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Belgian Beer Fest Recap

Yesterday was the Belgian Beer Festival at the Toronado. Actually, it wasn’t at the Toronado, it was at the Golden Peacock, a rental hall across the street. The Belgian Beer Festival is one of the most important beer events in the United States… the others being the Toronado’s Barleywine Festival, the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado and the Firkin Festival (or whatever they’re calling it these days) at Goose Island Brewery in Chicago. People made the pilgrimage from as far as Seattle to attend this festival, and it was well worth it.

The Belgian Beer Festival is a formal tasting of 19 Belgian Beers over a seven hour period. You arrive at 11:30am and don’t leave until well after 6:00pm… during that time, you listen to some of the masters of the brewing craft describe the beers and you eat a six course gourmet meal.

Janet, Carlos and I grabbed a four seat table in Robert’s section, and the fourth chair was filled by Peg, the Pastry chef from the Hotel Majestic, and winner of a number of city wide dessert competitions.

The beers that we sampled were:

  • De Konick
  • Rodenbach Red
  • Duvel
  • Brasserie a Vapeur’s Vapeur en Folie 1992 Vintage
  • Cantillon Lambic (2 year old), Iris (2 year old) and a three year old Lambic
  • Hanssens Gueze and Kriek
  • Abbayde des Rocs Noel
  • Brasserie Dubuisson Scaldis Noel 1997 Vintage

  • Brasserie Dupont Les Bons Voyeux
  • Boon Framboise Mariage Parfait 1997
  • Chimay Grand Reserve 1994

  • Affligem Noel
  • Trappistes Orval Orval
  • Hoegaarden Wit

  • Von Housebrouck Kasteel Brown

The food was pretty much unremarkable… the Waterzool (fish soup) needed salt, pepper and a bay leaf. The Canapes were unbalanced… the pork loin was flavorless, and the compote… well, it was mushy. However the fresh fruit and cheeses were a real highlight of the night.


The pairing of the Chimay Grande Reserve and the Chimay Beer Cheese (which tasted almost like a smoked gouda) and the 6 month Old Chimay Cheese, which is similar to a Stilton or an Aged Cheddar.

The last three beers: Orval, Wit and Kasteel set up a perfect finish to the night. The Orval is extremely complex and malty, which led to the palate cleansing Wit, followed by the candy-sweet Kasteel Brown, the perfect dessert beer with its sweet, almost amaretto-like taste.

The three unblended cask-aged Lambics. They make less then 500 barrels of these beers, and we were one of the only groups in America to ever try these beers.

Rodenbach Red – one of the finest lambics ever produced. Full flavor and a great nose… if it was available on tap, I would never leave the bar.

The unfortunate thing about yesterday is that Janet fell ill about 6 beers into the tasting, and had to head home. However, her seat was never empty, as friends and locals kept on stopping by to see how Janet was doing. I bumped into Nico Freccia, the co-owner of the new 21st Amendment and local writer for Celebrator Beer News… where we talked about the fate of the dearly departed Golden Gate Brewery and the new brewpubs on the horizon. I also spent some time with the Speakeasy Brewery crowd, and noticed people from Russian River Brewing and Elysian Brewing in Seattle.

After the festival ended, we all retired to the Toronado for a quick drink. Peg, Carlos and I grabbed a table next to Tad and Steve. Then Jeff from Rosamunde came over to bum a cigarette from Steve, so we all talked. Then Travis and Todd, the bartenders from Great Water, a Thai Restaurant and good beer bar in North Beach came in for an end-of -the-weekend beer. I only stayed long enough to have a Hop Ottin before going home to check on Janet. All in all, a good night, considering the circumstances.

Posted in The Barfly Chronicles.

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