Quietly, Lori Rae Beck and Tyler Trotter (of the Holy Grale / Louisville Beer Store) have been raising the bar. Not as quiet as a 26% Double Black Albert will jump up on you at the end of a tasting, but quiet enough to break a Struise record by having 31 taps of the barrel loving Belgian beer on tap. I’ve been a big fan of Lori and Tyler’s work since their early days of opening the Louisville Beer Store. While it’s still a quintessential spot to grab a beer in Louisville, its more religious sibling is getting most of the local and international attention. A combination of Trotter’s patience to hold onto sought after barrels, Beck’s event planning and overall beer knowledge, and Chef Josh’s culinary skills have made the Grale sought after for locals and tourists a-like. Although these three bring in the patrons, Daniel, Lucy, Leslee and the rest of the staff make the Grale an amazing experience for the palate and the mind.
Last night, the Grale was again graced with the presence of the ostrich-farming Struise head brewer Urbain Coutteau. We used to have ostriches on our farm back home in Illinois for a bit, then winter came. The elk did well, the ostrich…not so much. Although not donning his Derby duds like a few years back, Urbain led the choir loft in a private tasting including some of the best of Struise’s portfolio mixed in with small secrets and stories behind each beer. Coming off a collaboration brew with the most metal brewers south of the Mason Dixon line (Against The Grain), Urbain quickly grabbed a glass and started on a discussion of the first beer of the evening, Shark Pants (8.7%).
A Belgian IPA brewed in 2011 with Three Floyds Brewery (have you heard of them?) still held up nicely over the years, but was probably the least favorite of the crowd and mine for the night. Urbain went into what made it a Belgian IPA and professed his love for what American IPAs have quickly become. When asked if he planned to brew this again with Three Floyds, he stated he has yet to hear from them with their ever-increasing production. He didn’t appear heartbroken. After going there a few weekends ago to grab a bite to eat and then finding out I had to then wait in line to purchase beer, I share Urbains views.
Next was Struise THREE (The Holy Research Enters Europe), a 10% tripel aged on oak barrels. Urbain went into a story about the church sending him a cease and desist in regards to the name of the beer so he proclaimed the T actually stood for tangerine, but I think that was bullshit. I can’t recall what the story was really about due to ongoing conversations and the few beers I had before the start of the tasting. Keep refilling that water glass, please. My bad. This was one of the best representations of a Belgian tripel I’ve tasted (there haven’t been many) and ranked as my fourth best beer of the tasting.
In 2005, I was fresh out of college and looking for graduate schools. The only Belgian beer I knew of was the orange garnished Blue Moon draft at Fat Jacks (Bloomington, IL). Needless to say, I’ve come a long way. Struise Pannepot Grand Reserva 2005 is a fisherman’s old ale aged for 24 months on oak with the last ten months on Calvados oak barrels (10%). With the time, the nose is very minimal on the beer and it’s all about the flavors proclaimed Urbain. Mild carbonation was still apparent and still plenty flavorful, but this beer wasn’t one of my favorites sadly. Granted it was good, but it fell into the number 5 spot of the evening.
Before I came up to the choir loft, I was consistently told how good the Struise Rio Reserva 2008 was. Many of my beer friends at Zwanze Day couldn’t stop talking about this beer. This quad was a collaboration with Rychei Sugawa San from Rio Brewing and Co. (11%) aged in oak barrels. Far and away the best beer of the night. It contained the sweet notes I like in a beer, mixed in with some vanilla and slight bready malts. A beer meant to be savored until the very last drop. Hats off for creating this masterpiece.
Just like any full-course meal, now it was time for the dessert portion of the evening. Struise Black Damnation I-Black Berry Albert was aged on Blackberries for one year in a port barrel (13%). The blackberries definitely sit in the background while a dark fruit and port wine mixture takeover the nose/taste of the beer. I think if there were too much of a blackberry taste, it would take away the complexities of the beer and almost make it a port wine in itself. This one ranked as my third favorite of the evening. I still prefer the Cuvee Delphine over the Black Albert in most situations.
If folks weren’t garnering a good buzz by now, they were in for a treat. I first had this at the tasting a few years back and was blown away by how for such a high ABV beer was actually quite pleasurable to drink. Struise Double Black, the fifth beer in the black damnation series, is their Cuvee Delphine ice distilled to a whopping 26%. Holy shit. A beer blacker than black that’s as full and sticky as a bear in a honeypot. Lots of dark chocolates and fruits swirl around the creamy texture of the beer. Second place goes to this beer. After finishing the last drop, I had to make the executive decision to head home before I went broke or had to call a cab. Kudos Holy Grale, kudos.