Wednesday, March 31, 2010

April showers...

Penguin In A Box

Fraserburgh's growing on me. The drab, grey stone buildings seem more handsome, almost stately. The vast, monotonous sea has brightened and welcomed me on its beach for a few refreshing runs on my days off. Time has handed me familiarity, leading to a certain comfort and ownership of the streets and shops. I have my favorite spots staked out: Farm Foods for four energy drinks and bunched bananas at the pound, Findlay's for the meatiest fish and chips and the cute girl behind the counter, BodyTec gym for the usual masochism and local gossip from the owner. All of this fondness is blossoming during the worst weather the region's had since winter seemed to be on its way out a month ago.

Tha brewhouse. The tall tanks are fermenters and that smaller one in the back is the kettle.

But my time is still concentrated in the caverns of the brewery that overlooks the white-capped waves and golden-green dunes. The daily schedule is regular enough: rise at 7:30 or so, chew a banana in the warmth of my bed, browse The (NY) Times for the latest surreal news from a now foreign land, chuckle at the obstinate dark puffs that have found a home under my eyes (I look a lot more tired than I feel), and meet Jack and Franz on the doorstep for a ride from Stewart. This past week I've gotten lucky as I've spent most of my time assisting Franz in brewing the necessary batches of beer. We've had Trashy Blonde, 77 Lager, and Alpha Dog marathons, back-to-back brews of each to fill their respective fermenters. It took four consecutive 50 hl brews to fill a 200 hl fermenting tank of Trashy, and right after that we did the same with Alpha. A new 200 hl tank was just installed on my days off, so now three massive tanks stand like sentries outside the brewery, guarding the inside from Nazis, fascists, and right-wing extremists and acting as our decorative seagull-shit-collectors. For each brew, Franzie and I will check out the brew sheet, assemble the necessary bags of malt and measure out the brewing salts, and begin to mash. Franz pours the pre-crushed grains into the auger and adjusts the simultaneous flow of water into the mash tun while I precariously straddle the elevated tun and use a plastic shovel to stir the rising tide of malt and water. After all the malt has been emptied into the auger, the water is shut off and the mash is allowed to sit for a healthy chunk of time. We measure the temperature and pH of the mash to make sure the enzymes will work properly. At this point, my pits are fully saturated, my face has gotten a steam treatment from poking it into the near-boiling mash tun, and my head, shoulders, and upper back are caked with a doughy film of barley malt flour from the humming auger that hangs above my head. I already could use a nice, sudsy shower, but I still need to clean out the mash tun and kettle, so I might as well save it 'til later. As the mash sits and the molecules do their job, Franz prepares for the filtration. Sometimes we have lunch at this point (by this time it can be around 2 or 3 in the afternoon). Sometimes I must stave off my hunger by drinking more instant coffee or knawing on the bits of dead skin on my hands. But usually lunch is agreed to be a good idea by the majority of us who don't have breakfast or who just have a banana in bed. So, Tesco it is. Tesco provides us with novel nourishment; Jack bought an assortment of eclairs and cream puffs which he was forced to eat in five minutes, accounting for 200% of his daily allotment for saturated fat. Stewart once bought what appeared to be half a pig. He added some limp salad greens to the side for health's sake. David got me hooked on trying all the different offerings of milkshakes; Chocolate YOP and Frij Fudge Brownie are tied for first. Franz has been creative with his inspiring run of canned haggis sandwiches (I'm still waiting to finish digesting the deep-fried haggis I had last week before I try his culinary creation). Anyway, lunch is fun, but it's soon back to the grindstone. By this time the sweet wort is being drained from and filtered by the bed of spent grain into the kettle, where it eventually comes to a boil. This is when I work my hop magic. I've had the job of weighing out the hops for the boil, and I relish every second of it. BrewDog uses hops in two forms: whole flowers (about the size of acorns, only soft) or pellets (looks like rabbit food). They're both vacuum-packed into 5 kg blocks and smell orgasmic when opened. They can be fruity, floral, herbal, minty, piney, resinous, even orange-creamy. Hops are like catnip for me, and the guys say they often find me curled into a ball behind the fermenters, scratching ferociously with my hind legs at a packet of hops. I don't remember any of these episodes. Regardless, the hops are added to the boiling wort and the next step is prepared. This next step is to 'cast' the boiled wort through a heat exchanger and into a fermenter, where yeast is added at a nice, cool and comfortable temperature to begin fermentation.

Tub o' frozen Sink the Bismarck with some inappropriate grafitti. Since water freezes before alcohol, this tub is drained to collect the concentrated beer, leaving mostly frozen water in the original vessel.

Of course, there's cleanup. Bill Dunn, brewmaster for Elm City, a local brewpub back home, told me once that to be a brewer is to be a "glorified janitor." He's right. And, for some reason, I'm embracing this with almost religious vigor. I used to hate, absolutely hate, doing chores at home, especially washing dishes. My mom can attest, after enduring years of post-meal whining. Now I volunteer to do dishes if I'm hosted for dinner, and I'm finding myself looking forward to cleaning the mash tun and kettle. It's therapeutic and relaxing and my attraction to it probably has some deep, weird psychological underpinnings, but I'll happily accept that. I enjoy it, too, because it's like taking a steambath. I actually have to remove my shirt when I clean out the piping hot mounds of spent grain, otherwise I would soak completely through it. It's my replacement for the sauna up the road at home.

Stewart digs in.

Speaking of cleaning, a few days ago I witnessed something extraordinary. It was completely destructive and almost harmless, so it was all the more glorious to witness in a safe, sheltered area, which is where I happened to be. This was April 1st - April Fool's Day for the jokers out there - late afternoon and all was well. I was digesting a pleasant tuna and cheese panini that I bought with Red, the tall Ewan McGregor-look-alike (and sound-alike, since they're both Australian). Red was digesting I think a chicken slamwich, but more importantly he was preparing about 20 kilos of hop pellets to add to a 60 hl (1,585 gallons) fermenter filled with fermenting Hardcore IPA, for that fruity dry-hop kick. To do this, someone else, not me, has to lift him up with a forklift to the top of the ceiling-high tank so he can dump the hops in the top. Well, what he and I and nearly everyone in the brewhouse didn't take into consideration was the effect 20 kilos of hop pellets would have on a beer with a hell of a lot of CO2 in solution. There are these things some academics call "nucleation points", and these are what that dissolved CO2 is looking to latch on to to come out of solution. When Red dumped in that load of hops, the beer went mental. Think Mentos in a bottle of Coke. The beer exploded, started to gush everywhere, out, up, and down. A waterfall of foamy Hardcore spewed down and around the tank, sounding much like a roaring Amazonian rainstorm, covering everyone below it in a sticky, lip-smackingly tasty blanket of beer. Meanwhile, Red was bracing the constant shower from the manway at the top, battling heroically with the pressure of the current to close the lid. After a good couple minutes of this Mentos effect of beer, Red managed to cage the beast and the last drops trickled down the tank to join the several inches that covered the brewhouse floor. Red was soaked from top to toe, Jack (who was operating the forklift) got a good shower, Stewart tried unsuccessfully to climb up the forklift in an instinctual effort to help Red, and David and I remained under cover and dry as driftwood. I think Red was actually pretty lucky he escaped with only a shower of beer and extreme stickiness; a fall from that height could have been fatal, and the CO2 up there was enough to make breathing noticeably heavier. In all, we estimate 15 or so hectoliters of 9.2% abv Hardcore was lost. It was a clever April Fool's joke that someone pulled on us, amazing and amusing to watch but expensive and labor-intensive to deal with.

The Day It Rained Beer. Red is standing on that box thing being hoisted by the forklift, somewhere in the midst of that yeasty mist.

That's it for this episode. I did take a night's trip to Aberdeen on a day off and found some nice pubs and nicer people. Ali and Jenia were my couchsurfing hosts, real sweet and good company. Ali used to be a cheesemonger, so he pointed me in the direction of a small specialty cheese shop where I bought a trifecta of UK cheeses, including a lovely washed rind that I enjoyed with a packet of crumbly oatcakes, though I got some funny looks and crinkled noses on the bus. Ali and Jenia have invited me to join them on a bit of hiking in the Cairngorms in mid-April; assuming the weather warms up a bit, that sounds like a jolly good transition from BrewDog to Marble in Manchester.

The kettle is just asking for a scrub-down.

One last pleasantry: Tim, my friend and future brewery owner from back home, tells me the Gilsum Village Store (in, er, Gilsum) now has Punk IPA! If you're not local, this means nothing to you, but I'm ecstatic that BrewDog distributes to such obscure places and that the Gilsum Store would stock such quality beers. Go beer!

Fraserburgh on a fine morning.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Some Pun Involving Dogs and Beer

Last day in Belgium, washing crates, tired yet still cheery

Crates, tastes, and haste. That’s how I left Belgium. My final day with Urbain saw us joined by two well-malted Americans, Gene and GT, for a bit of crate-washing. Sixteen palettes, or 960 crates, took us an hour and a half, and we celebrated our quick work with a meal at Westvleteren Abbey’s café, In de Vrede. I had a couple sips of the 8, but my body was still trying to mend the microvilli damaged from the night before, my final night in Belgium. That final night inevitably brought on a medley of tastings, mostly Struise classics including Pannepot Reserva, much-missed and gaining my vote as the best version of Pannepot out there, and vintage Earthmonk, a more malty, buttery version that GT declared was his favorite beer. A Cantillon Organic Gueuze was de-corked as well, and the guys saw me off by cracking open two Mikkeller IPAs in the parking lot, part of a series of single-hopped IPAs; we tried the Amarillo and Tomahawk. Tomahawk was a bit brighter, more tropical, and Amarillo was more rounded with perhaps a touch of cedar-like character. Without a moment to spare, we hurried to the train, snapped a couple pictures of Urbain and I (a rarity) and were broken apart by the harsh whistle of the conductor. My time in Belgium had come to a close, and Scotland was a-waitin’.

GT, Urbs, and Gene at In de Vrede, posing for their next pop-rock album

I arrived in Edinburgh at 11 pm, dragging perhaps 35 kilos or more of luggage around, feeling like an ESPN Strong Man competitor doing that trapezius walk, releasing primitive grunts and breathing way too heavily to be in public. Calum, my couchsurfing host, greeted me excitedly and showed me the bed, which I hugged until it was morning. I couldn’t have spent a better first full day in Scotland. At noon I ate a breakfast/lunch of curried veggies at an invitingly crunchy establishment called the Forest Café, run by volunteers and catering to the vegetablists out there. I was happy to see something, anything, other than processed meat. (The next morning I exhibited culinary ambivalence and splurged on a Scottish breakfast of blood pudding, sausage, egg, ham, and buttered toast, with one-half of a roasted tomato plopped parenthetically on the plate.) At one o'clock I careened into a free walking tour of Edinburgh and was regaled with tales of body-snatching, witch-hanging, castle-building, and Stone of Destiny-stealing, after which I invited two other Americans for a drink at the Bow Bar where we partook in some of my first real ales. “Real” defines a beer as being cask-conditioned, or carbonated and matured in the cask it is served in. Yeast remains in the cask, settled at the bottom, so the beer is often considered “live.” Most of the real ales I’ve sampled in Edinburgh have been mild, malty, and sessionable. I probably destroyed my taste buds by starting this tour in Belgium, so I’ll have to go through a bit of an attenuation. A welcome attenuation.

Atop Arthur's Seat, smack in the middle of Edinburgh

After a couple half pints I had some quiche and headed over to Sandy Bell’s Bar, where the good times resonated from fiddles, guitars, flutes, and wavering Scottish voices. With a pint of Ossian and my iPod microphone at the ready, I nestled into a corner of the bar for a couple hours of traditional Scottish and Irish tunes and a few gorgeous songs. My heart filled to the brim with that melancholy satisfaction I get from those purest of melodies, and I knew my time in Scotland would not leave me wanting…

An Edwardian bar in Edinburgh, boasting some fine whiskies

The Bow Bar

… despite the isolation of my next stop, Fraserburgh! Yes, after another day in lively Edinburgh, perusing the Museum of Ancient Metal and Dirt (Nat’l Museum of Scotland – really cool) and getting schooled in the art of whisky tasting by my equally enthusiastic host Calum, I choo-choo’d my way up to a very northeast corner of Aberdeenshire county, home of the great fishing town of Fraserburgh and also home of the great yet still young BrewDog brewery, where I’ll be working another several weeks as a blunt brewing object. I’ve been here only one week and already my hands are raw and replete with dings, scrapes, blood blisters, yet medicated with a green sheen of hop resins. A lot of Nelson Sauvin and Amarillo!

I have to admit: it’s been tough here. The brewery runs 24 hours a day and production is continually increasing. BrewDog owes its success to hard work by everyone here in the brewery, its killer marketing strategies, and, most importantly, the high-quality range of beers it produces to back up its assertive, guerrilla, jungle-warfare marketing techniques. There’s a rotating staff for day and night shifts, each 12 hours long, and the work involves brewing, cleaning, kegging, bottling, packaging, and everything in between. When I first arrived and heard the schedule, I couldn’t imagine I’d be a very happy camper. I like to do other things than brew; I like reading and playing music and having time to take showers. I mean, what about useless internet time? Where was that? That, dear readers, is being replaced by a good, honest day’s work after which I can come home, have a beer that I really earned, and know that I’m learning a helluva lot about brewing damn good beer. Ideally, in a perfect, flowery world filled with unicorns and friendly leprechauns, I would be working in a smaller-scale, more aesthetic brewing environment (I’m really a sucker for environment), but I have no complaints about my time at BrewDog thus far. Bring on the brew, dogg.

So, what’s it all like? First of all, the sea breeze is amazing. The breeze is usually from the southwest, the mainland, but it intermingles with the crusty, salted, oily, burnt-rubber odors that emanate from the harbor and its boats to announce Fraserburgh’s proximity to the sea and dependence on fishing. The town is peppered with drab buildings and is unbearably gray, cut through like lard and relieved of its lipid oppression only by the occasional blinding blue sky and silver clouds of a bright day; the lime-green seaside grass atop rolling dunes makes for a nice view from the beachfront brewery as well. Each day I arise to the cries of the roosters of the coast, those prolific gulls, and head to work with a few other semi-temporary BrewDog employees from the unofficial BrewDog guesthouse. Along with James and Martin, the Emperor Penguins of the brewery; Nara, Angela, and Kelly, the callused computer-typers/office workers; Stew, Graeme, David, and Skinny, native Scots with full-time brewery responsibilities; a handful of weathered, part-time fishermen working in the packaging department; and another handful of Polish handymen (Fraserburgh has a curiously large Polish contingent), I’m joined by a few brewery mercenaries on a slightly similar track as mine. These guys are all about my age and are undergoing a three-month trial period at BrewDog, after which each party will decide whether further employment is appropriate. Jack and Red are from Down Under, presumably descendants of expelled moonshiners, and Franz is a pils-drinking Dusseldorfian and proof that Sink the Bismarck was all for a bit of a laugh. Speaking of Sink the Biz, we (or mostly Jack and Stew) just extracted, mega-dry-hopped, and bottled the latest batch, all of which I think is pre-sold. Sorry. It had more of a bite than I remember at Pré-ZBF, perhaps due to the punch released by those fresh hop oils. Zing!!! Other goings-on at the brewery have included kegging nearly 7,500 liters of Trashy Blonde for a beer festival hosted by a chain of Scottish pubs (I know, we shouldn't have), brewing batch after batch of beer including Zeitgeist and Punk IPA, and watching as Stew works his magic trying to fiddle with a fussy bottling machine. Stew, dubbed “Big Stewart” by the fishermen and sporting loud tattoos and a dominating “strawberry-blonde” goatee, does not, by any standard, look like a patient man. Yet, after six hectic and scrambling hours tinkering with a malfunctioning bottling machine, Stew finally admitted, “I’m starting to lose my patience with this thing.” I also hear he’s only once punched a dude.

Tomorrow I work a half-day and will take some pictures while I’m at it. I hope to see the newest Dog, Tom Cadden, who’s regional sales manager for the London area and a highly advanced (and, again, young) taster with over 6,000 beer reviews on Ratebeer. I’ll have much more to say about my time here, the lads, bruces, burghers, and two lassies that I work alongside, and my seemingly endless future plans (… Marble Brewery in Manchester and Saints and Sinners in London, for starters) after a few more busy, busy days.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Nice, Smooth Finish (to Belgium)

Less than two days is all I have left here in gentle Belgium, the country I've spent the most time in behind the majestic America. I'm not sure what I'm feeling now, if anything, as I reflect on my time here and accept my imminent departure. (I spent yesterday alone, packing for Scotland, eating a truly Belgian lunch of a hard-boiled egg surrounded by a meatball and a dinner of blood sausage, yet I'm not sure if I'll miss or celebrate leaving this unique gastronomy.) Emotions are stewing, though, and will undoubtedly bubble to the surface as soon as the familiarity of this place is lost to the rhythm of another. Years down the road I look forward to flashes of nostalgia and bursts of longing to come back as I whiff a Belgian scent (mustardy farm rot, perhaps), ingest a Flemish morsel (stoofvlees, or beef stew, maybe), or catch a note of the soft staccato of Dutch from an ex-pat in America. Mostly, I will miss the people that made this a most welcoming and enjoyable trip. When, not if, I return to Belgium to visit, I will retrace my steps and visit all the families and individuals that hosted or shared a few beers with me. Next time, though, I think I'll come during the summer.

The Elliot mash

Above all, I have to thank my two primary hosts, Daniel and Urbain. Despite what Urbain says, I feel enormously indebted to them. (I feel a little like Greece might about the EU, but I haven't yet approached Wall Street for help. Too soon? OK.) Thoughts of them will surely come to me even when I'm old and decrepit, after I've passed the reins of my empire of beer onto the next generation, and my mood will brighten. Their impact on my ambitions, aspirations, and motivation, both professionally and generally, is comparable only to my family, close friends, and a small handful of others. In fact (and of course), I consider them close friends now; with the help of modern communication developments, they'll stay that way for a long time to come.

Menno and Urbain talk Black Damnation logistics

Since last week and that flurry of auctions, we've been as busy as ever. It was a mad rush of blending beers, filling kegs, brewing beer, and transferring the zeitgeist of Struise to Lakebosschen Castle in Ruddervoorde in preparation for the Pré-ZBF beer festival. Urbain's chin-length locks were again a blur as we scrambled around the school brewery and Deca, dragging kegs around, looking for parts, and organizing the eternal clutter that typifies, well, everything. I just got my ears lowered, so my hair was stiff as close-cut Kentucky bluegrass. Otherwise, we might have gotten lost in our mess of hair. Thursday morning was brewing time for Elliot, a crazily-hopped double IPA named after Jeppe's son. It was formerly a Struise/Mikkeller collaboration but Urbain has adopted the recipe. Deca was filled with a spicy, fruity fog of American noble hops and pale ale malt as the brew was successfully mashed, filtered, and boiled. At noon, Menno from the Dutch Brouwerij De Molen rolled into the brewhouse with a tank full of something black, thick, and alcoholic; he said something about Hel and Verdoemenis. I think he had used some of it as fuel to drive to Belgium, but Urbain pumped the rest into a tank filled partway with that Black Albert we brewed the other week. Rootah, Vootah, Zoot! Black Damnation!

Carlo whips up sumpin' good

After the yeast was happily swimming in 32 hectoliters of beer, and with no time to lose, Urbain and I drove to the castle to set up for the big dance. Crap, what a place! By no means particularly medieval, this place was still so grandiose that I fell silent and felt a pang of envious wonder at the thought of living in such an other-worldly domicile. It's not a big castle, and its architecture is a bit mix-and-match with stone, wood, and metalwork intermingled, but it all basically worked and was plopped in the middle of a maze of woods, gardens, and water. A few white geese honked royally to announce our trespassing. Set-up was rushed but perfectly timed, as thirsty beer hunters wandered in just as the kegs were tapped. Struise had an epic line-up for the two festival nights: Struiselensis, Pipe Dream, Earthmonk, Pruned Monk, Dopple Strauss, Pannepot, Sint Amatus, and old-school Dirty Horse. There might've been more, but I was swept away, most coincidentally, to serve beers for another brewery that was missing its representative. That turned out to be BrewDog, the very place I'll be in a few short days.

After pouring a few 77 Lagers, everyone moved over to the main dining hall for a few drams of whisky, whisky-aged beer, and some bites of Glenn's beef stew made with Mano Negra and Mark's bread made with roasted malt and beer yeast. I stayed nearly dry that night but wolfed down that delicious sustenance as I was once again whisked away for work, this time dish duty (I was getting treated to a bed at a local B&B, beer samples, and food, so I kept my grumbling to myself and my dish partner, David). At the end of a late night, I relished the respite of my bed and hoped Friday would bring more socializing and less scrubbing.

Friday was, in fact, one of the best beer festival experiences I've had. The day started out well, as a spread of cheeses - bloomy, penicillined, and piquant alike - greeted us with full aromatic pomp. After breakfast I joined two guys from De Molen for a walk to the castle; the sun dissolved most of my sleep deprivation and gave me a kick of endorphins. To accommodate the surging influx of festival-goers, and because Friday evening was also the night of another beer festival elsewhere, the gates opened at 10 am. The four faces of Struise, Urbain, Carlo, Peter, and Phil, each had a hand on a tap and another in the hand of an idolatrous beer lover so I transferred my labor to the cozy BrewDog corner next to a crackling fireplace and was kept busy cracking open bottles with a guy I think I'll be spending much more time with soon; Martin, BrewDog's founder and brewer, arrived just in time to throw me a company shirt before the first tasters dribbled in.

The castle. One of three pictures I took during the whole festival. I'll put up a link to other photos as soon as other people put them up, unless they were all as busy as I was.

The first beer poured from the BrewDog stand, at 10:05 am, was Sink the Bismarck. Later in the day, I tried a sip myself; at 41% abv, the alcohol is unavoidably present, but the tasting experience isn't really comparable to taking a dram of whisky or a sip of rum. It's not quite flat, buoyed by a very fine, slight carbonation, and the taste creeps up exponentially in your mouth the way an intensely sour hard candy or fiery hot pepper gradually tickles your salivary glands. The flavor is sweet from both the alcohol and concentrated residual sugars, not overly bitter, yet so incredibly hoppy that some flavor notes were present that I never thought possible in a beer. Salty, piney, resinous, fishy, grapefruity - strange yet wonderful. I also tried the Tactical Nuclear Penguin, a 32% abv sixfold stout, and lavished that one mouthful that satisfied my sweet, bitter, and smoky "teeth" to the extreme. Until 8 pm, Martin and I sat behind the bar and served the happy customers samples of some of the UK's best beers. I think it was just loud enough, and my Yankee accent just twangy enough, for the Englishmen who passed through to not fully understand that I wasn't Scottish. At the end of the night, out of all the beers poured at the BrewDog bar, the one that kicked first was Nanny State, their nearly alcohol-free beer (0.5% abv) of surprising character and hoppy robustness. It's my new favorite, and I can't wait to get my hands on some for the muggy American summer that's approaching.

Pré-ZBF was a theatrical ending to my time here in Belgium. When all the characters in a play come back on stage for that song- and dance-filled finale, that's what it was like. Everyone was there: Glenn and Davy from Alvinne; Menno and the De Molen crew; the old festival volunteer crew of David, Mark, Stephan, and Youri; those intrepid beer journalists William, David, and Sofie; the English Geeks Mes, Sim, and Ian; Uli, that crazy German lambic-blending genious; those Italians Lorenzo Dabove, the Prince of the Payottenland, and Alex "Alora, Ciao" Liberati; Luc from Zythos; and some others I'm sure I missed. There were plenty of folks to meet, too; it ain't just, "Here's your beer, now scram, kid!" The Thornbridge brewers, Kelly and Matthew, were able to leave their stand for a visit, brewer Tom from Twickenham Fine Ales had a good spot next to fire and chatted with me for a while, Dominic from the Marble Brewery in Manchester enjoyed his time at the BrewDog nook, and I was able to meet a three-dimensional Ryan, known previously only through Facebook. I hope to see all of these kindred spirits in the future, perhaps for a beer or a brew, hopefully the latter.

I'm looking forward to Scotland. Martin was great company during the festival, and James was chipper and inviting on the phone. It'll be hard work up there, especially with the March winds whipping in from the sea, but I'll tack it up as more invaluable experience and perhaps have some good times with the Dogs to boot. My plans are still as open as a kilt, but I wouldn't mind seeing Scotland in the spring. Who knows, a summer back in Belgium might just have to happen, too...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Gettin' Some Auction

I thought I'd punch in one more entry before the ball of this busy week gets rolling. This Thursday and Friday is the highly anticipated Pré-ZBF Festival, the event that long ago I declared as the climax to this Belgian brewing adventure. I've already bought a plane ticket to Scotland for next Tuesday, where I hope to maintain the buzz I've felt during my time with Struise. This coming week, however, will be packed tighter'n canned sardines marinated in soybean oil. We've got several beers to keg, including Earthmonk, Mokkabom (aka Black Damnation II: BD fermented on whole coffee beans), Black Mes (Black Damnation aged on Caol Isla Distiller's Edition '95 whisky), and Coffeeclub (Black Damnation II aged on Havana Club rum). These new BD beers are part of a developing collection of a dozen beers based on Black Damnation that will be released in the coming months. In addition, Struise will be serving Sint Amatus, a newly released oak-aged quad of sorts, some of the original batch of Black Albert from 2008, Pipedream, and a keg of the original Dirty Horse (this kriek-like beer is now 25 years old, brewed back in the 80s by a young, homebrewing Urbs). In between filling every available empty cavity with beer (not, um, any body cavities... yet) we have to brew some beer, too. I mean, we are a brewery. "Elliot", a double IPA named after Jeppe's son (see previous post), will be brewed on Wednesday, and it looks like the Witte will be brewed on Thursday morn'. With the first night of Pré-ZBF, Whisky Night, exploding on Thursday, it's going to be a marathon of a day. How do you train for such a marathon? That is my question.

Nine earthy liters; I spy an unawares photographer

But before we delve into the art of being busy in the brewhouse, some loose ends must be tied up here in the schoolhouse offices. Urbain has been conjuring up some magic on The Internets, pounding out some spells on the keyboard that are making die-hard beer geeks die even harder. He's been creating some auctions for bottles of special-release beers, the profits of which will go to saving the Vleteren region's school bus service. The announcement can be found on their website, and the auctions can be found through this link. Up for sale are a bottle of 2005 Pannepot Grand Reserva, four bottles of 1983 Dirty Horse, two bottles of 2008 Earthmonk infused with La Vieille Prune (barrel-aged distillate of prunes), aaaaaaand.... one 9-liter bottle of Earthmonk proper. Earthmonk is a dangerously smooth, fastidiously blended Flanders sour ale that will satisfy your desire for a full-bodied yet refreshingly tart fruity beer. Imagine how many people you could please with 9 liters of this stuff! More auctions, and thus more beers, are on the way.

Damn Dirty Horse

Might as well make one more thing public; no sense in keeping it a secret. I'm well into ruminating over the fact that I'll need a job when I return to the States. I've been contacting as many New England breweries as possible to see if an assistant brewer position is open anywhere. So, if any of you, Dear Readers, have any leads regarding brewery work (not just in New England), I would love to hear from you. Thanks!

Beer comes out of some random tanks strewn across the farm

One last note: Carlo was feeling celebratory on Saturday, so he decided to open a beer, an American one, for us to try. Trying these American beers (a lot of West Coast beers that are hard to find in the East) makes me excited to go home, wrap the silky stars 'n' stripes around my torso, and sip all the sweet nectars Uncle Sam has to offer. What we tried was 2008 Cuvee de Tomme, from Lost Abbey. Their website describes it as "a massive brown ale base that is made from four fermentable sugars including Malted Barley, Raisins, Candi Sugar and Sour Cherries, this beer is fully fermented before being placed in Bourbon barrels where the beer ages for one year with the Sour Cherries and the wild Brettanomyces yeast that we inoculate the barrels with." I have to say it was Capital, just Capital! A hearty yet delicately tart beer with just the right amount of carbonation and dark fruit character.