Monday, February 11, 2013

FoodTrek: If it's Tuesday, it Must Be Belgianfest

OK, so it's not Tuesday and Belgianfest happened the week before, but I'm a sucker for movie pun-titled blog posts! And so another beer festival celebrating Belgian-style beers through the lens of Northwest breweries came and went... and what do we have to show for ourselves? Memories of interesting and creative beers and thankfully dodging the Hangover Bullet.

Belgianfest 2013!! Cute little tulip glasses!!!  Exclamation points!!!!!! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I remember attending Washington Beer Commission's  first Belgianfest, held in the very histori-cool South Downtown Seattle Georgetown neighborhood. As seen in this post back in 2010, the Engine Room at Georgetown Studios rocked the Casbah, it had a lot of character. But the downside was its lack of facilities, given the fact that it was an old bottling factory, not a party building -- we were literally running across the street to use the restrooms at a nearby bar nice enough to let us drunkards run in and out after weaving through traffic. It's true when they say, you don't own beer, you just rent it. The next Belgianfest was held at Magnuson Park, a convenient neighborhood spot that a lot of people could just walk or bus to, only adding to its popularity and making it jam-packed with people in record time. So CROWDED. We unfortunately missed last year's Belgianfest but made sure not to miss this year's -- both were held at what I'm assuming is the festival's new home, the Bell Harbor Convention Center, right in Downtown Seattle, by the piers along Alaskan Way. Split into two separate sessions, afternoon and evening, both were totally sold out and despite the big crowds, I have to say the convention center struck just the right balance of getting a big group of beer-drinkers to mingle for some creative beers.

Drinkin' beer at the pier - Photos by Wasabi Prime
We got our beer kicks at Pier 66, wandering the many familiar Washington brewer tables, which had more than 80 Belgian-style beers being offered. That's a whole lotta beer. We of course didn't drink all of it, just sampled the brews that peaked our interest. I will say this: Belgian beers are not typical session beers. You're not going to crack a sour Kriek open at a summer barbecue and slug it down with hotdogs and a handful of Fritos. There are big, wide-audience beer companies who do lighter interpretations, like Fat Tire from New Belgium Brewery, which was probably my first introduction into Belgian beers back in college, but the flavor profile of many of the traditional Belgian style beers at Belgianfest are strongly-flavored and not shy with the tastebuds.

Beers with character! And balloons!! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
There were a lot of colorful character beers, like Anacortes Brewery's Peppercorn Saison and Elysian Brewing's Saison Poivre, which was just that -- strongly peppercorn-forward flavored beer. Seems weird, but an interesting sensation, similar to those beers infused with raw jalapenos. You get an intense savoriness from the beer, with a hint of heat. Several wine-flavored beers, like Black Raven's wine barrel-aged La Mort Rouge, Hale's Ales Hot and Nasty! Saison fermented in a French merlot barrel, and Triplehorn Brewing's Ol du Vin (Beer of the Vine) which collaborated with Patterson Cellars, blending their beer with Patterson's late harvest Roussanne. The red wine beers had a more earthy, robust flavor, while Tripplehorn's use of the Roussanne made their farmhouse Saison more complex, retaining its brighter notes.

Don't forget your favorite hat and tap handle! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I would call these beers Belgian-inspired, since it's really hard to hold back the Pacific Northwestern rebellious brewer spirit that can't help but hop the hell out of beers and play with flavors like a mad scientist. Snipes Mountain Brewing has been a longtime favorite, and they did a nice job with their Terror, a malty and smoky stout fermented with Saison yeast. Slightly tart, but rounded out with five different malted grains, molasses and honey.  It warmed me up on a cold winter's night, that's for sure.

Skulls, bung plugs and beer - it's a party!! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
There were also some new faces to the festival circuit -- even one brewery that's right in our own town of Duvall that I didn't even know about, I'm ashamed to say! The ones I took notice of were Justice Brewing from Everett, Reuben's Brews in Ballard and Duvall's own Duvall Springs Brewing. I didn't get a chance to try Justice, but heard good things about their White and Nerdy, their take on a Belgian Wit. I'll have to try more of Duvall Springs' beer at our local Duvall Grill, as they don't have a tasting room yet, but are keeping the hometown beer mugs full. I really liked Reuben's Brews, and not just because I was thinking of good friends Alice and Reuben, who were getting married that very night over in NYC -- congrats, you guys! Reuben's Brews' Belgian pale ale was a really lovely, crisp beer -- very clean, light citrus notes and one of the few beers that I could see myself having a few pints of, given its smooth drinkability.

The new brews on the block! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Not to say we weren't enjoying ourselves, trying all these funky Belgian beers, but it's definitely a tasting event. More sipping than drinking, and really working those tastebuds, trying to isolate some of the unusual flavor components of the beers. At least, that's what we were doing -- granted, I attended with the Mister and his friend Sean. They were both fresh off a homebrew judge session earlier that day with IPAs. It seems crazy to go from a beer judging day and going straight into a Belgian beer festival evening, but again, it was mostly sipping beers and I'd argue our accumulative tastes that night may have only amounted to a pint and a half's worth, since we were tossing many of the sample pours so our palates wouldn't be totally hosed by night's end. What's the point of trying multiple rare beers if you can't appreciate the flavor, right? Not to say we weren't having our own rowdy time, meeting up with friends and fellow beer-lovers. Civil Inebriation -- we like to keep things classy.

Belgian beer, meet Belgian Waffles! Match made in heaven - Photos by Wasabi Prime
We fortified prior to Belgianfest at the almighty Fatburger. That's something I rarely have the pleasure of saying, but that's what happened. Burger-ified, I was still giving much admiration to Sweet Iron Waffles' sweet and savory options being served up at the festival. Their Belgian style waffles are a perfect match, and they've been consistent beer festival vendors, keeping the crowds happy and Nutella-ified. Their brie and basil remains one of my favorites, but if my gut isn't completely engorged with Fatburger like a freshly-fed snake, I'll have to indulge in their sweet salted caramel waffle.

Never roam without your Beer Gnome - Photos by Wasabi Prime
We departed Belgianfest 2013 beer-happy and thankfully unscathed by a hangover the next day. Again, I think the sipping quality of these beers lends itself well to impulse control. You get a happy beer buzz with enough time to sober up to get home, and still wake up bright-eyed and hangover-free the next day. A beer festival success, if there ever was one!

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