After many years as a small, localized celebration of cultural heritage, the Sons of Walloon Christmas Beer Festival has become one of the city’s most popular holiday tourist destinations. Founded in 1898 by Voornaam Goossens, the self-proclaimed ‘Mayor of Belgium Town’ (as the Belgian Quarter was known until 1939), the festival celebrates the over 450 varieties of beer produced in this diminutive northern European kingdom. This year’s celebration of the brewer’s art will take place December 16 and 17, at the Westvleteren Community Center (WCC), 6701 N. Flanders St., one block north of Essen Blvd. Doors open at 9 a.m., with last call at 2 a.m. Be sure to arrive by 10 p.m. Saturday for the opening of four bottles of 1906 vintage Lambic beer from Brussels, a non-malted wheat beer naturally fermented by wild, airborne yeasts, with an effervescence and flavor that improves with years in the bottle, much like wine.
WCC’s main hall will be arranged and decorated like a 19th century Belgian street, with over 200 of the more than 450 varieties of Belgian beer represented in stalls and kiosks along the main ‘street.’ Many varieties will come in specialized beer glasses in which that beer, and only that beer, may be served. But don’t try to leave the WCC with a special glass souvenir, or you may find yourself flatter than a Belgian waffle, courtesy of some of the larger Sons of Walloon. Among the featured flavors in this year’s lineup: raspberry, chocolate, cherry, brown Trappist beer, and Geuze beer, a special blend of two or more Lambic beers.
Singer, yodeler, whistler, war hero and legendary entertainer, Belgium’s own Bobbejaan Schoepen will be performing at the festival on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. Don’t be late for this special one-time only appearance, as Mr. Schoepen will be arriving directly from an autograph session at the McConnell Senior Center, and he has been known to nod off in mid-set. Copies of his latest CD are expected to be available for latecomers who cannot catch him pre-nap.
The festival will conclude with a street-level fireworks display south of the WCC at 8:00 p.m. Sunday, featuring a 38-foot tall exploding beer stein. The fireworks display and other outdoor events are free. Admission to the WCC, including the Sunday concert, is $8 per day, or $14 for the full weekend.
If you find that the event has sold out, however, we hear that Fat Eddie at Solber’s Tavern (two blocks west) has put up the Christmas lights. Old Style and Ballantine on tap, $1.75 a pint.
– D. Andrews