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.