Blue Moon Founder and Brewer Keith Villa’s journey spans decades in beer making, from his days of homebrewing at the University of Colorado to becoming a beer doctor in Belgium, and now bringing his beer to Waterside in Norfolk—garnished with an orange peel.
Villa attributes his inspiration to making beer to his four-year stay in Belgium when he received his PhD in brewing from the University of Brussels. “I fell in love with all the styles of beers that the Belgians were making,” says Villa, from Trappist to farmhouse and fruity, from saisons and sours, “It was just a whole paradise of beers.”
At first, Villa’s appreciation for Belgian beers was an acquired taste. “The first day I went to Belgium, I bought a sour Cantillon beer. I didn’t realize it was supposed to be sour. I thought something was wrong with it. I took one sip, and I said ‘yuck!’ And I poured it down the drain and wasted a nice bottle of Cantillon beer.”
While he worked on his doctorate, he visited breweries with his professor on consulting visits, which began his appreciation for the beer. By the end of his stay he had come to love sour beers among other Belgian styles. The full flavor of Belgian beers was a revelation to Villa, which differed from bland beer styles that were ubiquitous in America at the time.
Wanting to make a Wit similar to the Belgian style of beer, Villa put his own twist to the recipe. During his studies he learned that hundreds of years ago the Belgians used oats in their beers but stopped the practice because of the difficulty to brew with them, so he carried over this tradition with his Belgian-style Wit. The other difference was the use of the Valencia orange peel, adding a bright and fruity taste that differs from the Belgians’ use of Curaçao orange peel, which is bitterer. Lastly, Blue Moon Belgian White is an entire degree higher in alcohol than typical Belgian Wits, which are typically 4.2 percent, and Villa’s version is 5.4 percent. Villa attributes that higher degree of alcohol to adding more body and flavor to the beer, purposely making for a better pairing with seafood, white meat, pork, chicken and spicy dishes such as Thai and Mexican food, as well as salads and desserts.
Food has played a large part in Villa’s beer development, as dishes inspired from the cuisines of both France and further north in Europe went hand-in-hand with flavorful beers. “When you have a beer culture that has beer and cuisine that has evolved over the last few hundred years to what it is today, it’s really impressive. That really formed the way I think about beer and cuisine when it came to Blue Moon.”
Many of Villa’s recipe ideas are influenced by his world travels and talking with chefs in their kitchens and trying different foods. Always open to experimentation, Villa has used everything from peanut butter to lemongrass and basil for the Thai food beer-style aptly named Tongue Thai’d, developed out of a simple curiosity of how it would taste.
Different ventures in brewing Blue Moon beers have come from the instrumental resources of its parent company, MillerCoors, which Villa is proud of, as they’ve been able to procure top quality hops, malts, herbs and spices from all over for brewing. Blue Moon is also able to bring its brand to different markets, including Waterside.
At the TapHouse there will be some exclusive beers appearing once in a blue moon. Mexican Chocolate and Blood Orange Pale Ale for example, aren’t found anywhere else, as the brewery in Denver is directly shipping kegs to Norfolk and will often offer a sneak peak of new beers before they appear elsewhere. The variety of beers regularly on tap also follow suit with the mantra of beer belonging with food, as Blue Moon TapHouse’s menu provides a selection of seafood, burgers, street tacos and more.
“They’ve done a great job; I’m really happy with what has resulted here. You’ve got an experience that just, to me, I call the wow factor,” Villa shares. “You walk around and see all the art on the walls, see the taps, interact with the staff here, some of the best people around, and the chefs are making some fantastic dishes. So for me, the wow factor is definitely alive and well in here at the TapHouse.”
Visit here for more beer and food at the Blue Moon TapHouse at Waterside.