's thing in the beer. Crazy! One of the cooler moments of the day came when Jean-Marie, Steven, and John decided they wanted a beer at ten in the morning. They asked me if I wanted one. I've done a lot of stupid things in my time, but passing up on sharing a beer with the likes of those dudes that early in the day is not one of them.  

The next day was equally crazy on the beer dork meter as well. For some strange reason Jean-Marie had taken a liking to me the day before and I had somehow become his go-to-guy. The entire brew team came in to share in the brewing duties. It was a long day, but we shared some fantastic beers, and had a nice family lunch of tamales on the patio. Here's a tip for you Belgians that may be reading this. Remove the husk before you try to eat the tamale.  We traded that lesson to Jean-Marie in exchange for a brewing experience we'll never forget. 

We shared some dinner and beers later that night and somewhere there's an amazing picture of JMR getting cozy with a giant pumpkin. When the night was over, Randyl and I drove Jean-Marie back to his hotel. There was a brief moment where I considered kidnapping him and forcing him to brew Orval in my basement.

Now we'll flash forward to January 2010 and the night of the release party at the Oread Hotel in Lawrence. Jean-Marie's luggage had been lost during his travels and I'd been given the honor of retrieving his gear from the airport before heading out to the party. Getting the airport staff to release his luggage to me was no small feat. I think what sold them was the fact that in some strange way, I considered it a privilege to be there picking up his suitcase. Maybe they just thought I was weird and wanted me out, but I finally succeeded and this picture is the result of that effort.

I was going to slip a bottle of Bud Light in his suitcase, but it was locked. Damn!


  1. Fantastic story. I loved that beer, too. I think it was on of the most interesting beers Boulevard has made and would love to get my hands on it again.

  2. that was a Crazy Amazing Beer!!