Belgium comes to Boston

“I wish they had as much respect for beer in Belgium as they do here in America.” Said Gumer Santos in pleasantly accented English. As Head Brewer for Belgium’s Rochefort Trappist Brewery, Santos addressed us as part of a four-expert panel on Belgian beer.

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Rochefort’s Gumer Santos, being affable

The fact that a Belgian brewer had flown across the ocean to join us, and the fact that there was an actual panel discussion at all, separated the Beer Advocate Belgian Beer Festival from every other beer fest I’ve worked or attended. Normally, this type of event can be counted on to do three things: give regional brewers a chance to demo their products, (ideally) make a profit for the host, and get frat boys trashed. The BA fest offered a refreshing dose of actual beer education that backed up the mantra of Beer Advocate founders Jason and Todd Alstrom: Respect Beer.

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The Alstroms, waffling for the camera

The event hall is very good for beer festivals: a cavernous, circular room originally built to house a giant wraparound mural of the Battle of Gettysburg. Smart limitation of ticket sales allowed a still considerable throng easy access to seating, rest rooms, and the brewers’ tables. At no time did the brewers seem crushed under the sampler glass-waving press of humanity evident at many beer festivals. They had time to talk about their beers.

And what a lineup of beers! Belgians like Rochefort and Rodenbach were joined by some of the finest American interpretations of Belgian styles. Veritas 001 from California’s Lost Abbey was particularly impressive, leaving me rueful that it’s impossible to find in the beer mecca that is Rochester, New York.

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sampling in the Cyclorama

But what impressed the most was the panel discussion. Santos was joined by Brewery Ommegang brewmaster Randy Thiel, Lost Abbey honcho Tomme Arthur. Dan Shelton of Shelton Brothers Distributing and Merchant du Vin’s Joe Lipa also sat on the panel. Some people would question my desire to sit there and let people drone on about making and selling beer with 25 breweries offering samples in the next room, but it was an enlightening, encouraging discussion, reaffirming that some of the top people responsible for the production an d sale of great beer shared my thoughts and ideas. Plus, some attractive volunteer chick kept bringing samples of Cantillon to my seat.

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L-R: Joe Lipa, Gumer Santos, Randy Thiel, Tomme Arthur and Dan Shelton

I walked away impressed by the brewers’ commitment, not just to mimic a generic archetypal Belgian style, but to research the traditions and unique qualities of Belgium’s beers, incorporating their discoveries into their own brewing. Equally impressive (and a bit unexpected) was the passion the specialty distributors showed toward Belgian beer. It’s not just a numbers game; these guys are disciples, and that’s encouraging.

Belgium might be a dwindling market for its own specialty beer, and neighboring companies might be too myopically immersed in their own beer cultures to care, but the USA is the great savior, and vehicle of advancement, for these wonderful beer styles. Thanks to events like the BA Belgian Beer Festival, I can be confident that Americans’ knowledge and selection of Belgian beers can only grow.

-Mark

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I am so pissed off right now.

I spent a freakin’ hour on my fest review post, then while trying to flip a browser tab I accidentally clicked the bookmark bar and flopped to a different webpage. Everything was freakin’ deleted!

I’m going to destroy something. Then I’m going to destroy another thing. Sorry, but look for the fest review tomorrow.

-Mark

The Sisters of Murphy (My Irish Band) at Monty’s Krown this Friday

That’s Right, Rochester’s favorite Irish-y pub rock band, the Sisters of Murphy, will be poguesing it up at the Krown. I sing (and dabble in concertina) and Bruce plays Bass.

Our regular guitarist, Tim Shannon, is sitting out to finish up his musical doctorate. Sitting in will be Jona from 5 Watt Bulb, Hinkley, and every other freakin’ band in Rochester.

-Mark

Coming tomorrow: The Beer Advocate Belgian Beer Fest Retrospective

I had a great time in Boston at this festival. I learned a lot, got to hear the thoughts of key industry people, and drank a bunch of Belgian beer. We also roped the Head Brewer of Otter Creek into a mini pubcrawl which culminated in copious amounts of Murphy’s Stout.

The full writeup will be posted tomorrow. There’s a lot of material and I’m a bit limited on time.

-Mark

Chocolate indulgence and a return to Boston

I tried the Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence last night. Unsurprisingly, it rocked. A robust, mocha presence giving way to a dry, slightly astringent finish. Could it be that I’ve found the perfect nightcap beer? Try it with fresh raspberries, waffles, and puppets.

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Ommegang Regional Sales Manager Tori Perez pours it chocolate-style

In an hour, we’re heading for Boston for the Beer Advocate Belgian Beer Fest. It’ll be a challenge to keep my anger level down amid a sea of smug Red Sox fans, but hey, I’m visiting their town, so who can blame them for celebrating?

Anyway, I’ll post a shitload of pics, as well as whatever recounting of events i can remember after tippling trippels all day.

-Mark

Celebrate 10 years of Ommegang at Monty’s Krown

Jeez, it’s been 10 years since Brewery Ommegang set to the herculean task of brewing authentic Belgian beer in Cooperstown, New York. Despite ups and downs along the way, Ommegang, now wholly owned by Belgian brewer Duvel, has reached the 10-year milestone.

There’s a party for this tonight at Monty’s Krown. Brewery reps will be there to share Ommegang’s latest release- Chocolate Indulgence.


Ommegang’s stunning brewery in Cooperstown, NY

Also, The opening of the Tap and Mallet (formerly the bar with No Name) has been pushed back to next week due to governmental red tape. Apparently, getting a bar open is a royal pain in the ass. Be patient. It will be worth it.

-Mark

Beercraft newspaper column #50: J.W. Dundee’s beer

 

This country used to have thousands of breweries. During the mid-19th century, Germans emigrated to the United States en masse, many founding breweries that produced the lager beers of their homeland. For a while, the United States was a beer paradise.

Then prohibition and post-war consolidation shot everything to hell. The ‘20s decimated the ranks of American brewers, and the push to mass-market growth took care of those companies who couldn’t compete, either driving them out of business or pushing them to sell out to growing giant megabrewers. By the ‘60s, a few of these colossi would dominate the American beer scene with a thin, character-free lager that was nearly interchangeable from megabrewery to megabrewery. Beer became a commodity.

Still, a few regional producers, like Rochester’s Genesee Brewery (now High Falls Brewery), breweries managed to do a tidy business despite their comparatively small market share. In 1994, Genesee began to embrace the interest in beer cultivated by the craft beer movement with Honey Brown, a darker, sweeter lager that enjoyed substantial success in the Midwest and Southwest.

Building on this success, and following the trail blazed by the F.X. Matt brewery’s Saranac beers, High Falls now offers a full range of stylized beers that break the bland American lager mold, offering J.W. Dundee’s Amber Lager and well-hopped Pale Ale, as well as rotating seasonal beers: Pale Bock in the spring, Hefe-Weizen for summer, autumn’s IPA, and Porter for the winter months. 1n 2007, for the third consecutive year, the brewery will also offer their Festive Ale for the holiday season.

“I certainly believe the brewery had to find a niche in the marketplace in order to remain competitive,” states Head Brewer Dave Schlosser. “[the success of Saranac] allowed me to go to the next level.”  The specialty beer strategy is showing results. In its first three years as a full brand, sales of Dundee’s have increased by 30,000 barrels anually.

Schlosser explains that the move by regional breweries such as Matt and High Falls toward the craft side of the business has followed a greater readiness on the part of the public to try different beer styles. Having joined High falls after working at the Rohrbach Brewing Company and Custom Brewcrafters, he understands how to bridge the gap between craft beer and the mainstream audience.

Still, it’s a pointy fence to straddle. Not only does Schlosser have to persuade die-hard American lager drinkers to try something new, but he must also deal with the stigma among beer snobs that his national-scale production brew “isn’t really craft beer.”

Schlosser acknowledges that the latter opinion will never disappear, but points out that he comes from a craft beer background and still uses the same ingredients he always has, albeit on a larger scale. “I still brew the same way as those guys. I just have bigger toys.

Results from competitions add to the beer’s rep, as well. In 2006, a ten month old batch of the seasonal Pale Bock was sent to the Great American Beer Festival, where it took the bronze medal. Six months later, the same batch won the gold medal for its category in the World Beer Cup.

But competitive success only goes so far when it comes to selling beer. Grunt work does the rest. Schlosser can often be found at beer festivals, yanking tap handles and talking beer with as many people as possible.

The future looks bright for J.W. Dundee’s, and it looks like the line will grow. “What I’d like to see is a big-beer series,” Sclosser says, mentioning the high-hops, high-alcohol beers that have become de rigeur in the American craft beer scene.

While his IPA and Pale Ale are definitely geared to less cultivated palates than those big bruiser brews, Schlosser seems itchy to put on his craft brewer’s hat and demonstrate exactly what he, and his J.W. Dundee’s brand, can achieve.

Bruce is a certified beer judge and commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at https://beercraft.wordpress.com. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com.