I have always had a great appreciation for Belgian beers. There is a rich history that goes with every beer brewed in Belgium and with the Trappist influence and spontaneous fermentation these beers are incredibly intriguing. I could probably write an entire article on the history of Belgian beer but will save that for another time. If you want to learn more I suggest reading “Brew Like a Monk” by Stan Hieronymus. Stan does a great job explaining the Trappist lifestyle and provides a ton of information on every Trappist brewery.
The Belgian Beer Fest was hosted by both BeerAdvocate and Allagash Brewing Company (famous for their Belgian-inspired Allagash White). I was most excited for the scaled down approach of this festival and was looking forward to visiting a fewer, more specialized breweries than during the American Craft Beer Fest (which featured over 100 different breweries pouring over 500 craft beers). The Belgian Beer Fest featured only around 40 different breweries the night I attended (there were 3 different sessions). The Night of the Funk on Friday is usually the main draw and includes beers ranging from traditional Belgian beers to inspired American Wild Ales. I wasn’t able to make this session although next year I would love to attend.
I decided to buy a VIP ticket to the later Saturday session which I felt had a better speakers panel than the earlier one. I also later learned that the VIP ticket allowed me to cut the line which was definitely a huge added bonus (unfortunately it cost about $17 more than the regular ticket). The speakers for the event included:
- Alec Lopez, Armsby Abbey
- Joe Lipa, Merchant du Vin
- Steve Villani, Global Beer Network
- Tomme Arthur, The Lost Abbey
I arrived at the event with a friend of mine a bit later than I had wanted but we used our “VIP status” to head right in and cut the entire line (which I felt a little bad about). The festival was being held at The Cyclorama at The Boston Center For The Arts. It was a tiny room compared to the Seaport World Trade Center (about 1/8 the size) but created a nice cozy atmosphere that made everything a bit more personal. The crowd was also a bit calmer than at the American Craft Beer Fest and these people seemed to be attending to try new craft beers as opposed to going to a big party. After getting our wristbands and cups we decided to take a walk around to survey what was available. After tasting about 10 different beers we decided it was time to take our seats for the forum.
The forum started promptly at 7pm and the the speakers gave brief introductions then discussed their approach to Belgian beers and how they select them for brewing, retail and wholesale distribution. They explained how many of the monasteries care less about profits and more about how it much it is enjoyed by the general public, something I found to be very interesting. They also talked about how brave you have to be to open a brewery in Belgium. With over 1,000 different beers available already and in a country the size of Maryland, you have to be a bit nuts. There was a brief history lesson after that and then we got to drinking.
Joe Lipa brought two of my favorite beers of the entire festival. The first was Orval Trappist Ale which poured a hazy light amber color with floral, citrus and spice aromas. Nice tart flavors with a surprisingly full bodied mouthfeel. There was a slight hop bite with cider-like flavors. Very complex and interesting. The next was Lindemans Gueuze Cuvée René. This beer poured a golden color with very gentle aromas of fruit. The flavors were tart and refreshing with hints of yeast and cellar-like flavors. This was a very simple beer with quite a bit of depth.
Steve Villani brought Gulden Draak (draft and bottle) and Wittekerke. Gulden Draak was a really great beer. A very dark beer with sweet citrus aromas. The sip began with malty sweetness with some spicy alcohol flavors. There was a sweet aftertaste as well that faded slowly. The Gulden Draak draft, which undergoes a second fermentation in the keg tasted more mature and developed. Both were very good. Witterkerke was a good beer but nothing incredibly special. It poured a pale yellow and contained aromas of lemon zest and other citrus fruits. Fruity flavors surround the mouth as well and cause a nice mix with the medium bodied beer. Some yeast flavors are present as well.
Tomme Arthur, Co-Founder and Director of Brewery Operations of The Lost Abbey, brought his own brewed Inferno Ale. The Lost Abbey, located in California, brews up some fantastic Belgian-inspired beers. Inferno poured a hazy yellow color and contained yeast and sweet malts. The flavors were very mild but a bit spicy with a bit of sweetness. A very drinkable and enjoyable beer.
My favorite beers (other than what the speakers brought):
- Mad Scientist #4 (Sixpoint): Brewed with hibiscus which gives the beer a really pretty pinkish red color. The nose is gentle with some floral notes and even some malt. Flavors were very similar to the aromas and malty sweetness, floral flavors and some citrus notes harmonized to near perfection. There was a little tartness at the end as well.
- 2010 Poppa Skull (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery): This beer was brewed once in 2010 as a collaboration with 3 Floyds Brewing Company. This Belgian Strong Pale Ale intrigued me a lot. It poured a hazy deep orange color with aromas of cardamom (which it is brewed with) and yeast. Flavors were sweet but full and complex with other hints of spice, yeast and bready malt. There is also a clear oak flavor and some alcohol at the end.
- Field Mouse’s Farewell (Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project): An excellent Saison that has many floral and fruity aromas. Very crisp and clean tasting with great malt and fruit flavors that popped from this medium bodied beer.
Honorable mentions: White Birch Deviant Monk, Harpoon Saison Various and Chapeau Lambics
Overall, I had a great time at the Belgian Beer Fest and am looking forward to attending next year. Definitely something every beer lover should consider going to.