I just spent my fifth night on the Struise farm, though the first night only lasted about four hours, but I can already tell what an unbelievable time I will have here. Amidst the ostriches (which I, by the way, cannot do justice in writing to their bizarreness) and Scooby, the big slobbering Great Dane, sits a U-shape of buildings. To the left is Urbain's pad, where he and his daughter Lorence live and where I will sleep when the bed and breakfast is full. Straight ahead is the bed and breakfast, where I have a room when the place is empty. Well, even in my room there are several rooms. In fact, it's really a condo, complete with three beds, leather sofas and chairs, TV and VCR (in case I need to watch some movies from the 80s), a kitchen in case Urbain's cooking goes to hell (not likely), and a cupboard of beer glasses (no, not for the eyes; I can see well enough, thank you). Downstairs is the common room, where the only thing I needed to see was a small wood stove and a comfy armchair for those stormy winter nights.
The Geeks at Beer School
To the right of the B&B is Phil and Daisy's house. Daisy, Urbain's sister, runs the B&B and Phil helps Urbain at the brewery in addition to a job in a nearby restaurant and as a Citroën dealer. Both have been entirely friendly, especially in keeping Scooby from drooling on me. Phil and I instantly connected over music as well; turns out he's as big a fan of the drums as I am and even has an old dust-covered drumset in the barn in case I need to feel like a rockstar. I'm in the works to organize a brewhouse band; Lorence is a multi-talented musician and Urbain says Carlo is musically inclined as well. Bono says he won't sue if we call ourselves Brew2.
Oh, and there's another living space on the farm. Urbain's Berlingo van is actually an officially recognized apartment, and this is where he performs most of his daily grooming and domestic tasks. Let's see, he's got several phones, a wardrobe of clothes (even new shirts and everything), an assortment of food in various stages of decomposition, footwarmers, mouthwash, his electric razor (which is his favorite device to use in the car – he shaves at least 3 times a day just for kicks), a shower, a plasma TV, and several cats. On the way back from De Molen I got to know not only the car but also Urbain quite well. Urbain's wit is razor-sharp, his philosophical ideas are contagious, and his knowledge of and interest in biology and evolution is reviving my love for the subject. And we like to apply it to our discussions of Belgian women.
Black Albert Batch 0
A few days ago was a lazy Sunday, but it was just what we needed after some tough days in the brewery and the busy, beery buzz that was the De Molen fest. We had a few visitors: three Brits, “The Geeks” as Urbain fondly calls them, and an American visited the schoolhouse brewery for an afternoon of shit-shooting (...that's an American expression... we didn't actually shoot any shit around...) and Struise sipping. The Geeks - Ian, Mes, and Ken - are real connosseurs. They're probably some of Britain's finest beer raters and proponents, and they're huge Struise-heads. We had a beautiful Black Albert vertical tasting with a few additional samplings as well. Starting with the freshly-bottled Black Albert and the newly-refined Black Damnation (2/4 Black Albert aged on 5kg Columbian aromatic coffee beans, 1/4 Black Albert aged in Jack Daniels barrels, 1/4 Hel & Verdoemenis), we moved on to a terribly tasty experiment that involved a special distiller's edition Caol Ila single malt Scotch whisky matured in Moscatel cask wood. Taking a row of Struise beers – the new Black Albert and Black Damnation, Cuvée Delphine, Black Albert Batch 0 (the first batch, from 2008, pulled from a near-empty keg), and Double Black (Black Albert that had been frozen to remove some water, making a 29% abv masterpiece) – Urbain swirled just a couple drops of the Caol Ila in each glass and mixed in each beer. Each blend gave an incredible result, the whisky contributing a touch of its vanilla and peat character and refined aroma. The Double Black, even without the whisky, was just mind-blowing, like a silky smooth chocolate/coffee/dried fruit liquer, only ten times better. The whisky experiment was making Urbain's brain visibly whir and his hair stand on end, so you can probably expect to see some Caol Ila oak-aged product on the market sometime soon. Lastly, we sampled a year-and-a-half old Dirty Horse. Dirty Horse is Urbain's first beer that captivated him and motivated his move into the beer world. It's a simple recipe, brewed with a portion of wheat, that's extensively open-fermented and inoculated with wild yeasts. Later matured on cherries, it resembles a kriek lambic but has such a complex Brettanomyces kick and dazzling finish that many consider it to be Struise's absolute best beer. It was the icing on the cake, and The Geeks finished their last drop and went on their merry way.