25 January 2008
Six Pack interview with Urbain Coutteau of De Struise Brouwers
As we mentioned here recently, De Struise Brouwers recently was named 2008's no. 1 brewer by RateBeer.com. I'm sure that many of you had the same thought: "Who?" This young Belgian brewery has been making some noise in the world brewing industry, as well as some tasty beers apparently. Thankfully, brewmaster Urbain Coutteau was willing to give us a Six Pack interview:
1) Who are you and where do you work?
My name is Urbain Coutteau, I am brew master and head of operations at Struise Breweries. My fellow companions, Carlo, Phil and Peter, all have more than 9 to 5 jobs in other firms. Carlo Grootaert is a sales representative for Rabotvins Belgium (http://www.rabotvins.com/) in the wine industry. Phil Driessens is a sales representative for Pgcars (http://www.pgcars.be/) in the automotive industry. Peter Braem is a commanding officer (http://www.mil.be/) in the Belgian army and myself was active in ICT before and now working part-time at http://www.struisebrouwers.be/ since December 2007, so you can call us a bunch of good friends and amateur brewers who had the luck of being recognised by a wide International public.
2) What inspired you to start brewing beer? How did you get your start?
I had incurred brewing experience during my decennial stay in Africa and wanted to share this with my buddies, all taste and aroma geeks, certainly what artisan beers as well as wine concerns. In 2001, we developed our first beer "Struise witte" at the holiday resort “De Noordhoek” near Lo-Reninge. Of one beer came another, the beer list grew. Enthusiasm grew too and became after a year this outsized that we decided to go commercially. Not with an own installation, for that we did not have the money yet, however, as contract brewers.
3) What's your brewing mission? What are you trying to accomplish with your beer?
Yes indeed, we have a mission. Through the development of very special and original crafted beers, we try to promote our county everyday abroad, which results in growing tourism and interest from all over the world. Our county, called “Westhoek” is already made famous in the past due to other breweries like Sint-Sixtus Abbey, De Dolle Brouwers, Saint Bernardus, different world known Artisan cheese and butchery producers, world class restaurants, well kept nature, beaches, and last but not least the battlefields of WW1 and WW2. Every day, we try to put our little spot on the map while brewing the most special, and out of the box beers, though very progressive for our Belgian beer culture.
4) Was there a beer that you benchmarked your own against? How did you know your beer was good enough to take to the general public?
There was so much innovation on the brewing front in countries like the United States and Denmark than we have ever thought was possible! The last couple of years, Carlo and myself have tasted +/- 750 different beers from abroad, and we have encountered a lot of magnificent beers and different styles we never had sampled before and learned a lot regarding styles, aromas, taste, etc... Guess what, some of those unknown styles to Belgian traditional standards (sorry for saying that), blew our minds away and we started dreaming. This dream came reality with the reception of different golden awards since 2006.
5) What beer are you proudest of? Which of your beers is your personal favourite? Why?
This is a question I can not really give you an exact answer on. All our beers have something to be proud of, but a favourite, I could not really say. Maybe “Tony’s New porter”, but this beer is not commercialized yet. I never drink beer during working days, with the exception of this nice and soft creamy porter of 5% ABV, that I could drink several glasses instead of coffee in the morning! “ Houston …, I think I have a problem”.
6) Which beers outside of your own do you enjoy? What beer do you wish you came up with? Why?
I had the luck of tasting and enjoying the very best like Three Floyds Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout, Lost Abbey The Angels Share, Russian River Beatification, Three Floyds Dreadnaught Imperial IPA, Mikkeller Simcoe IPA, all world master pieces and perfectly crafted. Avec les Bons Voeux means “Best wishes” a saison style beer from Brasserie Dupont is thé beer I wish I came up with. To me, my all-time favourite perfectly balanced well hopped hazy gold blonde.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you and/or your company?
We have recently started a new joint-venture in association with Chris Lively of http://www.ebenezerspub.net/ and Sean Paxton of http://www.homebrewchef.com/. In the past we had already launched a common project, this to the general joy of a lot of beer geeks, namely the development and realisation of Black Albert for Ebenezer’s Pub, Lovell, Maine, USA. This Belgian Royal naughty Stout did climb in no time to the top 20 charts of www.beeradvocate.com/top_beers and to the top 10 charts at www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Ratings-Top50.asp. Black Albert created such a hype that thousands of beer tourists went to the well-known Ebenezer's pub of Chris Lively to taste Belgian world class beers and Belgian inspired food. In the December 2007 edition of Beer Advocate magazine, both Black Albert and Ebenezer’s pub were exclaimed to be the worldwide best.
To return to the core of our tale, we were recently contacted again by Chris Lively with the question if we would be interested to be part of a new creation called "Pannepot Cafe" and this in Portland , Maine , USA . Portland is a beautiful coast town, east of Boston . This sounded like magnificently played music in our ears and were immediately prepared to work on the concept. After a lot of meetings a decision was taken to open not only a pub but a restaurant as well coupled to a nano brewery. With this joint-venture, we have a new extra mission, brew good beers in Portland with constant collaboration from the best brewers worldwide, and 3.5 barrels at a time. 75 to a 100 (we hope) elite draught choices, over 1,000 bottles including many vintages to choose from, and serving them at 100%, with glasses razor sharp hand cleaned, perfect lacing and colour every time, for true beer complexity. California / Fusion Cuisine is to be offered, and all of this democratically priced so everyone can come play. Further information will be published in the future on our websites http://www.struisebrouwers.be/ and http://www.pannepotcafe.com/. Opening date is planned by the end of April 2008.
Shelton Brothers is our importing partner for the USA, Roland Russell for Ontario Canada, and Horizon Wines for Alberta, Canada.