Tom Oliver on Beer Sessions Radio — Part 3

The talk turns more toward beer in Part 3 of the Tom Oliver episode of Beer Sessions Radio, but we do get to hear from Tom what happens when a bunch of English cidermakers are turned loose in a Belgian bar, how he rates the spontaneously fermented lambic beers from Cantillon, and what the name of his next collaboration cider with Greg Hall of Virtue Cider might be. Part 3 was the hardest for me to transcribe, as the participants became more lively over the course of the episode; it was sometimes difficult to make out who was speaking and what they were saying. But I think I’ve done a pretty good job of it. Enjoy! (If you haven’t read Part 1 or Part 2, do that now!)


CARBONE: Hey, welcome back to Beer Sessions Radio on the Heritage Radio Network. [Flute music in background.] Flautist Tony Forder, Ale Street News editor. Poet and flautist. A little bit of the culture of England, the guy’s a beer editor and he also plays flute, amazing! And you got a guy over there, they grow…[canned applause]…it’s the perry tree, the perry tree brings out…he doesn’t even have a flute, he made that noise with his mouth! It’s amazing.

Tony, you were down at Craft Brewers Conference, you do your annual Ale Street News trip to Belgium, tell us what’s going on. You’ve got these beers that are really awesome.

FORDER: Yeah, I poured a couple of beers I bought. Of course, we did our annual trip to Belgium, and what can you bring back from Belgium except Westvleteren 12.

CARBONE: Hey, that’s popular, why not? I’ve never had that in my life.

FORDER: Really, OK? The rarest beer in the world, supposedly. It’s seems to be getting a little more available recently, thanks to the Shelton Brothers.

CARBONE: And on that, the Shelton Brothers, what did you guys do that was over the winter, you guys did a short allocation. Tell us about this Westvleteren thing, because people went nuts!

SHELTON: We did a very brief five-minute presentation of Westvleteren, what was it, in December? It was five minutes because it sold out so quickly, Jimmy. The monks there needed to raise some funds—they don’t sell beer in the States ordinarily—they needed to raise some funds to fix their monastery. And so they asked us to sell the beer in the States. And it turned into a big mess because everybody wanted it, and not everybody could get it.

CARBONE: So you had to establish rules.

SHELTON: We had some kind of rules, and some people were upset because they didn’t get it. And some people were happy because they did get it. And it turned into this big PR problem for us.

CARBONE: So you did do some things…

CARTER: I didn’t get it, and I was upset.

CARBONE: You sold it only in retail shops, right?

SHELTON: Certainly not in bars, yeah.

ROLYA: No, it was only in…and a lot of this was after long discussions with the monastery. And the monks were very adamant about that. They did this in Belgium as well. It was only going to be available in retail shops. And it had to be sold for a particular price. We tried to make sure—there were a few problems, but on the whole—made sure that it was available and at this specific price. We didn’t want people…

CARBONE: I know it’s a cult item, and I have to say, I’m the kind of guy…I’m not into cult beers because…

CARTER? FORDER?: Good for you, Jimmy.

CARBONE: I feel like there’s so many good local beers, and so many other beers that we can import—and ciders—that when I have the Westvleteren, I’m tasting it now, they say oh the St. Bernadus is the same beer. For me, one of my favorites is in your portfolio, the Achel Brewery, which is also Trappist. For me, the Achel is the top Trappist brewery.

SHELTON: Well, this beer is called the best beer in the world sometimes—because the RateBeer and the BeerAdvocate—because it’s so rare.

CARBONE: But it’s hogwash.

SHELTON: And the strong and rare…I mean, basically, it doesn’t mean it’s the best beer. You can’t really say what’s the best beer. But it’s rare, and that’s what sort of launches it up there.

ROLYA: It’s a very good beer. And it’s also personal preference. Achel is definitely, they’re one of the two Trappist breweries who actually, the monks are involved in the day-to-day process. Westvleteren is the other.

CARBONE: So Westvleteren and then Achel. So tell us a couple of your other top Belgian beers, because you guys have so many…I mean, we’re talking about ciders and perries, but really…

SHELTON: Well the Cantillon in general.

CARBONE: The Cantillon.

SHELTON: Which is also rare, but not as rare as this. Deservedly so, Cantillon is brilliant.

CARBONE: Tom, do you like some Belgian beers?

OLIVER: Yeah, Cantillon beers are fantastic. They just take your whole mouth on a whole different journey, and pull you left and right and up and down and leave you long…

FORDER: I think we need some flute music to go with that little poem.

OLIVER: Living in the past, eh?

CARBONE: This is the ode to the Westvleteren. Many of us have never tried it, and I just did tonight. And many of you may one day. But I will say this, there’s many good beers in this world out there, and many good ciders and perries.

ROLYA: Tony, I think you visited some of our other Belgian breweries, was it De Struise?

FORDER: I can say with the Westvleteren that we did see evidence of the reason they sent that beer to the US, was to raise money—there’s a whole new wing on that monastery, and a few light…SUVs around, but we won’t talk about that. Yeah, we did go to de Struisse. Very interesting, our group of 30 sat in their schoolroom—they inhabit a schoolhouse—and Carlo there gave us a talk. They were doing a lot of construction around this, there was no heat, and it was freezing. And we were sitting in the schoolhouse like good little school kids, because they kept giving us beer.

CARBONE: That’s your Belgian trip.

FORDER: Great beer. Yeah. We had their Our Monk and the Jesus Beer [?].

CARBONE: Let’s talk about beer, because I think many people listening have never tried this beer. So it’s the Westvleteren, which one is this? Is there a particular beer?

FORDER: This is the 12, it goes 8, 10, and 12.

CARBONE: So what’s this, a quad, a quadruple or what?

FORDER: Yeah, it’s a strong, it’s basically the classic dark Trappist strong ale.

CARBONE: It’s nice, do they use the candi sugars in this?

FORDER: It’s called the 12 because that’s the degree, but it’s actually about 10.5, 11 percent alcohol I think.

ROLYA: My favorite is the 8.

SHELTON: It should be noted, Jimmy, that the beer the monks drink is actually the lightest alcohol beer. Which I think is about 6%, something like that?

ROLYA: I think it’s even less. The one that they drink is actually not available commercially. It’s just something that they make for themselves. It’s a table beer, it’s like an abbey single I guess we would call it.

SHELTON: The real strong Belgian Trappist beers are sort of a new invention in the big picture, that are made to sell commercially. They’re not really what the monks would ever drink.

FORDER: The story with the St. Bernardus is, we actually stayed at the St. Bernardus bed and breakfast where we drank the Abt 12. St. Bernardus used to make the beer for St. Sixtus Abbey, which is Westvleteren. And then in the ’90s the contract ran out, and that was when the Trappists said, if you want to be a Trappist—have the Trappist stamp—you have to brew it in the monastery. And that’s when Westvleteren brought the beer back in house. Meanwhile, St. Bernardus kept making the same beer, they just changed the name. So we did do a taste test actually, late at night in the bed and breakfast, between the St. Bernardus 12 and the Westvleteren 12. And there was a preference, but I don’t know if I should tell.

CARBONE: Well this is cool. A little background, you went to Belgium, Shelton Brothers has some cool things. Tom, so you also like beer as well as cider, I’m sure?

OLIVER: I enjoy anything with some character and some taste. But I will share this with you. There was a time about five or six years ago, where a group of cidermakers from England went over to Hasselt in Belgium to do a weekend of talking about cider—selling cider—in a wonderful old barn that’d been converted, just outside Hasselt. It was a fantastic weekend.

But what started to happen was, in the evening, after everything had died down and finished, we’d go to a bar in Hasselt. I don’t know what it was called, but it had the most incredible selection, as I’m sure lots of [Belgian] bars do. And what we decided to do on one night, was to start from the strongest and work down. Well, I know that I personally got to the sixteenth beer before I retired hurt. And some people went on longer than me. But we all awoke the next day—eventually—with the sorest of heads. But having had a fantastic experience. Because the difference between all the beers is extraordinary. Even when they seem to be similar, they’re not. I love the variety.

CARBONE: Alright, so that was Westvleteren. Tony, you brought another beer, what’s this one?

FORDER: Yeah, talking about going from the strong down to the lighter, this is actually the symposium beer that was brewed for the conference down in DC.

CARBONE: The Craft Brewers Conference.

FORDER: Yeah. Craft Brewers Conference was a bit of a quick change-around for us, because we got back from Belgium on the Sunday and down to DC for the conference on the Tuesday. It was cool. Beggars and Theives, it was a collaboration between three breweries there. And interestingly, typically these conference beers get a bunch of brewers together and they make something really strong with tons of ingredients. This is more of a session [beer], it’s called Anti-Imperial Rye Lager at 4.9%. It shows you there are different trends in the craft brewing industry than just making strong beer.

CARBONE: I know it was made by DC Brau and The Brewer’s Art and Devil’s Backbone.

FORDER: Devil’s Backbone, in Virginia.

So it was Virginia, DC, and Maryland. That’s pretty great. I want Tom to try it, too. Talking about what the monks at Westvleteren actually drink…and also the Shelton Brothers, for me, you were always pioneers in session beers. Five, six years ago when everyone was just coming up with their Imperial IPA, it was Dan Shelton who said, you know, we’ve called Thiriez Extra. And we’ve got Taras Boulba. All these really sessionable but flavorful beers, like 4.5%, that’s what I like to drink.

SHELTON: Well Jimmy, we’re so far ahead now we’re beyond that. I’m just kidding. We were just talking about the new thing being a session beer, the collaborative brew. But I think it’s a trend right now, which is a very good trend. Because beer—the essence of beer—is something you drink a lot of, that you can handle a lot of beer in one night. I think Tom would understand, and that grump [Tony?], you guys would understand, growing up in England, it’s your session beer idea.

FORDER: Absolutely. Four percent was the standard for bitter, even the Fuller’s ESB for example, five percent was like whoa, that’s strong. But that’s where beers start over here.

SHELTON: A lot of flavor, but not too much alcohol.

OLIVER: And that’s one of the harder things with cider, because if you take it as it is—just the fruit, with the fruit sugars in it, the sun over the growing year is giving you—then some years you’ll get a six percent cider. But on a year when you have fantastic sun and maybe not much rain, you can get seven, seven-and-a-half, eight percent ciders. Now that puts you into something that’s half the strength of wine. And that does mean that in terms of, if you’re selling cider as a publican or whatever, then you really have to be aware that you’ve got to charge a good price for your product. Because otherwise people aren’t going to drink more than one or two pints, if you’re drinking pints.

CARBONE: And Clint, let’s get you on here. So, Clint Carter from Mens Health, you sent me a number of emails for like a year. You guys came out with an awesome beer article. But you’re also doing something about looking at the nutritional aspect of beer?

CARTER: You might not have understood how we were using all of the answers to your questions, but we were…when you had recommended beers to us, we would send them off to a lab. We were looking at a lot of, we were looking at calories, we were looking at folate, we were looking at polyphenols. I know it’s a much different way to approach beer, but that’s something that, at least our readers are concerned about, so it’s something that we care about, too.

But what we wound up doing was looking at a lot, we took 30 really amazing beers, we sent them all off to a lab. What’s interesting about beer that hasn’t really been acknowledged fully yet, is it has a lot of the same really nutritional qualities that, say, wine has been getting a lot of attention for. So it’s got polyphenols in there. The yeast gives it a lot of B vitamins, so we were looking at that. And there’s actually a lot of really good things in there, which is why there’s a lot of research out there to suggest that people who drink in moderation are healthier on average. So we were looking at that, among other things, and just geeking out on delicious beer, which is something I think we could all do.

CARBONE: So Tom, do you think that drinking beer and cider is part of a healthy lifestyle?

OLIVER: I think you’ve only got to look around this table to see that these six bodies are tuned to perfection. [Laughter.]

CARBONE: We’re buff!

OLIVER: So you know, here’s the evidence.

CARBONE: Tony’s going to play some flute while I do my soliloquy, thank you. [Flute music.] You know, beer and cider, it keeps you going. [Beer Sessions Radio] had a great song, it was called I Like Beer, and it summed it all up. Sometimes you drink liquor, it makes you sicker. Wine, wine can slow you down, because it’s too much alcohol. But for me, beer and cider, four to six percent, that’s what I can drink, it keeps me going. And it gives me extra energy. I feel like if I had a good beer the night before, I wake up the next day. If I don’t, I just get tired. So what else can you say about that, you can send in your answers to us @beer_sessions on Twitter. Because we’re going to start a conversation about Beer Is Healthy For You, man, I think it’s part of a healthy lifestyle, you know?

And BR, you’ve got something to say? You’re an athlete, you play hockey, you do all these things.

ROLYA: I’m a reluctant athlete.

CARBONE: But you’re part of a healthy lifestyle, and you consume beer.

ROLYA: Yeah! Well what’s hockey without beer, or beer without hockey?

SHELTON: It makes you violent, getting out there and…

CARBONE: But Joel, you don’t have a healthy lifestyle, so you don’t count. Tom sure does!

ROLYA: I went to high school in Belgium, and my main sport which I’ve been doing since I was about eight or ten years old has been horseback riding. I no longer compete, but I still ride every week. And when I lived in Belgium, they would do these trail rides, I guess, we went through farm lands and small towns. But it always went, from the barn we would ride through the woods to the farms to another town, sit down at the cafe, and they would have beer and wine for us. And then the horses would get their snack. And then we’d come back out and get back on our horses.

CARBONE: Since we’re talking about some of your great beers like Westvleteren—so if you’re out horseback riding and you had to pick a Shelton Brothers Belgian beer, what would that be tonight?

ROLYA: It’s going to be one of the lower alcohol ones, for sure.

CARBONE: Well, give us a name, come on!

ROLYA: I would probably have to go with one of the de la Senne beers, simply because—or the Bink Blond—that’s a tough one, Jimmy, you put me on the spot!

CARBONE: Bink Blond is pretty awesome.

FORDER: I would say that beer goes very well with yoga. I’ve done beer tastings with my yoga class. [Laughter.] Shout out to Joe Sixpack, the writer in Philadelphia, his wife is a yoga instructor. He does yoga and beer tastings also.

CARBONE: What about you, Joel? Do you do anything healthy with beer?

SHELTON: No. [Laughter.]

CARBONE: And Clint from Mens Health, what about you? What’s a healthy and beer combination?

CARTER: I’m a cyclist, and something I see is over and over is that anybody who rides seriously—rides a bike—finishes every long ride with a beer. Which is astonishing to me, it’s all over the place.

CARBONE: And Tom, working on the farm…tell us again the village you’re from in England, what’s it called?

OLIVER: It’s Ocle Pychard. It comes from, ‘Ocle’ means ring of oaks, because there were a lot of oak trees there, and ‘Pychard’ is because the whole estate was given to a knight who helped William the Conqueror in 1066, and he was from Picardy. So we’ve got the “ring of oaks” and “Picardy” and it’s Ocle Pychard.

CARBONE: So you’re working on the farm, how do you finish your day with a healthy beverage, what would you choose?

OLIVER: You choose a cider. And you choose a dry cider. I always choose not one of mine. I think I know mine back to front…

CARBONE: I tell you, we’re leaving very soon. We’re going to have a quick meal at Roberta’s, and then we’re going to Jimmy’s No. 43. We’re going to taste all of Tom’s ciders, including the perry which really stands out. If you haven’t had perry, you’ve got to try it, and you’ll be a fanatic for it. Even for the price, it’s not that expensive. Price does come up.

OLIVER: You’re dead right there.

CARBONE: There’s not that much perry out there, not that many people appreciate it. But when you try Oliver’s perry, you’ll get it.

SHELTON: And you should have the best. Don’t worry about the price that much.

CARBONE: Beer’s still cheaper than wine. So hey, we’re going to do a quick runaround. Everybody here’s doing something cool. Tom, you’re in town, the last thing is, what’s going on in Michigan with Greg Hall?

OLIVER: Greg and me are going to look at…Gold Rush was the first combination between us. The second combination is going to have the word ‘West’ in it, the second cider’s going to come out at the end of May. And I’m looking forward to blending it and launching it with Greg in Fennville and then in Chicago.

CARBONE: And Clint, what’s the next beer-related thing you’re doing with Mens Health?

CARTER: I’m always drinking, and I think that that’s significant. But the beer package is in the magazine that’s on the stands right now. We’ve got Garrett Oliver talking about the best places to travel. Dale Talde giving his ode to cheap beer, Charlie Bamforth—really smart guy—helped us devise a really great beer test that you contributed to, so a lot of cool stuff in there.

CARBONE: Awesome. BR, what’s going on with the Shelton Brothers in the next couple weeks.

ROLYA: Well, we have The Festival, Round Two taking place in Portland, Maine on June 21st and 22nd. We’re doing that in conjunction with 12 Percent Imports. And all of our brewers, cidermakers, and meadmakers will be there pouring their beers, ciders, and meads. And we’ll also do a lot of events around New York City with the producers who are coming in.

CARBONE: Looking forward to that. And Tony, what’s going on at Ale Street News? Are you still selling that Crafty Carton or what?

FORDER: Yeah, Crafty Carton. We’re on Version 3, it’s coming out now. I think liquids are cool in a carton, there’s water in a carton now. It’s cool in plastic, not that that’s an issue with beer.

CARBONE: So it’s like the takeaway growler.

FORDER: Takeaway growler. And the carton, the hotels are really catching on to it. You take it to your hotel room or in glass-free areas. I’m also recruiting American brewers for the American Pavilion at the Mondial de la Biére in Europe, for…

CARBONE: And when is that, that’s in Strasbourg, France right?

FORDER: They moved to a town called Mulhouse.

CARBONE: In France as well?

FORDER: Yep, in Alsace.

CARBONE: Is that tied into the Montréal beer event?

FORDER: Yes, it’s the European version of it. And I’m putting together the American Pavilion again.

CARBONE: That’s terrific. And Joel, want to say anything else about The Festival or anything?

SHELTON: BR said it all. You should all come to The Festival. It’s the best collection of brewers, cidermakers, and meadmakers in the world in one place. The best thing is I’ll be there, and I’ll wear a nametag and you can come up and talk to me.

CARBONE: All right. So check out our website for more events, and you can always go to and learn everything about beer. On June 14th and 15th, Savor—the premier beer and food pairing event—will be held in New York City. That’s the Brewers Association—they’re awesome!—check them out at And we’re organizing a very interesting thing in New York City that weekend, a bunch of Long Island breweries, who are all our friends, are going to come to many Good Beer Seal bars—including Jimmy’s No. 43—and do special tastings. Because at Savor, they only select certain breweries from around the country. And we’re going to rock out Savor in New York City.

FORDER: Can I mention something, Jimmy, really quick? There is actually a cider festival in Long Island in the fall, put on by Andy Calimano. So that’s the first one ever.

CARBONE: That’s awesome. And we also have Cider Week New York, which is coming back in October. So we’ve got a lot of cider going on. And with that we’ll have more shows, and I know Greg Hall’s coming to New York tomorrow to hang out with Tom. And one more thing, I’m going to give a little shout out to our good friends—after five years, Beer Table will be closing its doors in Park Slope. They’ll be searching for a larger space with a full kitchen. The closing day is set for April 27th. So go check out Bier Table while it’s up. I’m sure it’ll be back. And right now you can go to Beer Table Pantry in Grand Central Station.

So that’s it! I’d like to thank our sponsor who have helped to bring this podcast to you tonight. Beer Sessions Radio is supported by the Good Beer Seal. So thanks to Tony, Clint, BR, Tom, and everybody else for joining me here on the Heritage Radio Network—Joel Shelton, too!. Hey, I’m Jimmy Carbone, thanks to our producers Jack Inslee, Bree O’Connor, and our engineer Joe Galarraga. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time on Beer Sessions Radio!