After having a nice meal the evening before, it was time to rise early and get ready for the event that brought us here, Max’s 9th Annual Belgian Beer Fest. Rising early is key, because although the doors don’t open until 11am, people start lining up early (the first guy routinely gets there as the sun is coming up) so if you have a certain spot in the bar that you want to sit, you can’t wait to long. The undertaking of standing in line for an hour and a half waiting for a bar to open its doors might seem like a chore to some. But after having done it for 5+ years now, it’s actually become more like that yearly get together lots of families have where you not only see your immediate family, but also those second cousins that you only see once a year.
I grabbed our usual place in line (I always try to get in line before it gets to the neighboring business’ “Party Dress” sign because we never seem to have trouble getting seats at the side bar when I do) and started to pick out the faces in line that I hadn’t seen in nearly a year, plus meet some new people who I’ll be looking for next year. Of course after a bit some familiar faces popped up, Robert from State Line Liquors and his gang, Dogs of Beer co-founder Chuck, and Jay from Beer Thursday. Soon our friends Lisa and Cam showed up and with everyone present and accounted for, there was nothing to do but talk beer and wait.
In time our patience was rewarded as the doors were opened and we were greeted by a familiar sight – Stillwater Brewing. Stillwaters made their debut at the 2010 Belgian Beer Fest with their Stateside Saison, and it’s become a tradition that the first 100 or so lucky people that walk through the door get a taste of one of their beers poured from a Salmanazar, a 9-liter bottle. This year we got to taste their Jaded, a Belgian Strong Dark ale that was brewed in conjunction with Urbain Coutteau of De Struise Brouwers. A great way to start off the fest!
Taking up our usual position at the side bar, and after re-acquainting ourselves with our annual bartender Norris, we hunkered down and began the task of sifting through a beer list full of names we could not pronounce. Luckily the card method was back again for a second year, which makes ordering rounds easier than going through a Micky D’s drive thru. Soon the bar was full of beers of different sizes, and everyone was talking about what they were tasting and what they wanted to try next.
As always, I didn’t get to in depth when I was tasting the beers. There’s just to much commotion for me to really focus on each one, but a few did stick out. I started off with an imperial IPA from Viven, and a black imperial IPA from Musketeers. The Musketeers was good, but the Viven was delicious. Another beer that stood out was Dupont’s Posca Rustica, a Belgian Gruit that I later found out is flavored with 10 major spices, and apparently a handful of minor ones. This beer was really good, and I’d love to try it again in a situation where I could really appreciate it. I then ordered a flight of Triples from Van Steenberge (two, one listed as an abbey triple), Steenbrugge, and Lefebvre. I really wasn’t blown away by any of these, maybe I’ve come to the conclusion that Triples aren’t my favorite style in the Belgian world. Next up was De Struise’s Black Albert Batch Zero Imperial Stout, which was tasty, but at 13% just a tad bit dangerous. According to my card, Dilewyns’ Vicaris was next. This is a blend of a Triple and a Gueuze which must have greatly appealed to me, because I put a star next to it on my tap list.
At one point Chuck came down bearing a gift from the upstairs bar and I bought a couple of Scotch De Silly (if you missed my recent run in with this beer, check out my recent post on our dinner at Jessup’s Tavern in Historic New Castle) for us to sip on. Tracey got to try Silly’s top fermented white beer, Titje which was very interesting as it had a slightly different flavor profile than whites I’ve had before. Tracey was comparing it to the flavor of a gumball, and to be honest, I couldn’t really disagree. And at this point, with all those beers, plus all the sips of all the other beers people were passing around, well the tasting just slipped into that hazy place we like to call “beer tasting burn out”.
Once again, Max’s threw one hell of an event. The beer selection was off the charts as always, and this year the place wasn’t nearly a packed as it has been in the past. Apparently, either Max’s or the local fire Marshall decided to limit the number of people allowed in the bar, as at one point Max’s closed the doors and people standing in line had to wait until five people left before the next five could get in. And although I feel bad for the people who had to wait longer in line, it really made the event more enjoyable, and a lot easier to navigate (especially at the main bar). The card system again proved invaluable, especially with this year’s upgrade that you put your tab name on the top of the card so that the only dialog you had to have with a bartender was “Hello”, “Please” and “Thank You!”. The bartenders were able to focus on getting patrons their beers, not trying to hear people scream words (some that they had no idea how to pronounce) over a noisy bar.
We already have it in mind to go next year. I’d encourage anyone who loves Belgian beer to make the trek at least once. It’s an event that certainly should be experienced. If you do, look for us in line. We’ll be standing under the “Party Dress” sign. Oh my, my. Oh hell yes……