Announcement: This Is A Notice Of An Ensuing “De Proef Debut!”
Rare Beer—that’s what this club is all about. And this month, we have again lined up a beer not before found in the country. As a member, you’re going to be the first in the country to taste a very unusual brew created in Belgium by world renowned Belgian Brewmaster Dirk Naudts. Brewer extraordinaire and well-regarded brewing innovator and educator, Naudts is the proprietor of De Proef Brouwerij, located in the brewing haven of Western Flanders, Belgium. His nickname, “The Prof” (as in professor), is well-deserved and worn as a badge of honor, serving as the moniker for his highly respected, über-scientific brewery. Never shy about experimentation or collaboration, he is a scientist by nature, and an artisan by trade. Brewers from around the world have contacted The Prof in the interest of collaboration and recipe development. Last year, we featured the results of one such collaboration between De Proef and Bell’s Brewery.
Among Dirk Naudts’s other notable collaborators are Tomme Arthur of Port Brewing & The Lost Abbey, Jason Perkins of Allagash Brewing, Spike Buckowski of Terrapin Beer Company and numerous others. People are clamoring to work with The Prof. But it’s not just brewers—better beer distributors, Shelton Brothers, launched a project with De Proef back in 2004. Like the commissioned work of a painter in which multiple panels are produced, the beer that was the subject of this artful experiment came in six different versions. Known as “Flemish Primitive Wild Ale,” the beer is built upon a base of rich golden continental malts, fermented with several strains of Brettanomyces (wild yeast) and hopped with a generous amount of local hops. The difference between the six versions comes down to different hop varietals and hopping rates as well as the “Flemish Primitive” artwork of master painter Hieronymus Bosch that adorns each bottle. This artwork, which is highly accomplished and anything but primitive, was produced in the late 15th and early 16th centuries and showcases, albeit in often haunting, nightmarish imagery, the mastery of the brush that helped push the late medieval period into the Renaissance.
After commissioning the lineup of six beers, Shelton Brothers was thirsty for something more—a beer that went a few steps further toward “primitive”—and thus, a seventh beer was born. This was to be a beer in which about 5% of the malts were smoked, since malt kilning of this period would have doubtless been achieved over burning wood, imparting a smokiness to the grains. Also, hops were not widely used as the bittering agent in beer until perhaps around the mid-16th century. Instead, various spices were employed to offset the sweetness of the malt. This blend of spices, called gruit [pronounced “groot” (like ‘root’) or “grew-it”] consisted of various botanicals, from pine needles, dandelions, heather, bog myrtle (sweet gale), rosemary, yarrow, juniper berries, spruce and just about everything in between. So, to honor tradition, but without going all-gruit, this beer has about 25% of the finishing hops replaced with a gruit mixture.
And after the seventh beer, De Proef rested. Or, perhaps, fell asleep at bottling time is more like it, because it turns out the brewery slapped on the label for version #6 of the Flemish Primitive series (affectionately known as “Rat Rider” due to the label artwork). Due to the smoked malt and gruit, this beer is completely different than “Rat Rider” (aka Version #6), and because of the label mix up, Shelton Brothers decided not to sell it on account that it would be confusing to consumers. So, there was beer #7, the most intriguing of the lot, all packaged and mislabeled and needing to be sorted out… What happens when you have a uniquely awesome wild-ass lightly smoked gruit beer that you can’t sell? You warehouse the stuff, let it age and get funky with the Brett bottle-conditioning in full swing while you figure something out (yeast are such good workers!). And if you’re very busy with your stated mission of hand-selecting the best beers on Earth, as Shelton Brothers so often is, then you might not even get to figuring out your mislabeled beer problem for a couple of years. That’s exactly what happened with this beer, which we’re calling Flemish Primitive Wile Ale 2008 Special Vintage Reserve. Brewed in January of 2008, it has been aging now for over two years—and we’ve snatched up all but about 30 cases of the only supply on Earth for you, our members, meaning you’ll not only get it first, you’ll be just about the only folks in the world to have access to this truly special, unusual beer. And, the 30 cases left for the rest of the world—well that too will dwindle if you order some extra bottles. Don’t worry about dipping into the tiny remaining stash—Gruit to it!