I’ve never been to a beer festival, but what I expected and what I found certainly differed greatly. My experience of a beer festival comes in the form of The Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival, one of the world’s largest, cruising coolly into it’s 20th year, last year its biggest yet welcoming 34,000 people over two long weekends. I’ve attended three years, as a judge for the whisky competition portion of the festival, and besides guided and suggested sips of beer from Malt Jerry it’s really the whisky I attend for. Now with a great interest in Lambic and Geuze, especially from Cantillon Brewery, I’ll be hunting and exploring those more when I plan to attend again later this year.
So the 20th Weekend of Spontaneous Fermentation beer festival I attended this past weekend was quite different to say the least! First, no line to get in, and no charge either. It wasn’t downtown or in a busy area, but rather a small town about a 30 minute train ride from Brussels, Buggenhout, where locals recognize strangers. There’s no bustling crowd of oddly dancing men in the bathroom waiting their turn to compete with, and no line at the bar were a few of the pluses from this special beer festival. Spontaneously fermented beer, aka sour beer is what was served, with table service.
No individual booths to wait at and nudge through over other thirsty and curious participants was a real treat. This was civil, as I’m finding Brussels and Belgium to be. The US trend of the “pop-up” restaurant, bar, food cart or whatever you can come up with is what this festival was worthy of being called. Call it a fancy garage sale that already has a good reputation and everyone wants to buy stuff from. Anyway, the organizers visit the lambic breweries and blenders just days prior to the festival in order to choose and pick up the 60-70 different sorts, so it’s very much a “pop-up” pub I guess.
One of those beers they picked up, 60 bottles to be precise, was from the Eylenbosch Brewery that closed some years back, 1989/1990 (?) All 60 bottles of the 1988 vintage Faro they were lucky to find sold out obviously the first day, and at just 15€ for this 750ml it’s understandable. Two of the friends I attended with Sunday were lucky to have reserved the last two bottles to take back to Norway when they were there Saturday. Amund’s description of it: “…nuts, raisins and dates on a backdrop of wild yeast funkiness…” made me want to get to the festival prior to opening. But when we did arrive it was sold out, and even those two bottles they reserved were thought to be gone, until they luckily recuperated them.
The festival is held in a hall, what seems to be the town’s recreation center perhaps, with lots of tables and chairs, surprisingly empty ones too, so not to worry, you’ll find a place to sit if you’re attending next year.
Overall, none of the beers we tasted blew me away, and since this style is a new found passion I’m still not sure when the beer is funky as it should be, or if it’s maybe gone off. This being alive, ever-evolving beer, it can have bottle variation or not be ready for drinking when you deem so. Too bad I couldn’t be there Saturday to enjoy that ’88 Faro and the others they said were also fantastic. At least I picked up a few bottles of their special 2009 Girardin Fond Gueuze Bierpallieters 20 Year Jubileumbier bottling, which is unbelievable!