Makers of the Troubadour line of award winning beers. Stefaan and Kristof are both graduates of Belgium's premier brewing college KaHo St. Lieuven in Ghent. They will be visiting with guests at several events during the Festival to talk about all things Belgium, their beers, and brewing.
We partnered with fellow beer fan Erik Smith who manages express package delivery by day but shoots fantastic pictures at night to try and capture some of the feel of the festival in pictures. Let us know how you think he did.
You can find his album, nearly 200 pictures, from the festival on Facebook.
Erik also maintains an active travel blog
that has several photo reviews of events at the 2012 Festival. This includes the opening Trappist Beer Dinner
and the Lambic Blending Seminar.
Enjoy. We sure did.
expert photographer Erik Smith polished up the video on this year's featured
VIDEO WARNING - Viewer discretion advised (may make you lust
after more Belgian beer), MA - mature audiences, N - Nudity (naked,
undressed beer throughout), this programme contains strong language
(Quads, Tripels and more), contains scenes of a sensual nature (beer
The featured brewer for the 2012 Ashley's Belgian Beer Festival is Brouwerij Van Eecke of Watou, Belgium. Van Eecke is a family owned brewery that traces it origins back to 1629. We previously blogged
about our visit with the brewery. We met with the owners & brewmasters Hendrik and Philip Leroy - the seventh generation of the brewery's current owners.
As some background on their Kapittel abbey beers we shot a video interview with Pete Larson of Global Importers. We hope you enjoy it. Note - we are an authority on beer, not video so no critiques on production quality please. Although now that I think about it we should have done multiple takes so as to drink more of their great beer.
A local columnist at AnnArbor.Com is out with a beer pairing article for Thanksgiving.
He brings up a good point which we've long advocated with our guests: that beer pairs better with food than wine.
The fooodie web-site Epicurious points out:
Beer may actually be more food-friendly than wine is. Winemakers, after
all, have one ingredient to play with: grapes. Two, if you count wood
barrel–aging. Beermakers, on the other hand, can experiment with barley
(which adds sweetness), hops (which provide bitterness), yeast (which
lend that characteristic "bready" flavor), as well as spices, nuts,
chocolate, fruits, and vegetables.
Why I'm highlighting AnnArbor.com article is that many of the beers he's recommending are Belgian. Because he didn't provide a full "Belgian Thanksgiving Dinner" pairing, here are some more suggestions for your plans. Just think how much fun you'll have educating family and friends (as well as the 'research' opportunities for you!)
Before dinner: Roman brewery's Sloeber or Bavik Pils will start you off right - light but with some flavor
Appetizers: He mention's Saison Dupont but another option could be Bavik's Wittekerke or Wittekerke Winter White or Kapitel Blonde (a single Abbey Beer).
Salad course: This is where wines will let you down. They don't have the ability to counter the oil and vinegars of the dressing. Suggestions include: The Wittekerkes or Silly Pils (a little harder to find although we have it on draft)
Entree: He's got these covered with either the Westmalle Trappist Tripel or Orval Trappist Tripel although VSB's Piraat or Monk's Cafe Sour could well counterbalance the variety of flavors for a better complement
Dessert: VSB's Gulden Drak would be stunning with any chocolate desert or cherry pie or Bavik's Petrus Dubbel Bruin would also complement a sweet dinner ending.
This thought comes to mind when over Labor Day I shared with my brothers-in-law at a family gathering a nice assortment of Belgian beers.
We started out with some Bavik Pils
, a Belgian Family Brewer. This is what a pils should be. It can make a great session beer. We had a guest in at Westland who was drinking Bud Light in the bottle. Jeff encouraged him to try a Bavik. He did a double-take as a smile lept across his face. He turned the bottle in his hand to scrutinize the label and said "Wow!". He didn't know what he didn't know and that the macro brewers like InBev, owner of Budweiser, don't want you to find out if they can help it. The guest proceeded to go through all the Bavik we had in (its now in on draft so we're less likely to run out.)
We then went on to some of the abbey beers from Van Eecke brewery
, located in the heart of Belgium's hops growing region. This included their Blonde
. This worked through single malt to two types of triples (i.e., three times the quantity of malt is used in the brewing process.) Bières d'Abbaye
designation indicate beers brewed under license to an existing or abandoned abbey and are exclusive to Belgium.
We finished up quite comfortably with some of the best beers from Van Steenberge Piraat
(Belgian for pirate - a strong golden ale with twice the amount of hops used in regular Belgian beer) and Gulden Drak
(literally "golden dragon" named for the gold sculpture atop their home town of Ghent 's belfry.) We were in good spirits in more ways than one (and boy was I popular that weekend!)
One of my brothers pointed out what a really great value these great beers are. With the doubles and triples you often only have one or two as they are meant to be savored and give you that warm feeling in heart and mind without having to be 'Joe six-pack'. (The macro brewers are more interested in having you consume quantity as that's how they make the most money - regardless of what it does to your waist line.)
I pointed out that many of the Belgian beers are refermented in the bottle and keg. What that means is that the beers are still alive and will maintain their freshness for a long time. These beers don't have to worry about becoming 'skunk' as Budweiser warned about their beers.
One brother who I had previously gifted with a Van Steenberge variety pack told me when he had friends coming in from Canada that he hid the VS beer. He knew they'd want it. He wanted to save it for himself. I understand the sentiment. The real solution though is to have an extra pack or two around.
Great beers make great friends! Go make some great friends today.
We have close relationships with brewers here and abroad. One thing we noticed as a difference between many/most US craft brewers and the Belgium brewers we visited is that all of the Belgians had their own labs. We rarely see this in the US microbrewers.
In Belgium, they have colleges that award a four-year degree in Brewery Engineering. This is very serious work to them. We pointed out that US brewers seem to be a little more experimental, a little more entreprenurial, in their crafting of beers than the Belgians. But the Belgians are very disciplined in their brew process. With the handling of lambics which use wild, airborne yeasts, one can better appreciate the need for rigorous controls unless one wants highly variable beers.
This may not be what you think, yes its a tease headline, but it is VERY relevant to Belgian brewers and their beers. Ever wonder why Belgian beers produce that wonderful foam head and lacy after flow as it settles? Why don't the English ales do this? Well, it has to do with the headline.
As an historical hops growing region, the Belgians are quite picky about their hops. So much so that they only use female hops. Why? Because then they know there will be no polination and thus no seeds in the hops. It is chemicals in the seeds that reduce the formation of the head of foam. The English do not make this refinement and thus their beers do not produce the same amount of head.
The above picture is cropped from the larger picture below of Henrich Leroy, co-owner and brewmaster of Brewery Van Eecke located in the hops growing region of Belgium. Henrich, here seen with Jeff, is one of the judges for the hop harvest that rates and classifies the quality of the hops. Think what this
intimate knowledge of hops brings to their beers. (If it wasn't for the dumb Coke glass, I'd have done a close-up of the Hommelbier glass with the ideal, lacy foam from the head settling. Click on the image and you can zoom in. I want some just looking at it.) "Hommel" is a regional word for "hops" although in other parts of the country it can mean hummingbird.
The Belgians take their hops seriously.In their growing region the streets are marked with brass, hop emblazened, medallions.
They have a museum dedicated to it. This large museum, is based in a former hop house. A building designed for the processing of hops. The most important varieties they grow are
are Target, Magnum, Challenger and Golding.
Ashley's was an early advocate for craft beers starting back in 1986. We remember when Larry Bell of Bell's Brewing
would deliver kegs personally from the back of his pick-up truck. What was key was we were willing to give a tap handle to support him in building his business. This was an era dominated by the macro brewers (think Anheuser Busch, Miller, and Coors). Over the past 30 years the craft brew industry has started to make a push back against the bland, mass-produced, colored water promoted as beer to the unknowing.
Although brewing is an ancient industry in Belgium, brewing at the monestaries goes back to the 12th century, currently the macro brewers are working to crowd out Belgium's craft brewers.
From Flanders Today newspaper:
...despite the fact that there are more than 600 different kinds available,
beer drinkers in Belgium today overwhelmingly choose bland,
mass-produced lagers like Jupiler and Stella Artois.
In our search to bring new and special beers to our guests we visited Belgium last fall. What we found as opposed to what we’ve seen available in Michigan shocked us.
Belgium brewers are facing challenges from the macro brewers, particularly InBev the Belgian-Brazilian owners of Budweiser. InBev and others have been buying up small Belgian brewers and closing down their operations and brands. Thus many of their craft brewers are being threatened. We found when we met with brewery owners and brewmasters was the passion for great beer that we see amongst Michigan craft brewers. They are threatened by the macro brewers and realize that they must reach out to markets outside of their country if they are to survive. What we also found he were beers that were being exported to the US but due to size and volume just not yet on the radar screens of most enthusiasts.
What you're not going to see at this Festival are Leffe, Hoegaarden, Plam, DeKonnick etc. as we want to focus on the craft brewers. When we did a blind taste test with some of Friend Of The Owners (FOTO) club members, they voted 8 to 1 Bavik Pils over Stella Artois (an Anheuser-InBev product).
We're still supporting our Michigan brewers (see the upcoming Cask Ale festivals and the Great Michigan Brewery tour in July where we bring the brewers to you rather than you having to travel to the brewers.) Its just that we're also going to highlight great beers where ever we find them. In this case its Belgium. Yummmm, as one might say.
Amongst beer aficianados, some call them beer geeks but we know passion when we see it, sour
beers are amongst the best beers available. On par with fine wines, these are special beers that take time, talent and occaissionaly a little luck to make.
We are opening the ABBF festival with the "Sour Fest." The Festival will feature a selection of over 40 of these on draft and in the bottle, one of the largest offerings ever available at one place. So, a little background.
What are Sours? From Wikipedia: Sour beer
is a beer style characterized by an acidic, tart, sour
These were even recently featured in a New York Times article
BREWERS of barrel-aged sour beer take risks and practice patience. They
wait as long as three years to see whether the cloudy liquids resting in
oak ripen into shades of gold or raspberry and develop the ideal tart,
tangy flavors, or become undrinkable, ravaged by aggressive yeasts.
It’s an expensive gamble.
The Beer Judging Criteria Program (BJCP) identifies six styles of sour ale, five are from Belgium
The styles include:
Lets focus on the rarest of this group, gueuze (pronounced "gur-ze" or sometimes "gooz"). Within this, the BJCP describe gueuze as:
Gueuze is traditionally produced by mixing one, two, and three-year old
lambic. “Young” lambic contains fermentable sugars while old lambic has
the characteristic “wild” taste of the Senne River valley. A good
gueuze is not the most pungent, but possesses a full and tantalizing
bouquet, a sharp aroma, and a soft, velvety flavor. Lambic is served
uncarbonated, while gueuze is served effervescent. IBUs are approximate
since aged hops are used; Belgians use hops for anti-bacterial
properties more than bittering in lambics. Products marked “oude” or
“ville” are considered most traditional.
Spontaneously fermented sour ales from the area in and around Brussels
(the Senne Valley) stem from a farmhouse brewing tradition several
centuries old. Their numbers are constantly dwindling and some are
untraditionally sweetening their products (post-fermentation) to make
them more palatable to a wider audience.
From the blog TheHopry
is one of the hardest styles for a new craft beer drinker
to enjoy. Now that may be a generality based on my own opinion, but it
truthfully is one of the most challenging styles out there. Gueuze are
very tart, funky, and lowly carbonated beers. In some ways, they tend to
feel more like a very acidic wine than a beer. However, time and
dedication usually shows that one can grow to become quite fond of this
style. There’s a small group of folks out there who will even tell you
this is their favorite style of beer. For me personally, I enjoy Gueuze
much better when I have some food or cheese to pair with it. To just sit
down and drink it by itself is not something I normally do.
Because of the process to make these, they are available in limited quantity.
While in Belgium the Bavik brewmaster took us back to their aging room for their aged pale ale where he gave us sample straight from the keg. The beer is aged for 18 months to as long as three years in 200 barrel oak casks. The brewmaster has to regular check the beer to taste how it is aging and if it is ready. There is no set time. Thus they can not predict their production or availability.
These are an acquired taste. For those who have the palate for it, once you go sour you don't go back.