On the eve of its 14th annual Belgian Beer Festival, Lucky Baldwins Pubs (plural because there are three of them) announced that they will be tapping a special new beer for the first time tonight -- Lucky Baldwins Red, a house Belgian amber brewed exclusively by Brouwerij Van Steenberge in Belgium.
But this isn't an ordinary contract brew. While Yardhouse might use Firestone Walker to brew their house beers and Bayhawk in Irvine makes many chain restaurants' generic-brand brews, Lucky Baldwins Red is an unheard-of ode from the historic Belgian brewery to a Los Angeles institution that helped bring the idea of specialty beer to the West Coast in the late 1990s.
So how, exactly, did a 227-year-old brewery in Europe come to brew a custom beer for a Pasadena beer bar?
Well it starts back in 1998, when the original Lucky Baldwins British Pub and Cafe in Old Town Pasadena was just beginning to get kegs of Belgian beer, a product previously only sold in bottles (and even then, at only a few specialty places in the country). Jef Versele, the seventh-generation brewmaster at Van Steenberge, would come to the States with shipments of Gulden Draak and spend time at Lucky Baldwins, one of the brewery's oldest American accounts.
"Back in 1998, we were one of the first places to actually feature his beer," says Peggy Simonian, who along with the late David Farnworth founded Lucky Baldwins in 1996. "In the early days, no one was carrying Belgian beer, but we were ... So our relationship with Jef is very solid and has longevity."
Then, last November, Versele and Simonian were having lunch and drinking beers on Lucky's patio when Simonian suggested that it would be cool to have a Belgian-style beer made for the bar, which had since expanded to three area locations. Without hesitation, Versele said he would do it.
Simonian suggested a Belgian brown/amber beer with a dry-hop character and a sweet caramel finish. Three months later, 96 kegs of Lucky Baldwins Red arrived at Lucky Baldwins, enough for at least an introductory phase of what Simonian expects to be a year-round offering.
"The fact that he offered to brew our beer shows he feels very confident in our reputation," says Simonian. "He knows how well Lucky Baldwins is known and knows we've been here such a long time, so he was willing to make an investment on his side."
The 7% ABV beer will be available for draft pours at all three Lucky Baldwins (Delirium, Trappiste and Old Town) starting at 5 p.m. today. It will remain on tap indefinitely ("For the rest of the year at least") and is an appropriate lead-in to the always-epic Belgian Beer Festival which starts Saturday.
In a few months, Simonian says she will have an official release party for the Lucky Baldwins Red, but for now, she just wants to quietly put it on tap and see what happens. All you have to do is "tip one back."
"I just think it's cool that we have such a connection with Belgian beer and now we have our own Belgian beer made for us," she says. "It was the next step. Why not?"
For more information on Lucky Baldwins Red or the Belgian Beer Festival, visit luckybaldwins.com.
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