Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Cheers to Belgian Beers 2009

Smallish beer festivals at the Quimby Street Lucky Lab are always a good time, and last weekend's Cheers to Belgian Beers was no exception. Regrettably, my time there was limited to a couple hours Friday afternoon, so there were a lot of beers I didn't get around to. As an example of what a rush job it was, I forgot to get a pour of my friend Corey's Zen Lunatic -- rated very highly by both Jeff and Dr. Wort in their reviews of the festival. Luckily, I had a small unofficial taste of the Lunatic earlier in the week on a visit to the CPR, so I can pronounce it a nice, dry, light -- but not thin -- Belgian, but since I didn't try it at the festival itself it's hard for me to know exactly where I'd rank it among the ones I tried.

When I arrived at the Lab, Derek from Beer Around Town had already been there a couple hours, so I sat down and picked his brain about which beers to get. Dave is my usual parnter-in-crime for these weekday festival outings, but Jill very inconveniently chose to give birth to a lovely baby girl on Friday instead of letting her husband spend the afternoon drinking a bunch of one-off beers. Some other Pub Night compadres showed up unexpectedly: Davey, Rocco, Bryce, and Jason brazenly plunked down huge pint glasses next to the dainty Belgian samples Derek and I had on the table, as seen in the first picture.

Enough chit-chat, let's talk about beer. Of the 10 that I tried, here are my favorites:
  • Deschutes La Fleur: perfectly smooth, gingery
  • Double Mountain Barrel-Aged Ingelmonster: beautiful dark candy
  • Deschutes (Portland) Streaking the Quad: sweet, smooth, nice
  • Lucky Lab Beljamin: nice candy and flower flavor
  • Astoria Avant Garde Akloo: big, round, long finish
  • Pelican La Fleur Amère: full-bodied, a little floral, long bitter edge
I can see how some people would be put off by the ginger flavor in La Fleur, but I loved it. Apparently both Derek and Dr. Wort disapproved of the Lucky Lab entry, but to me it was just right for a light Belgian. (Yesterday at the Hawthorne Lab they were serving "Ben's Belgian". I'm not sure if it was the same beer -- it was very clear while the festival beer was a little hazy -- but it tasted even better than my sample of Beljamin.) Which just goes to show you, there's no accounting for tastes, no right answer. Another example: Derek was appalled by the Block 15 entry; in Angelo's review he gave it 2nd place; Doc Wort found it so-so; and poor Bill didn't get around to trying it.

Astoria's stinky pun would have been better if the third word was a possible French word. The letter "k" only appears in borrowed words in French, and I'm not sure what sound "oo" would make, but it certainly wouldn't rhyme with "clue". If you guys are keeping that beer around, try "Éclou", which a French speaker would pronounce as "A Clue".

Hats off to Deschutes for landing on this festival with both feet.

Kudos to the organizers for a great time and for putting the beers in alphabetical order. So far, no word on who won the People's Choice Award. I'll update when the news comes out. [Update: Hopworks Dubbel Suplex won the People's Choice Award. I skipped it at the festival, but had it at the pub -- it's a fine winner. Congratulations Hopworks!]


  1. Bill,
    Good times for sure. It was interesting to see the variety of taste preferences, these beers sure did bring out some interesting faces in people, I actually saw someone almost choke on a sample since the taste was so bad, they had to spit it back out.


  2. Bill,

    Enjoy your entries and views!

    So much for niceties!

    There's sometime I'm just not understanding within my co-bloggers at large.

    When I think of the majority of Belgian beers, I think of a well fermented out artistic melange of malt flavors, shaped and matured with an obscure yeast. The hops are along for the ride to balance and add some spice.

    With a few wonderful exceptions like De Verboten Vrucht (Forbidden Fruit) from Hoegaarden Brewery which is dense, rich and intensely fruity with a definite sweetness, very few Belgians are stylistically cloyingly sweet.

    Cloyingly sweet was a big problem with many of these "Cheers" beers. Unfinished, unbalanced and disjointed flavors. Does this sound like any quality Belgian beer to you guys?

    Although some of the beer reviews and descriptors are "F3"... Featureless, Fruitless and futile; I get the feeling that people are giving high ratings to beers that can be described as above (Sweet, disjointed, etc). Why?

    OH Bill! I love your beer description that states, "beautiful dark candy." Only one thing came to mind while reading that... A beautiful mulato girl I used to date in High School. :-O

    Speaking of great evaluators, it would be nice to see more of Mr Derek's beer descriptions!!! He writes, "this was one of the better base beers dry and crisp, texture of real Belgian beer!, my only complaint was the spices were a bit over the top, like drinking some big ol spicy tea or spiced cider, over-potent pumping that spice up into the sinuses like some vapor rub, ok, maybe a bit of exaggeration. The ginger was a nice touch though pairing nicely with some lemony notes and a bunch of dry spice which I won’t pretend to know what they were." You can't get any more descriptive that that! It's great!

    I'm little confused on your some of your conclusions, Bill. You say, "There's NO right answer" and "No accounting for taste" in regard to certain beer tasting or evaluations. I disagree. While "To each his own" may fly in regard to preference, it's very hard to say a preference for flavor profiles way outside the normal range of Belgian beers is a worthy or considerable evaluation. Ergo, not even in contention as a valid opinion or evaluation.

    Your Block 15 example I found interesting. Your basically saying their is no conclusion to the quality or ranking of this beer do to the mish mash reviews. I think the consensus is fairly clear.

    You say Derek found it appalling. His blog stats it wasn't worth evaluating. OK.

    The other review is simply, "dangerously delicious." Wow! I bet Michael Jackson turned in his grave after that one! That could be a pervert describing a hooker with a knife..... ;-}

    Jeff didn't find it worthy to comment and the Doctors description uses words and terms like; "murky worty caramel" & "muddy fruitcake" & "very disjointed" & "Inconsistent hopping" & "cloying and muddled" & "schizophrenic."

    Between Jeff and Derek finding the beer not worth reviewing and the Doctor's evaluation, I would have to summarize that Block 15 was unremarkable as a Belgian beer.

  3. Doc: You want styles to prescribe beers. I want them to describe beers.

    I'm sure not an expert on real Belgians -- never said I was and probably won't ever be. But I always think of Belgians as being sweet beers, especially Abbey-style ales. Isn't Scaldis sweet? St. Bernardus {6,8,12}? Even Chimay and Duvel?

    No matter what, I stand by saying "there's no accounting for taste". I don't care one bit about strict adherence to a style guideline. I just care whether I like a beer or not.

  4. Bill, Bill, Bill.... What are we going to do with you?

    If you don't understand about beer styles and their profiles, what kind of info are you feeding your reading audience? ;-}

    Is it about just sloven drinking?

    You don't seem to respect beer, you just like to drink it, if it tastes good. Mix anything together and if it tastes good, you're happy? Am I correct? Screw tradition, style profile, structure, etc!? If you don't understand the basic styles, how could you expect someone to trust your reviews or descriptions? You've brought beer down to a guttural human reaction, rather than the respectful art, craft and skill that brewing represents.

    Did you vote for the Fort George beer too!? ;-}

    If you don't understand what you're putting in your mouth, how can you review it? Lets be honest, your not reviewing or evaluating anything with your descriptions. Anybody can say a beer is "sweet, smooth, nice," it tells the reader NOTHING. You're admitting your don't understand beer styles and are showing no interest in learning. Wanna DESCRIBE the beer, then describe the beer.... intelligently and respectfully!

    All that said, I think you have something to give to your readers, but you need to respect the beer.

  5. Doc: You said Anybody can say a beer is "sweet, smooth, nice," it tells the reader NOTHING.The difference between you and me is: I use 3 words to tell my readers nothing, and you use hundreds of words to tell your readers nothing.

  6. I'm saying plenty.... You're just comprehending very little... ;-}

  7. wow, i just have to throw my 2 cents in on this one.

    Dr. Wort actually makes one decent point, real belgians are not actually sweet in terms of sugar.
    In my day job I hear this all the time, all belgians are sweet. Actually most of them are very well attenuated and more of the sugars are fermented then american beers. But peoples tastes interpret the flavors from belgian yeast fermentation as being sweet.

    That said I dont think anyone at this fest had to copy that. By the fests definition it is merely an artistic interpretation based on a belgian yeast.
    In fact the fest is voted on by merely peoples individual taste and not by any qualification to meet any strict belgian guidelines. Which makes Dr. Worts entire hypothesis on the validity of peoples opinions absurd.

    Dr. Wort also mocks people judging beer by their guttural taste reactions. No shit, of course people judge beers by how it tastes outside of any rules. This is what we all have in common that unites any of us in even talking about beer!
    Except maybe for the Doc. who seems to only take pleasure from putting others down and making himself feel like a bigger man while hiding behind a fake moniker.

    The most surprising thing to me is that everyone still acts civil and throws him a plug now and then.
    Really we dont need this kind of snobbishness in the beer world, its exactly what turns people off from wine and I think will only hurt the craft beer scene.

  8. There already is such snobbishness in the beer world and it's been there for quite a few now. Wanna put in your application?

    There are those who pontificate and know little and those who pontificate and know a lot. The question is... Do want to learn about beer or just drink it? To learn, you gain knowledge from those who know. If you pontificate about something you know little about, you look like a fool. Self righteous boisterous bravado means nothing, if you have little to no knowledge. It's about that simple.

    I learn from people every day. Do any of you? ;-}

    Still don't know why a guy with a moniker of "Samurai Artist" is concerned about "Dr Worts" true persona? Maybe you should take a look of those around you, maybe my presence is sitting right next to you or even within your circle of friends.... Who do you really know? ;-}

    BTW, SA, thanks for giving my Belgian beer statement some validity. I excepted many to come to my defense, but I guess that depends on the knowledge of the readers... :-O

  9. Anyone who wants to know the Samurai Artist can get to know him. He's got his nickname, but he's not hiding out.

    Anyway Doc, it's weird for you to start berating people for pontificating, since you're the only one wearing a beer-pope hat.

    Honestly, you started off saying I didn't write enough about the beer; then the last comment is about pontificating and "self righteous boisterous bravado". You're just ranting, man. None of it makes sense.

  10. Bill,

    I've talked with enough people who know Samurai Artist. I think I know enough...

    To stay within character...

    Self rightious pontificating about beer is what the Doctor does best.

    If you don't want to read between the lines or can't...

    the doctor fits the mold -"....those who pontificate and know a lot."

    ....and yes, the doctor rambles.

    I don't think I've berated anybody... I'm just stating the facts.

    BTW, is anybody going to take the Dr Wort quiz or is it not hip to have any beer knowledge?

  11. Although I agreed with Doc Wort's analysis of the beers at CtBB, I can't go so far as to say these opinions represent anything like an agreed-upon reality. (We should enjoy the strange, rare occurrance of our agreement.) These two statements are both true:

    1. Beers have recognizeable styles and can be described in general terms so that the styles can be distinguished.

    2. There's no accounting for taste.

    Personally, I take the opposite view of DW: to me, everyone's an expert. True, the more you learn about a subject, the more your senses are attuned to subtleties. But humans differ, and even among beer "experts," agreement is an iffy thing. The wonderful thing about craft brewing is that you DON'T have to know anything. Belly up to the bar and have a pour. Find the beer you like. That's all there is to it. Everything else is embroidery.

  12. But shouldn't a beer festival that purports to celebrate Belgian beers seek to produce beers, I don't know, that are of that style? (And this is funny because the Belgian 'styles' allow for a lot of latitude).

    Otherwise, why don't we rename this the Cheers to Big Tasty Sweet Beers Made Portland Style Festival?

    I'm not suggesting that brewers slavishly produce clones of Belgian standards, but again, some of the beers that were celebrated or received notice have only a passing resemblance, imo, to a Belgian beer - i.e. they are both liquids made with malt, hops, yeast and water.

    I'm not certain I totally agree with Dr. Wort's methods but I think he is right on track with his opinions this time out.

  13. I'll choose my words wisely...

    The Doctors nature is to be...The nasty Doctor. There is ring of truth that is exaggerated. he does get out of hand.... It's a state of mind within the character.

    "I" (not the Doctor) think there is room for every level of beer drinker and blog audience for everybody. As bloggers, we have to pick our target audience: Novice, Intermediate (Learning) and Advanced (learned). The Doctor has a tendency to preach across all lines which is probably not always a good idea. His goal is to educate, period. His attitude is the "HOOK."

    We ALL shouldn't preach above or below our audience, but we should never dumb them down, we should always educate them in a forward direction. This SHOULD go for myself and I am guilty of heavily pontificating all over the spectrum... albeit for the good of beer education. ;-}

    Jeff makes some valid points.

    Understanding beer styles is the basics in understanding and discussing beer. I really don't think there should be much argument in that regard and I will argue that forever.

    In regard to the Cheers Belgian thing. Although there were some decent beers, the bad ones were REALLY bad and not close to ANY Belgian beer... In style or not in style. Patrick is correct, these festivals are about educating and exposing the public to different types, styles if you wish, of beer. The fact that the top 10 list reflects many NON-Belgian type beers speaks volumes on where the average Portland beer drinkers beer education is at. The public needs guidance and education. The question is... Do we laugh it off or educate? I think most bloggers choose to educate.

    John Foyston does a great job with his blog... He feeds us a calender of events. That's his gig. The rest of us should be trying to educate the public attending these events.

    Jeff has said we have a nice blog diversity in the Portland area and I agree, but we need to move and talk in the same direction. We can jab each other, poke fun and keep each other is check, but the main goal should be to tell a story, report and educate.

    Does anybody find something wrong with concept?

  14. "Does anybody find something wrong with [this] concept?"

    Yes. Not every blog has to be about education. It's Pub Night is not intended to be scholarly or even journalistic. "Pub Night" -- it's about having fun, not education! What's next, going to the pub to get a science lecture?

    I write this blog for my own amusement, though I'm gratified that a few other people also enjoy it.

  15. I here masturbation is good for self amusement too.... ;-}

    I was really trying to reach out as community of bloggers, but I guess you don't want part in that...

    I figure the general public is reading my blog. They are looking at us bloggers as examples of our community. I really don't want to feed them any false info about beer, brewing or even bloated/false reviews. The public wants to read a something interesting and factual about the Northwest beers and beyond. Do we want to come off like a bunch po-dunk morons drinking BUD on our sofa, on our front porch? I don't think we want the general beer community to think the Northwestern's are a bunch of uneducated beer slobs... or do we?

    You must CARE about what you write and post or else there's no point. You can keep a diary under you pillow...

    You can do what you want.... I thought we could have a nice circle of upstanding NW beer bloggers, but I really think some of this reckless beer blathering may tarnish the Northwest brewing communities credibility.

    If I was selfish enough to want to JUST entertain myself, I'd just get drunk and keep a black book in my pocket and scribble some nonsensical beer notes on it and be done. I want to give something to the beer community to read and appreciate and I think most beer bloggers do too....

    I'm done, I've washed my hands of this situation. You won't here from me again.