When Dave Blanchard, Mike Gallagher and Tom Moore were wondering what to do with their lives knighthood probably wasn’t on their minds.
Like many recent graduates, these three from the University of Georgia had no clue what their futures would hold. But based on their experience as vassals in bars and restaurants, they wanted to aspire to their own fiefdom — meaning their own pub.
Inspired by their goal, their imaginations went to work. Their pub would be no sports bar. It would have an antiquated flavor without the glare of neon or the blast of noxious music. Surprisingly, they didn’t want any U.S., domestic beers either.
A more difficult challenge than finding the right location, which turned out to be in an old general store in the city of Decatur just east of Atlanta, would be providing the right beers.
High gravity, or high-alcohol beers, were outlawed with an antiquated six percent alcohol limit in Georgia thereby limiting the range they could offer and just about eliminating any of the Belgian beers dependent on the barley stew from which they are born.
Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, a scrappy Georgia House legislator with a liberal bent, helped get legislation passed in 2004 permitting beers with an alcoholic content of up to 14 percent.
With this change in the laws, the the Brick Store Pub was in a position to fulfill its ambitions of enlarging the local consciousness of what beer is all about.
Meanwhile, our three squires decided it was time for them to aggressively pursue the object of their courtly desire and travel to Belgium where they came across a pub in Antwerp, which had a cellar full of aged beers.
The rest is history, as they say, and the three squires, no longer vassals for sure, helped generate a buzz in Decatur that was about to experience a growth binge that continues to this day.
“Upstairs and to the left,” is the way that they announced their expansion and pointed the way to their Belgian Beer Bar featuring eight rotating draughts and more than 120 Belgian/Belgian-style bottled beers.
The high-gravity factor in their success represents somewhat of a historical twist because Belgium’s earliest beers dating back to the times of the first crusades in the 12th century had a relatively low-alcohol content and were preferred as a sanitary option to the available drinking water.
But as artisanal brewing methods evolved the alcohol content went up and the variety of beers exploded often due to the efforts of monks who still are held in esteem today.
The three squires intensified their relations with Belgian brewers, who became curious about the Decatur pub when their orders started to skyrocket. “Once the law changed we expanded upstairs and the Belgian Beer Bar took on a life of its own,” Mr. Blanchard told Global Atlanta.
“We consumed such large volumes of beer that we became well-known around the country,” he added. “Owners of the breweries and distributors got to know us and many came to visit us in Decatur.”
Despite beer’s role as a pillar of Belgian culture (Mr. Gallagher says that beer stands as “a food group” on its own there) to survive its breweries have to export given Belgium’s limited population of 11.4 million.
The squires started traveling more regularly to Belgium showing their “emotional attachment” not only to their brewers’ beers but their culture as well.
“The Belgians have made beer an intricate part of the dining table,” according to Mr. Gallagher. He noted the food and cheese pairing with different beers and his appreciation for the individualized glassware that accompanies various beers to augment their flavor. “Even some of the food is cooked with beer,” he added.
Many a knight errant has failed in their conquests, but the three squires soon were asked to join the knighthood as their relations with the brewers tightened.
Their friends and business partners at the Huyghe, Gouden Carolus, Rodenbach and St Bernardus breweries nominated them for knighthood and invited them to attend the annual beer weekend in Brussels where they would be inducted into the Belgian Brewers Guild, now known as the Brotherhood of the Brewers Paddle.
Without knowing what to expect, Mr. Blanchard traveled in early September for the annual celebration held in Brussels’ central square, the Grand Place, to honor the traditions and dignity of the brewing trade.
Loyal to their tradition, the Belgian Brewers celebrate Saint Arnold in a ceremony that takes place in the square’s Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula where a keg of beer is blessed.
Following the blessing those who have made an exceptional contribution to the promotion of Belgian beer both at home and abroad are knighted in a formal ceremony in a chamber of the town hall, which dates back to the 15th century.
This year Mr. Blanchard attended the ceremonies to represent the Brick Store and its founders surrounded by members of the order who were cloaked in ceremonial red robes.
In addition to their new roles as knights, the tradition calls on them to serve as ambassadors of the Belgian beers, yet another role that they couldn’t have imagined as recent college graduates, but which they embrace wholeheartedly today.
To find your way to the Brick Store Pub, click here.