Zombination | A 9-Brewery-Collab At De Struise Brouwers
What if 9 of the most exciting breweries in Europe came together for a special collaborative brew?
And what if that beer was an Imperial Stout of 17% a.b.v. on first fermentation which would be barrel aged in oak casks for a minimum of one year?
Would you believe it? Would you be interested in a beer like that?
Well, that happened. On 17 October 2014.
‘ZOMBINATION’: WHY THE NAME AND WHY THE BEER?
The story begins with Gabriel.
As a beer blogger in Spain, Gabriel Bocanegra wanted to give those who followed his blog the opportunity to buy the beers about which he was writing.
He opened an online beer store and called it Zombier.
He started to pull some highly regarded small breweries together. Breweries that at that time were doing things a little differently. Soon, he had accumulated a tidy portfolio.
De Struise Brouwers and Brouwerij Alvinne from Belgium. Magic Rock, Beavertown and Brodies from the UK. Kees Bubberman (formerly of Emelisse) and De Molen from the Netherlands. Haandbryggeriet from Norway. Naparbier from Spain. They were all there in Oostvleteren.
Gabriel’s Zombier craft beer distribution business is now three years old. Its first and second anniversaries were celebrated in Barcelona at The Drunk Monk and BierCaB respectively. This year, it was in Belgium.
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Zombination is a birthday beer. It’s a gift to Gabriel from the breweries which Zombier has supported and helped grow over the last number of years. It’s a thank you.
It’s also a clever marketing initiative from the breweries involved and from Gabriel and his staff at Zombier. Interest in a collaboration from these breweries is likely to be great.
“For me collaboration is about learning and having fun,” says Logan Plant, Founder and Brewer at Beaverton Brewery. “We love to brew with fellow brewers, taking a concept for the brew and creating a beer. To be invited to De Struise was an honour. I learnt so much about Belgian styles, ingredients and technique. I also made some great new friends and that’s what it’s all about.”
Jonny Bright, formerly of Brewdog was there as Head Brewer at Brodie’s Beers. “My journey into good beer started with Trappist Rochefort 8 many years ago,” says Jonny. “Since then I’ve tried as many Belgian beers as possible. So when you get asked to be involved in a collaboration brew with a Belgian brewer, let alone with someone as awesome as De Struise, you just say YES!”
WHAT IS ‘ZOMBINATION’?
Given the nature of the occasion and the gregarious nature of the brewing personalities involved, it was only natural that the beer itself would be big.
It’s an imperial stout of 17% ABV which is currently maturing on oak for what is planned to be at least a year.
One of the ingredients used was honey, a highly fermentable adjunct which contributes sugar and thus boosts the gravity of the beer. Depending on how it is used it sometimes attributes subtle floral notes and in some cases is known to tone down bitterness without affecting hop character.
Each brewer involved arrived at De Struise’s schoolhouse with their own honey, some homemade, others sourced in the locality of their brewery. These honey collections were then divided so that each brewery could take away samples of the other honeys enabling them an attempt at replicating the beer in their respective facilities.
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“It’s great to have all the different brewers together in one place to talk and share experiences and ideas,” says Stuart Ross, Head Brewer at Magic Rock Brewing. “The idea behind the brew is very interesting, creating a recipe that all the brewers will be able to brew back at their own breweries.”
It seems that Zombination will follow in the footsteps of De Struise’s Black Damnation series, being aged in a variety of casks for at least one year to produce 7 different beers. ‘Zombination I’ will be the first release. The series will finish with ‘Zombination VII’.
As I understand it, the casks used will include, among others, those from Porto, Malaga, Jerez, Caol Ila and Woodford Reserve. De Struise will have the final say on how much time Zombination will spend in the casks and Urbain Coutteau will take ultimate responsibility for blending before the creations are bottled.
A FAMILY PARTY (WITH LOTS OF BEER)
The weather, speciality snacks Spanish Jamón and their sharing of some quite rare beers ensured a party-like atmosphere during the collaboration. “You know what happens when so many good friends and beer lovers come together?” asks Sven Bosch of Naparbier. “Yes, they start drinking and sharing good beers, and having a good time.”
“For us this weekend at Struise was really special, not only for the beer and the collaboration brew with all the brewers, but for us visiting Struise is visiting our family in Belgium,” says Gabriel himself. “We feel at home there with Urbain, Carlo, J, and the rest of the team. Sharing this with friends all around Europe is simply amazing.”
“The room full of amazing brewers from all over Europe, the beers we drank, the food, but most of all our good friends from Spain – Gabriel & Ivan from Zombier,” said Jonny from Brodie’s. “I’ve only known these guys for about a year but they are crazy and I love them!”
“Some people called me asking about this festival,” says Gabriel. “Festival? It’s not a festival. It’s only some friends sharing some beers and a BBQ in a Belgian brewery.”
Everyone in attendance actually spent the whole weekend together in a house in Diksmuide. It was a house filled with a lot of beer.
“Someone must have paid the Gods a good deal of money,” says John Brus from De Molen. “We had an October high temperature record! But the beers were even better.”
And Jonny hinted to me that there might be other projects in the future. “It was a great weekend and I hope we can be involved next year,” he says. “We’re already making plans for something special in London. Keep your eyes and ears open!”
But the question remains: Will Zombination be any good?
We’ll have to wait and see. Seven times.