Christian Bennett, owner of Van Gogh’s Microbrewery, had a desire to brew high-quality beer and pair it with gourmet pizza. After almost a year of preparation and hard work, the first and only microbrewery and restaurant opened its doors for dinner in Statesboro earlier this month. Developing a menu from scratch had its set of obstacles, and coming up with Van Gogh’s flagship beers presented its own set of hurdles.
In a town where Natty Light tallboys, Coors Light and other light-adjunct lagers reign supreme, the concepts of specialty craft beers, brewpubs and microbrewing is a foreign, misunderstood and underappreciated practice.
While adjuncts, such as corn or rice, are added to light beers to dilute the flavor and produce larger quantities of beer at a lower cost, craft brewers are adding ingredients such as coriander seed and orange peel to enhance the flavor and create a unique experience for the consumer.
That’s where Van Gogh’s brewmaster Charles “Chuck” Duffney comes in. Hailing from Harlem, N.Y., Duffney possesses an impressive and unique skill set. A craft beer connoisseur, he attended the oldest brewing school in the U.S., the Seibel Institute of Technology in Chicago. From there, Duffney relocated to the Eastern Hemisphere to further his education in brewing technology at the Doemens Akademie in Munich, Germany.
So, how in the world did he end up in Statesboro?
“My best friend from school in Munich was from Statesboro,” said Duffney.
After graduation, his friend, Smith Mathews, relocated to Savannah, where he’s now the managing partner and brewmaster at Southbound Brewing Company. From there, Mathews informed Duffney of the fledging microbrewery that was being built in Statesboro, and the rest is history.
Van Gogh’s models its beer brewing after the American craft brew movement by replicating the traditional styles of beer but incorporating unique ingredients, from jasmine to jalapeno to vanilla, coffee beans and even hemp. While Eastern European countries uphold the rigid beer purity laws that often only utilize up to four ingredients at a time, craft brewing in America reflects the most celebrated characteristics of this country: a melting pot of styles, processes and ingredients that make each beer unique.
Brewing beer is not as simple as it sounds. There are many factors that come into play; it’s a constant struggle for balance. Water chemistry, gravity, even the glasses and how the brew is poured all affect the quality — and Van Gogh’s takes all of these into consideration. For example, instead of the traditional pint glasses, draft beer is served in a tulip-shaped glass with a stem, which helps support large, foamy heads and captures and enhances the natural aromas and notes of the beer.
The brewpub boasts three flagship beers exclusive to Statesboro that pay homage to both the city and Georgia Southern University. The first, Statesboro Blue, is a wheat beer brewed with coriander and citrus peel. Slightly reminiscent of a Blue Moon or Hoegaarden, it has a smooth, mellow body and a haze that gives the style its name.
If wheat beer is not your style, Van Gogh’s offers a darker beer, appropriately named Creekwater. This brew blends nine different grains that result in a blend of roasted, chocolaty, burnt toffee and caramel notes.
The last of Van Gogh’s inaugural flagships is an IPA dubbed Whose Ale. This hoppy, pale beer offers a surprise twist, with its aromas and tastes reminiscent of tangerine and grapefruit.
Van Gogh’s aims to teach its patrons how to fully appreciate and understand beer. It’s more than just a beverage that many consume in large quantities as quickly as possible to ensure inebriation; it is truly an art form that has been developed and refined over hundreds of years. There are people who have dedicated their lives to brewing beer, and now, Statesboro has the chance to partake in this timeless tradition.
On Van Gogh’s tentative beer menu, included is a quote from Pulitzer Prize-winning author and columnist Dave Barry: “Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.”