Two advocates of Belgian brews bring the suds to our shores.
“Beer Knight” sounds like a title that might be awarded to a frat boy during a rowdy keg party. But for Steve Villani and Cliff Lusso, it’s an honor of the highest order, and it’s one they’ve earned as the Belgian beer importers and connoisseurs at the helm of Global Beer Network in Middleton.
Global Beer Network is the country’s exclusive importer for several award-winning Belgian breweries, bringing to our shores more than 60 different kinds of Belgian beers, such as Gulden Draak, Wittekerke, and Piraat. Belgian-style beers are all the rage here in the States, with big-time brewers like Coors Brewing Company and Boston Beer Company making beers that emulate the ones brewed by their across-the-pond brethren. But the beers imported by Global Beer Network aren’t imitators—they’re crafted in Belgian villages like Bavikhove and Ertvelde by brewers who carry with them generations of brewing knowledge. Some of them have even used the same strains of yeast for centuries. “This is the real, authentic deal,” says Lusso, Global Beer Network’s chief operating officer.
Getting Belgian beer onto American tables was the original aim of the company, which was founded in 1994 by a Flemish couple who wanted to keep drinking their beloved beers even after they moved to the United States. “They created this company because they couldn’t find beers that they really liked,” says Villani, Global Beer Network’s president.
Villani, whose career includes a 17-year stint at Anheuser-Busch, joined with Lusso to purchase Global Beer Network in 2007 and moved it to Middleton from California. Since then, they’ve expanded the company exponentially. Now, beer lovers can get their hands on these artisanal brews in 48 states, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. The company works with 110 national distributors that sell the beers to retailers and restaurants across the country. Here on the North Shore, these include Kappy’s, The Meat House, The Grog in Newburyport, and The Grill Next Door in Haverhill.
In Global Beer Network’s Middleton offices, everything is devoted to beer, from hundreds of specialized drinking glasses to the bar outfitted with a Gulden Draak draft beer tower that’s topped with a golden dragon with gleaming red eyes. Villani and Lusso are nothing if not beer geeks. They are true aficionados who can recommend the best temperature for serving the hop ale Poperings Hommel (between 45 and 48 degrees Fahrenheit); who love the cherry sweetness of Petrus Aged Red as much as they love the sour twang of Monk’s Cafe; and who wax poetic about “Belgian lace,” the trail of white bubbles that a thick, foamy head leaves on the inside of a beer glass.
Which brings us back to their “beer knight” status. Each year, the Belgian Brewers federation inducts a small and select group of people into the Knighthood of the Brewers’ Mash Staff. Knights like Villani and Lusso, who were knighted in 2011 and 2012, respectively, receive medals (and free beer) at the annual Belgian Beer Weekend in Brussels. It’s an honor they no doubt deserve and enjoy.
Says Villani, “Everything we do promotes Belgian beer.”