If you had walked into Max’s Taphouse this past Thursday, you might have been sorely disappointed. The world-famous Charm City bar that otherwise boasts 140 rotating drafts and 1200 bottles had no drafts available and a limited bottle selection. Though it sounds like a dismal scene, Max’s was taking these measures to prepare for one of their biggest annual events—The Belgian Beer Festival. A 3-day event, the festival offers the largest selection of Belgian beer in the US—over 100 Belgian drafts and 200 bottles. In addition, the food menu that is otherwise saturated with gastro-pub fare experiences a Belgian makeover. Here at BarleyDine we know that nothing goes together like beer and food!
I arrived at the festival on Saturday afternoon, eager to tear into some Belgian pints and plates. Not surprisingly, the line was out the door, though moving steadily. In speaking to those that had attended the event previously, we learned that we were in for a “nut-to-butt” situation once we were inside. Yes, nut-to-butt, because shoulder-to-shoulder really does not serve to describe how uncomfortably crowded it was. But that’s all part of the fun, right? Pro-tip: Go with a partner, that way you can take turns fetching beer and grub without compromising the precious couple inches of flat surface (barstool, windowsill, banaster, etc.) you managed to stake out.
The food menu offered moules (mussels) prepared three different ways, a cheese plate, a meat plate, a couple salads, and a few sandwiches. I’m admittedly a shellfish lover, so I decided to start with the Moules Grand-Mère. The mussels are presented in a creamy beer sauce with bacon and in this case the beer was a framboise, which I thought was a very interesting choice. I paired this with Lindemans framboise lambic and it made for a lovely appetizer!
Lindemans framboise is heavily carbonated and has loads of wonderful raspberry tartness, which gives it a champagne quality. It’s very drinkable with an ABV of only about 3%. The salty, smoky, crunchy bacon offset the sweet, creamy mussels really nicely. Though the raspberry is very forthright in this lambic, it was an unobtrusive compliment to the mussels and it brought out the framboise in the sauce that might have been too subtle to notice on its own.
Later in the day I went for one of the salads—a Belgian endive salad with honey goat cheese, green apples, walnuts, and citrus vinaigrette. I paired this with Barbãr (a Belgian Honey Ale) by Brasserie Lefèbvre. This was a treat! The ale had a spicy citrus and coriander character at first, but the last note was of pure honey sweetness. The bitter endives and tart apples were nicely contrasted with the sweetness of this ale, while the honey in the goat cheese was able to shine through. Absolutely delightful! I can’t imagine a better pairing for this salad.
Other notables: Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch on cask, Stillwater/Emelisse Collaboration Holland Oats, an amber ale with apples and oats—surprisingly hoppy with a strong apple cider flavor. I talked to several people who were excited to see so many sours on the menu, so if sours are your thing, don’t miss this festival next year!
If you get a chance to visit Max’s, I would highly recommend it. They have beers you never even knew you wanted to try. They also host a German beer festival in the fall that I’m sure will not disappoint. Cheers!