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Friday, August 01, 2008

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?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hard to say what will happen here in Oregon, but California has certainly been experiencing a sort of Belgian rennaissance, as evidenced by the likes of North Coast (a pioneer really), Russian River, Lost Abbey, The Bruery, etc. I for one would be delighted to see a similar groundswell of innovation here.

Nate Currie said...

I had a Belgian Brown at the Brass last night that I believe was from Captured by Porches (it was called Clinton Street Brown which made me think it was from Clinton St, but it also said "CBP" next to the name). It was a sour Belgian, though a fairly mild one (at least compared to some of the sours I had at PIB). It wasn't incredible (the flavor was a bit mild for my taste), but definitely shows that some local folks are heading in that direction.

On a personal note, my last two homebrewing efforts have both been at least somewhat Belgian-inspired. The first was my attempt at a sort of dubbel, that came out pretty good, but not as fruity/flowery as I was going for (nor quite as strong). The second was a basic porter that I tried to "Belgianize" by adding some additional candy sugar and using a trappist yeast (and also a bunch of maple syrup just for the hell of it). The result was (if I do say so myself) a pretty damn tasty "Belgian porter" (which thanks to the hint of maple, I've dubbed The Belgian Waffle).

Anonymous said...

Can't share enough love for Ron Gansburg & co. at Cascade/Raccoon Lodge… having stumbled upon their Triple Tempter at McCormick & Schmick's in Bridgeport Village about a year and a half ago, I sought out the brewery that produced what was at the time - and still is to a large extent - my favorite beer in general, across all styles (prior to which I had been almost exclusively a porter/stout person). Since then, I've been thoroughly impressed with a variety of their beers:
* Way Bad Billy double-blond bock(similar to the Tempter, but with more of a honey sweetness than the Tempter's candy… special thanks to Curtis for referring it to me)
* Baltic Porter (too hoppy for me when it was first released, but has settled well into a nice semi-sour porter)
* Flanders red (fairly mild when it was first released, but developed more of a sour, funky character and a preponderance of oak)
* an 8-month barrel-aged cask-conditioned imperial IPA (before which I thought I could never enjoy an IPA… so floral, yet so smooth, and so short-lived)
* The Quad and Cuvee most recently - both welcome contributions to PIB
* …and the Apricot Ale…

My goodness, the Apricot Ale… based on the Triple Tempter, this exceptionally dry fruit beer stands head and shoulders above every other non-lambic fruit beer I've tried. It allows the apricot to complement the beer without overshadowing it, whilst simultaneously allowing the triple to hit all the same chords as the Tempter. While I lack the beer terminology to effectively describe it, I can only offer this humble Belgian fan's unconditional recommendation… if you're at all interested in the style, give this one a shot.

Special mentions as well for the Cherry and Blackberry ales - based on the Flanders red - which I haven't tried recently, but I'm sitting on a couple bottles hoping to give them a little extra sour.

Unfortunately, I would be remiss without airing my own personal concerns for their recent shift to the Ardennes yeast in a few of their beers, with one of them - the C'est Dangue - actually replacing the Triple Tempter. As it was with Portland Cheers to Belgian Beers, so it is with this new crop - the yeast is far too powerful a flavor on its own to allow much variety between styles. While there are subtle differences, the yeast shines far too brightly through the cloudy haze… while trying them side-by-side, all of the beers quickly started to taste the same. It is a flavor of which I'm not particular fond, but to each their own… I just hope they continue to leave room for other yeasts - the single ingredient which, in my opinion, makes the most difference in the flavor profile of a beer.

Jeff Alworth said...

Anon, thanks for thoughtful comments on Cascade Brewing. I agree about that Apricot ale--it's currently in front place in the race for my annual Satori award. Amazing.

I wouldn't be too worried about the appearance of the La Chouffe/Ardennes yeast--I think it's a legacy of the Cheers comp. They all brewed beer using that strain. I agree that it's not particularly interesting; it produces overly sweet, syrupy beers.

Nate, I put a lambic in the carboy on Thursday--gonna make a fruit lambic with the apples from a tree in my front yard. I find that I'm perpetually belgianizing things, too. I made a nice brown ale earlier this year that seems tailor made to turn into a Flemish Red with the right yeast--probably in a secondary fermentation. I am a Belgian fiend and this trend in brewing is exciting.

DR WORT said...

I'm hoping the brewers and breweries will continue with their Belgian efforts! As with anything in Life, the SAME OL' THING can getting pretty boring.

The brewers influence and educated the local market (or dumb them down as I've also seen) in regard to beer styles and new beer ideas and concepts. If Belgian's are to become a mainstay, as it appears in CA, where they are about a decade ahead on the Belgian track, Local brewers will have to start educating the public with some of the basic Belgian styles and then possibly move on and up.

So far, a lot of local Lambic (pLambic) and Sour Belgian attempts have been pretty...Uh...crude and searching for direction. But! Ya have to start somewhere! It's all moving in the right direction!

I've noticed some pretty WEIRD attempts at Belgian Beers. We should be lucky that the basic Belgian styles are few and the types of Belgians are diverse. That said, I find quite a few local brewers TRYING, but missing the mark. This is not a bad thing, just an evolution toward better Belgians. I find a lot of local Belgian's to be lacking in Belgian Yeast qualities and flavor. Under fermented Triples and Strong Belgian Ales that taste closer to Pancake Syrup rather than a real Belgian ale... ;-} This will also improve as the brewers pump up there knowledge.

Speaking of knowledge! I know there are some local brewers talking with some of the more experienced Belgian Brewers in CA and other states. This should boost the quality of local brews, soon?!

Belgium Brewers are considered MASTERS of the Art of brewing throughout the world. Their craftsmanship in constructing a beer with finesse, care and artistic structure is amazing. They use herbs, spices, fruits, different sugar bases to create a martage of flavors. Hops are restrained to allow other (Creative) flavors to come through. These beers are only limited by imagination of the brewer and far more complex and interesting than the cookie cut concept and flavors of the typical ales of the Malted barley, Hops and Ale yeast concept.

I'd like to note that Salmon Creek's Dubbel was one of the first and best made Belgian style brews I tasted locally.

According to they're web site:

Brother Larry's Belgian -
Portland's Spring Beer & Wine Fest 2005 Gold Medal Belgian of the Year! This traditional style dubbel Belgian has a complex, distinctive taste that is dark and creamy. The subtle sweetness and mild hops come from using all Belgian grains which make this brew 100% Belgian. 8.3%

Anonymous said...

For a real treat, make sure to stop by Belmont Station on Tuesday the 12th; I head they'll be tapping a keg of Russian River's divine Supplication at 5pm.

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