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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cheers To Belgian Beers

Beer is local. Even if it's not brewed locally, the way people consume it, and the types of beer they consume reflect local attitudes. In places where breweries and beer culture flower, local happenings can be pretty cool. On Saturday, one of my favorite local events takes place as Hopworks hosts the fourth annual Cheers to Belgian Beers fest. It started as an informal agreement among a few Portland breweries to produce a beer with the same Belgian yeast strain and has grown to be a statewide, Brewers-Guild-sponsored event with 29 breweries and 33 beers.
Cheers to Belgian Beers
Saturday, May 1, noon - 9pm
Hopworks, upper parking lot
2944 SE Powell Blvd
Free; $5 for required tasting goblet, $1 pours
This year's yeast strain is Wyeast 3726, a farmhouse strain from Brasserie de Blaugies. Blaugies brews Saison D'epeautre, an highly-carbonated, tart spelt version (epeautre means spelt). Although I haven't had the pleasure, theirs sounds like a throwback example, recalling the sour saisons that were common until 100 years ago. The yeast itself appears to be quite flexible, with high temperature tolerance, but none of the Dupont strain's finickiness. The attenuation is listed as 74%-79%--not especially high--but I wouldn't be surprised to hear that breweries managed to exceed that. It can produce complex esters and spice character (presumably at higher temperatures.)

In any case, this should be the best event yet: saison strains have the flexibility to produce a broad spectrum of styles, and depending on how the breweries use it, should also express substantially different character. Previous fests fell to difficult strains that bent beer to their will, rather than vice versa.

In early editions of the fest, breweries weren't limited in the style they could make; perversely, this resulted in a lot of very similar beers. To rectify that, the Brewers Guild now hosts a selection event where breweries toss darts to determine whether their beer will fit into one of four quadrants: high alcohol/light color, high alcohol/dark color, low alcohol/light color, low alcohol/dark color. Looks like we'll have some real diversity this year, too (list is in pdf):
  • Five beers exceed 9% (with host Hopworks busting out a monster 11-percenter).
  • Widmer is bringing a 3.7% table beer. Sorry, biere.
  • Lots of breweries went sour, including Deschutes, who used tamarind (an idea I was flirting with for a homebrew recently--damn you, Deschutes!).
  • At least five are barrel-aged.
  • Fruit additions include cherry, currant, and mango--in addition to the tamarind.
  • Spice additions include pepper, ginger, orange, lemon, and grapefruit peel, coriander, rosehips, and grains of paradise.
Consider this just a taste--I'll do a subsequent post with a bit more depth and include my picks (which will be, as usual, a crapshoot). In any case, I am getting pretty psyched. It looks like our fair brewers went all-out this year.


  1. Looks like this is shaping up to be quite an interesting event. I am excited about this year's yeast strain. See you there, Jeff!

  2. According to DA: Hopworks's 11% Belgian entry was only brewed 3 weeks ago and being fermented in the high 60's. Don't know if this is a fact or rumor.

    Interesting??? Hell, they might need to hand out Insulin to the fest goers to help break down all the unfermented sugars that will be writhing through their bloodstream.

    The reccomended fermentation temperature for this yeast starts at 70'F and goes up to 95'F. Who wants to bet we'll be drinking a bunch of unfermented worty malt syrup beers? All fermented at ambient Portland temps. ;-}

    You stated, "Previous fests fell to difficult strains that bent beer to their will, rather than vice versa."

    Don't blame the yeast. I think most problems come from improper use there of. See above for possible example.

    I have to hand it to you Jeff... I bet you could make KKK rally sound like family picnic with a nice warming bonfire. :-)

  3. Really, Doc, the Klan? This is why your credibility as an observer of beer is so low: you're happy to judge Oregon beer as shit even before you've tried it. No wonder that, when you try it and then say it's shit, no one believes your judgment was in good faith.

    But hey, your reviews of the SF cocktails were gushing!

  4. Lets get one thing straight. I don't think Oregon beers are shit. Some are just repititiously boring.

    In regard to CTBB. I think they should give up the single yeast experiment and just serve they're best Belgian efforts. Whether we use the excuse of poor craftsmanship or limited time to brew the beers, the results have been usually less the positive. I think the Brewers would happier to just do their own thing.

    In regard to reviews. I try and keep an open mind for every review and review what I taste as thorough as possible. I don't fawn over crappy beers because they're brewed in my backyard... Now that would be a narrow scope and crime to the reading public. I seem to usually get confirming feed back on my honest reviews by my Beer Snob brethren and if not... to each his own.

    Any more cheap shots there, Jeffrey? I'd be happy to rally.

    I though the Klan family picnic was rather funny... ;-}

  5. Doc, that was actually a nuanced and gracious comment--and now I feel petty. Maybe I'll finally meet you and we can toast good beer.

    In any case, I've been trying to contact some of the brewers to find out how they brewed their submissions. I'll let you be the judge. (So far, just two responses, though.)

  6. I brewed a beer for the homebrew contest and fermented it at 64 degrees. I got 81% apparent attenuation on that batch and 86% on a subsequent batch fermented at the same temp. 10 days in the primary and about the same in a secondary. This yeast is a sugar eating machine. I may not have maximized ester production at the low temp but I don't think there should be any "worty malt syrup beers" given my recent experience with this yeast. It seems to be very versatile.

  7. The yeast will ferment at lower temps, but the yeast flavor nuances may be less pronounced.

  8. Another guy named Bill6:58 AM, April 29, 2010

    I tasted a sample of the Hopworks Diablotto the other night from the fermentor and it wasn't overly sweet by any means. I would compare it to Piraat in that it had a tad of sweetness in the finish, but nothing extreme. I was told that attenuation was already over 85%. I didn't ask about fermentation temps. It had a good percentage of sugar to thin the body. Overall it was quite nice

  9. Diablato is essentially the same recipe as El Diablo (8.9%) and Diablito (5.8%) completing our Belgian Golden Trilogy. (El Diablo and Diablito were fermented with Ardennes). Recipe 87% Gambrinus Organic Pils malt, 1% Acidulated, 12% Organic Evaporated Cane Juice. Diablito was brewed on April 15th and started at 23 Plato. We held fermentation at 68F til it hit 15 Plato (to limit harsh higher alcohols), then let it free rise. It hit 78F at its peak. It attenuated 90%, down to 2.3 Plato (same attenuation as El Diablo and Diablito), resulting in ~11% ABV. The aroma is complex floral with slight banana and spice, medium bodied with a fruity and floral flavor, warming finish and subtle bitterness. We're very happy with the final product.

  10. Diapoopoo! Diacrappa! That completes our diaper trilogy!