Monday, April 7, 2008

Cheers to Belgian Beers 2008

Roots hosted the 2nd Annual Cheers to Belgian Beers event Saturday, a kind of friendly competition where area brewers all brew a Belgian-style beer with the same strain of yeast. Proceeds from the festival go to charity; the public votes on their favorite beer, and the winner of that People's Choice Award hosts next year's Cheers and picks the charities.

There was such a crowd that the commemorative glasses were gone within an hour, and by the time Carla, Dave, Jill and I got there about 3 hours after the start, a couple of kegs were dry -- New Old Lompoc split their entry between two smallish kegs. Roots had room for the crowd because they're in the process of expanding into the back part of their building. All the brewing operation will move into the area in the picture here, freeing up more pub room by the front door.

It seemed to me a little overwhelming to try and make sense of 14 different Belgian-style ales all at once. Usually, the more beers on the list the happier I am, so maybe it was just the mood I was in. Or maybe it's the mystique: beers perfected by monks cloistered in remote abbeys, flavored with secret yeasts and spices, aged just so... shouldn't each one be savored -- from a specially designed glass -- and ruminated over?

There was no time for rumination, but there were some mighty fine beers on hand. I had already tried Full Sail's Dubbel, Hopworks' El Diablo, and Lompoc's Mon Cheri. El Diablo is magnificent, and I really enjoy the Full Sail (on tap the last few months at the Pilsner Room), so I was pleasantly surprised to find a few other beers that I liked at least as much as those two. My favorites were:

  • Lucky Labrador: Malt Bomb Belgian (Belgian Dark Abbey): total sweetness
  • Rock Bottom: Floreal Deux (Spiced Amber): nice and even
  • McMenamins' CPR: Blind Abbot (Belgian Dubbel): classic Abbey
  • Hopworks: El Diablo (Belgian Golden Strong): Carla says sweet and sharp
  • Full Sail: Dubbel (Belgian Dubbel): very good
  • Roots: Farmhouse Bruin (Belgian Brown): decent, tangy
My sources tell me that the Malt Bomb won the People's Choice award. I know it got half the votes at our table. It was a pretty eccentric brew -- I'm not sure the monks would recognize it -- but the extreme richness of it went well with the yeasty flavor. When I stopped the Lab's Dave Fleming to compliment him on it, he told me it was brewed by Abby Sherrill at the Hawthorne Lab -- hey, it's Abby's Abbey Ale. He also said "That's one expensive beer," alluding to the amount of malt that went into it. It's a beautiful mahogany color: check out the picture on the left. I picked up a growler of it at the Lab today; if you're lucky it might still be on tap.

Rock Bottom's entry was very tasty, as was Corey Blodgett's Blind Abbot, which got some of its flavor from carmelized raisins added to the mix. A couple of the beers I think got short-changed by the small-quick-taste format of the event: I know the Full Sail didn't taste as good to me as it does when I get to linger over a pint, and I think I need to spend more time getting to know the Roots Bruin. A couple of other beers are worth mentioning. BJ's Redrum Belgian Red Ale was pretty nice. And if you like really sour beers -- I don't -- Philadelphia's Flemish Brown seemed well done for that style.

For a second opinion, check out Jeff Alworth's review on Beervana. Our favorites overlap on the Full Sail and the Roots, and although the Laurelwood Saison d'Arduinna didn't grab me like it did him, there was nothing bad about it. But I'm scratching my head about Jeff's choice of Widmer's Belgian Golden. I'm usually a big Widmer booster, but this one left me flat. At our table, Dave pretty much summed it up with "it tastes like beer" -- there didn't seem to be much more to it than that. On the other hand, maybe it was just a casualty of so many great beers in so many tiny glasses. Many thanks to Roots for putting on a great tasting.

[Update: 2008/04/09]: The People's Choice winners have been announced! With 289 ballots counted, Lucky Lab Malt Bomb was the winner. Laurelwood Saison d'Arduinna, 2nd; Alameda Lucky Devil 3rd. Congratulations!

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