Friday, March 9, 2012

At Alvinne Craft Beer Festival 2012

View of the storage tanks of the new Alvinne brewery.
As reported in a February blog post, Belgian brewery Alvinne hosted their 5th Alvinne Craft Beer Festival on March 3rd and 4th, 2012. I attended the first day, together with a group of friends, and this is my personal impressions of that day.

Because they were still constructing the new brewery last spring, ACBF 2011 was held in De Kasteelhoeve restaurant in Outrijve, which was too small to accommodate all the visitors (I remember having to stand for hours due to lack of seating arrangements). But this year, the festival was being held at the new Alvinne brewery in Moen, which I knew would be more spacious so I was anticipating a nice festival.

Moen is a small village in West-Flanders, about 12 km south of Kortrijk and just north of the border to the Walloon Region in Belgium. We got there via train from Brussels to Kortrijk (1 hr and 20 min) and taxi from the train station to the brewery in Moen (15 min). A small queue had already formed half an hour prior to the opening at noon.

ACBF 2012 was ticket-less, all you needed was to pay for a 13 cl tasting glass and the tokens. The "start package" cost €10 and gave you a tasting glass and 16 tokens, after that you paid €0.50 for each token you wanted. Most beers at the festival cost 2-4 tokens, some rare ones cost 5 and a few expensive ones 7 or 8.

The new Alvinne brewery is really spacious and they had erected tables and benches in the adjoining warehouse building as well as on the second floor, above the storage tanks, so the venue became a lot less crowded than last year and most people got the chance to sit and take notes. The main problem this time was that some of the areas were difficult to get to when the number of visitors grew. For instance, the stairway up to the second floor was steep and narrow, causing queues to form both ways, and it was hard to navigate even without full beer glasses in your hands.

But the rest of the festival was a real charm. The food was a better fit this year, with stands in the backyard selling delicious bratwurst sausages, hamburgers and warm fries in mustard sauce - all great beer grub. By spreading people out on a larger area, it also felt less crowded and noisy than last year, giving people a chance to talk, compare beer notes and sit down on a bench.

So, what about the most important thing - the beer? Well, the great thing is that the beer selection this year was even better than last year, with a great mixture of old timers and new breweries, of sweet, sour and hoppy beers, dark, red and pale and beer from cask, keg and bottle.

Hair of the Dog founder, Alan Sprints, at ACBF 2012.
Like many others at the festival I was excited about seeing Portland, Oregon, based brewer Alan Sprints at a beer festival in Europe. He had brought three different Hair of the Dog beers with him, all on cask, the freshly hopped 7% abv Blue Dot double ipa, the 10% abv Adam and the 11.5% abv barley wine called Doggie Claws. All delicious beers that had people line up for more.

Another very popular stand was that of Belgian brewery De Struise Brouwers who had a long queue of people waiting to try their much touted 25% abv Five Squared, a sweet and in my view a bit alcohol-tasting triple (or quadrupel?) IPA. I liked their hoppy imperial IPA a lot better - the 15% Hopverdomme combined fresh hops, bitterness and sweet malts really well and was much more drinkable.

Menno Olivier, to the right, at De Molen's stand at ACBF 2012.
The cask, to the left, contained the 11% Bakker wort Brouwer. 
My favorite stand though, like at previous festivals, was that of Brouwerij de Molen from just across the border in Bodegraven, Netherlands. Founder and head brewer, Menno Olivier, manned the De Molen stand, together with an assistant, serving a series of well crafted imperial stouts from keg as well as cask. Among my favorites, of the entire festival, was the smooth and delicious 11% abv Bakker wort Brouwer served from cask and the amazingly well balanced Mooi & Machtig 2012, a 17.4% abv barley wine aged on Cognac barrels. It was so dangerously easy to drink that I took it for a 6% pale ale and had three before I knew it :)

As for discovering new breweries I had certain hopes about a new London brewery, Brodie's Beers, founded by Jamie and Lizzie Brodie in 2008. Their beer list looked very promising and when I got my first taste, of the 6.1% abv Hackney Red IPA from cask, I knew I was onto something great. It had the hop aroma of an American IPA but with a good amber malt body. Next one out, also from cask, was the 7.1% abv Dalston Black IPA which turned out equally impressive with its liberal use of Galaxy hops and a nice dark malt flavor. Finally, when I got to try their 12.1% abv Romanov Empress Stout aged on Whisky barrels I realized that another star had appeared on the English beer scene. Watch out for Brodie's Beers - their coming with Galaxy to a Universe near you soon :)

Other honorable mentions include Twickenham Fine Ales with a very nice collaboration beer called Sour Puss, a 7% abv Flanders red type of ale, made together with Alvinne and De Struise. Dutch brewery Emelisse brought a very good Black IPA made with brettanomyces, while German geuze blender Uli brought a number of bottles from his own h.ertie label, blends of various lambics and geuze from such luminaries as Cantillon, Orval and 3 Fonteinen! Finally, HaandBryggeriet from Norway brought several lovely sour ales, including the brand new 7% Sur Megge sour blond ale and the 2010 vintage of HaandBakk at 8.5% abv.

The lads from HaandBryggeriet - Egil, Arne and Rune - at ACBF 2012. 

My set of photos from ACBF 2012 can be found at Flickr.

Warm thanks to the Alvinne Brewery and its friendly staff for hosting ACBF 2012, and thanks to all the great breweries who attended! I really enjoyed myself in Moen and look forward to the next ACBF in March 2014.

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