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Carrying on tradition: Belgian Underground explores its roots

Dale Coleman and Sheldon Lesire in Belgium
Dale Coleman and Sheldon Lesire in Belgium.

By Melissa Wagoner

Verzetsbir is ode aan grootvader,” read a recent headline in the Belgian newspaper “Het Belang Van Limburg.” Translated it reads, “Resistance beer is ode to grandfather.”

The beer in question was created by Silverton’s own Belgian Underground brewmasters, Sheldon Lesire and Dale Coleman who, on a recent trip brought along 24 bottles of their finest brews to share.

“The reporter said, ‘This tastes exactly like a Belgian beer,’” Lesire recalled.

Throughout the trip, which included tours of several breweries and a lot of tasting, Lesire and Coleman were pleasantly surprised to note that the Belgian brews they have been concocting in America hold up to the real thing.

“There was a Belgian IPA that we had there that tasted a lot like our own,” Lesire said.

When Lesire began to get interested in brewing six years ago he also became interested in the Belgian Resistance and the part his opa, or grandfather, played in that history.

An employee of the railroad, Lesire’s opa passed on train schedules used to track German movement and was even brought in for questioning on several occasions. These stories inspired Lesire so much that he decided to make his budding brewery venture into an ode to his opa.

“We like to say we’re a storytelling company that happens to brew beer,” Lesire explained. “Each of our beers is named after a group or an event in the resistance.”

Belgian Underground, although new to the microbrewery scene, is already brewing five beers and is showcased in
40 different places.

“We’d like to stay small for a couple more years,” Coleman said. “The goal was to do this whole thing debt free and we still are.”

Keeping things small has also helped Belgian Underground stay true to the taste and quality of the Belgian beers they are trying to emulate.

“They tend to be stronger, they tend to be sweeter and just a unique flavor profile from the yeast,” Lesire said.

“Everybody wants to see truly Belgian styles but a lot of that takes time,” Coleman continued.

Lesire said that each new beer that Belgian Underground releases is the result of at least a dozen test batches in order to get the taste just right.

“We don’t have a tap room so we can’t smooth it over with excellent customer service,” he laughed.

Although the purpose of the recent trip to Belgium wasn’t entirely brewery related (Lesire has over 30 first cousins residing there) some of his family are also investors in Belgian Underground and it was a chance for him to bring them up to speed.

“My cousin Andres said ‘Wow, this is an amazing beer.’ Lesire said. “He was happy.”

The same cousin was also able to get them an interview with the local paper and the duo were recognized several times around the village afterward. They also drew attention by wearing shirts with the Belgian Underground logo, which was inspired by that of the Belgian Resistance.

“We got a lot of looks,” Coleman said. “The question was, ‘Belgian beer in America? Why?’”

Lesire explained that because the country is so small, roughly the size of the Willamette Valley, residents were surprised and delighted to learn that Americans had even heard of their beer.

Overall the trip was a success and Lesire and Coleman are already looking forward to the next one. When asked what he enjoyed the most Coleman said, “We enjoyed the museums, the food,” and with a smile, “and the beer.”


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