Thursday, October 8, 2009

Another day, another bottle

The pipes bleed with Black Albert

Hey folks, I think I'll keep posting my entries on this site, too, but don't forget to visit the blog at Struise's website:

Here's the latest:

It’s been just a week here in Belgium for me, but I’m afraid it’s got me hooked. It’s not just the beer, of course. Well, you could certainly design a Belgian vacation just around beer and I’m sure you’d have a hell of a time – that’s basically where I started – but the people are what make traveling worthwhile. Good beer can be damn good, but it’s also all about enjoying a good beer in great company, and perhaps that’s why Belgium has retained such a strong culture of beer; the Belgian people are some of the friendliest on this sphere of teeming life. They remind me a bit of what I imagine most Midwesterners are like. Any Chicagoans out there?

So, I’m having a good time with the beer, the buddies, and the bikes. has been both a lifesaver and a friendbooster. Krist, my host in Kortrijk, took me on an 85-kilometer bike ride along part of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Belgium’s world-famous bike “race” (it’s called something else, like “premier” or “tour” or something more official). The crisp, cool Belgian countryside was comforting in its agrarian stillness and beauty. My ass, however, was not comfortable despite the skin-tight, padded biking garb. In Poperinge I’ve stayed several nights with Wim, a soft-spoken, overly likeable young organic farmer. His hospitability is unbelievable, and his dinner portions are plenty to get me through the heavy days of biking in the rain. I wish I could stay at Wim’s for the whole winter.

I’ve got some more good news. Good news for me and good news for you readers out there, all five of you. The news means I’ll be posting more eye candy for several months to come, so get yourself hungry (or thirsty) for this sweet and spicy commentary. The news is that I’ve almost solidified my schedule until March, and there are some big shots in the mix. My plan is to develop a home base with Urbain, working for Struise on and off when his farmhouse is empty of visitors. When the farm inn is booked, I will jump from brewery to brewery. Glenn and Davy from Picobrouwerij Alvinne have been very welcoming, so I hope to spend more brewing and bottling days with them. I’ll be tagging along with Glenn this weekend to a festival in Zottegem and also at the end of this month near Amsterdam, at a festival De Molen brewery is hosting. In late February I’ll be staying at Glenn’s folks’ home to help Alvinne prepare for the pre-ZBF fizz-fest. Pre-ZBF is the smaller, gourmet, all-star beer festival right before the big ZBF fest in Belgium. Daniel Thiriez, of Brasserie Thiriez in Esquelbecq, France (right across the border), has agreed to host me for the second half of November. Daniel’s beers, so I’ve heard, are of his own brand; he brews them fresh and zippy, full of both French and Belgian farmhouse character. I’ve also met with Nino Bacelle of Brouwerij De Ranke in Dottignies, Belgium. I will be helping out on several occasions over the next few months, though since they only brew once or twice a week I won’t be resting my dome on their pillows. Perhaps couchsurfing will come to my rescue then. Perhaps there will be more breweries to visit: Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, or Swedish. English, Irish, Scottish, or German, too. “Networking” is the new buzzword these days, and the brewing industry is not immune to such trendy business concepts.

The week hasn’t just been an orgy of organizing (though I did lose a whole night of sleep just thinking about my plans). I joined Urbain at Deca again, this time for some cleaning and transferring. We (mostly he) cleaned two conditioning tanks where the Black Albert he brewed recently was pumped for further development. I spent a good ten minutes scrubbing the inside of one tank, all alone in the dark cavern with only my green scrubbie to give the surface a good rubbing. Urbain cleaned another and proceeded to fill both with Black Albert. One tank got a special treatment: five kilograms of the finest Colombian coffee beans was added as an experiment. I’ll keep you updated on that. Urbain’s method of sanitizing the tanks is certainly unique. He insists on using a lovely substance (that old-school science teachers know all too well) to rid the interior of the tanks of any lurking microbe. A pot of the stuff is set on a small propane burner, placed inside the tank, and lit. The door is closed and the substance evaporates, coating the inside and making it clean enough to eat an endive salad on. Or chocolate pudding, if you’re like me. This step is necessary to keep the beer free of infection. Urbain treated me to a delicious sandwich with some reddish mystery meat, accompanied by a solid, earthy Struise Pannepeut. The beer was a meal in itself.

My meeting with Nino of De Ranke was, as it is with many brewers, more than just a meeting. Nino, a stylish man with stylish tastes and stylish hospitality, brought me from his home to the brewery for a tour and tasting. I guess when I say stylish I mean classy but workmanlike. His beers perfectly reflect his character: clean and smooth, robust yet refined. We made our way through the aromatic Guldenburg, solidly hoppy and characterful XX Bitter, caramelly Noir de Dottignies, bitter Christmas brew Père Noel, and the Cuvée and Kriek De Ranke, two blended beers using a young De Ranke beer and a lambic from the Girardin brewery – the kriek is aged on whole cherries. After our rendezvous at the spotless and ingeniously designed brewery (it’s brand new but designed in a very traditional way), Nino brought me back to his home and bought us some real Belgian fries. We ate with his wife and had a nice visit, replete with mayonnaises and sauces in pastels of red, green, and yellow; I could’ve replicated a Monet on the kitchen wall, but for some reason I didn’t. Anyway, fries are treated differently over here.

Yesterday was another, shorter day at Alvinne. Davy and I worked the bottling line, filling bottle after bottle with their tripel and a “smoky bock” beer brewed specifically for the De Molen festival on Halloween. Davy fed the bottles and caps into the machine and I packed them into boxes and crates for all the happy customers. Tomorrow I’ll be back for another brew day and then Glenn and I are off to the Zottegem festival before I head back to France. But for now, I’m taking a day off, lounging in a sleeping bag and being thankful that I’m dry. Be back soon.

Finally, a few photos!

At Alvinne: Davy, left, and Urbain, looking a bit blurry in the morning (or is that the photo?)

Deca Brewery, where Urbain conducts his magic. Ten points if you can find him.

Evidence of the mash at Alvinne. If you look closely, past the big face, you can see whole hops in the mash. This adds an even further hop presence to Pipedream.


  1. all those different beers you describe, their ingredients and characteristics, have my head spinning even without the benefit of tasting. To say nothing of the spelling & pronunciation.

    All in all, a fun read Owen!

  2. goddamn Owen - I am finally getting my act together to brew a second batch this year - and you have brewed enough for a small country.