Donor’s expertise and contributions engineering the next generation of brewers

Floris Delée’s enduring passion for fermentation, craft beer and the CSU community has come full circle with the success of the new Ramskeller on-campus teaching brewery.

Delée, founder, brewmaster and process engineer at Kathinka Engineering and an instructor in the fermentation science and technology program at CSU, has been connected to the Fort Collins’ craft beer scene since its inception. Now he has given back to the community by helping to create CSU’s very own teaching brewery.

“Floris was involved with the Ramskeller brewery from the beginning and helped with the design of the space, donated high-end pieces of equipment and leveraged his network and encouraged them to support and donate to the brewery,” said Jeff Callaway, associate director of the Fermentation Science and Technology Program.

History in Fort Collins

Delée has made a distinct impact on the CSU and Fort Collins’ communities, but it was really by chance that he ended up here in the first place. In 1993, he took a break from his studies as a biochemical engineer in his home country of Belgium to come visit some friends who had chosen to complete their doctorates at CSU.

Floris in a black sweater and plaid collar smiling with a beer in hand on a sunny day.

While touring Fort Collins, he helped solve a mechanical problem at New Belgium Brewing’s mill, which was an unknown and up-and-coming brewery at the time. In return for his help, Jeff Lebesch, the co-founder of New Belgium, paid him with two cases of beer. “Which was the best deal ever!” smiled Delée, recalling the memory. “It was good beer too. On the way to the airport, I stopped by again and I asked if they had a job and he said ‘Sure! If you come back I will give you a job because we don’t have a real brewmaster.’”

Thus began the best three years of Delée’s entire career. He was used to the formalities and academics of brewing in Belgium, and working at New Belgium changed his outlook on brewing, entrepreneurship and problem solving.

“To this day, that is still the best job I’ve had. It was a small brewery; it was the beginning of craft beer; we did everything ourselves. We built ice banks; we had no money; but because we didn’t know how difficult everything was, we tried everything.”

At the time, Lebesch had a saying: “Our biggest advantage is our ignorance,” and in the early days the crew really lived by this motto. “Those first three years we figured out everything; we were an incredible team; we had a lot of freedom, a lot of creative energy,” reminisced Delée. “I don’t think we always knew what we were doing, but at the end of the day, we always had incredibly good, fresh beer in front of the customers.”

As one of the first people in the Colorado brewing scene with a solid background in engineering and fermentation, Delée was instrumental in getting New Belgium to where it is today. “I came to Fort Collins 25 years ago, and now I get to be an instructor at CSU teaching in the subject that I like the most. I have been part of a brewing scene that was nothing 25 years ago, and now is really booming – it’s all so cool!”

Since his experience at New Belgium, Delée has garnered quite a reputation for himself. He’s worked as a brewmaster for Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware and as a brewing engineer for the Anton Steinecker Maschinenfabrik, GmbH, a brewing equipment manufacturer in Freising, Germany. He has travelled and worked in Chile, Belize and Costa Rica.

After an impressive career, he returned to New Belgium for a few more years and founded his own engineering company, Kathinka Engineering, which helps breweries with best practices, provides recipes, quality control programs and sustainability analysis, plans waste water systems and designs entire breweries. He has also returned to CSU where he teaches Introduction to Fermentation Unit Operations in Fermentation Science, an elective class that challenges students but takes their problem-solving skills to the next level.

Giving back to CSU

Students and faculty alike have experienced Delée’s commitment to the undergraduates he teaches and to the fermentation industry. He loves to meet with individuals in his classes and help them find internships and jobs in the area they are most excited about.

Three men laughing and chatting in the bar area of a brewery.
Floris with Casa Bruja brewmaster Stefano Marin and owner Jonathan Pragnell.

“The reason I’m here is because of CSU, and for me to give back is kind of cool. It makes me believe in karma a little bit. I’m not a hippy, but you don’t need to be a hippy to believe that if you do good for others, others will do good for you,” Delée said with a grin.

Lauren Sandell was one of the first people to benefit from his generosity, and she now works full time with him at Kathinka Engineering. “He has written many letters of recommendation for his students and has sent personal recommendations to his contacts in the brewing and malting industries,” she said. “Luckily for me, I spoke with him right at the time. Kathinka needed to hire another person for the lab. He knew me as a committed, interested student in the fermentation realm, so I was able to work for his company.”

“Floris brings knowledge, passion, and credibility to the program,” said Callaway. “He is an entity known around the world and having him bring his vast experience, connections and endless passion is a major boon for the program.”

In his classes, Delée likes to encourage discussion rather than just lecture. “He is very approachable and has a wealth of knowledge to share, so it’s worthwhile to learn as much as possible from him,” said Sandell of his teaching style. “Floris cares about the people he works with and the projects he works on . . . we are a true team here [at Kathinka], and I am grateful for that.”

Floris in a brown polo sips beer from a small tasting class in front of brewing equipment.
Floris tastes a sample while doing a collaboration brew in Panama with Cerveceria Casa Bruja.

The Ramskeller teaching brewery officially opened in the spring of 2018, and in October 2018 they tapped their first beer. Floris’s contributions, vast knowledge of brewing engineering and the help from his company Kathinka Engineering were key to the success of this on-campus brewery.

“Floris donated incredible amounts of time – engineering time is not cheap – and equipment that totals well into the six-figures,” explained Callaway. “But ultimately his contributions have been priceless.”

Floris is exceedingly humble about his role in establishing this landmark facility, but he is excited to say that “soon we will have beer at the new stadium that was brewed by CSU fermentation science students. I feel that I can take a little bit of credit for that which is very cool.”

“Floris is very intelligent, well-traveled and successful,” said Callaway. “He is humble yet confident and extremely passionate. He is passionate about the industry and passing his knowledge onto students. In general I would say that he is a gentleman and a scholar!”

The Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition is a part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.