Sunday, November 1, 2009

It burns!!!

Urbain pulls a sample of "green" Black Albert

The first two days spent with Urbain were tougher than a Sudoku puzzle, master level. My deltoids and nose hairs burned the most, from loading endless bottles onto the bottling machine and climbing into tanks full of CO2 and ethanol, respectively. It's all in a day's work, though.

Last Wednesday and Thursday were two days of madness, even for that wild and crazy guy we call Urbain. He'd decided to brew and bottle in one day, something he'd never attempted. Pannepot was the beer to brew, and my first job was watchdog; the mash was finished and the filtering had begun, so I watched as gravity leached out the wort from the mash tun, turning on the pump when the reserve pit was full to transfer it to the boiling kettle. Urbain was in turbo mode, hair flopping around, phone ringing off the hook, limbs flying with pipes and hoses and cigarettes. I followed him around for the day, moving from the bottling line to the kettle to the conditioning area, back and forth. We weren't alone, though, a whole sturdy posse was around: I met Phil, Urbain's brother-in-law and partner-in-crime, if those are any different. Roger the codger was there, a nice older guy who owns a pigeon farm (didn't know those existed) and who uses the retired yeast as a supplement for his birds. Anyone for a Struise pigeon breast? Rich in vitamins!

For the birds

The usual Deca guys were at Deca (where Urbain brews) as well - the patriarch and former brewery consultant in the Congo, Joe, puffing on his slim Swiss cigars. The following day was very similar, albeit longer for me. Wednesday was something like 9 hours; Thursday was a full 5am to 5pm. I was on the bottling line for much of it, fumbling around with the bottles at first... hotverdomme, they're slippery! I got into a rhythm, though, battling those bottles, and I conquered them at the end of the day - drowned 'em in Black Albert and a special Black Damnation, suffocated them with caps, branded their bodies with labels, and stuffed them into crates bound for the beer geeks in America. Willie helped out on the line as well, and whenever we had a problem (so, every couple of minutes) he would use his handiness to keep the machine and the beer running smoothly.

Well, let me tell you a little bit about this new Black Damnation. Black Damnation originally began as a collaboration beer with De Molen brewery in Holland: Struise's Black Albert and De Molen's Hel and Verdoemenis (Hell and Damnation) blended into one damn dark dastardly concoction. For this new Black Damnation, Urbain, in his infinite wicked wisdom, aged a portion of the Black Albert beer on 5 kilos of fine, aromatic Colombian coffee beans. The result was blended with finished H&D and bottled by yours truly and the crew. It has already turned into an absolutely epic imperial coffee stout. It could be marketed and sold in pharmacies as a low-dosage all-purpose tonic. It will be put on the red carpet for the opening of Struise's new school building brewhouse and educational center. Can't wait! I've got a special place in my heart for that beer, too, 'cause I got in that tank and scooped out all those sloppy beans and yeast and got caked with yellow coffee muck. Nothing like a good day's work.

Get your scoop ready

Anyway, after two days of hard work and dried yeast still clinging to my clothes, I headed off with Struise, Alvinne and the Belgian brewing gang for a weekend at De Molen's first beer festival. Stay tuned...

I had to hold up the pallets of beer while Urbain had lunch

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