Brewery Snapshot: De Struise Brouwers in Oostvleteren, Belgium
This edition of Brewery Snapshot* takes a look at De Struise Brouwers in Oostvleteren, Belgium. With the brewery’s limited hours – Saturday’s from 2-6:00pm – many beer tourists overlook Struise on their beer pilgrimage to neighboring Saint Sixtus Abbey to drink Westvleteren 12. This is a huge mistake. Struise brews creative and innovative beers that are a pleasant contrast to the discipline and tradition of a Trappist Brewery.
Besides the beer, Struise also delivers a unique tasting room experience. The brewery is located in an old schoolhouse, and the tasting room is in one of the classrooms – the original desks and chalkboards are still in place. With the crowd that crams in on a Saturday afternoon, it’s a wonder they don’t open more often. Then again, scarcity sells, right?
Or, in my case, it led to a rather harrowing experience to visit the brewery during public hours…
I was on a tight schedule with just enough to make it to De Struise Brouwers during their limited hours.
The morning started with an early rise and train ride from the Loire Valley in France. Then a disastrous taxi ride through Paris as I had to switch train stations with barely enough time to make my connection across town to Brussels. I nearly plowed over homeless person as I raced to an open cab, only to be chased by another cabbie beating his fists on the car as we pulled away.
But the foam on the beer was finding out my rental car company switched my pick-up location in Brussels from the train station to the airport. I argued the error to the clerk, highlighting the train station pickup on the reservation, to no avail. I booked my Hertz through budget rental car company Auto Europe, and there was nothing she could do.
Fifty Euros later, I found myself at the airport waiting in a line that was taking longer than it should have after already suffering a delay at the fault of Auto Europe. Actually making it to Struise with enough time to order one beer was seeming less probable.
If I missed it, I was pissing away two days of my itinerary and a lot of money for a rental car. Sure, I still had Saint Sixtus Abbey on my itinerary for tomorrow, but one brewery was hardly worth the time and expense.
>>> Book a hotel is Oostvleteren <<<
I had to make De Struise Brouwers.
My plan was to dump the rental car at my hotel, Hotel Het Heilig Genot, and walk the mile to the brewery. Belgians brew strong beers, and I did not intend to risk driving under the influence.
It appeared hotel check-in was about to go the way of the rest of my day. I showed up around 4:30pm. Enough time to check-in to the hotel and spend an hour at the brewery. It wasn’t ideal, but it’s what I had to work with.
Except that the hotel doors were locked. Somewhere in my travel planning, I missed that the hotel is only open for check-in from 5-7:30pm. The logical answer would have been to leave my car and walk, but the parking lot sat behind secured gates. Thus, I drove to the brewery and kept my sampling to a minimum.
>>> Book a room at Hotel Het Heilig Genot <<<
The beers were well worth the hassle.
I eased into my tasting with the Weltmerz, a 3% ABV golden sour fermented with lactobacillus. The beer was a good palate opener with a zesty lemon funk, and the ABV was ideal given that I had a car parked on the street.
My second beer was the Royalist, a wet hopped wild ale with an ABV of 8%. The brewer uses natural fermentation to create this absolutely beautiful ale, allowing the organisms on the hops to do the magic. The nose brought bright citrus and caramel notes while the tongue delivered the same citrus and caramel malt with a pleasant pineapple and funk from the wild yeast. I may have even caught a little floral and honey.
Things began to climb the ABV ladder rather quickly with Black Damnation. Struise has brewed several versions of Black Damnation. Each seems to be more creative than the previous. The only rule in brewing the series is that 50% of the beer must contain Black Albert, which can only be described as the mother of Russian Imperial Stouts.
The version of Black Damnation I sampled was aged in Brazilian rum barrels with coffee beans added in the secondary. It was a big beer (13% ABV) with bold flavors of coffee, vanilla, and booze. The ale was as complex as it sounds with an initial booziness from the rum washed away by the bitterness of the coffee and smooth texture of the Black Albert on the finish.
Next up was a Special Release Stout Aged in Four Roses Bourbon Barrels. Yes, I realize that sounds more American craft beer then Belgian, but I was curious after the Black Damnation. I wasn’t loving this stout. While the nose was a complex mixture of chocolate milk and whiskey, the flavor was one dimensional on the whiskey.
Last, I sampled Struise’s flagship – Pannepot. The beer is a style all Struise’s that falls somewhere between a Belgian strong dark ale and a stout. To be honest, I wasn’t overly impressed given that everyone raved about it. The beer delivered dried fruit and cacao nibs on the nose. The flavor was a blend of sour cherries, toast, and caramel. While all of those notes can produce a delicious beer, they all seemed to be fighting each other. Mind you, this was my impression on brewery fresh Pannepot which was changed over dinner at Molenhof.
>>> Headed to Europe? Check out my European Packing Guide!!! <<<
The evening led to more De Struise Brouwers tasting at Molenhof after I checked into my hotel.
Later that evening, some of the staff from Struise invited me to join them for beers at neighboring restaurant Molenhof after they kicked off work for the day (being a beer writer has its perks). They promised to walk me through some of their portfolio that I wasn’t able to sample at the School House due to my time constraints.
It’s here that I sampled several different versions of Pannepot including side-by-side verticals and a 2009 Grand Reserve Pannepot aged in bourbon barrels. I then understood what the big deal about Pannepot was. This beer only gets better with age and becomes saintly when barrel aged.
Pro Tip – If you can’t visit the region on a Saturday and still want to sample Struise beers while making your Saint Sixtus pilgrimage, be sure to check out Molenhof. They have great food and one of the largest selections you’ll find of Struise’s beers outside of the brewery.
A beer well worth the trip.
As stressful and tiring as my day way, the limited time I had at Struise and the interaction with the brewers at Molenhof was well worth the trek. Plus, I also visited Saint Sixtus the next day, but you’ll have to check back on Wednesday for details on that experience.
*Brewery Snapshot reviews a brewery that really captured my attention along my journeys. Unlike my Brewery Spotlight series, which takes deeper look at a brewery through behind the scenes tours and interviews, Brewery Snapshot is meant to provide a brief overview of what the brewery offers and why you should visit / seek out their beers.
What was your most well earned beer?