June 12, 2018 – A few years ago, when I spoke to Fabrice Rondia, he talked about “three Belgian guys who want to share the beer culture of Belgium with Monterey.” Rondia—along with Damien Georis and Jonathan Geisler—wanted to create a beer tasting room called Belgian Pacific and a brewery, where visitors would learn about, experience, and appreciate the quality of Belgian brews.
Fast forward three years and the project has progressed and evolved. There are now three phases. A coffee shop set to open in September, the beer tasting room, which will follow later this year, and the brewery, where they will eventually make Leopold 7 beer currently being imported from Belgium
Rondia is now living on the property at 419 Wave Street, just above Cannery Row, where you may have noticed drilling rigs in action over the past couple of weeks. A newly-dug artesian well will provide water for the whole project.
The on-site coffee shop will be called L’Aubette, the name for a Belgian shelter in which passengers wait for the bus or train. Given that the property sits adjacent to where train tracks used to be and that there is still a railroad crossing sign next to Ed Ricketts’ statue—Rondia felt it an appropriate blend of Belgian culture and Monterey history.
In fact, though he initially began the project to bring Belgium to California, the ‘Pacific’ part of his business is vibrant and he has taken care to keep elements of the property intact. For example, the black walnut trees that had to be removed when they began to clear and level the space for L’Aubette’s patio seating. Instead of simply hauling away the wood, they milled the trees into usable pieces. Some planks will form a low fence at the entrance to the patio; longer planks will be fashioned into a taller fence to provide privacy for the cottage; and smaller pieces will be used to serve cheese boards in the Belgian Pacific beer and wine tasting room when it opens in November 2018.
When Leopold 7 beer was introduced at the California Beer Fest in Santa Cruz in 2015, beer lovers raved about its refreshing, unique taste. Rondia shared that one of the unique ingredients in the recipe is ground cardamom “not a lot, just a pinch.” He embraces the Belgian brewery’s practices that make them sustainable. He said that the Leopold 7 logo included lots of reds and yellows. However, those colors contained toxic pigments, so they adopted a logo with more greens and blue. You’ll notice there are no paper labels on the bottles. And he shared the first ‘cluster’ pack with me, a 4-pack carrier that only envelopes the tops of four bottles. “It uses a lot less cardboard and paper than the regular six pack container,” he says.
The Leopold 7 brewers have also figured out how to reduce the amount of water they use to brew and standardized the process, which was helpful when Rondia submitted paperwork to jump the bureaucratic hurdles required to open a business here. “I could show them exactly how much water was needed to brew the beer.” Part of the reason that Belgian Pacific has taken shape slowly is that water is an important resource, as well as a crucial part to this business, and Rondia proceeded slowly and methodically to ensure everything was in order.
In recent weeks, they dug a well that went down 180 feet and, this week, they are preparing to dig a second well. The first is considered an artesian well because the water, which is under some pressure, flows to the surface naturally though he did install a solar pump to increase the flow. He is also scheduled to receive a Tesla solar roof in a few months, so much of the electricity to run the café will be from natural sunlight.
When the café opens, they will keep it simple with coffee—made with beans from Verve Coffee Roasters—and pastries and bread from Lafayette Bakery. Rondia also mentioned offering two specialties from his hometown of Liége: Café Liégeois and Gauffre de Liége. He likened the former to a Beligian affogato—a cold dessert made from lightly sweetened coffee, coffee ice cream, and topped with Chantilly cream. Gauffre de Liége is a Belgian waffle whose texture resembles a brioche in which pearl sugar has caramelized in the waffle iron.
When the Belgian Pacific tasting room opens later this year, Rondia plans to connect food to beer—not just pairing beer with food, but using beer as an ingredient. He will serve some traditional Belgian dishes such as moules-frites (mussels and fries) and hopes to find a local farmer who is willing to grow the Bintje potato for his fries. And, further ahead, when Belgian Pacific begins brewing Leopold 7, they will proudly label their beer as “Belgian-born, but California-brewed.” Eventually he hopes to be canning beer, bringing the first working cannery back to Cannery Row in a long time.