By Matthew Meador
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Now that the holidays are behind us, it’s time for that truly most wonderful time of the year, “awards season.” It’s that special period when those put-upon celebrities throw giant parties to honor themselves. After all, when you only make $10 million per film, you deserve a bunch of lavish ceremonies where people like you can shower you with shiny statues, gushing praise and gift bags worth more than my car. Who cares about scientific achievements, humanitarian efforts, world-changing vision or boring stuff like that?
So what do carefully-crafted Belgian-style ales from Oregon have to do with spoiled people demanding over-the-top public acknowledgement for their possibly-exceptional-but-generally-overrated-and-certainly-not-Einstein-or-Curie talents? Nothing, except the rest of us need refreshment and sustenance to get us through the doldrums of winter marked by this wastefully pointless “awards season.” With centuries of tradition behind them, brewers from the Low Countries have long been some of my favorites — far more deserving of recognition than, well, almost anyone in Southern California. Evidently, many Oregon brewers agree as they’re producing some outstanding Belgian-style brews right here in our state. Even better, the pints featured below go one step further than following Flemish methods alone: these brewers firmly place the stamp of the Pacific Northwest on their beers and all are better for it.
Elk Horn: Tussle in Brussels, Eugene
9% ABV; 22 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Straw in color, this Belgian tripel is bright and crisp. It’s brewed with German pilsner malt, Vienna malt, Tettnanger hops, coriander seed, caraway and cumin. This beer is full of subtle spice character. Cheers!
Consumer Comments: It was a tough decision, but Elk Horn’s Tussle in Brussels earned the panel’s vote for the best brew of the bunch. The exuberant tripel exhibits an upbeat apple theme from start to finish — although tasters argued about which variety of apple. Distinctly beer, Tussle in Brussels nonetheless exhibits some of the finer traits of cider, too. A slightly sweet champagne-like introduction gives way to moderate hops and spices, finishing cleanly — crisp and dry. One taster said he loved the beer from his first sip, declaring it a perfect campfire beer. Panelists suggested pairing this pint with pork chops or sharp cheeses.
Golden Valley: Golden Spurs Belgian IPA, McMinnville
7% ABV; 65 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Golden Valley’s newest release is an IPA fermented with Belgian Abbey Ale Yeast, fortified with Belgian candi sugar, and hopped with Citra, Centennial, Hull Melon, and Mount Hood hops. Bright and fruity hop notes play well with the soft esters produced by the yeast, which is believed to be related to that of the Trappist ale producer Chimay.
Consumer Comments: A masterful example of blending old Low Country tradition with the modern character of the Northwest, Golden Valley’s Golden Spurs Belgian IPA is a hop-forward brew with firm notes of citrus. Boasting an easy balance between bitterness and astringency, this beer’s hop-themed body yields to its citrus character and flashes a little yeast before finishing with a white pepper crispness. Panelists suggested pairing this pint with lighter fare like salads, fruits and seafood — one taster even suggested grilled bratwursts. Our panel loved the affable character of this brew.
Mazama: Belgian-Style Blonde, Corvallis
7.7% ABV; 20 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Mazama’s Belgian-Style Blonde is handmade in the ecclesiastic brewing style of the great Belgian abbeys. This golden ale is light-bodied, drinkable and full of complex, fermentation-derived flavors such as fruit, spices and honey. The mix of fruity esters, light spiciness and smooth alcohol builds a complex but easy drinking beer. This ale is so full of delicate aromas, you might just swear it came from the Old Country. Cheers!
Consumer Comments: With a clean hue of pure clover honey, the Belgian-Style Blonde from Mazama is an easy-drinking beer with notes of melon, honey and even a little pear. This pint finishes with a lingering tartness, leaving the palate refreshed and thirsty for more. Several panelists remarked on this beer’s approachability and easy mouthfeel, drawing comparisons to both classic Belgian blondes and pilsners. The Belgian-Style Blonde is an undeniably amiable brew, likely to please guests who have widely diverse tastes.
Three Mugs: Belgian from the ‘Burbs, Hillsboro
10% ABV; 45 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This is a huge, malty Belgian-style dark strong ale with hints of biscuit and dried fruit. It’s infused after fermentation with Sumatran dark roast coffee beans for a hint of coffee aroma and flavor.
Consumer Comments: With discreet notes of root beer and cocoa on the nose, this multi-layered, complex beer is a subtle evolution from start to finish. Built on a solid body of coffee, Three Mugs’ Belgian from the ‘Burbs expands to include notes of mocha, brown sugar and oats. Tobacco and spice are also apparent, but this pint’s melange of flavors is marvelous — the multiple facets of this beer’s character overlap easily and gracefully. Our tasting panel agreed this brew would serve as a great accompaniment for dessert in front of a crackling fire.
While I take my food and beverages seriously, I also enjoy real music and good movies. But I’m not above mocking the excess practiced by those who live in the public eye and earn their livings from folks like you and me. My mockery doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge talent — on the contrary, I see talent every day. I just wish we put a little more value in those who actually contribute to the betterment of humankind. I’m also told I just like to gripe, too, though. Whatever the case, maybe the best place to start appreciating homegrown contributions is at your neighborhood brewery. At the very least, you’ll have a good time looking for local talent!
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.