Leave it to folks in Michigan, the Great Beer State, to plan and enthusiastically execute a festival which will bring together more Belgian beers at one event than can be found in any other place– and that includes most places in Belgium. The event which accomplishes this feat is the North American Belgian Beer Festival (NABBF), and it is scheduled to take place on February 7 at 2 PM at Ashley’s in Westland (7525 N. Wayne Rd.). Grab your tickets soon.
The Mitten has an incredible resource in Roy More, one of the masterminds behind the festival. He and his brother co-own Ashley’s, one of the best beer bars in the Midwest. Actually, make that two of the best beer bars: We’re lucky enough to have two Ashley’s locations in Southeast Michigan, in Ann Arbor and Westland.
I had the opportunity to pose a few questions to Roy. Here are a few highlights:
SS: How did you manage to arrange an event like this– one which is co-presented by the Belgian Consulate, and which offers more Belgian beers in one place than most other places in the world?
Roy More (RM): In 2010 my brother and I toured Belgium for ‘product research’ and visited with nearly a dozen breweries. Even with our beer knowledge, we discovered beers and brewers we did not know. They have more breweries per capita than any place else in the world.
Realizing that Americans’ knowledge gap regarding Belgian beers is “cavernous,” the brothers created Ashey’s Belgian Beer Festival in 2011. The event was a knock-out success, and has grown consistently over the past five years.
Since most of the Belgian beer festivals in the US have become “barely Belgian,” the brewers and importers present in 2014 were so thoroughly impressed with Roy’s efforts that they worked together to put him in touch with the Consulate General of Belgium. Those conversations led to the creation of this year’s NABBF. This is simultaneously the fifth year of the festival, but the first year for an event of this scope.
SS: What parallels, if any, do you see between the craft beer boom in the US (especially Michigan), and the history of brewing in Belgium?
RM: There are parallels but really there are more differences… In general I like to describe the differences as the US showing its entrepreneurial roots, while Belgium shows its history. There is a collective called the Belgian Family Brewers which, to be eligible to be a member, you must have been brewing continuously in Belgium for at least 50 years. Most American brewers are barely 5 years old let alone 50. As was told to me by one of the brewery owners who will be in for the Festival, Jef Versele of Brewery Van Steenberge, “It is not to make a great beer once. It is to make a great beer consistently time and time again.”
SS: Why do you have such a deep interest in Belgian beers?
RM: It’s a quality difference that we think our guests deserve to experience. It did the US auto companies no good to ignore the quality differences that came from overseas. Same for US brewers and US consumers.
It is also about balance. Right now there is a trend within the US, [toward] “extreme beers”. Uber hoppy, or uber bourbony, or off-the-wall ingredients such as mangalista pig heads and bones. Even the hoppy Belgian beers are balanced. It just offends their sensibilities not to be.
Also, some US brewers are labeling beers they make calling them the specific Belgian style but they are not representative of the true style at all. One such is “saison.” A few years ago, one rarely saw this style in the US. It is historically from the farming region of Belgium called Wallonia. A ration of the beer was part of the daily pay for farmhands– sort of the original “lawn mower beer.” I was in Texas this past January and visited a craft beer bar. Several of the local brewers were offering “saisons” but not a single one that I tried were representative of the style as I have experienced them in Belgium (e.g., Saison Dupont or Silly Saison).
SS: What’s your favorite Belgian beer?
RM: I learned the answer from the Brewmaster of Roman Brewing. The same family has continuously brewed since 1545. I asked him “Which is your best beer?” He gave me the answer I now use: “The one in front of me. I can’t drink what I don’t have.” But that also gets at the answer in that there is not a single favorite beer. It depends upon what course of the meal I am eating or the time of year or the time of day and who I am with.
Roy’s a beer nerd. I’m a beer nerd. If you chose to read this article, you’re probably a beer nerd. Let’s get together and have some nerd moments in Westland on February 7, shall we? All are welcome to come learn about, and appreciate, Belgian beer.