Thursday, September 30, 2010

Baltimore Beer Week and Stillwater Artisanal Ales

Top photo: Brian Strumke at "Belgium Comes to Cooperstown" 2010.
That's Jen of NYC's Blind Tiger on the right.

In just one week, the celebration of all things beery in Charm City begins.

The second edition of Baltimore Beer Week kicks off on Thursday,
October 7 at the Baltimore Musuem of Industry on Key Highway in
Federal Hill.

There are already 325 individual events planned over the course
of the ten day event, which ends Sunday October 17.

"Mr. Baltimore Beer" aka Brad Klipner, the official blogger of BBW,
covers the highlights on his website, here

The full schedule of events is listed the BBW website, here

Lots of fun stuff there. But you know what I specialize in.

The title of this blog says it all. Belgian Beer Specialist.

That means Belgian-style beers too.

Not that I don't like IPA's, palate peeling Double IPA's,
session beers or Prima pils. Cause I do. Just ask around.
Drop a six pack of Two-Hearted Ale or Celebration at my doorstep.
It won't be there for long.

But there's plenty of people writing about those brews.

Photo, above: Brian pulling a sample of a special brettanomyces-
infused, barrel-aged beer at his main brewery in Maryland.

So it's Baltimore Beer Week, and the guy turning everybody's heads
via their taste buds with his world-class Saison-inspired brews is
Mr. Brian Strumke, brewer/president of Stillwater Artisanal Ales.

Brian's been off brewing in Denmark and Belgium lately, but he'll
be back soon. Just in time for Baltimore Beer Week.

Brian in the brewhouse at his main brewery, Dog Brewing in
Westminster, Maryland.

Brian's premier event will be Sunday, October 10, from 10 am
to 3 pm. The locale: the friendly confines of Max's Taphouse,
Maryland's number one beer bar.

As Brian's first commerical brews debuted at Max's Belgian fest
in February, it's only fitting. Max's General Manager, Casey Hard,
has been a big supporter of Stillwater Artisanal Ales. Multiple
events have been held at Max's in the past seven months, with
special and rare Stillwater brews often seen on tap there.

You could say Casey knows a good thing when he sees it.

Photo, above: Casey Hard of Max's Taphouse

Photo, above: Brian putting dry hops in a cask of Cellar Door.

This lineup for the Max's event just in from Brian, today:
(he took a little break from a long brew day at Huisbrouwerij
St. Canarus, so I could get the word out)

of Love & Regret
A Saison Darkly
Stateside Saison
Cellar Door
Channel Crossing V2
Stillwater / Voodoo Jungle des Rue

and, drum roll please....a "Rare Beer 101" bottle release!
This one is "Requisite", which is described as an "Imperialistic" Stout.
Only 75 twelve ounce bottles were produced of this new brew.

Brian also mentioned "various casks" will be on hand.
Yum. It's gonna be a long, enjoyable Sunday....

The rest of the Stillwater calendar of events for BBW is here.

Oh yeah, and yours truly will be showing photos inside Belgium's
lambic and sour brown ale breweries at Max's Sour beer event on
Sunday the 17th, from noon-1 pm. Gunther Bensch of Brouwerij
Montaigu will join me in.

Space is limited, so you have to RSVP Casey to reserve space.

Photo, above: Brian and his sister, Brenda Strumke, at
Birch and Barley, Washington, D.C.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Trappist Westvleteren adds new fermentation tanks

Photo, above: Belgian journalist Danny Van Tricht, speaking with
Brother Benedict in the brewhouse at Westvleteren, as Brother
Joris looks on.

My good friend and colleague, Danny Van Tricht, broke the news
today that Brouwerij Westvleteren has added three new 15 hectoliter
(about 13 US barrels) fermenting tanks:

The text is in Dutch, but the short, squat fermenters are shown in the
4th, 5th, and 6th photos in Danny's post.

If you look straight down the middle of the 4th photo, you can see
the entrance to the present lagering/secondary fermentation cellar.
To the right in the photos are several water tanks. It's also obvious
that a new floor has been added as well.

Here's a photo, below, of Brother Joris (left) and Danny in the room
as it appeared previously:

What do these developments mean for beer lovers? Well, only
time will tell. But I suspect we might be hearing more about
Westvleteren in the not-too-distant future.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The World's Rarest Oude Geuze?

Yves and Kurt Panneels run what is arguably the world's
greatest lambic cafe: In de Verzekering Tegen de Grote Dorst.

The name translates as "In the Insurance against the Great Thirst."

Meaning: your thirst for lambic beers will be quenched when you visit!

I wrote about the cafe here: Grote Dorst

Often called Grote Dorst for short, the atmospheric, friendly bar is located in the small town of Eizeringen, about ten miles west of Brussels. Grote Dorst is open on Sundays between 10 am and 1:30 pm, as well as during the three special fests held at the cafe each year.

These include the first beer festival the brothers organized, "The night of the Great Thirst", which occurs the Friday night before the Zythos fest in March on even-numbered years. The next one in Belgium will be in 2012. There will be a "Nacht van de Grote Dorst" somewhere in Maine, USA, in August, 2011. Those of you who know a certain much-loved beer bar in the Pine Tree state just might be able to guess where that event will be.
Another great event, which I attended this year, is Day of the Kriek (De Dag van de Kriek) on the first Saturday in June.

The last special day of the year falls in December: De Dag van de Lambik (The Day of the Lambic.) 15 different unblended lambic brews from nine different lambic producers were served on draft in the 2009 edition, and the same number are planned for the 2010 fest, which will be on December 12.

After the first Day of the Lambic in 2008, enough straight, unblended lambics were remaining after the event that Kurt and Yves decided to blend it all and make an Oude Geuze of their own.
Twenty-four 750 ml corked bottles and fifteen 1.5 liter Magnums were filled of Geuze Tegen de Grote Dorst Oude Geuze nr. XI.

This beer was blended from the following lambics:

Boon Joenk 2008
Boon 2007
Boon 2006
Boon 2005
De Troch Joenk april 2008
3F april 2007
Girardin Joenk 2008
Lindemans Joenk 2008
Lindemans 2005
Mort Subite September 2006
Oud Beersel November 2006

The one shown in the photos, number 11 of 24, is one of the few that remain.
It's also probably the only bottle currently residing in Baltimore.

I have it on good authority that a certain bar owner in New England was offered many hundreds of dollars for a bottle-and turned down the offer!

How does it taste? No idea....but it must be really good.

Maybe I'll open it someday.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Westvleteren and St. Bernardus: the Real Story

This article originally appeared in the June/July issue of Ale Street News.

Top Photo: Brother Benedict and Brother Joris in the brewhouse
at Westvleteren/De Sint-Sixtusabdij van Westvleteren.

The St. Bernardus-Westvleteren story has been the subject of much discussion over the years, even more so recently, as the popularity of both breweries has increased exponentially.

I have visited the brewery at St. Bernardus twice, and have made four visits to Brouwerij Westvleteren/De Sint-Sixtusabdij van Westvleteren. My latest was in December 2009, when I toured the new and old breweries with Br. Joris, the monk in charge of the brewery.

Hence, I think I can shed some light on this interesting subject.

While I'm at it, I'm also going to show you some photos from inside the
breweries at Westvleteren and St. Bernardus.

Photo, above: entrance to secondary fermentation cellar. Above the
entrance it says: "Shhh....Here ripens the Trappist"

Photo, above: Brother Joris in the secondary fermentation cellar.

Brouwerij St. Bernardus opened in 1946 with an arrangement to brew beers under license for the nearby St. Sixtus Abdij (Westvleteren) for commercial sale.

The years immediately after the Second World War were a difficult time for the monks of St. Sixtus, as the brewery and abbey needed major renovations after years of German occupation. The roads around the abbey were also in very bad shape.

Photo, above: spent grain being pumped out of the brewhouse at

Hence, the monks needed money for the renovations, and also to sustain themselves. They decided to make an agreement with Evarist Deconinck, who ran a cheese makery located not far away, among farmland a couple of miles outside the picturesque village of Watou. Ironically, this same cheese makery had been founded and run by the Trappist monks of the Mont de Cats monastery in nearby France, who had fled their country in a time of turmoil. The monks called the farm “Refuge de Notre Dame de St.Bernard,” and their primary source of income came from sales of their Abbey cheese. When these monks went back to France, Deconinck took over the farm and cheese makery. Later, the Claus family took over from him. The brewery name, St. Bernardus, comes from the monk’s name for the farm.

The original St. Sixtus Abbot 12 (Abt for short) had already been changed from its original formulation when this occurred. Until sometime in the 1930’s, the Abt really did have 12% abv. However, it was very difficult to brew, as the high alcohols often killed the yeast. Additionally, the monks did not have the high-tech labs of today, so it wasn’t easy to brew high alcohol beers back then. Hence, the beer was reformulated a bit to reduce the alcohol to 11% abv, which still packed a mighty punch.

Photo, above: the three beers of Westvleteren: Blond, 8, and 12.

The first three beers of St. Bernardus-namely, Pater 6, Prior 8, and Abt 12-were pattered after the similarly-named, dark, malty, strong brews of St. Sixtus. To achieve this, the brewmaster from the abbey joined St. Bernardus and brought along all the recipes, the yeast, the equipment and the brewing knowledge.

The open (primary) fermentation room at Westvleteren

Photo, above: close up of one open fermenter in action at Westvleteren.

Note that the beers of Abdij St-Sixtus have been referred to strictly as “Trappist Westvleteren” by the monks for the last decade or so. These beers have no labels today, but such was not always the case. Many bottles did, in fact, have colorful labels until sometime in the 1950’s.

Photo, above: old Westvleteren bottles from the 1950's or 1960's. Taken
inside the old brewery at Westvleteren.

You can still find bottles of beer brewed at St. Bernardus with the words “Trappist” and “Westvleteren” and “St. Sixtus” printed on them, at places that carry aged beers, like Bierhuis Kulminator in Antwerp.

These are bottles of Prior 8 brewed at St. Bernardus in the 1970's.
Note the word "Trappist"on the labels.

In the beginning of the 1960’s, the son-in-law of Evarist Deconinck, Guy Claus, took over the brewery. Negotiations then began with the monks of St-Sixtus to renew the license. This process was completed in 1962, when St. Bernardus was again granted a license to brew beer for Westvleteren, for a period of 30 years.

In 1992, this arrangement came to an end, and the monks of St. Sixtus decided not to renew the license. The Trappist Abbeys had decided that the term ‘Trappistenbier’ could only be applied to beers brewed inside the walls of the Trappist Monastery, under the control of monks.

This allowed the monks of St. Sixtus to increase production a bit, as they had opened a new, larger capacity brewery in May, 1990. However, to this day they still produce no more than 4,750 hl (about 4,000 US barrels) per year.

St. Bernardus then entered the marketplace on its own. It has been a great success.

Marco Passarella, Sales Manager of Brouwerij St. Bernardus,
in the brewhouse.

Brouwerij St. Bernardus cuts no corners in the production of its beers. To make very complex, flavorful strong ales takes time. The Abt 12 has an overall production period of over 3 months, from primary fermentation to maturity. This includes 2 months of cold conditioning and a further 2 weeks of warm-conditioning.

Photo, above: the mash tun at Brouwerij St. Bernardus

All the St. Bernardus beers are unfiltered, unpasteurized and bottle-conditioned. All are offered in 33cl and 75cl bottles, and kegs of various sizes. The Abt 12 is also now available in 6 liter (Methuselah) bottles. That would make for a very big tasting, my friends!

This is a sight I'd like to see pulling up to my front door!

Ironically, it is the brews of St. Bernardus that still use the original Westvleteren/St. Sixtus yeast, while Westvleteren has used Westmalle’s yeast since the early 1990’s. While Abt 12 was originally based on Westvleteren Abt, it has achieved much renown in its own right in the last ten or fifteen years.

Brouwerij St. Bernardus has seen its beer sales increase at a rate of 10 to 15% per annum for several years, and major renovations and expansions are underway at present. Sales doubled from a 2003 level of 8,500 hl to 17,000 hl in 2009. Look for this brewery to continue to grow, and keep lots of beer lovers (like me) happy. See: and

Needless to say, the Trappist beers of St-Sixtus/Westvleteren haven’t exactly been ignored by beer lovers, either! The Abbey is under construction and renovations as well. See:

Photo, above: me and Brother Joris in the lab at Westvleteren,
about to open a 1969 Westvleteren Abt 12.