Beer and Dialogue Among Civilizations


Mr. Ben Howe the founder and brew master of Enlightenment Ales is providing DAY TRIP ALE to our production CREATURES. His beers  and philosophy have been strongly influential on the work of BET’s artistic director Vahdat Yeganeh.

BEER and Dialogue Among Civilizations  

      Perhaps six months or so before Vahdat Yeganeh proposed his Dialogue Among Civilizations he and I had spent an evening together listening to music, waxing philosophical, and sharing Belgian beer. Among the beers we enjoyed that evening was a tiny bottle from Brussels called “Taras Boulba.” What followed that evening were several months of research (read drinking a LOT of Taras Boulba), emailing other brewers, and working on recipes all with the hopes of creating a beer anything like the one we enjoyed. I realized that I had never had another beer, Belgian or American, that tasted anything like it. It had this intensely dry bitterness and spicy floral hop nose all wrapped up in a cute 4.5% Belgian golden ale package. After a considerable amount of time test-batching, reformulating, and test-batching some more I released “Day Trip: Extra Hoppy Golden Ale” with my brewery Enlightenment Ales.

How does any of this relate to cultural exchange? Here’s some background: The American craft brewing movement began in the U.S. very much like a renaissance. Home-brewers and early commercial craft brewers were rediscovering styles of beer and beer flavors of which their ancestors had known but with which they were unfamiliar. Pale Ales, Porters, Stouts, IPAs, Barley Wines, all styles still brewed on the other side of the Atlantic, were suddenly being sought after here in the U.S. The same was true of the artisanal ales of Belgium and the flavorful lagers of Germany. Within a decade or two American craft brewers were not only brewing European styles of beer as well as their foreign counterparts were, they were pushing the styles in completely unheard of directions. Barrel aged beer, sour beer, and beer with novel ingredients or techniques flourished in the American craft beer scene. Amazingly enough, because American brewers had no defined cultural attachments or requirements, they were free to experiment and innovate in ways their European counterparts were not.

While American craft brewing had in its infancy drawn inspiration and influence from the beers of England, Belgium, and Germany, some brewers in those countries now began to draw upon the ideas of Americans in their own work. While European brewing still remains quite traditional there are many continental brewers engaging in the same experimentation and breaking of boundaries that is the norm here in the U.S.

What intrigued me about my own Taras Boulba experience was that I came to see myself as engaging in yet another wave of cultural exchange. American brewers drew on Belgian brewing for inspiration. Then, once we began understanding their beers and radically altering them to satisfy our own creative impulses we became the source of inspiration. I believed that a beer like Taras Boulba, with its gorgeous hop nose and solid bitterness must have been inspired by American ideas and tastes. I understood Taras Boulba as a Belgian brewer’s take on hoppy American ale, albeit with his own ideas about hop varieties and yeast character. I saw my attempt to capture this Belgo-American character in my own beer as a shot back at the Belgian brewers. They influenced us, we influenced them, they influenced us again and now here’s my response!

When I finally had the opportunity to speak with Yvan De Baets, the master brewer behind Taras Boulba, I discovered that the truth, as usual, is a bit more complicated. It’s always hard to track down the precise source of one’s influences, as art is never as black and white as an essay on artistic influence would like it to seem.  That said, it’s clear to me that the cultural exchange in brewing in the last few decades has been tremendously important. Whether it’s American to Belgian, English to American, or Japanese to Danish, brewers of all nationalities are sharing their ideas in ways that transcend literal language barriers. With any luck I’ll someday soon be sharing a pint with a brewer from Tehran and discovering just how much I can learn from Iran, its beer, and its people.

Ben Howe

Brewer & Founder

Enlightenment Ales







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