Saturday, January 23, 2010

Belgianfest 2010 Seattle, WA

This year marked the inaugural event for Belgianfest which was held in The Engine Room of Georgetown Studios in Seattle. Staged in the original Rainier Brewery building, the Engine Room formerly held the equipment necessary to power Rainier Brewing. With towering windows and a cavernous ceiling, the atmosphere was well suited to accommodate craft beer lovers seeking locally brewed Belgian Style Ale's.

With nearly 50 beers on tap from local Seattle breweries, the festival proved to be a daunting task for any beer lover to sample if only a small portion of what was offered in the time frame given. Belgianfest was split in two sessions, the first from 12pm to 4pm and the other from 6pm to 10pm. I attended the early session with the sole task of concentrating on beers I certainly wanted to try, and moving to those recommended to me at the fest. I’ll admit the experience was somewhat of an educational process as well, considering Belgian Style ales are probably one of my weakest points in beer geekery. After the festival however, I can now honestly say I could hold my own in a conversation amongst Belgian Ale enthusiasts.

Upon entering the festival and acquiring a Blended Sour Red from Snipes Mountain Brewery, I spotted the booth of Stu Stuart and his “Belgian Beer me!” tours of Belgium. Stu and I spoke for some time about the beer tours he offers throughout Belgium. While Stu himself has spent months in Belgium getting to know the area, I asked him “where would a person go if they only had 2 or 3 days?” The city of Bruges was his recommendation. Bruges, in the Flemish region of Belgium, has several great breweries all within a short distance of each other, and the city itself offers a great history for travelers to explore.

With my $30 entry fee I received a nice 6oz tasting glass and 10 tokens for beer samples. While initially I thought four hours would be more than enough time to sample Belgian Ales, I found that time was passing me by rather quickly. Between deciding which beers to try and spending time with those I had, four hours is about the minimum required for any beer geek to properly sample such an array of locally brewed Belgian Style Ales. The following is a summary of 7 out of the 10 beers I sampled. Yes I sampled 10 beers in all, but after 7 I will humbly say that my palate was blown and could no longer effectively review such complex beers.

#1 Snipes Mountain Brewery
“Dark Matter” (Blended Sour Red)
Lovely Brettanomyces aroma and cherry notes. Sharp Brett character flavor up front with a tannin-like dryness. A little thin on the body but a crisp flavor throughout, and I’ve never met a Brett I didn’t like.
Rating: 3/5

#2 Anacortes Brewery
“Anacortes Sour Brown” (Belgian Sour)
Rich nose of cherry and deep wood, slight Brett funk but not overly prevalent. Flavor is incredibly indicative of the Merlot barrel it was aged in.

Talking with the brewer I learned that only one 51-gallon barrel of this beer was produced. In fact the barrel was graciously provided by Elliot Bay Brewing. This further demonstrates the camaraderie in the craft beer industry.
Rating 4/5

#3 Hale’s Ales Brewery
“Hale’s 25 Belgian Dubbel (Belgian Dubbel)
Light but smooth aroma of fresh wood. Very nicely rounded earthy oak flavor with a deep cherry flavor accompanying. Nobel hop bitterness rounds out the palate.
Rating 4/5

#4 Skagit River Brewery
“Watou’s Ale (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
Full nose of dark fruit, especially black cherry. Deep brown color with good clarity. The flavor had a Brettanomyces character but in talking with the brewers I was told no Brett was used. There was a slight sour character, like that of Brett, but it took on a more earthy character. Very nicely done!
Rating 5/5 (my favorite of the Belgianfest)

#5 Big Al Brewing
“Local Hero #6 - Saison (Saison)
Sweet and phenolic yeast aroma. Light banana with a smokey malt character and a sweet light sugar quality.
Rating 3/5

#6 Black Raven Brewing Co.
“Pour les Oiseaux (Wine Barrel Aged Saison)
Light aroma over all with a honey malt character in the flavor. Generally clean and light but there are hints of light earthy oak. Wine character not detectable.
Rating 3/5

#7 Georgetown Brewing Co.
“Donkey Deux (Belgian Dubbel)
Sweet biscuit malt and some cherry notes in the nose. Tangy and effervescent flavor profile upfront which fades to sweet candi sugar sweetness.
Rating 4/5
note: soon to be available at the brewery in bottles

I only wish I had more time at the festival to effectively consider more beers. But with the complexity of the beers brewed, and their associated high alcohol contents, I had to pace myself and allow time to consider each beer in it’s own element.

I can see why the event coordinators decided to split the event in two sessions, given the space available. Next year I would like to see the venue open up to allow more fest goers more time to appreciate what an outstanding job our local breweries are doing with these complex style’s of traditionally brewed Belgian beers. I suspect by next year the popularity of Belgianfest will vastly outgrow even the spaciousness of the Rainier Brewery Engine Room. For the inaugural year, the environment provided a beautiful backdrop to an outstanding array of Seattle craft beer gone Belgian!

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Beer enthusiast and advocate. Recognized beer judge and traveler of west coast beer destinations.