Carlo Grootaert wanted to tell me a story, so shortly after 11 a.m., we drove to a cemetery near the coastal Belgian town of De Panne, where, not far from a giant crucifix, he knelt among the tombstones and uncapped a beer. “These fishermen were herring fishermen, and during winter days the women made beer,” he said. “We decided to remake a beer in the same style.”
He handed me a glass. The Pannepot, which Grootaert and his colleagues at tiny De Struise Brouwers created in 2004 after several years of less ambitious brewing, was about as typical as a graveside beer tasting. The syrupy liquid was 10 percent alcohol and combined the dried-fruit flavors of a quadrupel, a traditional Belgian abbey ale, with the roasted-coffee notes common in American stouts. I began to understand why the beer geeks who frequent the influential beer site RateBeer.com rank 13 Struise beers among the 50 best in Belgium — more than for any other brewery, and an astounding number in light of Belgium’s status as the foreign country that U.S. beer lovers seem to admire the most.