German beer makers like rules.
They like them so much that in 1516, the state of Bavaria imposed the Reinheitsgebot, the beer purity law that prohibited using anything but water, barley and hops in brewing the national beverage. And while Reinheitsgebot (which is no longer in effect) is fun to say, it's not a particularly fun concept. In fact, it's downright boring.
Belgians, on the other hand, "are a lot less about following the rules," says Brian Hutchinson, head brewer for the Mountain Sun, Southern Sun and Vine Street pubs. "Which makes them more like the Americans and not a lot like the Germans."
It also makes them more like Hutchinson and fellow brewer John Fiorilli, who like to take classic beer styles and turn them on their heads, something they'll be able to do even more of when Vine Street Pub becomes the Mountain Sun group's primary brewing facility. That is scheduled to happen sometime in late fall.
Belgian styles vary widely, from refreshing spiced golden ales to candy-coated dubbels to funky, challenging gueuzes. And, in fact, one beer labeled as a golden or a trippel may taste nothing like the next. But American drinkers love them, which is why Hutchinson says restaurants that focus mainly on wine will often have Belgian beer lists.
Beginning on September 1, Vine Street Pub will hold its first-ever Belgian Beer Month, thirty days of special tappings, classes and events dedicated to Belgian-style beers like saisons, farmhouse ales, dubbels, tripels, quads, krieks and sours. Vine Street plans to roll out twenty of its own beers, along with dozens of beers from Belgian breweries and from American craft beer makers who brew their own versions of Belgian-style beers.
Two of the biggest events will take midway through the month.
The first is Belgian Beer 101: Tasting the Trend Sweeping the Nation, during which Hutchinson will school attendees on the ins and outs of Belgian brews and offer tastings and appetizers. Tickets, $50, are available at all three pubs. Class starts at 6 p.m.
The second is the Vine Street Pub Belgian Block Party from 1 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, September 17. For this, Mountain Sun co-owner Paul Nashak will shut down all of Vine Street between 17th and 18th Avenues to party with neighbors and beer lovers.
The party includes a Brewer's Olympics, in which reps from at least a dozen well-known local breweries will compete in events like a keg toss, a grain-stacking competition, blindfolded beer identification and beer ingredient eating contest. There will also be live bluegrass from some celebrity players including Dave Johnston of Yonder Mountain String Band, and Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon.
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Belgian Beer Month will also be an opportunity for Vine Street to show off its new brewery, which should be finished by September 17, but not up and running for a couple of more months. The brewery -- which includes a twelve-barrel brewing system and six 24-barrel fermenters -- will be able to pump out 5,000 barrels of beer per year, in addition to the 2.500 barrels currently produced by the combined efforts of the Mountain Sun and Southern Sun breweries.
Once it is operational, Mountain Sun will also start selling kegs of its beers to beer bars and taprooms around the city, something it has never done before.