Cheers To Belgian Beers

Beer is local. Even if it's not brewed locally, the way people consume it, and the types of beer they consume reflect local attitudes. In places where breweries and beer culture flower, local happenings can be pretty cool. On Saturday, one of my favorite local events takes place as Hopworks hosts the fourth annual Cheers to Belgian Beers fest. It started as an informal agreement among a few Portland breweries to produce a beer with the same Belgian yeast strain and has grown to be a statewide, Brewers-Guild-sponsored event with 29 breweries and 33 beers.
Cheers to Belgian Beers
Saturday, May 1, noon - 9pm
Hopworks, upper parking lot
2944 SE Powell Blvd
Free; $5 for required tasting goblet, $1 pours
This year's yeast strain is Wyeast 3726, a farmhouse strain from Brasserie de Blaugies. Blaugies brews Saison D'epeautre, an highly-carbonated, tart spelt version (epeautre means spelt). Although I haven't had the pleasure, theirs sounds like a throwback example, recalling the sour saisons that were common until 100 years ago. The yeast itself appears to be quite flexible, with high temperature tolerance, but none of the Dupont strain's finickiness. The attenuation is listed as 74%-79%--not especially high--but I wouldn't be surprised to hear that breweries managed to exceed that. It can produce complex esters and spice character (presumably at higher temperatures.)

In any case, this should be the best event yet: saison strains have the flexibility to produce a broad spectrum of styles, and depending on how the breweries use it, should also express substantially different character. Previous fests fell to difficult strains that bent beer to their will, rather than vice versa.

In early editions of the fest, breweries weren't limited in the style they could make; perversely, this resulted in a lot of very similar beers. To rectify that, the Brewers Guild now hosts a selection event where breweries toss darts to determine whether their beer will fit into one of four quadrants: high alcohol/light color, high alcohol/dark color, low alcohol/light color, low alcohol/dark color. Looks like we'll have some real diversity this year, too (list is in pdf):
  • Five beers exceed 9% (with host Hopworks busting out a monster 11-percenter).
  • Widmer is bringing a 3.7% table beer. Sorry, biere.
  • Lots of breweries went sour, including Deschutes, who used tamarind (an idea I was flirting with for a homebrew recently--damn you, Deschutes!).
  • At least five are barrel-aged.
  • Fruit additions include cherry, currant, and mango--in addition to the tamarind.
  • Spice additions include pepper, ginger, orange, lemon, and grapefruit peel, coriander, rosehips, and grains of paradise.
Consider this just a taste--I'll do a subsequent post with a bit more depth and include my picks (which will be, as usual, a crapshoot). In any case, I am getting pretty psyched. It looks like our fair brewers went all-out this year.