Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Best of the Rest of the Fests.

Yesterday I promised more on upcoming beer festivals. This might be the only time I deliver on such a promise. Don't get used to it.

Let's say you've got the time, money, inclination and tolerant spouse needed to hit at least one great beer festival in Europe in the near future. Good for you, lucky bastard! Now you've got the best kind of problem: which one? There are a bunch of options, and I'll list as many as I can below. But first I've got to point out two of the most interesting ones. Damned if they aren't the very same weekend: September 12 to 14.

My very favorite little beer festival in the whole wide world is Saturday and Sunday that weekend in the Saint-Gilles area of Brussels. Why is Bruxellensis my very favorite? Because it's so close to Casa Pilgrim that I can literally crawl home from there if necessary. Meanwhile it doesn't hurt that it's one of Belgium's best, thanks to the high standards of the organizers. Heading up that team are gentlemen and scholars Yvan De Baets and Bernard Leboucq, brewers at Brasserie de la Senne.

Bruxellensis is dedicated to small craft breweries--but not just any small craft breweries. It showcases those making interesting beers of character, in the view of the organizers. What does that mean, really? In effect it means that you tend to find more complex beers or those of an austere nature... bitter, dry or sour, for example. The simple, strong, sweet stuff that's common elsewhere is generally absent here. It also means finding a great beer is less of a crapshoot--the festgoer benefits from the event's careful snobbery. It also features a handful of breweries and beers from other countries, including some fresh German barrels hauled over by gentleman and scholar Andy Niel of Bier-Mania tours.

Now for the other end of the spectrum. Starting on Friday that weekend is a new, gigantically gigantic event in Copenhagen, possibly modeled after the famous Great American Beer Fest in Denver. The European Beer Festival claims to be this continent's biggest with more than 2,000 beers from 450-odd breweries. Geeks will mingle with brewers, pub owners, chefs and other drunks. There will even be an international homebrewing competition. It all sounds incredible.

It also sounds like a bit much. I'll stick to the one from which I can crawl. All reports on Copenhagen welcome, though. Maybe next year.

Here's a brief schedule of some other upcoming fests through the end of August, mostly in Belgium. Big thanks to Paul Briggs for sharing his exhaustive list with various friends and strangers. There's also a great list here, if you can work through the Dutch. The Belgian Beer Board also has a decent calendar here. And Google is my friend.

This weekend: The fourth Festival of Namuroise Beers in Anseremme. About 50 Wallonian ales from the Namur region, a few of them hard to find elsewhere.

August 2-3: The Hapje-Tapje culinary event in Leuven brings together two of your three favorite things: beer and food. The third thing might also be possible, but you bring your own luck.

August 5-9:
The Great British Beer Festival goes off in London. A life goal, unachieved. Unlikely to be achieved anytime soon, thanks to the brutal exchange rate.

August 8-10:
The Grand Choufferie. Had a blast at this last year, camping in someone's backyard and watching drunks tumble from towering stacks of beer crates. You at least have to hear to the song. It's catchy, but sadly I'll forever associate it with hangovers.

August 14-15:
International Specialty Beer Festival, Zwevegem. Handful of new beers on that list; I'm intrigued by the new dark beer promised by the excellent De Ranke brewery.

August 15-17:
Small Laakdal beer fest in its 20th year, with about 60 beers. The locals have two weeks to recover before Laakdal's neighboring village Groot-Vorst has its own beer party on August 30-31. Think there's a rivalry there?

Also on August 30-31: The Lambikstoempers of Alsemberg have their own Streekbierweekend, with more than 100 beers. Serious lambics featured prominently, no doubt.

As you can see: If it's spring, summer or fall and you're in Belgium with a free weekend, you can be fairly sure there's a little or big beer festival somewhere. I'll go ahead and promise a September schedule later. For whatever that promise is worth.

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