About Hors Catégorie Brewing

Homebrewing was a natural combination of my interests of beer and water chemistry. I started brewing while working on my undergrad in chemistry in northern California and I began to focus more seriously on brewing after moving to Victoria, BC to start my PhD in Chemical Oceanography at the University of Victoria. Though the life of a grad student can be pretty busy, it had the upside of a generally more flexible work schedule, helping me to sneak in a few more opportunities for brewing.

In addition to the flexibility it provides, my PhD involved about 14 months lab work in Mainz, Germany, which provided a great platform for visiting Belgian breweries, learning from brewers there, building connections and discovering great beers. Over the years (travel before the work in Germany and many trips while in Germany) I've probably spent about 4 months or so in Belgium and the opportunity to re-visit many places has really helped build some relationships. These trips, starting in 2009, have led me through a discovery of Belgian beer, to hunting vintage stuff to see how beers age, to where I am today really focusing in on brewers of saison and brewers and blenders of lambic.

Speaking about lambic in a church
at Carnivale Brettanomyces 2017
This focused beer travel has been reflected in my brewing: my favorite styles to brew and drink are saisons/saison-inspired beers and sour beers with a complex fermentation character. While I may like a simple sour beer from time to time, I'm really inspired by beers that showcase diverse microbial expression and balanced acidity from long fermentation and maturation. I brew saisons and these aged mixed-culture beers almost exclusively now, with maybe a clean pleasant hoppy table beer here or there. And this focus definitely paid off with first place in category 16: Belgian and French ales with a saison at the final round of the 2013 National Homebrew Competition.

I've only grown more focused and driven to produce saison-inspired beers and beers with mixed-microbe character since then. And in addition I've started some fully spontaneous beers (though I wouldn't call them lambics) that I hope lead to something interesting. Or at least a good learning experience. I'm looking forward to continuing to learn from brewers in Belgium and northern France, and a new wave of great North American brewers (and of course many homebrewers) excelling at these sorts of beers whenever possible for inspiration and brewing advice. We'll see where all this leads. For now I'm homebrewing and dabbling in the commercial beer world with collaborations and a bit of internship work and consulting.

Around 2015 I started to explore the rich histories of saison and lambic more seriously in addition to brewing beers inspired by them. Initially this was in order to try to learn more about them and gain brewing inspiration, but now I think it is safe to say that historical research of these beers has become a full interest in itself. Much of this work has happened in libraries in Europe looking through paper copies of historic texts. Throughout fall 2015 this has become a primary focus of mine and, consequently, a primary topic of this blog. Active historical projects for now involve grisette (early 1800s until mid 1900s), saison (1800s until present day), biere de garde (late 1800s to early 1900s), and lambic (1800s until present day). Look for the results of this research to make appearances on the blog (see the history label) as well as beer conferences here and there, such as the 2016 National Homebrewers Conference and Carnivale Brettanomyces and various podcast interviews. In addition to this blog, I am an editor/contributor to both the Milk the Funk wiki and Lambic.info and the research I'm doing makes its way to those sites as well.

Definitely not an HC ride - biking around west Flanders.
Finally, the name Hors Catégorie. This comes from another interest of mine, in this case from the spectator rather than participant side: bicycle racing. The term is used to describe climbs that are so difficult that they are beyond categorization in cycling's difficulty rating system. But I feel it applies well to Belgian inspired beer in general, and even more so to saisons and mixed culture beers. Rather than being distinct styles meeting specific sets of parameters that are often used in North America to categorize and judge beers, what ties beers like saisons together is the spirit of the beer rather than the technical specifications. I found when beginning to enter my homebrews in competition that many didn't fall into distinct categories very well, and were left going into (pre-2015) BJCP category 16E, the catch-all category for many diverse Belgian-inspired beers. I don't enter competitions anymore, but this has shaped the way I think about my beers still. Following this, I consider many of the beers I brew to be 'beyond category' with regard to the technical specifics discrete styles such as used in the BJCP or GABF. What defines them and ties them together are a strong inspiration from Belgian brewing, both modern and historic, while also retaining some of my scientific background in terms of process and ingredient choice.

-Dave Janssen

p.s. If you haven't already found it, the blog's facebook page gets more regular posts that aren't full blog post-worthy and I also post updates there whenever there is anything new here on the blog.

last updated: July 2017

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting site. I was looking up Petite Orval searching for into or a clone recipe as I too am a homebrewer interested in mixed fermentation. Lots of good info will be back to read more. Keep up the good ways! Cheers, Isaac