An Evening with Steven and Jean-Marie

The third installment of Barley's Beer School was held on Monday evening in Overland Park. This was the first Beer School I was able to attend so I wasn't sure exactly what to expect. All I knew was that Jean-Marie Rock and Steven Pauwels were going to be speaking. I've been to Barley's Brewhaus in OP a number of times so I also knew that I had to get there early because there wasn't going to be a whole lot of room for something like this... I had to wait on a couple of a friends, let's call them Bartles and Jaymes, who were driving down from north of the river (way north of the river) so I couldn't leave before they got here. Bartles and Jaymes got to my place at about five minutes after the event was supposed to start so I started preparing myself mentally for having to stand for the duration of the Beer School next to some family of four who were enjoying their Buffalo Chicken wraps and couldn't care less about Orval or Boulevard, but had the dumb luck to get a booth. We ended up getting to Barley's at about a quarter past six and, sure enough, all of the tables around the speakers were taken. We were forced to cozy up European-style with an older mustachioed man who had an eight person booth all to himself... and his mustache. Even though we had seats there was still plenty to complain about...

Barley's isn't a quiet restaurant so it was painfully difficult to hear anything Jean-Marie Rock said into the mic. Perhaps Belgians are just naturally quite people because we were sitting about 15 feet from the PA and could barely hear him. Our booth was off to the right of the speakers at an angle that made it pretty much impossible to see either of the Belgians unless you were sitting on the end. Bartles and I practically had to get to second base for him to see what was going on up front, while Jaymes watched a documentary on the flat screen about Donald Trump and the USFL.

OK, so we were mostly to blame for our poor seating but that wasn't the only sour point of the evening. Get it? Sour because we're drinking Belgian beer? Admittedly, that's a bad pun since Orval really isn't all that sour... Anyway, the night wasn't a total bust. Jean-Marie did give some interesting insight into the Orval operation that most folks wouldn't know. For example, he said that there are about thirty people who work at Orval: five of them are brewers and seven are cheese makers. Being a Trappist brewery you might expect all of those employees to be monks but Rock said that there are just a few monks at Orval and they work on the financial side of the house. Rock did confirm that the only place you can actually get Orval beer on tap is at the brewery.

While the servers were pouring samples of Orval, Rock went on to describe how the characteristics of the beer change greatly after it is bottled. He said that the Orval we get in the states has aged during transport and has a stronger Brett flavor than the younger Orval. If you were to have a glass of fresh Orval at the brewery you'll notice that it is much hoppier. Personally, I think I'll stick with the bottled Orval. I've had it a few times and while it's quite good, it isn't my favorite Belgian pale. If you are a fan of stronger hop flavors then you'll probably prefer the Orval to some of the maltier, more sour Belgian beers. Even though the beer loses some of it's hoppiness by the time it reaches us, it's still a little bitter and citrusy. Overall it's a great beer and it's easy to tell why people are excited for a Boulevard/Orval collaboration beer.

Speaking of which, it should be pointed out that the Imperial Pilsner isn't a collaboration with Orval but rather with Jean-Marie Rock. Steven Pauwels elaborated quite a bit on the collaboration beer, saying that the Imperial Pilsner name is just the style which they feel most closely describes the beer they're making, but it will be quite unique. Regarding the reaction to the collaboration announcement, Pauwels said he was reading what people were saying online about the Imperial Pilsner and he thought it seemed like people were surprised about the choice of style. Yeah, I mean who in their right mind doesn't think "Imperial Pilsner" when they hear that two Belgian brewers are collaborating?

Pauwels went on to say that the collaboration with Rock is a one-off beer that they plan on brewing only once and releasing as a limited edition Smokestack bottle. He expects the beer to be ready in January or February.

Have you had your fill of Orval, Imperial Pilsners and Jean-Marie Rock? Well, then you might be interested in the second beer poured at the event... Pauwels brought a case or two of Boulevard's Harvest Dance Wheat Wine for sampling. Harvest Dance should be released in November and it looks like they've already done a production run because the bottles at Barley's had the full Smokestack label and looked like they were ready for retail. The Harvest Dance was a real surprise, it was super creamy and had a sweet Chardonnay or Sauvignon blanc flavor. I can't wait for this be released so I can give it a full review. Pauwels mentioned that Seeyoulator and Harvest Dance are (or will be very soon) on tap at the brewery so if you can't wait until release day you can try and sneak into a tour and try it for yourself.

Even though the evening got off to a rough start and there were plenty of things that could have been handled much better (I didn't even tell you about the horrible post-Beer School service...), I did have a great time at Barley's and I'm looking forward to the next Beer School event. I'm defintely going to arrive early next time and plan on eating elsewhere. The next Beer School will be on November 16th and feature Boulevard and 75th Street Brewery, they'll be discussing brewing ingredients.

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