Buffalo Bill, Belgium and a mysterious beer story at the Cheeky Monk
Brouwerij Van Den Bossche
In 1906, William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody took his traveling circus on the road to Belgium, performing in Antwerp, Brussels, and half a dozen other cities. Now, more than a hundred years later, a beer that was accidentally brewed as a result of that tour (according to legend, that is) has made its way to Colorado, where the famous buffalo hunter is buried.
Buffalo 1907, as well as two other beers made by the van den Bossche brewery in Sint-Lievens-Esse, Belgium, will be served on January 14 at a party at the Cheeky Monk Belgian Beer Cafe that will be attended by van den Bossche's head brewer, Belgian dignitaries and Steve Friesen, director of the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave.
But like just about everything having to do with Buffalo Bill, there are a few mysteries surrounding the tale of Buffalo 1907.
Here's how the common story goes:
In 1907, Cody brought his Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show to the town square in Sint-Lievens-Esse, where nearly the entire population turned out to watch the exotic spectacle. This included brewery founder Arthur van den Bossche and his employees, who all attended the circus, leaving behind just one person -- either a junior brewer or a paid lackey, depending on who's telling the story -- to tend to the brew kettles.
But the young man forgot to stir the beer while everyone was away, which meant that the beer at the bottom of the kettle was roasted or burned by the heat. Van den Bossche was angry at first, but after tasting the beer, he realized that it wasn't bad and decided to sell it. And the brewery has been selling the dark roasted beer ever since.
Whether the story is true is anyone's guess, but there are a few factual problems from Friesen's end that will need clarification. For one thing, the Wild West Show went to Belgium in 1906 -- not 1907 -- and there is no record of it being in Sint-Lievens-Esse.
"Buffalo Bill's Wild West did appear in Brussels, just thirty kilometers from Sint-Lievens-Esse, from September 14 to 17 in 1906," he writes in an e-mail. "It also appeared in Ghent, just 23 kilometers from Sint-Lievens-Esse, from September 20 to 21. Perhaps the brewery staff made the trip to one of those towns when the beer got burned, but saying the show was in the town square made it a better story.
"Or perhaps the show did indeed stop in Sint-Lievens-Esse between September 17 and 20, and we simply haven't yet run across that information. The show was somewhere during those days; we just haven't discovered where," Friesen continues.
The problem with the dates isn't as critical, "since dates often get mixed up when stories are told," he adds. "So the mystery remains for the moment. I do intend to clear up one mystery at the Cheeky Monk, and that's whether I like the taste of 'burned' beer."
Cheeky Monk owner James Pachorek definitely likes it. "It has a distinct smoked flavor to it, but not as heavy-duty as a rauchbier, not that full-on bacon flavor."
But he has some questions of his own for the brewery. "I always wondered about the story," he says. "It sounds like an old fish tale where the fish keeps getting bigger every year."
Whatever the truth, you can check out the beer for yourself at 7 p.m. on Monday, January 14, at "East Meets West -- Belgians, Cowboys and Buffalo Beer" at the Cheeky Monk, where you can also meet Friesen and current brewmaster Bruneo van den Bossche.
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