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!
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.