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Monday, May 04, 2009

Cheers to Belgian Beers Wrap-Up

Among the many markers that this is indeed Beervana, we enjoyed the fruits of the third Cheers to Belgian Beers fest. (Asheville, your move.) Two-dozen beers from 19 breweries in probably 20 styles, and they all used the same yeast. In this case, Ingelmunster, the yeast Kasteel uses for their range of beers (longer description, if you missed it, here).

Yeast Character
First a general comment on the yeast. I had the very good fortune of sitting next to Dave Logsdon, founder of Wyeast Labs, the guys behind the Ingelmunster yeast all the breweries used. (He's an Ohioan, and had family in town who were all sporting Buckeye paraphenalia. Eventually Sally and I--alums of Big Ten rival Wisconsin--finally had to call them out, and that's when we learned who it was.) We chatted for a bit about yeasts, and he mentioned--gingerly--that Ingelmunster is a yeast that takes its own sweet time. Not unusual for Belgian strains. However, the breweries didn't have a lot of time to get these beers going--style guidelines weren't assigned until February. Ingelmunster, according to Wyeast's description, is "very tart and dry on the palate," and a "high acid producer.'

You wouldn't know it from the beers at the fest. With one expection, they were sweet and wet. In the more successful experiments, brewers used this character to their advantage (there's nothing innately wrong with sweeter beers). Unsuccessful beers tended to cloy or were inappropriately sweet. And Sally and I kept picking up a funky note that was just short of foul (call it compost or cabbagy--in some cases it drew out almost to a burning chemical quality). It seemed to be worse in the dark beers. I harbor a suspicion that it was a volatile note that would have, given more time in the tanks, worked its way out. Maybe half the beers had it.

The Beers
I tried 14 of the Ingelmunster beers, as well as Alex Ganum's semi-debut Upright Four. (We'll treat that to it's own post.) Four of the Ingelmunster beers stood out for me: Astoria Brewing's biere de garde (Avante Garde Akloo), Corey Blodgett's McMenamins Zen Lunatic, Pelican's Le Fleur Amere, and Hopworks' Dubbel Suplex. I had to make a call on my ballot between Astoria and McMenamins, and it was close enough that I'll keep my vote to myself--both Corey and Bolt produced very nice beers.

Astoria's was a silky, rich biere de garde. Brewer Bolt Minister took full advantage of the yeast's sweetness, and the result was the most quaffable of the Ingelmunsters. Zen Lunatic, by contrast, managed to produce some of the quality I think the yeast is supposed to have--it was a little drier and had some of the tartness. Bright, crisp, and floral, it was accomplished and tasty. Pelican's gets a nod for boldness. The idea was an English-hopped IPA with the Ingelmunster. I would say it wasn't exactly the right yeast, but the execution was nice. Perhaps if it has a chance to age, it will dry out and allow some of the dry-hopping to come out. Finally, Hopworks brought what I would call a "fortified dubbel"--it was a traditional dubbel recipe amped up with cane sugar. The result was the prettiest beer of the day--a clear and bright hazelnut brown. It was the one beer that finished out dryly. Using the sugar was an inspired call.

If you want a fuller review of these beers, I'll point you to Doc Wort, who tasted almost all the same beers I did, and had almost identical impressions. (Yes, the world must surely be about to end.) The beers of which he disapproved I found tolerable near-misses at worst. However, look at his Lompoc Le Chat Noir description--I think he's identifying at the same qualities I kept tasting.

A great event, and I had a great time. I think the Twitter experiment was even worthwhile. Or worth further testing. I'll have one more post with some final, scattershot thoughts and observations about the fest more generally. I'll leave you with a few more photos.


  1. I wanted to note, NOT all the beers were made with Ingelmunster Yeast. Only the beers on the ballot were made with the ol' Dutch Castle...

    I gave McMenamins Zen Lunatic the win. It was a good straight forward example of the yeast. I was hoping for something beyond, but as I said in my blog, we were lucky to get any Belgian flavors out of any of these beers.

    In regard to our reviews.... Were you reading my notes over my shoulder again!? ;-}

    I kept trying to remember that these beers are made by Professional brewers, rather than home brewers! I'd expect to taste non-Belgian tasting beers from some home brewers, but not from professional brewers. Get the yeast into the beer and make a Belgian beer with Belgian yeast. ;-}

    Being a brewers myself, I know that it can be easy to over work some these Belgian Yeasts with to much gravity and malt. Sometimes, multiple doses of yeast are needed to fully ferment out these bigger beers and acquire the yeast character. Sometimes it just takes an understanding of the yeast characteristics and make a beer that will be suitable for the yeast. Kasteel makes a Blond, a Triple and a Bruin. Did you taste any beers that were made in most of those styles? Astoria and MCmenamin's aside, both making a decent Blondish Belgian, most of the rest didn't even attempt a real Tripel or bruin. A menagerie of high gravity, over malted and not well formulated MALT BOMBS. It was like some brewers had never had a Belgian Beer.... ;-}

    I think you're more generous than the Doctor, but are following his thought process, Jeff.... ;-}

  2. I think they were malty because they didn't have enough time for the yeast to finish out. I'd love to hear from someone who actually worked with the yeast to hear if this pet theory holds water.

  3. I think you're right Jeff. I heard they only like 4 months?

    That being said, it's a funky/tricky Belgian yeast, even if you had six months to produce these beers... Why would you attempt a 8%+ alcohol beer, knowing that it might not be conditioned properly?

    In that case... I know the types of beers were divided up: Light/Dark/High gravity/low Gravity. Why would even give these brewers an option to fail with a high gravity beer in a short amount of conditioning time...?

    It's year three... I think it's time to get the organizational kinks out of this event