Bouncing ideas for Belgian tasting session

Discussion in 'Belgium' started by ManforallSaisons, Mar 11, 2017.


What's the right # of styles to present in a tasting

  1. 3-5

    8 vote(s)
  2. 6

    1 vote(s)
  3. 7+

    0 vote(s)
  1. ManforallSaisons

    ManforallSaisons Disciple (396) Mar 20, 2008 Belgium

    I’ve been dragooned into holding a tasting, after WomanforallSaisons auctioned off my “services” (and evidently a bit of my cellar) for an office fundraiser. I have a group of 6 of mainly non-Belgians living in Brussels, at least some of whom have decent familiarity with beer. But the brief remains an introductory exploration of the range of what’s out there. So, I solicit your ideas. Any pitfalls in this path?

    The program will be 6 rounds x ~15cl, which I think is enough to show off a range, without overwhelming anyone, and leaving people with enough capacity for some bonus time. (I’m sure we’ll have another 1-2 beers per person leftover). Too much, too little?

    Snacks: Bread or crackers, and probably one of the firm Chimay cheeses, Orval if I can get it, young Brugge if I can’t. Maybe the cheese comes out at the end, though.

    As for the selections, I’m thinking of stuff that people can find but won’t just stumble on at every corner shop. The ordering is up for debate as well.

    Saison: I don’t think that have enough Dupont in stock so will probably do Pipaix, hopefully illustrating the farmhouse as well as inventive streaks in Belgian brewing. I have enough of various Fantôme to do its but it’s a bit less of a historical choice. Thoughts?

    Gueuze: Probably Cantillon, 3-4 years old (I’ll have to check).

    Blond: something to show off bright grains, fruit character.. I doubt I have anything in stock so may have to provision myself. What would be the quintessential choice? Or does Orval slot in here, forget the blond?

    Red-brown: I don’t have more than one 75cl of Rodenbach Grand Cru but have various others. What’d’be a good introductory one? Also, is it important that everyone in a small group tastes the same beer, or is it enough to play within a range of styles?

    Quad: And it should be a Trappist (possible exception for St. B.), because the monastic tradition is another theme of discussion. Rochefort 10 seems an obvious choice although I probably have enough Westvleteren. Anyway, the real question is whether to just serve one straight up, or give a bit of aged alongside a bit of fresh? Would that be a plus or just too fussy?

    Finally I’m left with a wild card… which doesn’t have to be the last thing, could be slotted in elsewhere. A fruited lambic, but would 3 acidic brews overdo it, and anyway where do you slot it in? (The hostess and auction winner likes ‘em, though.) Work in the Orval somewhere (at least they get a taste of hops)? Some sort of barrel-aged oddity (I think I have a few Cuvee de Montagne) to finish off? Possibly bore them with a wheat (much as I like them) after the gueuze? Keep the blond but work in an Orval after it?

    Thanks for any thoughts on that, the above selections, the ordering, whatever.
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  2. bostonvert

    bostonvert Initiate (135) Feb 24, 2017 Belgium
    Beer Trader

    For a blonde beer why not try a Pater Lieven blond from Sint-Lievens-Essene? I'm aware of the fact that this is a very ordinary Belgian blonde, but very smooth!

    Witkap Stimulo?
    Boerinneken blond?
    Lamme Goedzak from the Scheldebrouwerij? This is is a bit more robust, very hoppy
    Taras Bulba from brasserie De La Senne? Very drinkable and who doesn't like it?
    Steenuilke from De Ryck is pretty fruity and assuming your from Brussels isn't to hard to find, I know prik & tik Ninove has it

    This is just my 0.2 cent, too much choice really for a blond beer.

    And for a wild card, maybe try Cuvee De Ranke? A sour ale with 30% lambic from Girardain, I'm a huge fan!
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  3. NeroFiddled

    NeroFiddled Poo-Bah (9,486) Jul 8, 2002 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    My initial thought was 3 Monts. Shame about the Dupont. And I think a fruited lambic would work fine, to a certain extent explaining the geueze.
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  4. Jwale73

    Jwale73 Poo-Bah (3,673) Aug 15, 2007 Rhode Island
    Beer Trader

    Maybe scan the top beers of Belgium list and see which are available to you by style. A fruited lambic, as well as Orval should definitely make an appearance. St. Bernardus Quad is also a hallmark, albeit not Trappist as you point out. If not Rodenbach Grand Cru, do you have access to Goudenband? Sounds great - makes me want to revisit some old favorites!
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  5. Euroglot

    Euroglot Disciple (317) Dec 16, 2015 Belgium
    Beer Trader

    If you don't have enough Rodenbach Grand Cru, you can try Ichtegemense Grand Cru or Vanderghinste Oud Bruin. I think both are a bit more 'approachable' then the Rodenbach Grand Cru (which is my personal favorite though).

    Fro a blond you can always give Brugse Zot. Can't do anything wrong with that one.

    For wild card: something from Alvinne? Or you can give Orval as the wild card, maybe an horizontal tasting with young and aged Orval?

    And when and where are we expected to be?? :-)
    Jwale73 likes this.
  6. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,453) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Building on what you've already brought to the table, riffing off a couple of suggestions already made, and thinking of some of the tastings I've organized, here's a bit of food for thought.

    If you go for 6 rounds I'd make the initial portion size closer to 10cl and budget about 2.5 hours total so you have time to introduce each beer, serve it, and allow for some group discussion of what they noticed about each beer. In addition I'd have the same beer for all and provide each guest with paper and pencil to take notes while tasting each beer. Notes both to use in the discussion (but not evaluation in the sense of "this was the best") of what was tasted. Then in a grand finale session have folks rank order their beers from most to least linked privately and after that have each person explain which beer they enjoyed the most and why. With the 10cl portion you also ensure that with some free time at the end there will be enough of the various beers left for people to revisit one or more of their favorites.

    During breaks I'd have lots and lots of bottled spring water to consume and only unsalted crackers, etc. since salt is a palate changer but not a true palate cleanser. I'd save the other snacks for a social session afterwards and have about 3 cheeses and some cold, cooked meats along with the bread.

    While I appreciate the Screen name you use I'd bag the Saison entirely if only because there is so much diversity within that category that only one sample does not really do it justice.

    Instead I'd lead off with the fruited lambic as an introduction to something uniquely Belgian and follow that with the Gueuze to allow for a bit of time to talk about the difference between using the fruit during fermentation and doing the blending of beers of more than one age.

    Next I'd bag the blond entirely and go for the Orval as being one of the iconic beers of Belgium that is often imitated but never dethroned as being one of a kind and one that is almost a different beer at various stages of it's shelf life. (This also allows some reinforcement of what happens with a bit of aging and why some folks choose to cellar some beers rather than drink them fresh. And possibly more importantly why most beers should be consumed fresh.)

    Next I'd go with your Red-Brown and stick to having everyone tasting the same beer so the experiences are more comparable.

    For your wild card sixth beer I'd next insert into the order the Westmalle Tripel, or perhaps the St. Bernardus Tripel, as being both from a style that began in Belgian brewing and that has had an impact that makes some version of it available much pretty much world wide.

    Concluding with the Quad I'd say either of your choices but probably the Rochefort 10 if only because it is more widely and easily available outside of Belgium. As for aging I'd avoid that since it seems to me it requires greater depth of experience to fully appreciate than many of your audience may have. That aging effect is something around which an entire tasting session could be organized.

    The final time slot of the evening would be effectively free time for folks to enjoy the cheeses, meats and bread, and revisit one, at most two, of their favorite beers. It also creates a nice social experience for people to share an interest in what they've been doing and to enjoy each other's company. (Also if anyone expects to be driving more time elapses between the beer and the drive. )

    Finally if you really want to make a lasting impression on WormanForAllSaisons you can volunteer to follow up with a second tasting of just Saisons and their origins, history and diversity. (You could have the requirement that you will prepare a list of 5-6 and each person brings enough of one beer for the tasting and sharing. A spare person could be charged with securing the crackers, cold meats and bread for the after tasting time.)

    But most importantly, enjoy what you are doing and your tasting group will surely enjoy their experience.
    #6 drtth, Mar 12, 2017
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2017
    ManforallSaisons likes this.
  7. ManforallSaisons

    ManforallSaisons Disciple (396) Mar 20, 2008 Belgium

    Fantastic notes all around, and I already see some themes emerging. I have some follow-up questions of the input so far. First, and to my mind the biggie, is, would a fruited lambic then a gueuze and not longer after a red-brown -- would it be too much on the sour scale, @drtth, @NeroFiddled and @Jwale73? Also, if I add in the fruited, does this demand to stay traditional (kriek, probably), or go for the Fou, or is there another idea to show the expression of fruit?

    Meanwhile I'm getting good vibes from the Orval, and I have a stock that's a year old, so I think that will be perfect, because it will be easy to say, when you see this again in the wild, think about X and Y. (For some reason I think it's a value-add that's it's not "grocery story" beer but maybe I'm overthinking things.)

    I'm now feeling slightly remiss not having a triple. I was thinking of blonds that in some ways cover some similar ground. Pater Lieven and Stimulo are good ideas in that regard, and something I can pick up easily enough by Friday. @bostonvert, with clear familiar links to triples. I know the triples are different animals, but to get in both, that would "use" my wild card. And anyway, I'm now mentally shifted over to Orval. But I suppose I could supplant the saison, much as it pains me. On the other hand, they will see a blond on every store shelf and restaurant menu, but talking about saison I can proselytize a little. Is that fair?

    Now, as I was bumbling around today in the cellar (where I don't seem to have 2 of any Alvinne, BTW, although maybe one Cuvee de Mortagne can feed 6, @Euroglot?), another wild card idea emerged after moving a particularly unwieldy box of clanking bottles: Pannepot. One of our themes is spicing anyway. What do we think, distinct enough from a quad?

    I guess I'd have to bring you all along except it's at the house of a charity auction winner that I haven't met before...
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  8. Jwale73

    Jwale73 Poo-Bah (3,673) Aug 15, 2007 Rhode Island
    Beer Trader

    I love Saison's - it's the first Belgian style I fell in love with. I might go with a fruited sour and skip the gueuze - it can be a little off-putting for the uninitiated. I'd keep the brown-red in the mix since it is so uniquely Belgian and oak, leather and tannins have interesting elements can be teased out in some wines and spirits - a good way to show what beer can be. Triples are hit or miss for me personally. Pannepot would be a wonderful addition. Would it be the Quad option?
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  9. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,453) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    I'm inclined to go with a nice fresh Kriek rather than an aged one. Then the emphasis is on the fruitiness of the cherries and their cherry tartness. I'd also go for the Kriek rather than the Fou simply because if someone develops a taste for fruited lambic, it is much easier find a fresh good Kriek outside of Belgium. (e.g., finding the Fou in the US is mostly only possible by doing an order from someplace like Belgium in a Box and then you pay an arm and a leg.) Also I'm not convinced that there'd be too much sour in the Gueuze. (Especially after having had a few beers that were lacto soured only.) I personally find there's a lot of complex flavor balance in a good Gueuze, especially with the moderating effects of the Brett, so for me the sour becomes a background and not something that's up front.

    Minimizing carry over effects between beers is part of the reason I was suggesting that palate cleansing between beers invove some time for discussion of the beer just finished, a glass of water, and a few unsalted crackers.

    While I agree there seems to be bit of a risk of too much sour in one tasting session with the red-brown, it also seems to me that one of your goals in part is to introduce people to as full a range as possible of uniquely Belgian beers and their stylistic diversity. Seems sort of like the red-brown is essential if only because of that, so I personally would take the gamble on the water, crackers and discussion and go with the red-brown.
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  10. atomeyes

    atomeyes Aspirant (282) Jul 13, 2011 Ontario (Canada)
    Beer Trader

    if you do Orval, i always find it interesting to compare fresh vs aged. i find the sweet spot to be 2 years of age, but even fresh vs 1 year is a very interesting comparison.

    Quad: Roch 10's a great example of a quad and a nice way to close out the night. better tasting than Berny abt 12.

    Blonde: i actually dig Hommel bier. not a typical blonde, but i think it's a nice example. *shrugs*. also, Arabier's an atypical blonde but i think it's a delicious beer.

    Gueuze: stick to original vs fruited. they can appreciate the pure style. offer some sugar cubes if they need it and tell them about the history of it. it's a very interesting beer to hear about and try.

    Saison: i'd choose either a Wit, blonde or saison. i wouldn't do more than 1 of those. i'd rather introduce a good tripel (and I'd suggest St Berny's tripel, which is very underrated) to show off the yeast than have a blonde or saison, which some may find to be quite similar.

    Food: ahh, this is always something that beer geeks overlook and, for a 6-beer sampler, gets tough. and it increases your costs and your prep time. choose your cheese carefully. you mentioned Brugge cheese and just remember that it's quite a strong cheese. for Orval or gueuze, you want something less strong and with a bit of funk or acidic finish.

    Quad: charcuterie. even some sausage to have.
    Gueuze: frommage
    Orval: you can get away with some fruit for this, like dragonfruit or even pineapple. otherwise, charcuterie would likely also work.

    Reds: cheese
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  11. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,453) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania


    I forgot to mention earlier, I for one would enjoy hearing/learning after the tasting what your final choices were and how things all worked out for you and the folks who will be part of this tasting.
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  12. Minnesinger

    Minnesinger Initiate (115) Mar 2, 2017 Sweden

    For the wildcard I would go with something unexpected, like Faro. It's a dying kind of beer, just a few brands left making it, not something every shop has but can be found without looking too hard.
    ManforallSaisons likes this.
  13. jesus_man

    jesus_man Initiate (135) May 8, 2015 Illinois

    Agreed. While those of us lucky enough to experience Belgian beer to a good degree seem to stray away from Fruit beers, I have heard many of my friends comment that Belgium has some notoriety from fruit beers.

    However, there is some stouts out there too?

    TW12 - I'd bring that out last and only after you read your audience to know if it's something they would truly appreciate or not. I think you couldn't go wrong with Rochefort 10. Straffe Hendrik Quad?

    I'm taking notes here too, as I'd like to do this for a group of friends someday. One thing I think would be cool is a brief history of the brewery from the beer being served and perhaps even the beer itself: think Buffalo Stout 1907.
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  14. Euroglot

    Euroglot Disciple (317) Dec 16, 2015 Belgium
    Beer Trader

    I think a Pannepot will fit in just well, also one bottle of Cuvee de Mortagne won't be enough for six I think.
    ManforallSaisons likes this.
  15. ManforallSaisons

    ManforallSaisons Disciple (396) Mar 20, 2008 Belgium

    I'm hugely taking all this to heart. For the moment, my thinking is not to go for a fruited lambic or a faro (of which I sometimes feel like the last defender, so thanks @Minnesinger). I just don't want to skip another style altogether. I think we can cover it by talking about it -- there are plenty of non-lambic fruited beers, too -- and we all live in Belgium so they'll have no trouble finding them.

    Agreed about saison being too varied for Pipaix to pretend to be an archetype, but I'm also aiming to expose people to the very idea of the range of what's on offer.

    For the excellent point about uniformity, I got over my laziness and picked up a couple 75cls of Duchesse, which I think should be a good, approachable intro.

    At the moment I'm thinking of Pannepot as an addition to, not replacement for, the Rochefort 10. But I'm wavering on that because of 1. other good ideas above (hel-LO, triple) and 2. it throws up a dilemma about ordering, which I've yet to resolve.

    Because as now stands it would be Pipaix, Cantillon, Orval, Duchesse, Roche, Pannepot. That lines up 3 straight acidics and 3 straight on the dark side. Just with this lineup I think we might have to redeploy the gueuze as a cleanser, later: Pipaix Orval Duchesse Roche Cantillon Pannepot. There's something not totally satisfying about that.

    On the food front, with your ideas and more thinking, I want to bring back the charcuterie that I'd briefly ruled out as too mouth-coating charcuterie. These aren't people trying to post ratings here, these are just the beer-curious on a Friday evening, looking for a convivial evening, so that's going back in the mix -- thanks all, so far. (Assuming we're not done here. I'm not.)
    drtth likes this.
  16. ManforallSaisons

    ManforallSaisons Disciple (396) Mar 20, 2008 Belgium

    Thanks again, all. Much wisdom, above, and more on that in a bit.

    Partly for lack of time to get in other stuff, like a couple big bottles of Westmalle, the final line up remains as above:

    Saison de Pipaix
    Orval (14 months)
    Cantillon Gueuze
    Duchesse de Bourgogne
    Rochefort10 (7 years)
    Pannepot '16

    First, the main triumph: Everyone emerged with something they like that they hadn't had before. That was extremely gratifying.

    And there was diversity in the favorites -- everything but the Pannepot (of which, more below) had someone's claim as best in show (not that it was a competition, by no means). That was extra satisfying because this was a crowd of beer-curious rather than confirmed fans trying to discern among variants within a style. It says a lot about Belgian beer, I feel. When you see someone who wasn't really familiar with beer at all, had only had a few glasses of pils in his life, and then get excited about Cantillon... good fun.

    (Aside: After the main part of the tasting, I opened a Verzet Oud Bruin just to see if those newly interested in sours would dig it. They didn't, finding it over the top, and I sympathize. It was more often compared to the Cantilon than the Duchesse, interestingly.)

    Now, a tip the proverbial fedora to the poll-takers: 5 would've been enough. Not that we were done drinking after 5, but the 6th tasting saw some diminishing returns and less enthusiasm. Maybe adding in a good blond or a triple or something else with more contrast could've been better inserted somewhere as a 6th, but in the event, we lost some momentum and things got slightly heavier for a brief time.

    Probably some of that was because the Pannepot didn't contrast with the Rochefort, especially with the age on it, as much as I thought. Native complexity outshone the spicing (although spicing was a theme of the evening anyway, and I thought it would be more of a hit with a mainly Turkish and Indian crowd).

    We did end up having some discussion about fruited beers as well as faro, triples and some of the other things mentioned above. I mentioned those good alternatives on a little handout for the evening.

    I'm not sure last night's group needed charcuterie specifically but I could've used some...

    Well, it was fun planning it, discussing it here, and carrying it, plus we made some friends, heard an engaging story of the Belgian beer marathon (commence Googling), and I put some of the cellar overstock to good use, all in a pretext that enabled me to drink at least a portion of 7 beers before dinner.
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  17. jesus_man

    jesus_man Initiate (135) May 8, 2015 Illinois

    Wow, I didn't realize your event was so soon! Glad to hear of it's success! Thanks for the feedback. I will put it to good use when I get to do my tasting. First, I need to find a small group of folks who would appreciate such an event!
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