Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
My name is Matthew Curtis and I have a problem, I have a compulsive urge to spend what some might see as obscene amounts of money on unusual beers whenever I see them. Whenever a savvy beer merchant tweets about new additions to their stock there I am sitting in front of my computer with credit card in hand, floundering my money on liquid delights. Tomorrow I’m off to see my Dad in Colorado for a week and although I’ve already packed my suitcase is half empty and filled with bubble wrap which shall be used to safely smuggle back several transatlantic treats for consumption over the next few weeks.
None more black In June you may have noticed that I was in Bruges, Belgium and I had the pleasure of visiting the Struise shop and sampling their brews for the very first time. I bought from them as many bottles as I could fit into my regrettably small suitcase and I’ve gradually been working my way through my selection. The trouble I have come across when starting to build a nice collection of rare beers is deciding when to drink them however as I started two weeks of leave from work last Thursday evening there seemed no better time to enjoy something special and so De Struise Black Albert was selected. I paid just under five Euro for my bottle of Black Albert, quite reasonable when you consider it’s a 13% ABV Imperial Stout and it makes me wonder how come similar beers weigh in at much higher prices but that’s another debate for another time so I'll just get straight into this beer.
Although I’d left the beer chilling in my fridge all day I let it warm up for around half an hour before opening the bottle. I generally find huge boozy stouts such as this benefit from being allowed to rise to cellar temperature and as I do not posses a cellar this is how I attempt to get around it. As I open the bottle a wisp of scent escapes and I already get a hint of the huge stewed fruit aromas I am about to experience. Black Albert pours into the glass with an almost tar like consistency and is pitch black, the head is the colour of milk after you’ve left your coco pops in for too long, a rich mocha brown and surprisingly big for such a high alcohol beer.
The nose is like a rich, warm flannel being wrapped around my face as aromas of molasses, stewed figs, liquorice, blackcurrants and raisins soaked in port and brandy envelop my nostrils. Despite its high ABV the beer fizzes away nicely and maintains a surprising amount of foam but I can see no light penetrating the black oubliette of liquid that’s held within my glass.
I take a taste and as you can guess it’s a very big beer but it’s not as scary or intimidating as you might assume. It starts off all warm and sweet with hints of molasses and black treacle coating your palate and then it begins to evolve in your mouth first taking on the flavour of fruit cake with just a hint of bitterness keeping all that sweetness in check. As you swallow the beer continues to transform leaving a huge taste of liquorice and a little bit of tobacco at the back of your tongue leaving you feeling like you’ve just taken a toke on a large, fruity cigar. There’s a tiny bit of alcohol burn as it slips down but much less than you’d expect considering its strength and this goes a long way to show the skill that’s gone into crafting this beer.
It’s another great beer from De Struise Brouwers and I particularly like the way that they’ve described it as a ‘Belgian Royal Stout’ as opposed to an Imperial Stout because like all their beers although it’s undoubtedly different from classic Belgian brews it has taken all of their qualities and pushed them to their limits. It’s almost like they’ve taken one of my favourite beers, Rochefort 10 and added a slug of port into the mix and as a result it lacks a little of the elegance that you would find in those classic beers. Still this is not one to be missed and if you find yourself sat in front of your computer with your credit card when these are available then definitely stick one in your basket.