It’s called the Knighthood of the Brewers’ Paddle. And it’s one of the Belgian Brewers Guild’s most important and festive traditions, as honorary knights are “enthroned” for rendering “loyal services to the brewing profession.”
In early September, when Brick Store Pub co-owner Dave Blanchard became one of the newest knights during an event preceding the annual Belgian Beer Weekend in Brussels, Frank Boon, the founder and brewer of the great lambic house, Brouwerij Boon, presided over the ceremony.
“I am most humbled to receive this honor and most happily accept this on behalf of the Brick Store Pub and my two best friends and partners, Michael Gallagher and Tom Moore,” Blanchard said of the honor.
Of course, since opening on Decatur Square in June 1997, the Brick Store has become both a neighborhood fixture and widely celebrated as one of the best beer bars in the world.
All that’s due in large part to Blanchard’s devotion to curating a sprawling beer list that includes rare and vintage selections, and his big idea for a 2004 expansion into an upstairs space that became known as “the Belgian Bar.”
With eight rotating draft taps and a huge collection of Belgian and Belgian-style beers in the bottle, the intimate, rustic room with exposed brick and old wood-paneled doors recalls some of the great beer bars of Europe.
As Blanchard likes to point out, all Belgian beers at the Brick Store are poured in brewery-specific glassware — a detail, he’s proud to add, that is something not seen in any other pub outside of Belgium.
“The way we take care of the beer, and store it, and serve it, just made it a whole new and exciting experience for folks who were sort of going to the next phase of beer in Atlanta,” Blanchard said. “And because of this bar, we began selling crazy amounts of Belgian beer, which certainly got noticed by the distributors.”
Soon, the Belgian Bar earned a reputation as a go-to destination for visiting importers and brewers, such as Boon, who have hosted a series of tastings and beer dinners there.
“Over the last 12 years, I’ll bet we’ve met 20 or 30 owners of Belgian breweries who have come to Atlanta to visit and say thank you,” Blanchard said. “I think we’re still the No. 1 St. Bernardus account anywhere. And in 2010, we became only the fourth pub in the United States to receive the Orval Ambassadeur award — an award we’ve received each year since.”
Recalling the moment he was knighted in Brussels, Blanchard is still a tad thunderstruck.
“Obviously, it was a big deal,” he said. “But I don’t think I realized how big it was until I stood there that day. Just the majesty of it all. It was so well done. And it was so great to see beer treated in such a reverent way. They want us to be a living, ongoing ambassador for Belgian beer. That’s a really great thing.”