De Struise Brouwers | Pannepot Special Reserva
“But, what do you drink?” This is the question I asked the bartender at one of the many estimable pubs I wandered into the first time I visited Bruges. Taking a pilgrimage to the holy land of beer to guzzle some Westvleteren long before it was shipped to American shores, I spent my days soaking in highly-touted Trappist ales and Belgian standards, but was looking for something a little more “Bad Sandy.” The Belgians, masters of brewing, had to have their version of “craft” local beers that didn’t travel outside of the land of waffles and moules frites.
A mere toddler in the established world of Belgian Ales, De Struise has been pushing the envelope of these traditional styles since being founded in 2001. Beers like Black Damnation and their XXXX Quadrupel find themselves resting in a variety of barrels for that big, boozy, American craft flavor that very few breweries in the Old World attempt to emulate. Often overlooked on the American shores sitting next to Chimays and Kwaks, De Struise instead offers nouveaux takes on familiar styles, executed adeptly. Even their relatively straightforward Pannepot tastes like a fresh interpretation of something you didn’t know needed an update. It’s like the Mad Max: Fury Road of beers.
Being a big fan since that fortuitous evening in Bruges, on my last trip to Belgium I decided I needed to visit their taproom. Housed in an old schoolhouse in Oostvleteren, De Struise is just a stone’s throw oost (east) of the holy Westvleteren. Only open four hours a week, the Oostside beer gang battles hard against the Westside by offering a tap and bottle list that makes you plead with the bartenders for a few more hours to enjoy the dozens of offerings available. One of the bottles I was able to taste, then squirrel away, was a treatment of the original beer that led me to this schoolyard: Pannepot Special Reserva.
An Old Beer With a New Taste
Bottled on 4/24/18 after spending four YEARS on Bordeaux oak wine barrels, this beer flexes all of the muscles that come from years of patient barrel bodybuilding. It has a deep cola color with a hint of red, kind of like seeing the reflection from the Coke label on your beverage. The sediment at the bottom lets you know this is the real thing; the thin effervescent head breathes an unsurprisingly wine-y nose with a hint of some old caramels your grandma would have given you. It’s much more pleasant than a lot of the sludge I see from American brewers who barrel-age for excessive periods or the deteriorated remains of a beer you’ve been “aging” for six years in the dank humidity of your bed’s undercarriage.
When this hits your lips, the tannic aspect of the Bordeaux is there, but without lending too much tartness. The grape cuts through the traditional Belgian undertones of raisins, dark fruits, spices and browned sugar products, with each side of the equation better off because of the other’s presence. The characteristic that stands out the most is the carbonation. While I expected a turbid affair from something that was bottled before Taylor Swift released “Shake It Off,” this beer has held up better than all of T Swift’s relationships. While definitely not Tattinger-level fizzy, the carb is still here in a pronounced way akin to a chilled Lambrusco, as opposed to an old ale where the last few bubbles are trying to escape like someone who walked into an empty improv show by mistake.
This beer is somehow both dense and crisp, deftly dodging the bitterness or overwhelming sweetness that you often find in heavy-hitting stouts or dark Belgians. The finish leaves you feeling like you just left the Catalina Wine Mixer, not with the ABV burn or palate fatigue you get from your standard 10%+ beer experiences. Oak comes out more as it warms and adds to a cherry hard candy residual check you cash in after the beer has sadly finished its season in your glass.
Overall, I couldn’t recommend this beer more highly to those who like deep, interesting beers that do not need a Nutter Butter folded in to create flavor. If you can’t find this particular Pannepot, there are a smattering of other offerings from De Struise that continue on the theme of well-made Belgian Ales with virtuoso barrel expressions.