Portland International Beerfest, July 14-16There isn't a way to do an adequate preview of the Portland International Beerfest short of, I guess, getting Michael Jackson to write it. According the website, there will be 126 beers there, 95 from foreign lands. I'm no novice, but safe to say that I haven't had the chance to try 80% or more of the beers yet. So, disclaimers out of the way, let's get to business.
North Park Blocks
The 126 beers pouring represent 12 countries, but one stands out: Belgium, with 49 beers. (Germany, at number two, has but twenty.) For beer geeks, this is good news indeed. Belgian brewers are the great innovators in the beer world, and they will try brewing anything. Despite having some of the oldest and most traditional breweries in the world (Orval, a brewery run by Trappist monks, is 900 years old), it also features one of the most vigorous batch of new microbrewers outside of Portland. One theme I noticed this year is how many Belgian breweries are taking their cues from Beervana to brew massive, hoppy beers. So don't be shy--take the opportunity to dive into the wild, weird, wonderful world of Belgian brewing.
In addition to the Belgians, you will also have the opportunity to try some of the rarest beers in the world, as PIB gathers together artisnal beers from some tiny breweries in Europe. (Whether they're good or not is another matter--not every microbrewery is a Hair of the Dog; some are obscure for a reason.)
Having looked pretty carefully through the list of beers, I've compiled a list by type that I think are worth highlighting. You will follow your own muse, but here are a few to keep your eyes on.
Stats: Austria (2), Belgium (49), Czech Republic (2), England (10), France (3), Germany (20), Italy (2), Japan(2), Poland (3), Scotland (1), Switzerland (1), US (31). Total: 126
- L’abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien (Switzerland) - Only a thousand bottles of this Swiss abbey ale are making it across the pond in 2006. Before bottling, the beer is aged in wine barrels. [10.5% abv]
- La Gnomette (Belgium) - A bit more of this beer is coming to the US--40 kegs--but it's far from an abundance. Brasserie d'Achouffe changes the recipe each year. [9% abv]
- Uerige Doppel-Sticke (Germany) - This is a German alt of the kind that inspired the Widmer Brothers when they brewed up their first batch of Ur-Alt. It weighs in at an astonishing 75 BUs--amazing for a German beer. [8.5% abv]
- Pierre de Rouge (Oregon) - Brewed by Max Tieger for Tuck's brewery (in Tigard) just before he left to start his own brewery. A Belgian style red which, once its gone, will be gone for good. [7% abv]
Most beery types have sampled Trappist ale from widely-distributed Chimay and Orval. But have you tried the other monks' ales? You'll have a chance with Rochefort's most robust abbey ale, Rochefort 10 [11.3% abv], as well as Westmalle Tripel [9.5% abv], and the newest of the Trappists (founded in '91) Achel Extra [9.5% abv] (all from Belgium). The former two are among the most famous in the world, and I'm embarrassed to say I've never tried them.
As I'm on a saison kick, I would like to direct your attention to two of four offered: Blaugies La Moneuse [8% abv] and Fantome Saison [8% abv] (again both from Belgium). La Moneuse is a maltier, less hoppy saison than Dupont (it's named for a local bandit), while Fantome features a more layered, spiced palate. I recall that it used to be brewed with peppercorns (and may still), one of the most delightful ingredients I've ever encountered.
- Oud Beersel Kriek (Belgium) - Comes from a brewery that closed to much anguish in 2002, only to be reoponed last year. Krieks are sophisticated fruit lambics with a sour-dry note, more akin to wine than American fruit beers. [6.5% abv]
- Meantime IPA (England) - An IPA from a brewery I've never even heard of. It's in Greenwich, so hence the name. [7.5% abv]
- Black Gold-Bourbon Barrel (Oregon) - A bourbon-aged imperial stout. What more do you need to say? [10.5% abv]
- Caracole Saxo (Belgium) - This is a bit of a wild card, catching my eye as a brewery I've never even heard of. Takes its name from the word "snail" in the local Namurois dialect. [8% abv]
There are a number of traditional beer styles out there that we don't have much of an opportunity to sample in their native form. This is one of the main reasons I go to PIB--to sample some of the styles I've read so much about.
- Monchshof Schwarzbier (Germany) - A dark lager, something like a porter, but drier and lighter. [4.9% abv]
- Black Boss Baltic Porter (Poland) - Speaking of lagered porters, that's what a Baltic Porter is. I've tried Black Boss, and it's quite nice. [8.1% abv]
- Klaster Dark (Czech Republic) - Another dark lager, but a Bohemian variety. [4% abv]
- Mahr's Ungespundet (Germany) - This is an unfiltered artisnal German beer, harkening back to an earlier, less fussy time in German brewing. [4.9% abv]
- Duchesse de Bourgogne (Belgium) - A Flemish red ale (the classic style of which is produced by Rodenbach). This style is typically nearly as sharp as a lambic, though the quality of the sourness is unique. [6.2% abv]
- Val-Dieu Bruin (Belgium) - Oud bruins (brown) are another regional specialty of Flanders, but these are sweeter and less sour than other Belgians. Liefmans is the classic producer. [8% abv]
- Duyck Jenlain Amber (France) - France's sole native style of beer is the biere de garde, and it is quite hard to find an indiginous example. Duyck is one. [6.5% abv]
Finally, there are some beers that defy category but look promising. I have the least amount of confidence in these, but I wouldn't be surprised if one of the transcendent beers of the fest is in this batch.