By Jeff Maisey
The idea of a collaboration between O’Connor and Smartmouth has been brewing beneath the surface for some time.
While each of these Norfolk-based craft breweries have collaborated multiple times on one-off, specialty beers with other local breweries as well as outsiders like Green Flash, the question has been asked, “Why not these two”?
Some folks have speculated that these breweries on the opposite fringes of Ghent view themselves as cross-town rivals. Others believe there is a friendly, yet serious sense of competition. At least, that is the rumor both Kevin O’Connor and Smartmouth Brewing Company president Porter Hardy have heard repeatedly.
Perhaps fittingly, the occasion to finally dispel such nonsense has presented itself in conjunction with the 200th Anniversary of the Treaty of Ghent.
“The Ghent Business Association contacted me about either holding an event or making a beer, and I wanted to bring in Smartmouth to collaborate with us,” said Kevin O’Connor. “We’re both technically Ghent breweries and I thought it’d be fun to showcase not only Ghent but the city of Norfolk as a whole.”
“I really appreciated that Kevin thought of us,” said Porter Hardy. “People have asked us forever about a collaboration between us and O’Connor. I think we’ve each just been so busy growing our own businesses we haven’t ever done it, so it was a good opportunity.”
The historic Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814 in the Belgian (then Flemish) city of Ghent. It wasn’t ratified by the US Senate until February 18, 2015, and that is what the Norfolk commemoration is timed for. The Treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812 between the United States of America and Great Britain. It also formally established the geographic boundary between the US and Canada.
O’Connor and Smartmouth have appropriately chosen a Belgian-style beer for their collaboration. They are adamant the beer reflect the true essence of the style.
“We’re putting together a traditional style Belgian dubbel,” O’Connor said. “We’re not trying to over-hop it. We’re not trying to do something weird. We want the visiting Belgian contingent to recognize it and enjoy it.”
A traditional Belgian dubbel is characterized as being a strong (6-8% ABV) brown ale with full body and subtle fruitiness. The Trappist Abbey of Westmalle (1856) is credited as the originator of the style. The monks at Westmalle continue to produce the beer today, which is popular throughout Belgium and amongst beer enthusiasts in America.
The brewing teams of both Smartmouth and O’Connor separately developed recipes and then compared notes. To everyone’s surprise they were nearly identical.
“It was 90 percent the same,” said Hardy. “It was really a very easy, trouble-free process”
The beer is being brewed at O’Connor Brewing Company. The brewers will be using authentic ingredients: a Belgian ale yeast strain, Pilsner, dark continental European malts, and dark Belgian candy sugar. They’ll use mild German Magnum hops as well as Tillicum. The ABV is anticipated to be 7.5%.
The O’Connor/Smartmouth beer will be called the Treaty of Ghent Belgian Dubbel. It’ll be packaged in 22-ounce bottles with a label full of symbolism that is designed to be look authentic to the 1800s era. The dubbel will also be available on tap, though sold exclusively at Ghent-area restaurants.
With a Smartmouth-O’Connor collaboration finally realized, what’ll they do for an encore?
“I’m just excited to finally be doing something together,” said Porter Hardy. “Kevin and I have been friends forever. Smartmouth owes a lot of its success to O’Connor Brewing Company.”
“People have wanted to build thing up to where its Smartmouth verses O’Connor,” said Kevin O’Connor. “There’s none of that. There’s not at cross-town rivalry. We’re going to do our own Treaty of Ghent. And I can guarantee this is not the last beer we’re going to collaborate on together.”