Beer TourismBeer WritingBelgiumMonastic BeerTrappist

Hit the Ground Running: Side Hustlin’

Zundert Trappist Brewery Abbey
Brother Christiaan and Christopher Barnes at Zundert Trappist Abbey

Seems like everyone has a side hustle. It is, after all, the “gig economy.” I’m no exception. I’ve been writing about beer for a little over five years now. I’ve actually been getting paid to do it for the last two. A few weeks ago, I turned my side hustle into my main job. For two weeks. For two weeks in September, I was a traveling free lance beer writer.

I write about a few different topics, but mostly, my passion and main expertise is the beers of Belgium. Over the last five years, I’ve traveled to Belgium about half a dozen times and visited probably about 40% of the breweries currently operating. For the first time, I sold several stories in advance of my trip. Becoming a selling writer has been quite the journey with its share of rejection and victories. This was the first time I’ve fully pursued my side hustle as my main gig, even if only for a short while. It’s daunting to step out on that ledge. It reminds me of the speech Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis is giving to Tim Robbins’ Nuke Laloosh in the ’80’s baseball comedy Bull Durham. For those who haven’t seen the movie (you should, you don’t have to like baseball to love this move), Nuke has just gotten word he’s moving up to the Big Leagues and Crash, the veteran minor leaguer, is giving him a last piece of advice:


“…that’s the secret, you’ve got to play this game with fear and arrogance.”


That’s how I approached this trip: confident in my skills but hungry to prove myself. I hit the ground running. I landed with two weeks, about 20+ total, worth of appoints spread out over three countries. Off the plane and into the rental car, I darted off to my first appointment with the elusive founder of Bokkeryeder, Raf. The only time that worked was the afternoon I landed in Belgium. After a great extended interview, and a few of his tasty creations, I hit the road from Hasselt in east Belgium and drove west to other side of the country to my bed and breakfast in Ieper (Ypres). That was the first day. While I was there, I:

  • visited and toured 4 Trappist abbeys and breweries. I’ve now been in 5 of 6 Belgian Trappists (Westvleteren is still evading me) and both Dutch Trappists.
  • put just over 2,700 kilometers on the rental car, crisscrossing Belgium about 6 times.
  • attended the wonderful Poperinge Hop Festival which only takes place every 3 years.
  • filed 6 stories from the road, including this one for The Full Pint: What’s Wrong With My Beer? A Guide To Common Off Flavors. The others will be appearing in print in upcoming issues of Belgian Beer and Food. If you’re not a subscriber, you’re missing out on some of the best beer writing and photography in the business.
  • spent time with several friends.
  • met 90+ year old French beer historian who showed Michael Jackson around French breweries.
  • ate a lot of amazing food.
  • drank a lot of amazing beer.
  • met a lot of amazing people.

I can’t say that this trip was and more or less packed than any of my other recent forays into Belgium and Europe, but this was the first one entirely dedicatd to writing work I’ve sold. I have several more pieces that will be coming out over the coming months in various publications, including one very large multi-part piece that I’m extremely excited about. The two weeks on the road were the most visible and “exciting” part of the process. In reality, it was the culmination of months of planning appointments, interviews, schedules, and travel. Now it’ll be followed up with transcribing interviews and assembling the pieces of information into exciting stories. Most of all, it’ll mean a lot of writing, rewriting, and editing. The brewery trips are just the most glamorous part.

The final piece that makes this trip so unique? When all the pieces are sent in, this trip will have paid for itself and then some. I successfully side hustled for two weeks.

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