Cheers for Belgian beers

3 May

Last Saturday, Brian and I headed down to the Cheers for Belgian Beers festival.  The real excitement of the day for us was the results of the homebrew competition.  We entered our Open Up and Saison, our first all grain beer.  Our excitement however, quickly turned to disappointment, but more on that later.  Let’s get to the good part of the day, the beers at the festival.  We got through quite a few beers so the reviews are brief.

But first, the only way to start a festival on such a beautiful day is with a beer on my front porch.  Brian brought over a Val-Dieu Grand Cru, Belgian Abby ale.  I was very happy to start with a real Belgian beer as I have found many American versions are tasty but fall short when it comes to the complexity found in Belgian beer.  This beer did not fail to impress; it proved dark, flavorful and delicious.  Now with the standard for the day set, did the beers at the festival measure up??

The beers I tasted:

Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, Cerasus-Flanders Style Red Ale with Cherries: With no one in line this looked like the right place to get the festivities start.  Wonderful nose of musky cherries.  While not all that sour, it did overwhelm the cherry a bit, which didn’t show up until the finish. Still, a minor flaw in a very good beer.

Occidental Brewing, Voorjaar-Tripel:  I will admit I pick this beer because of the name, the word just looks cool.  This beer is what I meant when I said American beers fall short.  Good, some nice spice, but that was the best and only real note of the beer. It really just lacked complexity.

Gigantic Brewing, The City Never Sleeps-Imperial Black Saison: There was a unique mineral smell, something like an oyster stout.  The beer had all the elements of a stout, yet lighter, and ah yes, complexity.  I liked this beer.

Double Mountain Brewing, Formidable-Belgian Imperial Stout: Dark malts, mustiness and alcohol.  This was the first beer where the alcohol was such a prominent part of the flavor.  I like this beer, just not on the first 80 degree day of the year.  Next December, sign me up for a pint or two.

Hair of the Dog, Michael-Flanders Red: Best beer of the festival. There, I said it!  Great belgian beer; a rich, slightly sweet beer with flavors of wood, cherries, and a bit of alcohol to dry the finish.  This beer measures up to anything the old world has to offer.

Portland U-Brew, Tiger Blood-Belgian Specialty Ale:  The flavors of this beers were all over the place, and there was something in this beer, not sure what, that reminded me of BBQ. This was the was my least favorite beer of the day.

Track Town, Swarm!-Belgian Dark Strong Spiced:  This beer was similar to the Voojaar, with the spice much more distinct.  I could taste cardamon and nutmeg.  A good beer.

MacTarnahan’s Brewing, Biere des Bohemiens-Belgian Bohemian Hybrid: It is suprising this ale clocks in at 7.8% ABV, as the body was light and bright with a noticeable carbon bite…like a Czech pilsner.  Yet the beer had this tasty spicy vanilla flavor…like a Belgian.  A fitting name for a very good beer.  The fact it was unlike any of the other beers I tasted today was an additional bonus.

The beers Brian tasted:

Block 15, Hellion-a dry hopped golden strong ale: This beer had a really nice hoppy nose and packed quite the wallop with its big body and 12.5% ABV.  Definitely one of the top three beers I had at the fest.

Flat Tail, 8-a belgian dark strong ale: Had all the nice flavors of a strong ale: raisins, dates, etc. but it was a bit thinner than I expected it to be.  It also had a metallic taste that was clear from the beginning, indicating oxidization occurred somewhere along the way. I am a big fan of the beers coming out of Flat Tail, but this was not their best.

Ft. George, A.B.C.D.A.-a beligian cascadian dark ale: Whoa!  This puppy was as thick and chewy as they come!  I am used to Ft. George beers having some heady mouthfeel, but this was intense.  Had all the trappings of a CDA with a bit of sour hidden in the back.  Not sure I could drink a whole pint, but it was well worth the taste.

Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, Cerasus- a flanders style red ale with cherries: This was a really good beer.  I could have sworn that all the sourness in this came from the cherries, but I know that was probably not the case.  This was the winner of best overall beer, and I could see why.  Not my choice for the best, but it was a damn fine beer all around.

Lompoc/Pints, Legalize Wit-a belgian style wittier: I don’t remember too much about this beer…which either means I was drunk by this point, or it didn’t leave enough of an impression on me to warrant some decent notes.  I don’t remember disliking it, but I don’t remember it being killer either.

Oakshire, Zwarte Nacht-a belgian black ale with orange zest: Another beer I really liked.  Had all the roasted flavors of a “black ale” or porter, with an amazing orange aroma and taste up front that was balanced perfectly.  Reminded me of our wedding cake: chocolate and orange.  This beer was really well made.  One of my top three.

Vertigo, Saison de Vertige: This Saison was probably my favorite beer of the seven I tasted.  It was just a well-made Saison, which is right up my alley.  A little sour, a little crisp, and very tasty.

Brian’s thoughts on the event and homebrew competition:

The space is tough to like.  I really appreciate the idea of holding the event in a cool space that makes brewing equipment, but the acoustics in the building were atrocious, and the outdoor hardscrabble was slightly uninviting.  Not to mention that the organizers of the event had a DJ system up, but were apparently unable to scrounge up a microphone to announce the homebrew competition winners.  Lame.  If that was some attempt at being funny/hip, it merely came off as amateur and unprofessional.   I read another blogger compare the site to the Convention Center and claim it was better.  I don’t disagree.  I would rather have something like this happen in a space like Metalcraft Fabrication, but for fuck’s sake, get your shit together and get a microphone to announce things.

Also, the notes we got back on our beer were the worst I have ever seen when it comes to judging.  I know that judging other people’s beers, of just judging in general, can suck and feel weird and pretentious.  If that is the case for these folks, then don’t do it.  I can’t make better homebrew or figure out what I did wrong when the notes I get back are wishy-washy and non-specific.  One of our sheets literally had nothing down under the Overall category.  Really?  Nothing?  If you are going to have the homebrew competition, figure out how to have some competent judges, ok?

This is a really great one-day fest, but these guys need to up their game at least a notch or two. Other than those two points, I thought it was a success.  I got a nice tulip glass for my attendance fee and tasted some fantastic beers.  I’ll be back next year, but I may have to think twice about entering the homebrew competition.

My thoughts on the event and homebrew competition:

First, I would like to tip my hat to the volunteers.  They were pouring the beer fast enough to keep the lines very short.  I appreciate it when it takes longer to choose my next beer than to get it.  The best part of the Metal Craft building was getting to ogle the nearly/complete brewing vessels so I was happy they were willing to host the Festival.  But I am going agree the shouting of the homebrew competition winner was extremely lame.

The competition was simplified, as it was a belgian style competition only, into four categories, based on color (light or dark) and alcohol content (low or hight). For the record, we entered in the Light and Low category.  This doesn’t mean the judging should have been simplified as much as it was.  The judging form kept the standard elements of each beer to be judged from the BJCP form (Aroma, Appearance, Flavor, Mouthfeel and Overall Impression), but dropped the standard scoring (out of 50) in exchange for the weak thumbs up or thumbs down.

I realize that sometimes in these competitions there are lots of entries and only so many judges, so many times, an element will only get a one-sentence comment.  However, Overall Impression, which includes ways to improve the beer, should never ever get only one sentence, or be left blank. I really want the judges clear opinion.  Tell me how the first four categories informed the overall judgement.  If they had to gargle gas to get the taste out of their mouth, tell me exactly why.  Then finally, I hope they have enough beer knowledge to give constructive criticism so I can make better beer.  This is where the standard scoring becomes important in my opinion, and I hope they will consider adding this element to next year’s homebrew competition. When I look back at past judging sheets, at the very least I can see if my overall scores have improved or not.

I get the impression that overall our judges were not all that impressed with our beer, but for anything more the judging sheets are useless.  The only way to illustrate this is to be my own worst critic, that’s not too hard, alongside the comments we received from judges #1 and #2.  Let us know if you are able to get anything useful by reading between their comments.

The Judging of Open Up and Saison

Aroma  (comment on malt, hops, ester and other aromatics)
Judge #1:  Soapy or herbal
Judge #2:  Slight Earth/herbal nose
Me:  6/12, Light for a belgian, slight herbal/spice but not distinct, likely from the yeast.  Malt and hops seem to contribute nothing to the aroma.

Appearance (comment on color, clarity and head)
Judge #1:  Mostly clear, small bubbles
Judge #2:  Clear, dark gold, little head
Me:  2/3, Gold in color and almost clear.   Head dissipated quickly even though it was fed by a steady stream of bubbles, champagne-like.

Flavor (comment on malt, hops, fermentation characteristics, balance, finish/aftertaste)
Judge #1:  Clean herbal flavor, like drinking a soda
Judge #2:  Malty Flavorful, nice finish
Me: 12/20, The beer starts with a slight sweetness, which is quick overwhelmed by spicy flavor.  The beer starts balanced, but the finish is dry and slightly harsh.  The finish softened somewhat as the beer warmed.

Mouthfeel (comment on body, carbonation, warmth, creaminess or astringency)
Judge #1:  Zingy mouth, not long linger flavor, herbs sticks around
Judge #2:  Light carbonation
Me:  3/5, Soft mouthfeel, low carbonation, but still has notable astringency.

Overall Impression (comment on overall drinking pleasure associated with entry, give suggestion for improvement)
Judge #1:  Would pair well with some dishes, or would clash.  Depends on what your going for.  Thumbs down
Judge #2:  A little better balance.  Thumbs up
Me:  6/10, This beer has potential, a good warm weather beer with a nice distinctive spice.  The flavors have not yet come together completely.  All of this may be fixed with a little more time in the bottle to age.  Also, the dryness/astringency was a bit much, keep this in mind before brewing this recipe again.

My scoring total: 29/50


One Response to “Cheers for Belgian beers”

  1. Miranda May 4, 2012 at 10:04 AM #

    I’m sad I missed it. I am really interested in the Logsdon beer. But if all goes well today, it would definitely have been worth it. But seriously, what is with the comments “depends on what you are going for” and “it would go well with some foods, but not others”? well no shit Sherlock. if i’m eating chocolate, i’m drinking a stout. even the best IPA won’t convince me otherwise. and no matter how good and true to style my BFF won’t like the IPA because she doesn’t like the bitterness of hops, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a perfect scoring beer. And what the beer was going for was the style and competition in which it was entered – they weren’t going for an IPA, lager or a stout. You knew they were going for a Light and Low Belgian.

    My mom could have given better reviews.

    Having had the Open Up and Saison, I know it is a very drinkable beer, but I’m sure there is room for improvement. After all the effort home brewers put into their beers, they deserve a review that someone put some effort into. They deserve to learn and get better. I’d hate to see the all the new people on the beer scene just be the ones that have the capital to take the chance.

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