09 May, 2008

My Visit to the Struise Farm Brewery

Since it was such a beautiful day today, I decided to take a little 3 plus hour trip to the Belgian coast. Well about 15 minutes from the coast actually to the town of Lo to visit the Struise Farm. The farm is basically the headquarters for one of the best breweries in Belgium. In addition to being an ostrich farm and a bed & breakfast, the Struise Farm also has a small brewery where they brew certain of their beers and other test beers.

It turns out Struise is about 10 minutes from the Abbey at Westvleteren so I decided to make an afternoon of visiting Struise for a few beers and then heading to the Westvleteren cafe for lunch.

I arrived in the town of Lo at about 13:00 and found myself on a bunch of very small farm roads. As I found out quickly, these roads are really only passable by 1 vehicle at a time when I came upon a huge farm tractor and had to pull off the side of the road and partially into a field to let him go by. Thankfully I didn't come head on with any others before I arrived at Struise. I got to Struise about 15 minutes later and was first unsure about heading down the private driveway but after reading on Ratebeer.com that the brewer Urbain was going to have a keg of their new and rare stout, Black Albert, on tap and open to the public for free, I knew it would be ok to visit.

When I got out of my car I was greeted by a very friendly woman, that I found out was Urbain's sister, and a large dog. When I annouced why I was there, I was led up to an office where Urbain was talking on the phone. His sister offered me coffee and water and let me sit down to wait. After taking a few sips of a water, I got to to meet Urbain and as a thank you for letting me visit, I gave him a few American craft beers which he seemed to really enjoy. In return he gave me a bottle of beer from a brewery friend of his. After talking for a few minutes we headed down to the farms bar.

In talking to Urbain, the bar is in an old farmhouse that he and his family has refurbished over the past 10 years or so. Although the bar looks private, it would be a really cool bar to hang out at as it is rustic and full of charm. After taking a few minutes to setup the sinks to wash our glasses properly, Urbain poured us each a glass of Black Albert which they have termed a Belgian Royal Stout. I think it lives up to the name. It rings in at 13% abv and poured a very deep black hole color with a thick bubbly tan head.

While sipping on this fine brew, Urbain showed me the keg system that they are testing with this beer. Instead of using stainless steel, they had this beer in a keg that comprised of a cardboard outer system with a foil type bladder on the inside that holds the beer. It would of course be a much cheaper and lighter way to keg beer and based on what he said and I tasted, there is no impact on the quality of the beer in such a system.

Since there was no one else around at the time, we went outside on the patio to enjoy the days sun and to chat a bit about various thinks including of course, beer and other things like the environment. He mentioned that about an hour before I arrived, a large group of folks stopped by to try the Black Albert and he envisioned that a good number of people would show up later in the day as well so I was lucky to try the beer while it was still available. It won't be bottled and available in Belgium for a few more weeks and will eventually make it to the U.S. but may not be very soon.

After filling our glasses again with Black Albert, we wandered around the farm a bit. First to take a look inside a large military tent that was currently holding all of the brewing equipment while they were renovating the brewing building. We then walked down to the brewing building and got to see where the equipment will be reinstalled and will allow Struise to brew on an 8 barrel system and to play around with different yeast, sugar, and other combinations that can only lead to good beer. Urbain then opened up the cold room and was kind enough to give me to bottles as a gift for visiting the brewery. A 750ml bottle of their Struiselensis and a 750ml bottle of Tsjeeses Reserva which is a beer not really released to the public. I Can't wait to try both beers but will probably sit on them for the right time to try.

Urbain mentioned a few beer projects upcoming that were interesting. They are going to brew another batch of Struiselensis in the coming months and about 1/6 of the batch will be laid down with kriek to form a nice lambic which I can't wait for. He also mentioned that they will be brewing an imperial porter in the near future that will mainly be for a private group but it will also be available at the farm brewery at times. I smell another trip to the farm in my future....

While we were wandering around the farm I saw a handful of farm cats roaming the grounds and protecting the beer! The large doggy was also roaming around but behind a fence which was good because a group staying in the B&B arrived and with a dog that could only be described as a large black bear! This dog jumped out from the back of their van and ran over to the farm dog and they did some looking and sniffing and barking but no fighting.

Not far from the brewery building is where the ostrichs live. We got close enough to look eye to eye with these interesting creatures. They seemed to be interested in people, at least the females did. The males apparently are not very friendly and held back in the pack.

Overall my visit to Struise was a great day. The beer was great, Urbain was a great host and is very generous with his time and his beer. Since there is a B&B on the Struise Farm, I am thinking that this would be a great place to stay on future trips to Belgium as it is a great place to have a beer, it is very close to Westvleteren and the Belgian coast.

After leaving Struise, I drove the few minutes to the cafe at Westvleteren but was dissapointed to find out that they were closed. Maybe for the upcoming holiday in Europe. Needing a lunch after having 2 glasses of Black Albert, an Royal Belgian Stout of 13%, I found a cool looking cafe not far from Westvleteren. I knew it was a good place to stop as a beer truck had just pulled up to unload a bunch of kegs and crates of beer...and water. I stopped at 't Vleterhof for some food and maybe another drink. There were already a few locals sitting outside having drinks. I think they were all in their 70's but they looked like they were having a good time so I thought I would also. I sat outside and ordered a Struise Pannepot, why not, and a coke and a croque monseuir, basically a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. While I was there two older ladies stopped by for some drinks. Their drink of choice, Pannepot, just like me. Those Belgian ladies can really have a drink as this beer rings in at 10%. There were also a handful of bikers that stopped by for some refreshments. No Harley bikers but the biking that is typical of this part of the country, the peddle powered type bikes.

After a good quick lunch, I was back on the road and made another quick stop, this time at the Deca Brewery where Struise sells their beers. I picked up a few large bottles of Pannepot for home and some 33cl bottles of Pannepeut which is a slightly different version of Pannepot, made for the Danish beer market.

After that last stop, I was back in the car for another 3 and half hours to Luxembourg. Overall it was about 7 hours in the car and 3 or so out of it but it was still worth it. I think the temp hit about 80 so it was the warmest day since we arrived in Europe!

Also, check out this short video I took while driving down some of the tiny farm roads leading up to the Struise Farm. If a car was coming at me I would have been in some trouble but luckily it was just me while I was shooting the video.


TJ's said...

WOW!. Just you and the Struise brewer hanging out and drinking some Black Albert and shootin' the shit. What a day that must have been.

When we go to Belgium in a couple of years we'll need you as a tour guide.

Greg G. said...

It was worth the driving. I later read on Ratebeer.com that about 122people showed up on Friday to try the Black Albert and they went into a second keg. I lucked out to be there by myself to talk to him.

I am thinking of staying in Luxembourg for good and becoming a tour guide so let me know!

David said...

Looks like a nice relaxing way to spend a afternoon.

I suggest boning up on your rally driving skills though. ;)

Greg G. said...

Hey, it is hard to steady a camera and have good driving skills at the same time.

It would have been a better video if one of the large farming tractors was coming at me and I had to avoid it and keep the camera steady at the same time.

stephanie said...

like your blog - would love to see more Luxembourg posts (lived there in 1992).