Portland's Cheers to Belgian Beers in Review

PCTBB crowd on Saturday May 1, 2010

After a swamped Fresh Hop Tastival in 2008, we didn’t know what to expect from the front parking lot at Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB)’s Cheers to Belgian Beers (CTBB). We wondered if the beer would become quickly depleted and would the lines appear as endless queues leading to little selection. Happily, we discovered the contrary. A wonderful partly sunny spring day with a persistent breeze was coupled with quasi-bustling crowds of happy beer enthusiasts. The few raindrops that fell on this inaugural May afternoon were far from troubling. Further, the tents set up by HUB organizers ensured that people would be able to stay out of the elements if need be.

Hopworks' Ben Love (left) and fest coordinator Abram Goldman-Armstrong

As for the important thing, the beer: The sentiment of many folks was that of satisfaction knowing that this year’s ordained yeast would be something other than last year’s Ingulmunster (Dutch Castle) Yeast aka Wyeast #3822. 2010’s CTBB house varietal would be a Belgian farmhouse ale yeast aka Wyeast #3726. Seeing as this one is regarded as a much more versatile and rapidly productive strain, we were looking for the complex esters and earthy flavors often indicative of this particular “critter.”

Cascade brewmaster Ron Gansberg (left) and Widmer co-founder Rob Widmer at PCTBB '10Before having sampled most of the nearly 30 beers at CTBB that employed this year’s designated strain, we tried our hand at volunteering as servers at the festival. For us this an enjoyable part of festival going that gives a great perspective of the atmosphere of things from a unique inside angle. It also allows you to furnish tips about which brews are worth scoping out and which ones might be best if passed on. Further, it gives an appreciation for the work that goes into organizing and orchestrating a successful fest. And, as a bonus, you walk away from your shift with some free tokens and a nice little quaffing stemmer.

PCTBB list

As things kicked off, the line to get into the festival formed immediately. However the lines to get to the beers once folks were in were not long at all. The music was provided by DJ Geoff “Shortchange” Haffner, an old friend of ours from a while back. Shortchange signature style is a mix of reggae dub, and “big ups” tunes that fosters a feeling of positivity. We were glad to see him running the wheels of steel.

DJ Shortchange at PCTBB

Block 15 La Ferme de Demons kegOne thing that is typical for CTBB is the dissenting opinions regarding the beer. Since there wasn’t any hop bombs at the fest, the Portland palate often becomes confused by so many hybrid beer styles. 2010’s CTBB was no exception. We heard mixed reviews on most beers, save for a few. However, most people we spoke with mentioned Block 15’s La Ferme de Demons, a black saison aged in Pinot, Oregon oak, and bourbon barrels with some tart Oregon cherries added. After weighing a lot of feedback from the early crowd, this would be the first beer we’d opt for coming out the gates and were not disappointed.

Preston Weesner pours beer at PCTBB

Overall, we felt there were some really good, mostly interesting beers, and quite a few, well, mediocre beers. Nothing that knocked our socks off, yet nothing that was worthy of the dump bucket (On a side note, we didn’t try every beer at the fest). One highlight of the fest as a whole was the involvement of so many Oregon breweries, especially the ones you might not expect to see at a festival. Ambacht of Hillsboro and Big Horse of Hood River were two breweries we were jazzed to see participating. Big Horse brewer Jason Kahler and Ambacht brewer Tom Kramer were on hand for the fest, and Kramer was even pouring his beer and greeting many folks who were just learning of his small brewery.

Ambacht's Tom Kramer (left) and Big Horse's Jason Kahler at PCTBB

For us, this year’s festival was less about phenomenal beers as it was about being around great people who love inventive beer. Kudos to HUB for making this year’s fest a big success. See you at the next festival!

Check out more great pictures from 2010 Portland’s Cheers to Belgian Beers HERE.