***Seattle Beer Week is a pretty big deal. It runs from May 19th to the 29th. This is our guide to its majesty. These are the events that we feel cannot be missed. At the conclusion of this preview, we will publish the SBW Bible.***
In the world of the brewer’s art, sour beers are sort of like a cloud that resembles the face of Jesus, or of a Brontosaurus, or of Lindsay Lohan flashing the paparazzi on a Wednesday on Hollywood Boulevard (no I wasn’t on drugs when I saw that. Nature is maniacal I tell you!). It’s a natural, spontaneous art that some get and some don’t.
For the purposes of simplicity, I’ll use the term “lambic” to connotate an unblended sour beer. Traditionaly, that would only refers to spontaneously fermented beers, but since the subject of this article is recreating that spontaneous fermentation with, in some cases captured cultures and in others via “infected” barrel refermentation, I’ll go with it. After all, these things are essentially reproducing the effects of those natural yeasts of Flanders, Belgium.
Lambics are, like the clouds, mostly unpredictable. There’s “bugs” involved. Bugs evolve. They are also very slow moving. Some take years to mature the beer into something drinkable. Even then, the final product can be harsh with funk and acidity. Because of this, an art of it’s own was concocted – blending.
A blend of lambics is called a gueuze. Most gueuzes are comprised of several different years and several different barrelings of lambics. Yes, there’s science behind it, but a huge part of the task is simply tasting the beers and experimenting with ratios…trial and error.
In Belgium, the art of blending lambics is one that receives much respect and acclaim. There, you will find several beer producers that exist solely as blenders. These geuze blenders do not brew beer, they simply purchase various lambics from various different breweries, barrel them, age them, and blend them. The final product is considered theirs to sell and market. The breweries producing the base lambics are rarely divulged. It’s kind of a strange concept to Americans but these products are very highly regarded in the beer community.
De Cam, Hanssens, and Drie Fonteinen are amongst the most well known blenders in Belgium. Since we don’t have any blenders here in The States (sounds illegal), all of our most respected sour beer producers like Russian River, Allagash, Jolly Pumpkin, Cascade, New Belgium, etc. both brew and blend. This brings us to the topic at hand.
Easily the most exciting “new” event, if not overall, at this year’s SBW is the Blending Symposium with Eric Salazar of New Belgium Brewing (you can find the Seattle Beer Week page for this event here). I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Eric at Brouwer’s Big Wood Fest last year and he is a rad guy with a really fucking rad job. He is really good at that job.
This event is the brain child of Todd Gillman, the PNW doctor of field branding (not sure what that means). The fact that he came up with this and made it happen makes me want to hug him. This is the type of event that makes sour beer nerds like myself mess our pants. This is seriously a once in a lifetime event – to be a master-blender for a day.
Here’s the official press release, from Todd himself:
Beer blending is a sensory art that has been relied on for centuries to ensure palatable beverages. Many of today’s specialty beers originated as test blends, or in fact are, themselves, blends of many different beers. In this class created especially for Seattle Beer Week, New Belgium brewer / blender Eric Salazar will lead a slideshow & discussion on the genesis of Wild Ales such as La Folie, Le Terroir, & Eric’s Ale “from grain to glass”, with a focus on the blender’s art & techniques. This will be followed by a hands-on blending workshop where guests will be led through the process of experimenting & creating their own blended beer using samples of single-barrel unblended beer from New Belgium’s oak cellar, each dispensed from a bar-top gravity-fed cask. Guests will document their blend ratios & will be able to go home with a growler full of their very own Seattle Beer Week blended beer.
Some additional info:
· Date: Weds May 25; 2 sessions: early afternoon (1pm-3pm) & late afternoon (4pm-6pm)
· Attendance capped at 25 guests per session
· Cost: $35/guest
· Price of admission gets: entry + 1 drink ticket + good snacks + growler-full of “custom blended” beer (we provide the growlers!)
· Guests must reserve their spot on the list at the Stumbling Monk; reservations are pre-paid
Go to this or be forever full of regret.