Iâ€™ll be the first one to admit that Belgian beers are not exactly my favorites. Iâ€™ve always found them too fruity, too fizzy, and, well… just plain weird tasting. But after attending last weekendâ€™s 12 Hour Belgian Beer Party, I have to say I have a new-found appreciation for the broad variety of styles and flavors to be found in these beers.
The party was this past Saturday at the Pizza Port in Carlsbad, California. You couldnâ€™t have asked for better weather for an outdoor party like this. Sunshine, bright blue skies and temperatures in the mid-to-upper 60â€™s made the party start off perfectly. Beer Molly insisted we get there right after it opened at 11 am so weâ€™d have a chance to do several tastings before the crowds arrived.
Good thinking on Mollyâ€™s part. Early on there were only a hundred or so people there, but by 1pm that number had tripled and by late afternoon the place was packed with Belgian beer lovers.
There were at least 100 different beers there both on tap and in the bottle — far more than our 10 tickets (or sampling ability) would allow. Wits, Lambics, Trappist Ales, Belgian Strongs — if it was a Belgian-style beer, it was there. But while Belgian-style, the beers themselves werenâ€™t all from Belgium. Beers from the U.S., Canada, The Netherlands (and Italy of all places) were in attendance.
Not really familiar with Belgian beer styles, Molly and I chatted with the barman running the tap for a moment, mentioning we liked dark beers and strong ales. He suggested we start with Trois Pistoles from Unibroue, which turned out to be far better than I had initially expected. Dark, rich and fruity, itâ€™s also quite strong (9% ABV). Not something Iâ€™d choose for drinking around the pool on a hot afternoon, but definitely something Iâ€™d enjoy sipping after dinner sitting in my favorite leather chair — almost like a port or brandy
Shortly after the Trois Pistoles we decided to go to the other end of the Belgian Beer spectrum (and a new continent) and sample Allagashâ€™s White. Light, clean and very refreshing, this is a beer I could enjoy poolside. It actually inspired me to try another wheat beer there, Jopen Adriaan Gruit Witbier from the Netherlands. I didnâ€™t like it as much as the Allagash, but nonetheless, I think I like Witbier more than Hefeweizens, which I find to be flavorless.
After the Wits Molly moved on to the Fantome Chocolate and I tried the La Chouffe Houblon IPA. Molly and I won’t be giving up our favorite chocolate porters or IPAs any time soon, but at least we have a new appreciation for their interpretations over in Belgium.
Following those the day moved on quickly. Molly needed a beer nap and a change of clothes, so we left the party and returned a couple hours later to find it absolutely jam-packed with people. We elbowed our way in and resumed our tastings of all sorts of beers (lost track to tell you the truth). One of the best things we did experience is all the really cool new people we met. Unlike wine-tastings where everyone is aloof and stand-offish, beer tastings are always full of fun people laughing and having a great time. We met lots of good people from all over the country, Australia, England and — shock of all shocks — Belgium. We also got a chance to meet Adam Avery of Avery Brewing in Boulder, Colorado. A very cool guy and a lot of fun to enjoy a drink.
Ultimately we ended up leaving well after the party closed at 11 pm. I pretty much had to drag Molly away since she was off chatting with Tom Nickel, a co-founder of the Belgian Beer Party and owner of Obrien’s Pub in San Diego, and she didn’t look like she was going to quit any time soon. (Sidenote: Tom has shaved his bead so it meets his beard and curls into a sort of ram’s horn shape on either side of his scalp. Molly couldn’t stop staring at this. Sorry if she weirded you out Tom, that’s just the way she is.) Unfortunately we had to be in downtown LA the next morning, so the forced exit was unavoidable.
Overall, it was a fantastic event, and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone — especially if you don’t “get” Belgian beers. The variety in style and flavor are a real eye-opener, and being at an even with so many who love to explain the nuances of the beer gives you a real education and new appreciation for the craft.
A definite hat tip to Tomme Arthur, Tom Nickel, Jeff Bagby, and all the folks at Pizza Port who made this possible.