Ah, PIB, already I miss ye. Can it be that I have to wait 364 days for your bounty to return? Thank heavens we live in Beervana--my pain can be assuaged somewhat in the interim.
A couple of themes emerged from this year's fest. First, the emphasis on local brews. American beers represented the second-largest share of real estate at PIB, causing some in my crowd whinge. Why, after all, should we devote attention to beer we can get year-round when there are so many we can't get? A fair point. But the local beers stood out all the more by being surrounded by world classics. If we fail to recognize some of our best locals as world class, it's perhaps a failure of proximity--you always imagine that the ancient, distant breweries have the secrets of the beeriverse we have decades to master. Seeing our beers there was a reminder that Oregon brewers are among the finest on the planet.
Another theme: hops are hot, yeast is not. The first or second PIB I attended had several funky Belgians--including two or three world-class lambics (Cantillon, I believe). This year, there were no straight lambics and the fruit lambics were all of the large commercial variety--emphasis on sweet. Most of the Belgians tended to emphasize strength over sour--probably a reflection of Portlanders' tastes. On the other hand, there were hops a'poppin. Even in Belgian and German beers.
My notes in a moment, but one more comment. As we walked into the event on Friday, one of my fellow fest-goers looked at me and said, "So, what should I try? I'm following you--you're the beer Sherpa." Very nice (nevermind whether it's true.) You may all now call me the Beer Sherpa.
Okay, the notes (in the order I drank 'em):
Blaugies La Moneuse [saison, Belgium, 8% abv]. Malty; more akin to an abbey than saison. Extremely effervescent--it took the pourer about five minutes to get the head to settle. A bit of grating tinniness that clashes with the nice (if inappropriate) sour note. Rating: average.
L’abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien [abbey ale, Switzerland, 10.5% abv]. Aroma of a Flemish red--sweetly sour. Garnet. Realy layered flavor. Cry and alcoholic, with a spicy note underneath. Slightly thin in body, reminding me of a wine. Vents volatile essence. An authentically original ale. Rating: excellent.
Mahr's Ungespundet [lager, Germany, 4.9% abv]. Looks like a hefeweizen--cloudy golden. Nice, rich beer. Clean, straightforward. Not a lot to say--a good session. Rating: Good.
Caracole Saxo [Belgian Blonde, Belgium, 8% abv]. A wonderfully floral nose--lavender? Strikes me as a saison--very summery, but with the cellary quality I associate with Dupont. Extremely effervescent. Spicy and dry, but with a soft mouthfeel, drawn out by what taste like floral botanicals. The best beer I had a the fest. Rating: a classic.
Full Sail Black Gold Imperial Stout [10.5% abv]. (What I wrote on Sunday was verbatim from my notes.) a beer so tasty it was like a liquid brownie. Alternately, it was compared to an after-dinner coffee drink, spiked with bourbon. Rating: excellent.
Rochefort 10 [strong Trappist ale, Belgium, 11.3% abv]. This beer has a lot of character, but it's so sweet, big, and full of alcohol and candi sugar that it resists me. Time to have some sausage. Subtlety is not this beer's virtue. Rating: incomplete.
[I did, in fact, have a sausage after the Rochefort--a three-quarter pound "big boy" that got me back in the game.]
Hitachino Celebration [eisbock, Japan, 7.6% abv]. Richly peppery. Notable alcohol, but the beer isn't heavy or cloying. (Note in the margins: "Obviously, my adjectives, if not my palate, are failing me.") Rating: good.
Westmalle Tripel [Belgium, 9.5% abv]. Another intense abbey. I note mainly that my palate collapses in the face of this much alcohol and density. This beer bullies me around, taunting me with it's heft. What I devine: the beer shares some of the character of Chimay (the red label?). Some candi sugar fizz on the alcohol. Probably exquisite, but I have a hard time penetrating its depth. Rating: incomplete.
Birrificio Cassissona [Belgian-style specialty ale, Italy, 7% abv]. An effervescent, beguiling ale. The cassis is a minor note, adding some sweetness, but mostly a dark-fruit quality that might otherwise come from malt and yeast. Buckwheat color. The sweet is offset by notes of bitter and tart--those three notes are in perfect harmony. I imagine this would be a delightful complement to hearty foods. Rating: excellent.
Verhaeghe Duchesse de Bourgogne [Flemish red, Belgium, 6.2% abv]. Hits the sweet spot. Classic Flemish red, which I find very hard to describe. Predominant flavor is a balance between sweet and sour, neither overwhelming the beer. Rating: excellent.
St Sylvestre Gavroche [supposedly also a Flemish red, France, 8.5%]. "Gavroche = gagroach." (Sorry, it was getting late in the fest.) Rating: not poisonous.
Walking Man Blootvooetse Bruin [hybrid style, US, 5.3%]. A malty brown ale with a touch of sour. Sally claims to be able to taste the Kombucha, but I think she's faking. Mighty quaffable. Rating: good.