No small beer

Craft beers are brewed in small quantities by independent producers who use traditional European methods. At Bastone, the Belgian restaurant and brewpub in Royal Oak, brewmaster Rockne Van Meter carries on this sacred tradition. Since 2005 his ales and lagers, all brewed on-site, have won more than 30 awards.

METRO TIMES: How long has craft brewing been popular here?

ROCKNE VAN METER: I'd say 10, 12, maybe 15 years here in Royal Oak. It started to get big in this country in the early- to mid-'80s, when it kind of got big out West with Sierra Nevada and Anchor. And it was not just Labatt's or Michelob or Budweiser. It was flavored beer. In Belgium there are 400 different kinds of beer which are consumed more regularly than over here. I think a lot of people here drink your macro-brewed Budweiser, Coors, things like that. There are more people over there drinking Oktoberfest-style beers and stouts.

MT: How much beer do you brew?

VAN METER: Annually, about 600 barrels, a barrel being 31 gallons. It grows every year by about 5, 6, 7 percent.

MT: What's the difference between craft beer and what is known as extreme beer?

VAN METER: I would say that extreme is above and beyond craft: like an IPA — India Pale Ale — would be a hoppy pale ale. I think an extreme beer might be a double IPA, just bigger, more alcohol, more hops. And maybe extreme has something to do with the ingredients. I think most of the time it has to do with alcohol and just more of what makes beer beer.

MT: What are the opportunities to make a profession out of brewing?

VAN METER: Like most people, I started it as a hobby. By the luck of the draw, I found this gig. There aren't that many brewery positions open. There are 70-some breweries in the state and however many there are in your area and then those that are hiring. It's a crapshoot. The natural progression is for people to become assistant brewers, then they become head brewers, and then they open up their own places. 

MT: There are all kinds of discussions about food-and-wine pairings. What about food-and-beer pairings?

VAN METER: I don't think that people think about it enough. I think that beer has more flavor than wine. Inherently there are more ingredients. There are more combinations of flavor with beer than with wine. It depends on what you like to drink. A lot of people think that beer is bitter. Some beers are made to be bitter. Bitter is not one of those flavors that you naturally enjoy. I think it can be paired, really, with anything, more so than wine, whether it be cheese, any kind of meat, all kinds of foods. It goes really good with hamburgers and pizza [laughs], but it goes well with anything you can pair wine with and you'd probably enjoy it more.

MT: How has beer consumption changed over the last, say, 10 years? I assume that craft beers have become more popular as they have become more proliferated.

VAN METER: I would say more people are drinking IPAs. That's the latest and greatest in beer. Now it's kind of that extreme beer thing too. The craft industry has gone way up. Now you have Michelob and some of the other big guys making craft beer because they are losing sales.

MT: Michelob? I thought that craft beer, in part, refers to small production. What makes a craft beer a craft beer?

VAN METER: Craft beer is confused with microbreweries, with small production. Craft beer is more of the types and styles that they make. There's over 70 different kinds of beers and subcategories — hefeweizens, porters, pale ales, stouts — bigger, bolder flavor in beer that's not meant to be consumed cold as ice, but maybe 40 or 50 degrees. It's beer with flavor.

MT: Are there opportunities to sell your beer to go?

VAN METER: We do sell beer in half-gallon growlers. We're not allowed by state law to put a 12-ounce bottle or can in a store, because we sell liquor.

MT: According to Bavarian Reinheitsgebot or Purity Law of 1516, basic beer is water, hops and barley. Brewers at that time didn't know that yeast existed.

VAN METER: It's been amended. Yeast is vital to make beer. Being a Belgian-themed brewery, there's no way I'd adhere to that. Belgian beer wouldn't adhere to that, period. We add fruits and ingredients that give flavor. The recipes that we serve here are all creations of my own — my interpretations of the style.

Bastone is at 419 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-544-6250.

Jeff Broder does this monthly food interview for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]