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|Putting On Your Own Brew Boots - Belgian Brewsters|
|Written by Warren Monteiro|
|Thursday, 19 April 2012 01:24|
Part of the charm of a Belgian trip is the joy of visiting two splendid tiny breweries with two lovely brewsters, each heading in new directions. And don’t mention
Gruut is located in the heart of
Vivacious, willowy Annick (or Nicki if you’re a regular) sat Karl Mende, Rob Purcell and I down on a comfortable couch for a special tasting. Gruut (gruit in English) is beer made along medieval lines with herbs and spices instead of hops. Nicki comes from a line of brewers. Both her father and mother worked for separate breweries, and when they married, her mother gave her old job up to her brother. Little wonder that Nicki wanted to make her mark and in a very individual way.
We started with a very amiable Blonde (5.5%). The White (5%) has strong coriander notes. “To me a wheat beer has to be a thirst quencher.” The Amber (even at 6.6%) is very session-ish but with no English ingredients; Rob compared it to an ESB. Curiously, Brune is not her favorite style so she quizzed us, “Is it OK?” We thought it was great. I picked out one secret ingredient that keeps the chestnut notes from being too cloying – black pepper adds a dry finish. “I thought it was a good idea to have this final touch,” she added with her rippling laugh. Inferno (9%) is her only beer that contains any hops. She thought it went down too smoothly for a strong tripel and uses hops to slow it down on the palate.
These are all secret recipes, to the degree that she has confidentiality agreements with her staff. She spent 2½ years working up these recipes and is very happy with the final results, no need to tinker. In the beginning, the White and Amber had hops, but she tweaked them for six months to achieve a proper herb bitterness and flavor in each. She uses three of her own proprietary yeasts: White, Brune, and the rest.
Except for Inferno there’s no refermentation in the bottle. She pointed out that herbs don’t get light struck, which significantly adds to shelf life. But “I believe it has to be unpasteurized.” Originally she cautiously dated her beers at six months, but they’ve been holding fine over the two years she’s been in business. No sugar is used except for the sugar/yeast mixture added to Inferno for bottle conditioning. “Everyone is so used to sweetness that we don’t taste purity anymore,” she maintains. Balance is the watchword here.
We asked about new beers. “People ask me if I’ll brew a porter; I tell them, I have only six tanks…” She shrugs modestly. At this point, Rob, Karl and I were three puppy dogs, totally in thrall. Her website, which gives a short video tour, is gruut.be.
Not all that far away, the captivating Hildegard van Ostaden and her sly husband Bas are taking Microbrewerij Urthel in a new direction. Though the beer has been around since 2000, she has recently been nano-brewing on a tiny new dream kit hidden in the sleepy countryside near Ruiselede in
Hildegard apprenticed at La Trappe and has contract brewed there since 2006, using their yeast. Three of the beers produced there: Blond Saisonniere (6%), a big Belgian IPA Hop-It (9.5%), and luscious Samaranth Quadrium (11.5%) which was originally created for Hildegard and Bas’s wedding in 2002. Originally from Holland, he said he had just two questions for her: “Can you make a beer as heavy as you can but not too sweet?” And when she said, “Yes” he asked, “Will you marry me?” Bos does the artwork. He’s currently working on a 2x2 meter portrait of Brother Samuel of
I was hypnotized by their shiny 180 liter (roughly 50 gallons) beer kit, which provides the two onsite taps. On a trip to
Each batch uses 30-35 kg of malt, milled by hand. It took them a while to figure how to run with a power drill. Hops are spalt, magnum and some target. There’s a false bottom on the brew kettle and the mash tun is hinged for easy removal or spent malt. A whirlpool is built into the brew kettle and the hot water is recirculated for the next batch. The 200 liter fermenters can be chilled down to 0C (32F) for efficient lagering. Spent malt goes to the chickens, which lay the eggs that which Hildegarde uses to make her special chocolate mousse, which she the infuses with Samaranth and black pepper. That’s my kind of green. When asked if the little kit achieves consistency, she laughed. “If I look at the yeasts through the microscope and they wave back at me, everything is OK!”
Bas is responsible for drawing the little marketing Urthels, troll-like guys who share the woods with Chouffes, Forestinnes, and I guess Leprechauns. They even have an Urthel language, and a toast: “Paché!” In fact, Hildegard and Bas have confected quite a vaudeville act, which was in play when Ale Street News joined them for dinner.
Hildegard has always wanted to make test and one-off restaurant beers. She has also trained as a chef, as evidenced by the astonishing ribs she served us. They spend 24 hours steeped in Saisonniere and 24 hours in a special rub – a hearty taste of her future cuisine.
“Now”, she says with pride, “we are brewing our own beer, buying meat from the local farms, cheeses from the local farmers and that’s how we want to work.” You can even book to join her for a day of brewing with six or seven people in this small space, which she calls “putting on your own brew boots.” Accompanying our meal were her on-site beers: Belle Saise (Saisonniere fresh hopped by Hildegard) and Ambrise (both 6%) made by a class of six students.
As we savored her mousse a la chocolat, infused with Samaranth & black pepper and complemented by a sweet rice pudding, we raised an Urthel toast, “Pache!” with a dry five year old Samaranth. “Finally in our own little brewery,” she added. Their website is urthel.com.