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2015 Belgian Beer Fest at Max’s Taphouse – by a Friend of BLC

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Beer at 2015 Max's Taphouse Belgian Beer Fest

This Valentine’s Day weekend Belgian Beer aficionados descended on Max’s Taphouse in Baltimore for their annual Belgian Beer fest. This is the 11th year for the event and my wife and I decided to make the pilgrimage for an afternoon of some serious Belgian selections. In addition, it was the 5th year anniversary of Stillwater Brewery, so there was a healthy selection of some of their offerings for the all saison lovers out there. When we arrived at 10:30 am there was already a line down the sidewalk in anticipation of the 11:00 o’clock opening. Since it felt like arctic temperatures outside we were very thankful that the good people at Max’s had the foresight to set up heaters along the side walk–apparently a line prior to opening is something they’re used to. While on line we met people from Chicago, Italy, the Bronx, and San Francisco, a telling sign of the draw this event has.

Max's Tap House 2015 Belgian Beer Fest Line

The doors opened promptly at 11 a.m. and we were greeted at the door with an immense 11X16 double sided beer menu, a free La Chouffe Gnome Hat, and a pen with a stack of 3X5 event designed index cards. The cards were meant so that you could fill them out with the beer you wanted and simply hand then to your bartender instead of trying to figure out how to pronounce “Tsjeeses Reserva,” which was a great idea for a fest serving mostly foreign beers. Miraculously we managed to find an empty table and I immediately started pouring over the massive draft and bottle list–it was no joke. Now I’m certainly not a noob when it comes to beer events, but this list was fairly overwhelming. I felt like I needed a month and a liver like Boris Yeltsin to even think about putting a dent in that sucker. Luckily there were 4 oz tastings available for everything on draft. The bartenders were insanely busy but still super nice. Jamie was the bartender we were mostly dealing with and he was very knowledgeable and friendly.

It was fairly tough at first trying to pick and choose since tasting everything I wanted was impossible. I tried to stay away from anything I’ve had before or knew I could get at home. The one exception was Leifman’s Goudenband, their Oud Bruin. I love this beer like a fat man loves cake, with its complex flavors and aromas of dark cherries, port wine, and touches of 18 year old balsamic vinegar. I was also lucky enough to snag a bottle of 2009 De Struisse Ponnepot Reserva, a quad aged in French oak barrels. To call this beer complex is an understatement, the aroma had an upfront honey like sweetness balanced by a nutty and biscuity malt and semi-sweet chocolate.   The oak barrel oxidation lent raspberry notes and tart cherries and the spicy peppery phenols were welcome accents. The woody character of the barrel really came through in the flavor along with these beautiful raisiny esters and hints of hazelnut and cacao. Just an amazingly complex beer.

De Struise Brouwers Pannepot Grand Reserva 2009

Another beer of note was the Troubadour Magma Triple, a 9% Triple brewed with three different yeast strains. It had an effervescent bouquet of hops and esters of orange zest, apricot, and pear with a moderately low background grainy malt character. The flavor was hoppily balanced, more like a Belgian IPA then a Triple, hoppy pine needles and fruity apricot like esters with a dry finish and creamy body. A well-balanced and refreshing multifaceted Belgian Ale.

I was also fortunate enough to try the Stillwater and Millstone cider collaboration Debauched Remastered, an 8% smoked cider with juniper, applewood, and then dry hopped. Max’s had it labeled as a “Viking Cider” and it certainly seemed pretty rustic. The nose was a blend of sharp musty horseblanket and peat smoke with notes of rose petals, burnt rubber, and blue cheese with enough acidic apple aroma to round it all out. The flavor reminded me of stilton cheese on a granny smith apple and had these citrusy accents of lemon zest or lemonwood along with a very dry finish that all seemed to balance out the moderate earthy smoke character.

There were many other great beers sampled that day, from Boon Frambiose to De Dolle Oerbier I was a pretty happy camper by the time we were ready to leave. One of the things I love about places like Max’s is that they aren’t afraid to challenge their consumers to educate themselves a bit. I think it’s great that we have a healthy supply of tap lists and bottle selections for anyone who wants to stick a toe in the vast pond of craft beer but sometimes as a veteran enthusiast you start to feel left out as you see the same offerings again and again. It’s like the golden ring has gone missing from the merry go round and there’s nothing left to do but hold on and ride around in circles. Fortunately, there are more and more artisan brewers it seems everyday, much to the chagrin of Budweiser and it’s pumpkin peach rhetoric.

Picobrouwerij Alvinne Sigma Flanders Oud Bruin

When we left Max’s it began lightly snowing on the walk back to the hotel, apparently the first time it snowed in Baltimore in a while. The alcohol from the Ponnepot Reserva was still warming my chest as I pulled up my collar and wrapped my scarf around tight. “Guess we brought the snow with us,” my wife mused and I smiled all the way back to our room.

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