Zythos Bier Festival in Leuven, Belgium

031The 10th annual Zythos Bier Festival was held in Leuven, Belgium on Saturday and Sunday April 27/ 28, 2013. Over 500 different Belgian beers were available to sample. Admission to the festival is free; each 150 ml sample costs one token (€1.40). Attendees seemed to be mostly Belgian, though we also met other visitors from the United States, UK, and the Netherlands. Getting to Leuven was easy – trains from Brussels run every 30 minutes. There was a free shuttle bus from the Leuven train station to Brabanthal hall. The wide variety of Belgian beers was fantastic. Old classics from Dupont, St. Bernardus, and many others (including all of the Trappists, except Westvleteren) were available, as well as innovative new Belgian brewers like de Struisse, The Musketeers, and Verzet.

In addition to buying tokens, you need to put down a refundable deposit (€3) for a souvenir tasting glass, and likely purchase a thorough program listing all of the beers (€0.50). With glasses in hand, we then started visiting the 100+ tasting booths. One of the more popular stands was the double-sized booth shared by De Struisse and Alvinne. My favorite here was the Rio Reserva. Also available were Cuvee Delphine, Pannepot, Shark Pants (a hoppy collaboration with Three Floyds), two barrel-aged variants of Melchior, and many other beers. Other standout offerings were La Vermontoise (Blaugies/Hill Farmstead collaboration), Duvel Tripel Hop (Sorachi Ace this year), Prearis Quadrupel (coffee infused), St. Bernardus Paasbier. Only a single AB InBev product was available (Leffe Royale, being served via a self-serve tap system that they are marketing for in-home use. (The Diamond Club in the Brussels airport also had the same system serving Leffe beer to their customers.).052

The Sunday session was less crowded overall, so there was more opportunity to talk with the brewers, as well as other attendees. Food was available for purchase – frites, pizza, hamburgers, paninis, pasta, etc. The festival hall is located at the edge of a business park, so the only food options are the ones provided by the festival. A small amount of beer-related merchandise was available for purchase, as well as bottled beer at many of the booths. Very few of the beers ran out before the end of the day’s session (with the exception of de Strusse/Alvinne, where about half the beers were depleted before the end of each day) and there were few lines to wait for beer).

A nice touch that is perhaps common at Belgian festivals, was that the servers at each booth would wash (with soap) and rinse (separately) your glass for each sample. Seating at tables, as well as some free- standing tables was available. All of the tasting booths, as well as the seating was located indoors (non-smoking), with a small outdoor smoking patio, as well as the food trucks which were located outside. Another unusual feature (from my perspective at least) was that while admission to the festival was free, use of the restrooms cost €1.50 (one time fee for the session).

We had a great time at Zythos and I would recommend attending to anyone who loves Belgian beer. The Belgian beer drinkers that we met were very knowledgable of Belgian styles and brewers. Many in attendance were members of clubs (with matching club shirts) that meet to learn about and sample beer – usually under the guidance of a brewer or other experienced taster. And if you make it to Belgium, then you will have the opportunity to visit any number of classic beer destinations.

Achel Extra

Achel ExtraThere are currently seven authentic Trappist breweries in the world (six in Belgium and one in the Netherlands). To bear the Trappist logo, the beer must be brewed within the walls or vicinity of a Trappist monastery, the monastic community determines the means of production, and any profits are primarily intended for the needs of the monastery or for social services. The smallest and most recently recognized Trappist brewery is Achel Brewery (Brouwerij der Sint-Benedictusabdij de Achelse Kluis) in Achel, Belgium. Achel currently brews five beers (Achel Blonde 5°, Achel Brune 5°, Achel Blonde 8°, Achel Brune 8°, Achel Extra (Brune), Achel Extra (Blonde). Only the Blonde 8°, Brune 8°, and Extra (Brune) are distributed beyond the abbey walls.

Achel Extra (Brune) (Belgian Strong Dark Ale, 9.5% ABV) is distributed in 750 ml bottles. It pours a dark brown, with golden-red highlights visible in light. It has a fine light brown head and exhibits excellent lacing. The aroma is a little yeasty, but as the beer warms dark roasted malt dominates the smell. When I initially poured the bottle, I detected a slightly sour roasted malt flavor, but as the beer warmed a little, the sourness diminished and the toasted malt, prune, and raisin flavors were outstanding. It was at about 60°F that the superior flavor of this beer really became apparent. Some other reviewers have noted low carbonation levels, but this bottle was fully carbonated and a world class beer.

Empty Glass LacingI took another picture of the empty glass to highlight the thick lacing that was present to the end. In addition to the Achel Extra, I also highly recommend the Achel Blonde 8° and Achel Brune 8° — they are a little harder to find than most other Trappist beers (except Westvleteren), but worth seeking out.

Hof ten Dormaal Dark

Hof ten Dormaal DarkHof ten Dormaal is a small farmhouse brewery in Tildonk, Belgium which produces a series of saisons.  The Janssens family grows their own grain, grows all their own hops, and cultivates their own yeast strain.  That’s all interesting, but how’s their beer?

First of all, be warned that the Hof ten Dormaal beers tend to be highly carbonated.  As soon as I loosened the wire cage on the 375ml bottle of Hof ten Dormaal Dark (7.5% ABV), the cork popped and fine light brown foam came pouring out.  So be ready with a glass and a towel.  Once poured, the beer is a hazy brown color with abundant light brown head that eventually settles to a thin layer of tiny bubbles.  The smell is better than the appearance — typical saison spiciness — very nice.  The mouthfeel is somewhat creamy, but with a very dry finish.  The taste is anchored in flavorful malt and even a hint of cocoa in the finish.

Overall, I would drink this again and look forward to trying the other saisons from Hof ten Dormaal.

Scheldebrouwerij Oesterstout

Oesterstout is a 8.5% ABV Oesterstoutdark stout from Scheldebrouwerij of Meer, Belgium.  The wort from this fully malted ale is filtered over oyster shells from the Dutch Zeeland province.

It pours black-brown, with 1/2 finger of fine, light brown head with some lacing.  The aroma is of warm bread crust, warming alcohol, and a hint of fresh sea spray.

The rich taste is mostly toasted malt, with a hint of coffee and bitter cocoa.  The body is full and creamy, with moderate carbonation and a dry finish.

I enjoyed this beer a lot — next time, I’ll have to try some with fresh oysters.

Dulle Griet

Dulle GrietDulle Griet is a very enjoyable Belgian Dubbel from De Scheldebrouwerij. Dulle Griet (“Mad Meg”) takes its name from a medieval cannon in Ghent, as pictured on the label.

The appearance is caramel dark brown with off-white head. The beer exhibits good lacing.

The aroma is of sweet malt, but the taste is predominantly robust malt without the same sweetness.