Monday, May 3, 2010

Cheers to Belgian Beers 2010

Had a great time Saturday at Hopworks for the 4th annual Portland Cheers to Belgian Beers festival. The upper parking lot was bustling with jovial beer drinkers, but it wasn't over-crowded like a couple of years ago when the Fresh Hop Festival was held at the same venue. The weather was just right, lines were never long, and as far as I know, there were no beer outages by the time I left about 4 PM. There was a nice variety of mostly good beers, tasty snacks in the $3-$6 range were served at the top of the lot, and alphabetical order was adhered to pretty closely. In short, it was everything you could hope for in a beer festival. Congratulations to Hopworks, the Oregon Brewers Guild, and everyone involved for a job well done.

There were 29 beers that used this year's prescribed Belgian yeast, and were thus eligible for the festival's People's Choice award (Kevin has a nicely formatted list of this year's beers). I got around to tasting fewer than half of the 29. My favorites, roughly in order:
  • Big Horse Cuvee de Ferme (Sour Saison/Golden blend): sour balanced well with malt, peachy notes.  Grade: A
  • Upright Mingus and Monk (Farmhouse Brown): tart, cherry notes, with bitter finish. Grade: A
  • Green Dragon King Ghidorah (Biere de garde): funky and full-bodied with vanilla and banana notes. Grade: A
  • Deschutes Portland Sinfully Delicious (Dark Strong Ale): nice Abbey dubbel. Grade: A-
  • Widmer Biere de Table (Farmhouse Table Beer): very drinkable with light grassy, lemony flavors. Grade: A-
  • Oakshire La Ferme (Farmhouse Ale): nicely dry and citrusy, surprisingly bitter for 15 IBUs. Grade: B+
Pretty near everyone I talked to got the Widmer table beer as their first try, since it was a very tame 3% alcohol.  Lots of people have noted a growing trend of trying to produce flavorful beers with lower alcohol levels.  It's a worthy endeavor, and the Biere de Table was a great example of a light, refreshing, food-oriented beer.  Along those lines, the 4.8% Tropisch Bruin from the Deschutes Bend brewery was also a pretty nice table beer, I'll give it a B grade. Cascade's Frite Galois was a 4.6% sour ale that had some nice flavors, but had a chalky finish that I didn't care for.  It gets a B- from me.

I listed the Big Horse sour in first place above -- I thought it had the best-balanced combination of interesting flavors -- but as I left the festival I cast my ballot for the Upright Farmhouse Brown, partly out of personal loyalty to Corey and Alex, partly out of the calculation that I didn't want to risk sending the festival to Hood River next year.  It wasn't much of a stretch, it was a fine beer.  I also think that aging will make Mingus and Monk into an even nicer beer than it was Saturday, and I suspect that Alex will oblige us by bringing a little out at a time as the months go by.

In fact, a lot of the beers at the festival would probably benefit from a few months' aging: I especially thought that the Oakshire and Green Dragon entries were not yet at their best.  It was kind of a common refrain in talking to people about the beers -- "I'd like to try this again in a few months".  Talking to Derek and Josh at the festival, they had the idea that this year's winner should announce next year's yeast immediately to give brewers more time for experimenting and aging.  One of them even proposed scheduling out the yeast several years ahead of time, but I'm not sure the brewers are taking the event quite as seriously as the rest of us are.

To fill in some of the gaps I left in the list, and for valuable second opinions, check out the writeups by other Portland bloggers: Dr. Wort, Derek, Jeff, Angelo, Brady.

Update: The People's Choice winner has been announced: Block 15 Ferme de Demons Black Saison.  Congratulations, Block 15!  Definitely one of the most creative breweries in the state, though I'll admit that Ferme de Demons was one of my least favorites of the festival.  Now the big question is, where will the CtBB be held in 2011?


  1. Bill, any bets on the People's Choice winner? I give Green Dragon, Hopworks, and Oakshire the pole positions. I listened to one group criticize Upright as too weird, which is what I guess the average festgoer may think.

    If it's Oakshire or Block 15, that would suck in one way, but also be a fitting victory for the Southern Willamette Valley, which has seriously made a move in the past couple years.

  2. Since I value my own opinion very highly, I actually think the winner will be either Big Horse or Upright. I also liked the sip of Hopworks Diablato that I had, and wouldn't be surprised if it won.

    Lots of people liked the Fort George. That might sneak in with a win.

  3. I think it was Ezra that mentioned that the "winner gets to host the event" rule is being broken this year. I know in the past they mentioned if a brewery outside of PDX won they would still host it here in town.

    My guess is they will probably just rotate the hosting between PDX brewers that have the space to host the event. I mean, with the turn out this year there are very few that could host this efficiently, maybe 3 or 4 of the PDX breweries could pull it off.

  4. You know how picky I can be... I noticed everyone in your photo is eating while drinking. Food (other than a cracker or plain bread) will easily confused your palate when sampling and evaluating beers. Were you eating too, Bill? ;-}

    I've updated my reviews and added grades.

  5. From what I tasted, I'd give the award to Block 15, Hopworks or Old Lompoc. You know me Jeff, I don't care where the best beer comes from.... Maybe we'll be meeting in Corvalis next year for CTBB!

    Curious to see which yeast we'll be tasting next year. I'd kind of like to see:

    Wyeast 3463 Forbidden Fruit

    For production of wits to classic grand cru. Phenolic profile with subdued fruitiness. Well balanced estery profile.

    Flocculation: Low
    Attenuation: 72-76%
    Temperature Range: 63-76F, 17-24C
    Alcohol Tolerance: 12% ABV


    Wyeast 1762 Belgian Abbey II™

    High gravity yeast with distinct warming character from ethanol production. Slightly fruity with dry finish, low ester profile.

    Flocculation: medium
    Attenuation: 73-77%
    Temperature Range: 65-75° F (18-24° C)
    Alcohol Tolerance: approximately 12% ABV

  6. @Doc: Oh yes, I definitely had a bite to eat in the middle. I think empty-stomach drunkenness would have hindered my judgment more than a hot dog and potato chips.

    Of course, I've never claimed that my taste was universal. I've never even claimed to know very much about beer. Just calling it like I see it.

    Nice call on the Block 15!

  7. Doc, no, I wouldn't have minded traveling. After all, I voted for a non-Portland beer, too.

    I also agree with Bill on the palate business. You have to balance things, and being hammered DEFINITELY hampers tasting acuity. I also had a bit of the Floreal left when I shared some food with Sally, and admired it all the more.