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Left Hand, De Proef Breweries Collaborate on Wekken Sour Beer

Every year Dirk Naudts invites an American brewer to visit Lochristi – a small town in East Flanders and the home of De Proef Brouwerij – to brew a special collaboration beer.

De Proef might be the best place in the world to brew an experimental beer. Its facilities have been described as the best in Belgium, capable of producing any style in one of its three brewhouses, which are kept sparklingly clean in order to avoid any chance of cross-contamination. Even famed pioneer Michael Jackson was impressed, calling De Proef “the ultimate toy for the aspiring homebrewer.”

Photo right: Wallace and Naudts tried some of the vast variety of Belgian yeasts maintained at De Proef before settling on a unique approach to collaboration - blending.

This year, Eric Wallace, co-founder of Left Hand Brewing Company, got the call. Wallace is no stranger to Europe. As the son of an Air Force officer, he’d experienced a lot of the continent and its rich brewing tradition.

Naudts had contacted Wallace in years past, but Wallace was preoccupied with his brewery. Left Hand has been increasing its production in the past few years, producing 75,000 barrels in 2014. It has also found footing as the first American brewery to use nitrogen in bottles.

“For the last couple years we’ve just been up to our eyeballs, too busy with growth and projects and everything else,” Wallace said. “But this year we finally had enough bandwidth to do it.” Next, they just had to figure out what to brew.

At De Proef, the options are endless. In fact, a large chunk of its business comes from contract brewers like Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, who trusts Naudts and his team to produce any style of beer to exact specifications for his Mikkeller brand.

Naudts is uniquely qualified, and arguably as experienced a brewer as anyone in the world. Before leaving to open De Proef in 1996 with his wife and fellow professor of brewing Saskia Warniers, Naudts taught brewing science with a specialization in yeast propagation at Kaho St. Lieven, a university in Ghent. Currently, De Proef averages 10 to 15 brews a day, usually from different recipes.

Though he is a master of the craft, Naudts remains a student, and the invitations to American brewers are a way for him to continue learning. “We don’t know IPAs, porters, or stouts so much in Belgium. So these are very interesting projects for me,” he says. Conversely, American brewers get a firsthand glimpse into a world-class European brewery, and have confidence their collaboration will be brewed in exacting fashion.

This year’s beer is called Wekken, an 8.9 percent ABV sour Belgian ale whose name translates to “wake”, which is what it promises to do to your taste buds.

“We bounced around some different ideas for the beer, obviously since we were going over to Belgium to brew, we wanted it to have some Belgian flavor for sure,” Wallace said. “So we played around with brewing one of our recipes with a Belgian yeast strain – De Proef has hundreds of yeast strains available, but in the end we settled upon blending our imperial stout recipe for Wake Up Dead with their Zoetzuur, and...

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