There were several beer festivals in Florida this past weekend. It’s almost getting to be too much to handle, considering a lot of these beer festivals tend to all be the same beers from the same breweries ad nauseum.
That’s why I was excited to know that one of those festivals was Best of the Belgians, a beer fest put on by Boca Ballet Theatre and Barrel of Monks Brewing, both in Boca Raton.
It was started by Barrel of Monks co-owner Bill McFee and Boca Ballet Theater artistic director Dan Guin. They are both friends and big supporters of the theatre, and created the event as a way to raise funds and awareness, not just for Boca Ballet Theatre, but for Belgian and Belgian-style beers as well.
The theatre puts on a fantastic festival, this being the second year of its existence and located in the quaint and wonderfully air-conditioned South County Civic Center in nearby Delray Beach. Proceeds went to support the Theatre and they had a presence there as well, letting people know about upcoming performances and their rather amazing program for those with Parkinson’s Disease wishing to dance. It’s one of the few in the country, and is something I definitely want to make sure gets more exposure.
As for the festival itself, when it comes to the beers, I truly feel that this has all the hallmarks to be one of the great beer festivals in the state of Florida, if not the country. Florida already has a couple really great festivals, including the SMaSH Fest in Orlando and the Barrel Aged, Sour, and Cider Fest that happens in Jacksonville. This could and should easily be another one, in that the beers had a great range of styles, flavors, and place of origin.
Yes, most of the beers at this Belgian beer festival came from Belgium, but there were quite a few Florida breweries represented as well, and a few other places to boot. I had even heard rumors that there were some local breweries that wanted to participate, but were not able to in time, leaving me to hope that if there is a third year fo this event that it will be bigger and better than this year.
One place where the festival shone was their program. The first two pages of the program are devoted solely to describing the styles that people will be sampling during the event, from your standard Single through Quadrupel, to Saisons, Lambics, and even Imperial Stouts.
And yes, they were all there and well in effect.
I’m going to start with the VIP area, since it was nice and cozy and featured what was easily the star of the entire event, Westvleteren 12 (Quadrupel, 10.2% ABV).
If you know anything about the big beers, hopefully your jaw just dropped when I told you this was an offering at their VIP area. If you know nothing about this beer, it is only available at a certain monastery in Belgium. It is not distributed, and is not sold anywhere but this particular monastery. It is widely considered to be one of the best, if not the best, beer in the world. It was one of the friends of the brewery who brought over a case of this beer in his luggage just for the event.
What was interesting about tasting the beer at the event was the fact that it was one of many beers being served at room temperature. I joked about this with several workers at the event, since it’s something you never see at your standard Big Field Beer Fest. Some beers, especially some of those Belgian beers, need to be at room temperature to really open up the flavors and give people a better insight into the nuance each beer can contain.
And nuanced it is. It had wonderful flavors of raisin, plum, a touch of vanilla and fruit candy dancing along a nice, tight effervescent carbonation. It is the only beer that I’ve ever had in my bucket list, and this was a fantastic way to try it.
Barrel of Monks, naturally, brought in some excellent offerings, including Lachesis (Triple, 14% ABV), a bourbon barrel-aged version of their Three Fates tripel. If you like barrel-aging beers, this is the one for you. The bourbon was big and heady and strong, coming off almost more like a liquor than a beer. It was only available to the bottle club members at Barrel of Monks, and I would be afraid what would happen if this bottle got into the wrong hands.
Other beers that I had to try in the VIP area came from Odd Breed Wild Ales, whose owner and brewmaster Matt Manthe is sort of a hero when it comes to South Florida brewing. He’s been making true wild ales for years now, starting at his previous brewing gig at Brewzzi in Boca Raton. He finally opened up his new place in Pompano, minutes away from 26° Brewing.
He had two beers in VIP that he recommended I try, one of which was an Oud Bruin (Oud Bruin, 9% ABV). His version took a classic style I love and aged it in pinot noir barrels. That was a masterstroke, as the deep rich red tannins from the wine barrel played wonderfully with the sour brown he had brewed, giving extra depth and sparkle to a very well-crafted beer in a wonderfully delicious style.
But his other VIP beer, Narrow Bandwidth of Reality (Wild Ale, 15% ABV), was amazing . The oud bruin was not a bad beer; It’s one of the best I’ve had in that style. But Narrow Bandwidth was a masterpiece, and I had to go out of my way to let him know. Looking at the very lengthy description he provided (one of the best things about the Odd Breed experience), it’s easy to see why this beer was so good, partially because all of the work that had been put into it.
It’s a wild ale that was fermented for 16 months in French Oak Sauvignon Blanc barrels. It’s a little tart, but not too tart. It’s a little sweet, but not too sweet. It’s got a good carbonation, but not so much to get in the way. And there are beautiful tropical fruit flavors, the hallmark of a good Sauvignon Blanc should have, with a slight pop of Orange, a touch of honey, and just a smattering of a solid bredy malt. There’s so much good in this beer, it’s definitely something to keep an eye out for.
It’s good I kept my eyes out, since SaltWater Brewery co-founder and all around excellent human being Dustin Jeffers snuck a hidden bottle into the event, their recent Lime in the CocoMonk (Farmhouse Ale, 7% ABV) collaboration with Barrel of Monks and 3 Sons Brewing, and made for a recent Publix Aprons event. It’s pretty easy to figure out the adjuncts used, and the lime brought a great tartness whose sweetness was further accentuated by the mouthwatering mature meatiness from the coconut. Put that on top of a bright and bold Farmhouse, and you have a delicious beverage.
The major point to take into account when looking at the beers we have reviewed so far are their comparatively high ABV numbers. That’s the thing with Belgian and Belgian-style beers that you have to be careful of, since it can be very easy to go too far, too fast.
To combat this, there were food trucks outside with Belgian menus, and VIP was treated to a Belgian buffet, with dishes such as stuffed endive leaves, drunken mussels, a couple different styles of meatballs (one that was breaded that I had more than my fair share of), and a never ending pile of pommes frites. All that was accompanied by the typical dipping sauces of mayo and Dijon mustard, in addition to your standard yellow mustard and ketchup. That buffet was a saving grace, especially with some of the other beers we tried that day.
To get that information, come back for Part 2, coming soon.
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