The Belgian Boom

After posting about Upright Brewing yesterday, I started pondering the growing prevalence of Belgian-style beers in Oregon (a trend not unique to Beervana). In the 1980s, breweries were just reintroducing Americans to the diversity of beer. In Oregon, that was when pub culture re-emerged. The 90s and early 21st Century was devoted to mastering the craft (remember those infected beers of the eighties?) and beginning to develop regional styles. The West Coast love affair with hops probably began with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, but in Oregon, it became super-charged with BridgePort IPA.

In the last few years, we've seen two emerging themes in brewing--barrel-aging and the use of Belgian methods and yeast. Barrel-aging was a no-brainer; it fit right into the already emerging mode of stronger, more intense beers. But Belgians styles are a right-turn; they don't fit into anything Northwest breweries have been doing in the past 30 years. Off the top of my head, these are some of the major forays:
  • BridgePort Supris and Stumptown Tart
  • Deschutes Anniversary Wit and Golden
  • Anything coming out of Ron Gansberg's magical laboratory
  • Double Mountain's regular fiddling with Belgian yeasts, including in their now-famous IRA
  • All the breweries that participate in Cheers to Belgian Beers
But Belgians are definitely outside the mainstream, and it's not clear which styles will find a market. When BridgePort released Supris a few years back, I was both impressed and mystified--would it find a market? (Apparently not: after its initial run, Supris vanished.) Double Mountain's IRA isn't really what we would call a Belgian--the yeast they use contributes some interest, but fans of traditional IPAs find it familiar. The sour frontier? Ron Gansberg is investing a huge amount of time and money into his creations, but it's a small scale. There are enough extant fans of the funk to keep him busy. But I wonder--will efforts like this create the foundation for a larger groundswell, or are Belgians strictly for the brewer and a few hardcore fans?

Time will tell. Predictions?