10 beers to try at Belgian Beer Fest at Max’s Taphouse

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Beer lovers line up at the start of the fest in 2017. Photo by J.M. Giordano.

If there’s a holy calendar for the local disciples of Gambrinus, god of beer, Belgian Beer Fest at Max’s Taphouse is a high holiday.

Every February, for 16 years, the Fells Point staple hosts beer nerds, who line up starting at 6 a.m. along the sidewalk out front, for several days of Belgian brews.

“We get people from all over the place,” says general manager and beer master Casey Hard during a quiet period a few days before the festival. “I never get tired of working it.”

During the festival, which this year runs from Feb. 14-16, Max’s has one of the largest selections of Belgian beer in the U.S., according to Hard.

He visits Belgium every year to hand pick the selection of 200 drafts and more than 250 bottles. He also puts together a Belgian-inspired food menu, which usually includes waffles and fries.

“I couldn’t be happier with this year’s picks,” says Hard. “I try to debut as many new beers as possible. I look for the real interesting and new stuff when I’m there.”

Brewing in Belgium has been a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, with Trappist monks brewing a drink so good, it’s sought out around the world.

“We get all the legal Trappist beers in the U.S. currently available,” Hard said. “Some aren’t available for trade reasons.”

This year, the bar collaborated with Monument City to create the Monument City White Marble Wit.

Max’s owner, Ron Furman, has no qualms about sending Hard abroad for the annual event.

“It’s totally worth it,” Furman says after greeting a few guests at the bar. “Casey is a god. A beer god.”

Following the festival, the bar springs back into action on Monday with a festival dedicated to American sour beers, featuring 60 drafts and 60 bottles of sour ales from around the country.

Casey Hard, Max’s beer master. Photo by J.M. Giordano.

For Belgian Beer Fest, Hard put together a list of the Top 10 must-try drafts (the rarer bottles can get a bit pricey) and provided some tasting notes.

10. Cantillon Fou Foune Sour lambic: A funky sour with fruity notes, citrus, apricots, grass, apples and tart lemon.
9. St. Bernardus Barrel Aged Sour Abt 12: complex fruit flavors, fresh hops and a slightly sour finish.
8. Val Dieu 800 Special Blond Ale: Malt notes on the front end, musky fruit, tart finish.
7. Huyghe Floris Cactus: Wheat beer with lime but electric green color. A very sweet rare beer with heavy fruit notes. Not for everyone.
6. Oud Beersel Faro (Bag-in-the-box) lambic: Another rare one (it seems to be sold out everywhere online). Notes of sour fruit, as is common to some lambics, and caramel.
5. Max’s collaboration with Monument City. A White Marble Wit: sweet wit beer flavor, light, refreshing on the finish.
4. Dupont Cuvee Dry Hopped: blackberry and raspberry with a serious hop flavor.
3. Kazematten Grotten Sante Belgian Brown: refreshing, malt notes with bitter fruit on the back end.
2. De La Senne Taras Boulba Blond Bitter Hybrid: fresh hops, citrus notes in the nose.
1. Oude Mûre Tilquin à l’Ancienne Lambic: A blend with brown ale with black berries. VERY rare, hard to fine.

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