Antwerp Hosts 15th 24 Hours of Beer Festival
by Don Scheidt
Amid more than a bit of turbulence in the beer consumers group that organizes it, Antwerp's world-famous 24 Hours of Beer festival ran its two-day course on November 2 and 3, 2002. The two 12-hour sessions, as always, featured an impressive range of Belgian specialty beers from across the country, from established brewers to tiny craft breweries.
[an error occurred while processing this directive]As with the 2001 edition, 2002's festival was held in Antwerp's old stock exchange hall, the Oude Beurs (a move made necessary by a tragic fire that consumed the festival's former venue). Nearly three dozen breweries presented an impressive range of Belgian beers. What follows are notes on the ones I was fortunate enough to sample over the course of the weekend.
Antwerp's hometown beer is De Koninck; the "bolleke" is a fixture in Antwerp pubs, a fine session ale that is to Antwerp what alt beer is to Düsseldorf. The brewery's Winterkoninck has a strong family resemblance to the everyday beer but is somewhat maltier. It represents its hometown well.
Brouwerij Het Anker, based in the city of Mechelen, just 20 minutes south of Antwerp, also featured its winter seasonal, Gouden Carolus Christmas, a fine strong ale with a touch of anise in the aroma, and a full-bodied malt character -- not surprising at 10.5% alcohol. Brouwerij Van den Bossche's Kerstpater (Christmas Father) was delicious, a bit like an old brown ale with a brilliant sweet-and-sour flavor but, at 9%, significantly stronger.
Brouwerij Verhaeghe brought along its splendid Duchesse de Bourgogne, a genuine old brown aged in oak vats. This one starts off sweet, finishes sour and is one of my favorite Belgian thirst-quenchers.
Brouwerij De Ryck brought along Rochus, a "Vlumschen Bruynen" (dialect for "Flemish Brown"), but this one I found a bit disappointing. It didn't have that sweet-sour character I was looking for, being more of a subdued, mild dark ale and rather unexceptional.
Brouwerij De Ranke's Guldenberg didn't disappoint though. The dry-hopping is subtle in this beer, as the malt and hops are well balanced and the beer is quite smooth-drinking, belying its 8.5% alcohol content.
Brasserie Saint-Monon's Brune was a sweet and yeasty dark ale with just a little bitterness in the finish. Brasserie de l'Abbaye du Val-Dieu's Val-Dieu Noel also featured yeast and malt in the aroma, and a big fluffy mouthfeel with plenty of malt -- another fine Christmas seasonal ale. Brasserie de Silly's Saison de Silly, a classic saison, was a fine dark-amber ale with subdued aroma, sweetly malty and caramel-dominated taste to start and just a hint of hop bitterness in the finish.
Brasserie d'Ecaussinnes' Ultra was also a well-balanced amber ale. The same brewery's Ultramour was a different story altogether, a fruit-flavored dark-red beer that seemed more like a beery Kool-Aid, sweet and candylike. Brouwerij Huyghe's Florisgaarden Apple beer was also in this mold, dominated by a sweet candy-apple flavor.
More interesting was a range of beers from Brouwerij De Regenboog, based near Brugge. Snuffel was a nice spiced pale amber beer, quite fruity and well balanced. Regenboog's Halloween was a bit on the sweet side with just a touch of pumpkin, and it belied its 10.5% alcohol content. This brewery's Wostyntje ale, brewed with mustard seeds for spice, is subtler than one might expect; the mustard seeds add spice to the aroma but don't overwhelm, providing a surprisingly pleasant flavor accent.
From here it was time to try more variety. Next up was SasBrau from Brouwerij Leroy. This was billed as a Dortmunder type, a beer commonly encountered in the Netherlands but quite unusual coming from a Belgian brewery. It was a well-made take on the style, a brilliant blonde lager with a subtle bitterness, as is appropriate for this style, which is supposed to be less well-hopped than a pilsner.
Brasserie Dupont's classic Saison Dupont was a treat, as always: one of the best beers of its style, with a spicy-yeasty aroma, more spices in the flavor, well-balanced malt and hops and that glorious saison mouthfeel. Brasserie des Géants poured Urchon, a passable malty dark ale with a dry, slightly astringent, rather bitter finish.
Brouwerij De Dolle Brouwers brought along some of my favorites, including the standout Arabier, a relatively pale ale with superb malt and hop-bitter flavors. A special treat was the Stille Nacht Reserva 2000, a special release of the seasonal winter ale that had been aged in wine barrels, giving it a rich sherrylike character quite evident in the nose, and quite warming at 12%.
I finished my session with a couple of wonderful lambic-based beers from Brouwerij Frank Boon. The Kriek was fine, a bit sweet to start but with good tart balance at the end. Boon makes no secret of the fact that local Belgian sour cherries have become quite expensive and that whole cherries imported from Poland are used in this beer. Boon's Oude Geuze Marriage Parfait is also not as aggressively sour as it used to be, but it's still a great treat for fans of this style of beer.
The festival's program stated that 2003's 24 Hours will be November 1-2 and that this year's tokens will not be usable at next year's festival. However, the question on many people's minds is: Will there even be a 24 Hours of Beer in 2003?
OBP (Objectieve Bierproevers), the Belgian national beer consumers organization that puts on this festival, held an emergency session in December to do something quite profound: It dissolved the organization. The OBP is no more. This isn't to say that there won't be a successor organization (or even two) to take its place, but the 24 Hours of Beer is a significant undertaking, one that the OBP had gotten down to an art over the past 15 years. Small specialist breweries in Belgium are still under pressure; in early November, another lambic brewer and blender, Oud Beersel, shut its doors, taking a distinctive beer maker's wares off the market.
Early speculation suggests that a successor organization will be formed and will put on the 24 Hours of Beer in 2003. Let's hope this is true and that one of the world's best beer festivals will continue to present a wonderful range of some of the world's great beers.
Don Scheidt is the author of the Northwest BrewPage, www.nwbrewpage.com. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
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