He called it the “Thirsty Belgian.” Its specialty was Belgian and Belgian-style beers. And from his point of view, it all made perfect sense.
Carish has Belgian roots. His mom is from Belgium. He has traveled through Belgium. Back in the 1980s, Carisch’s first job was bussing tables at what was then Rochester’s only Belgian restaurant, “Chez Franz.”
“There’s a weird arc there,” Carish said, reflecting on these odd Belgian echoes in his life.
And on any given day, Carish will regale you with stories about the 500-year brewing history of Belgium Trappist monks, several of whose beers are sold at the Thirsty Belgian.
507: When you first opened the Thirsty Belgian, what were you striving for?
Carisch: It was an opportunity. There was a place called Jabbers. They tried a little wine restaurant and it wasn’t going well for them. They were looking to get out. So when I looked at it, it was too small of a place to do a real bar and grill. But it reminded me of a Belgian beer cafe.
There are so many great craft beer places in town with 50 beers on tap and places that are already doings wings and nachos and burgers. I thought, ‘let’s do something different.’
507: What separates Belgian beers from other beers?
Carish: Belgian beers are kind of the great great grandfathers and grandmothers of a lot of what the craft beer industry is now. They weren’t restricted by the general purity laws or what was going on in England. The Belgians were allowed to make whatever they liked. And that really started with the different monasteries and the monks.
507: How would you describe their taste?
Carish: They are known for their strong beers. They are higher in alcohol, but they’re very smooth, which is what I think American craft beers are striving for. We have everything from very dark strong beers to light Belgian pale ales. If there is a beer lover out there and they have haven’t gotten into Belgian beers, they will be pleasantly surprised.
507: What’s one business lesson you have learned since opening the Thirsty Belgian?
Carish: Stick to your guns. If you have an idea, go with it. You have to listen to the customers, but there are certain things you have to stick to your guns on. We don’t carry light beer here – Miller Lite, Bud Lite. There have been times when people can’t believe that. But if you turn those people on to something else, all of sudden you have made a convert out of them.
507: Aside from the beer, how is this like a Belgian bar?
Carish: If you have ever been through the streets of Holland or Belgium, there’s a little beer bar or restaurant everywhere. They’re just like little hallways. One of the biggest compliments I can get is when people from either Belgian or Holland say, ‘this reminds me of a place in Belgium.’
507: Does knowing about this history of a beer enhance the enjoyment of it?
Carish: Big time! A lot of the time, my bartenders will tell the story behind the beer as they’re serving it. If it’s not about the beer itself, it’s about the container in which it’s served. We have a kwak, a very unique glass that looks like a test tube. It has a wooden holder. People love to hear those little stories that make a beer interesting.