By Matthew Meador
For the Oregon Beer Growler
I was never the type of person to embrace New Year’s resolutions. Mostly, this was because I was too busy enjoying life to worry about pesky concerns like being healthy or living to a ripe old age. But part of it owed to me realizing that whatever I swore off would undoubtedly tempt me within a week of giving it up — and I’m not exactly known for saying no. Exercise was out simply due to the number of bars (where I enjoyed “regular” status) which lay between my house and the gym. Further, every time I joined a gym, I just paid the membership dues and rarely worked out — if I was going to spend my time celebrating, I might as well spend my money in the same manner, right?
Whatever my excuses, it was a long time ago and it’s too late now, anyway. There comes a point in paunchy middle age where you just say screw it and order another round. (Wait a minute — that happens in exuberant youth, too.)
Perhaps it’s fitting we examine six great Belgian-style brews this month. After all, most beers from the Low Countries have their roots in the cloistered discipline of centuries-old monastic communities. If you’re not going to commit to a life of respectable moderation, at least you can hoist a pint made by those who chose rigid restraint over hedonistic abandon. What better way to start a new year than by enjoying brews originally created by workers who’d taken vows of silence, poverty or chastity? While I’m pretty sure the Northwest brewmasters who produced January’s selections aren’t operating under any such restrictive oaths, they’ve nevertheless crafted some disciplined Belgians for our enthusiastic enjoyment.
Alesong Brewing & Blending: Dubbel, Eugene
7.1% ABV; 24 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Let the quiet calm of abbey life envelope you as you contemplate this deep amber-colored, Belgian-style dubbel in front of a crackling fire. Malty notes of dark fruit, caramel and cocoa punctuate the aroma while flavors of fruity and spicy Belgian yeast give way to a clean, medium-bodied finish.
Consumer Comments: Monastic roots notwithstanding, this month’s favorite might be described as a study in contrasts. With a low, but dense, head topping a mysterious amber murk, Alesong’s Dubbel presents an invitingly light nose of red fruit. Beautifully balanced, this brew is weighty enough to claim substance but light enough to seduce. Dubbel could be the archetype of Belgian brewing: clean, easy and sublimely beguiling. This is a gorgeous beer, but treat it with respect.
Evasion Brewing: Belgian Dark Strong, McMinnville
8.5% ABV; [Unavailable] IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This is our take on a traditional Belgian dark strong. It has lots of Belgian yeast characteristics such as clove, baking spice and dried fruit. The combination of darker crystal malts and traditional Belgian candi syrup provide a strong dark fruit profile that is classic Belgian. This beer comes off as a spiced banana bread. It’s also made with gluten-free ingredients; the base malt being millet, rice, oats and candi syrup. It’s unfiltered so as to not take out the flavors and aromas of the yeast.
Consumer Comments: Yes, yeast and clove mark its initial palate, but Evasion’s Belgian Dark Strong is perhaps more approachable than its name implies. Still, approachability doesn’t diminish character, and this brew manages to hold its own. With notes of seasonal fruit and spice, our panelists enjoyed this pint’s bitter strength and gentle assertiveness.
Ghostfish Brewing Company: Shrouded Summit Belgian White, Seattle (and sold throughout Oregon)
4.8% ABV; 20 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Tart and complex, yet smooth and thirst-quenching, this funky brew has a lot to offer. It’s a session beer at heart, designed for drinkability, but it’s built on an artful balancing act of some very unique ingredients: malted millet and buckwheat, orange peel, juniper berry, coriander seed and a fruity Belgian yeast. It makes an excellent crossover beer for cider fans!
Consumer Comments: Gluten-free doesn’t mean taste-free, as this beer deftly illustrates. Although a Washington-state brew, the Shrouded Summit Belgian White appeals to many Oregonians’ dietary needs while adhering to the Northwest standard for superior beer — plus the brewery’s ties to Oregon ensure it’s available statewide. This brew’s upbeat citrus fruit body defines its expressive character, making for a highly enjoyable regional Belgian.
Ordnance Brewing: 16 Quadruple Ale, Boardman
14.75% ABV; [Unavailable] IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This quadruple ale called 16 pays homage to our Belgian cousins who number their beers rather than naming them. Brewed on a leap year, 16 was aged in whiskey barrels for 16 months. The whiskey notes blended pleasantly with dark malt aromas to create a caramelized raisin flavor. Enjoy now … or in another 16 months.
Consumer Comments: A mahogany hue and gentle head usher in the wood-focused character of the 16 Quadruple Ale. This robust beer leads with whiskey and molasses — maybe pairing perfectly with flavorful partners like smoked meats or cheeses. Not for the weak-spirited, this brew commands measured deference. Be careful, chest-thumping may ensue!
Scout Beer: Syruptitious, Portland
10.0% ABV; 28 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This is a big, delicious Belgian waffle quad. Brewed with aromatic and CaraVienna malt, Syruptitious is the toasty, maple syrup-filled cornerstone of every balanced breakfast. We chose B45 Gnome yeast and finished the beer on toasted oak. What better way to start your day?
Consumer Comments: Hints of banana and warm cinnamon yield to the maple forests of Vermont as Syruptitious introduces itself. Yes, the maple character is palpable, but this pint also celebrates fruit and spice with aplomb. A well-balanced brew as quirky as it is affable, the Syruptitious perfectly captures the one-of-a-kind Oregon spirit.
Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery: Sebastian Cherry, Newberg
6.4% ABV; 19 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Tart and lush with mellow, pie spice-like notes, our Sebastian Cherry is a blend of several oak-aged Sebastian saisons refermented in the cask with local Montmorency cherries. Try it with any rich pork dish or even a ripe and aromatic blue cheese. Cheers!
Consumer Comments: Tart and lush is right! With its ruddy hue and fruit-bomb nose, Sebastian Cherry lives up to its name and then some. Exhibiting the expected boldness of a fruity sour beer, the ale demonstrates sour fruit and spice, our panelists stating it would pair well with the dense sweetness of cheesecake.
As we start 2018, ponder one observation: Oregonians tend to be mindful of moderation and healthy habits, but nothing illustrates our equal commitment to proper relaxation like our storied brewing scene. Curmudgeonly middle-aged beer columnists aside, most of us love where we live and we want to live responsibly enough to enjoy it. Fortunately, our regional breweries make it easy to celebrate everything that makes the Northwest so special!
By Gail Oberst
For the Oregon Beer Growler
How do I love thee, Belgian-style beers? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the
depth and breadth and height your tastes can reach …
My apologies to Lizzie B. Browning. But the first time I tasted a Belgian-style beer many years ago – it was a Pelican Saison, sipped at the Pacific City pub while watching an incredible sunset – I felt like reciting poetry. Years later, and with many Belgian-style beers under my belt, this style still makes me feel misty.
So what is this bubbly wonder that has inspired so many Oregon brewers? Brewing “Belgian-style,” it turns out, is like saying you are brewing “American-style” or “German-style.” The number and variety of Belgian beers are as vast as the ocean between us. And, like Belgians, Oregon brewers are known for caring not an ounce about official beer styles, instead experimenting, mixing tastes, pushing limits.
There are more than a dozen official Belgian styles – tripels, dubbels, Trappists, strong ales, biere de gardes, sour ales, lambics, saisons – including specialty styles, the list is endless.
Do they have anything in common? Most Belgian-style beers feature traditional Belgian yeasts, which leave the beers dry and bring out fruity, spicy or other complex flavors available in the malts used. To get a good feel for the recognizable “Belgian” flavors, I suggest you start with a saison or a farmhouse ale, where the yeast flavors are unmasked, light and fun. But don’t stop there. Try them all. See if they don’t inspire a poetic line or two! Below are the results from the latest monthly blind tasting:
Sky High: Monk’s Mana, Corvallis 10.3% ABV, 15 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: In celebration of the Trappist Monks, this Belgian-style honey tripel is brewed with local Honey Tree Apiaries honey and Crosby Farm hops. Lush wildflowers, spicy and distinct.
Consumer Comments: Stronger, fruitier, tastier. Slight spice, full-bodied, nice sipper. Pair it with a salmon fillet. When you need to reward yourself after a long day, drink this. A crisp strong beer loaded with fantastic flavor. Meady and vanilla-ish. Woody … yum! Complex and delicious.
Pelican: Saison, Pacific City 6.5% ABV, 25 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Fruity and spicy aroma from farmhouse yeast. Floral and slightly herbal hop character provided by Golding hops. Bottle conditioning provides lively finish.
Consumer Comments: Best yeast I’ve tasted so far. Great beer. Get me a bag of pretzels and a lawn chair. Great on a spring day or anytime. Frothy and silky. Champagne bubbles. Flavorful, super tasty. Mellow and smooth. Kick back in your lounger chair with this beer and a cigar.
Stickmen: Troonbeeckx Belgian Blond, Lake Oswego 7.9% ABV, 29 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This blond greets you with aromas of pear, orange and light spice, a bit of malt sweetness and fruit followed by a peppery bite and lingering alcohol warmth.
Consumer Comments: Oh yeah! Funk-a-licious! Great with seafood. Wildflowers. Serve it up with dessert! Belgian-y. I really like the aroma. I just want to stick my nose in that funk! Nuts and raisins. Spicy, smooth. Drink it on a sparkling clear snowy day.
Mazama: Saison d’Etre, Corvallis 6.3% ABV, 25 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This beer is spicy and aromatic in the true Belgian tradition. Spiced with coriander, juniper berries, orange peel and black pepper. Dry and effervescent, the spice is balanced with soft malt flavors.
Consumer Comments: A good Belgian. Smooth and great. Different and slightly tangy. Almost apple-y. I could see myself drinking this on a summer day by the pool. Cheers to 2016. Drink this.
Elk Horn: Twisted Wood Saison, Eugene 7% ABV, 30 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: An orange-colored, Belgian-style saison brewed with grains of paradise. It features flavors of banana, clove, mild bitterness, with a toffee malt backbone.
Consumer Comments: Crisp, clean aftertaste. Serve it with fruitcake. The “between-a-beer” beer. Belgian yeastiness. Chestnutty. Flavor is light and pleasant. Refreshing. Dry, tiny bubbles. The champagne of Belgian beers.
Worthy: Farm Out Saison, Bend 7.3% ABV, 25 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Fruity and spicy flavors from a unique yeast strain add to the complexity of this French/Belgian inspired ale. Complex yet refreshing, an all-occasions beer.
Consumer Comments: Lots of flavor. Full-bodied. Would pair well with a pork loin. Wild! Just like what a Belgian beer should taste like. Wild at heart, soft on tastebuds. Zesty. Fruitcake.
Golden Valley: Grizelda, McMinnville 6.5% ABV, 32 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This beer is brewed with Belgian pale and Pilsner malts, and graced with Hersbrucker, Willamette and Belma hops in the kettle and dry-hopped with whole Styrian Goldings. It’s then conditioned in oak barrels then conditioned in the bottle with Brettanomyces.
Consumer Comments: Is that my best friend, Brett? Smokey hints of mescal. Nice! Fruity and slightly sour. Good with a steak. Fruity! Tart and light. Pretty decent for a sour beer, and I usually don’t like sours.
NEXT FREE TASTING: Oregon Beer Growler’s Stout Tasting starts at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16 at Frame Central, 6639 SW Macadam Ave., Portland. In addition to the tasting, artist Ron Pomeroy will be showing his unique paintings made with beer during a reception from 7-9 p.m.
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.