|My crew who digs the brew - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
This is only the second year Washington Beer Commission has produced Belgianfest. Last year's premiere festival was held at the very cool Georgetown Studios, the old Rainier bottling plant in south Seattle. This year they moved up north to the Sandpoint neighborhood, to Belgianize the Warren G. Magnuson Park. It's a building in a large community center area that looked like it was once a military housing area. There's tons of great old buildings in and around Seattle, and this one had some nice character to it, even though we went to the evening session, so it was hard to really get a full appreciation of its details. Belgianfest 2011 was held in a large, open building that was lined with over 24 Washington brewers trying their hand at Belgian-style beers.
|Booth decor from Redhook and Scuttlebutt - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
I don't want to bore you with too much beer nerd info, as I know not everyone perusing through this post is dying to know the sordid details of the life and times of the brettanomyces bacteria that makes the beer distinctively Belgian. Beyond the land of microbes, when Washington brewers get together and concoct Belgian-style beers, they're just that: Belgian-style. They're doing creative riffs on classic recipes, usually keeping the beers within the flavor profiles of what local beer drinkers enjoy, which is to say hops, hops and more hops. OK, it's not just hops, but let's face it, Washingtonians have much Thug Life Love for IPAs. The Belgianfest gives brewers a chance to make small batches that lets the Belgian "brett" yeast do its thing, mixing different varieties of hops, and with playing around with methods like letting the beer age in wine barrels and flavoring it with unique ingredients like cocoa nibs, oak chips and spices. Most of the beers being shown at Belgianfest aren't available year-round and were likely brewed just for this festival, so it's a great opportunity to really beer-nerd it out with truly one of a kind beers.
|Next beer festival, make it a point to chat with these folks - they are awesome! - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
As for the beers themselves - my favorites still stand. I always have much brewski love for Black Raven Brewery. They earned many a token for return trips to sample their Pour Les Oiseaux (For the Birds) farmhouse ale/saison, which had a lovely complex flavor that was light and refreshing, as well as a cask version of their La Petite Mort, a festival favorite that's in the style of an Abbey strong brown ale, with the flavor of the rum soaked oak chips and dried figs that perfume the beer with a deep richness. I made sure to imbibe the Issaquah Brewhouse's cask Menage-a-Frog, a Belgian-style Trippel that is dry-hopped and had an incredible grapefruit, citrus aroma and flavor. Yes, it's a punch to the tastebuds, but in all the right ways. This is the beer you pay good money to beat you up. Snipes Mountain Brewery, always a solid team of brewers, brought their Twangzister #3, a three year old Belgian strong that was aged in a bourbon barrel and flavored with cherries. Personally, I like the unusual mixes -- none of these could really qualify as a true, pure Belgian beer, given its creative zigs and zags with methods and ingredients, but who cares? I'm a fan of flavor, and to quoth the LOLCats, these beers haz a flavor.
Another thing I like about these beer festivals is the chance to talk with the brewers themselves. They're all cool people with a playful, off-kilter sense of humor. Imagine an artist colony, but with beer. It goes without saying that their beers qualify as tasty frosty beverages, but if you have a chance to chat with the folks at Scuttlebutt, Two Beers Brewing Co., Georgetown or Naked City, they're especially nice folks. I got a chance to chat with Tom Handy of Paradise Creek Brewery, one of the newer breweries to join the Washington family. They're based out of Pullman, in Eastern Washington,. They of course hold a special place in the Wasabi household, as that's where Mr. Wasabi went to Washington State University in Pullman and remembers living right across from the Old Post Office, which is now the home of Paradise Creek. I sampled both their Belgian Wit and their Dunkel - the Wit was a very light, springtime beer, great for the hot summers in the Palouse, and the Dunkel was a flavorful but not too heavy beer, befitting a chilly winter night.
Come on, Wasabi -- is there anything that isn't perfect about these beer festivals? Aside from the fact that your palate is likely hosed by the seventh or eighth tasting, these events are so popular, you have to hit your favorites right off the bat, as soon as the event starts. There is no "fashionably late" at a beer festival -- if something's popular, it may run out early or it's just going to be too crowded to get to the tasting table. I wish I could say you get to savor each glass, but it gets harder as the night wears on because the event is so popular and the crowd gets overwhelming. I went with a group of beer friends, which was great, as even if I didn't get a full pour of a beer, everyone was cootie-free and we shared sips just to get a try of a particular beer. Don't wear anything that needs dry-cleaning, keep your good humor on your sleeve because you will be inadvertently bumped or stumbled-into by (possibly inebriated) passerbys, and take on the Washingtonian zen attitude of "be cool, man." Follow these simple rules and you will enjoy the delightful madness that is a beer festival. See all you beer fans soon for Cask Fest coming up in April!
|If it's Saturday, it must be Belgiumfest - Photos by Wasabi Prime|