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In 2014, Ben Coli, the nerdiest among his homebrew friends, took the homebrewer’s plunge and launched Dageraad Brewing, which he named after the Dageraadplaats (“sunrise square” in Flemish), a neighborhood square on the east side of Antwerp, Belgium. “The square is not a tourist destination, just a neighborhood square. It’s a really lovely place to go hang out and have a beer.”
So is Dageraad Brewing. It’s a small operation in Burnaby, British Columbia, that just recently opened a cozy new tasting room. After launching the business in April, Coli took his time to transition his recipes from homebrew-size batches to ten barrels at a time.
“Part of our general philosophy is taking things slowly,” says Coli, referring specifically to the house blend of Belgian yeast he’s pitching. “Belgian yeast is slow. It’s way lazier than American ale yeast or British ale yeast.”
Because Dageraad is a Belgian-style brewery, one of the major focuses is yeast. “We’re brewing moderate-gravity beers, and the fermentor is still poppin’ at least a week later,” Coli adds about slow fermentation times. “We don’t have a production schedule,” he explains, nodding to the fact that yeast invariably attenuates. “Production schedules ruin beers. We could probably make more money if we jammed beer out faster, but I get way more satisfaction out of making something special.”
One of the first Belgian-style beers that Coli homebrewed (and now brews at Dageraad) is certainly something special—a golden strong ale brewed with pureéd pears and coriander that takes at least six weeks to ferment. He says that from his homebrew equipment to Dageraad’s current 10-barrel system, that beer has never tasted the same twice.
Another homebrew recipe brought to life at Dageraad is the brewery’s saison. “It’s fermented really dry with French saison yeast. It’s peppery and fruity and crisp,” and according to Coli those flavor nuances can vary ever so slightly from batch to batch.
That variability is what many brewers will tell you is the bread and butter of Belgian-style beer, which historically was made with whatever simple ingredients were available locally at the time. At Dageraad, Coli is re-creating traditional styles with ingredients that are most similar to those in Belgium.
“Belgian beer is all about water,” says Coli. “Here we have incredibly soft water, which is really nice for brewing Belgian-style beers. From [that starting point], the water can be built into anything you want it to be by adding salts.”
“We’re using European malts,” Coli says, “mostly German, because local malt doesn’t taste the same. Canadian pilsner malt has this sweet, corny taste to it, whereas German malt has nutty taste to it. We’re paying twice as much per bag for this imported malt, but it makes a difference.”
Finally, Dageraad is using “German and Czech hops because that’s what they have in Belgium,” says Coli. “Hops are especially important to Belgian blonde ales, which have a fairly pronounced hops presence.”
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By the time these beers are imported from Belgium, Coli points out, they’ve lost a lot of hops aroma. “Take an enormous quad—it tastes great by the time it gets over here,” he says. “But Belgian pale ales and blondes just don’t taste right by the time they get over here.”
The Dageraad Blonde Ale was inspired by Belgium’s variety of strong blonde ales, ranging from semisweet to bone-dry, that offer a huge range of fruit, hops, and spice flavors. Dageraad Blonde gets its depth and flavor complexity from European hops, spices, and the brewery’s house yeast. It has a note of nutty pilsner malt, a whiff of noble hops, a faint note of caramelized sugar, and—when the beer warms—a subtle, floral heat. “The Blonde is my favorite beer,” says Coli. “Bright, sparkling, fruity, and delicious.”
The Blonde is one of Dageraad’s two year-round beers. The other is “an amber made in the Belgian pale ale tradition,” says Coli. “It has a rounded malty flavor with soft hops highlights.”
Although most of the brewery’s beers are made in the Belgian tradition, at the end of the day, Dageraad is still a North American craft brewery that’s open to experimentation. “Our most recent violation of tradition,” jokes Coli, “was a wet-hopped blonde ale brewed with local Centennial hops. I thought the citrusy, fruity components of those hops might go well with citrusy, fruity blonde ale. It’s surprising how much of a difference those hops make.”
For Coli, Dageraad Brewing is an effort to transport a small piece of the beer culture he found in the Dageraadplaats home to British Columbia. “I love Antwerp and the Ardennes. And I really love the beer. But I don’t live in Belgium. I live here in Vancouver. Can we have that beer? Not just occasionally as an expensive, imported bottle, but as a standard, locally brewed beer? Can we drink an authentic-tasting Belgian-style beer from the other side of the city, instead of the other side of the world?” He’s determined to answer those questions with a resounding, “Yes!”
Crafted in the Belgian Tradition, Brewed in BC
Dageraad Blonde ABV: 7.5%
A medium-dry blonde ale brewed with a secret blend of spices. Crowned with a fluffy white head, graced with a fruity, spicy, citrusy aroma, and inspired by Belgium’s strong blonde ales.
Food Pairings: Dageraad Blonde’s citrus and spicy flavors complement salads and desserts, while its tartness and effervescence cut through fat and refresh the palate, making it a good counterpoint to heavier dishes. It’s also excellent paired with semisoft ripened cheeses and charcuterie.
Dageraad Amber ABV: 6%
A hoppy aroma and a crisp finish balance Dageraad Amber’s light malty sweetness and bouquet of malt and stone fruit.
Food Pairings: Amber is an easygoing pub companion and an excellent pairing beer. Its rich malt flavor complements savory-sweet dishes, including Indian and Malaysian curries, braised meats, barbecue, and pub fare.
Dageraad Randonneur Saison ABV: 6.4%
Coli created Randonneur Saison in the tradition of farmhouse ales brewed in northern France and Wallonia. Peppery and hoppy, effervescent and bone-dry, Randonneur Saison refreshes after cycling through the autumnal countryside.
Food Pairings: Randonneur Saison’s peppery and lemony notes make it a perfect companion for seafood or salads. Its palate-scrubbing effervescence allows it to hold its own against stinky cheeses and fried food.