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With more than 100 different Belgian beers on draught throughout the weekend, beer geeks in the Twin Cities didn’t need to look far to find some fantastic offerings at this year’s Belgian Beer Festival at The Muddy Pig in St. Paul.  

After helping a friend with some home improvement projects at his house just a stones throw from the bar, my wife and I walked over Sunday afternoon to catch the mid-day NFL games and try some great Belgian ales. Compared to last year, the selection seemed much larger and more interesting, a sign that hopefully we’ll be seeing more of these delicious beers on tap around town.

Verhaeghe Echte Kriekenbier
A beautiful Flanders red. Great amber red appearance, bretty and sour, with a nice biting cherry finish. My wife tried a sip, and thought it smelled like a foot. Mission accomplished.

Rating: A-

Saison Dupont
One of the benchmarks of the style. Spicy aroma, coriander and yeast. Nice bitterness in the flavor, earthy but not barnyard. Enjoyable.

Rating: A- 

Poperings Hommelbier
Tried this for the first time at last year’s event, and still pretty impressed. The Belgians have a different approach to IPAs, but it works. Very distinct aroma, smells like a rose bush. Mellow hop bite, with a subtle bitterness in the finish.

Rating: B+

La Rulles Estivale
A Belgian pale, characterized by a yeasty, toasty aroma and smooth flavor. Almost akin to a German pilsner in some ways. A nice beer.

Rating:  B+ 

La Divine
From Brasserie de Silly, you’d never guess this was a tripel from its dark appearance. But this one surprises you with a sweet maltiness, plenty of toffee notes and candi sugar in the flavor. Creamy mouthfeel. Really liked this beer.

Rating: A

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Ahh, the yeasty smell of a nice Belgian ale.

I can remember the first Belgian-style I ever had…North Coast’s Brother Thelonius Abbey Ale. I sat in my basement watching a movie on the big screen, slowly taking down the entire bottle, with each sip feeling the wave of intoxication rolling over me. It was stronger than just about anything I’d ever had to that point, and the flavor profile really intrigued me. It got me wondering what else was out there. So I picked up a book by the late, great Michael Jackson on Belgians, and devoured every piece of info I could find on what, in my opinion, is probably the most complex and innovative beer making region in the world. I tried everything I could get my hands on, especially the Trappists, including Chimay, Westmalle, Orval, Achel, and Rochefort (minus of course the elusive Westvleteren…I will try you yet). And I enjoyed them all, for different reasons. I kind of fell in love with the whole Belgian scene, and in some ways OD’d on the style for a few months.

I’ve been coming back to it a little here and there, mixing in a few Belgians amidst some nice IPAs, and of course stouts and winter ales as we get into the colder months (in Minnesota, there’s two seasons…winter and road construction).

I picked up Russian River Damnation through South Bay in San Diego, and looked forward to trying it. My experience with Pliny the Elder was fantastic, and I’ve heard great things about the brewery.

Damnation is a Belgian-style Strong Golden Ale. Poured with a respectable head, with lots of fine carbonation. Coloring is straw, very pale. Very pleasant and characteristic yeasty aroma. My bottle was from batch 39. 7.75% ABV. The taste is pretty sweet up front. Somewhat hoppy, and finishes mildly spicy and dry, with a definite estery quality going on. I think more citrus than banana. They talk about cedar wood on the bottle, but I didn’t pick that up. Very smooth and refreshing throughout, almost watery (that’s not an insult).

I think this is reminiscent of a slightly weaker version of Duvel…not as much aroma, not as much carbonation, and not quite as much boldness in flavor or spice. I realize it’s a totally different style than Pliny the Elder and maybe not fair to compare, but Pliny the Elder really met my expectations, while Damnation didn’t stand out in any significant way for me.

I almost didn’t want to include this, but my fiance said the only difference between Damnation and Michelob Golden Light is that Damnation had a worse aftertaste. Ouch. Not sure I’d go that far. But she is a teacher, and grades a little harder than I do.

Rating: B-

My first Stone review from the recent South Bay Drugs & Liquor delivery. Stone Cali-Belgique, or as it’s referred to on the bottle itself, Stone Cali-België. I think everyone outside of Belgium who doesn’t speak Dutch refers to it as “Belgique” because they can’t figure out how to type umlauts.

Interesting combination of what tastes like a classically yeasty Belgian Golden Ale with a strong and bitter IPA. I kind of like it. Starts off like it’s going to be sweet, like some Belgians, but finishes mouth-puckering dry. You get that “grape skin” tartness on the back and sides of your tongue. In small quantities, that characteristic is fine (and desired in an IPA), but too much is astringent. This falls somewhere inbetween.

Overall, the IPA definitely takes over this one. Distinctive citrusy hop aromas and tastes, but not as much as you might expect in an IPA. If you’re looking for a hop bomb, you won’t find it here. I suspect the Belgian part of this beer tempers it a little.

This is a pretty drinkable beer, light mouthfeel and somewhat refreshing. I have a feeling this isn’t one of Stone’s best, but I like it just fine.

Rating: B