Every serious craft beer drinker has that "A ha!" moment, where the pints align and the world is made different. Instead of low-ABV "lawnmower beers" that come in can packs of 30, some unique local pint or bottle of never-before-tasted brew from far away changed the way they thought about beer, forever. For me, it was Belgian beers.
I was admittedly late to the drinking game, although less for moral reasons than taste. Liquors seemed harsh and fiery, and their punch made my face screw up. Wine was too earthy and funky for me to understand, and I certainly wasn't going to be the kid lugging margaritas to all of the freshman college parties. So that left beer. It always seemed more drinkable by virtue of the number of cans per package (6, 12, 24 or 30 - as opposed to a single bottle of Jameson, say), but I never got the hang of sipping happily from a big-brand silver can in the corner of a party. The beers were either too watery or just bitter enough to be off-putting, and I couldn't muster the desire to reach some happy, fuzzy mind state on the other side.
Then, I went backpacking in Europe. First to Germany, where my hosts had me saying "Prost!" with every pilsner I tried to suck down. Still nothing. I went to Munich and sat with a stein in the Hofbräuhaus, trying to understand a culture that I was inexplicably on the other side of. And then I went to Belgium. Sitting in a café off the Grote Markt in central Brussels, I ordered an abbey beer from the bar menu, and immediately understood. I had my "A ha!" moment.
Now you can have your Belgian beer moment too, thanks to Lucky Baldwins Pub in Pasadena. The fifteen-year-old craft beer bar has long been at the forefront of delivering inspired beers to discerning customers in Southern California, and the culture that has come up around them, leading more and more drinkers through the Lucky Baldwins doors over the years, simply because they were the only real game in town.
To help celebrate their successes and push further down the road in their love and admiration for Belgian beer styles, Lucky Baldwins is dedicating their taps and bottle program to the abbey ales over the next two weeks. There will be more than 50 Belgian beers simultaneously on tap, as well as any number of aged and secreted-away bottles of hard-to-find styles that have been spread across the three Lucky Baldwins locations. As you can imagine, there will be the regular front-runners like Delirium Tremens and Duvel, but with rows and rows of taps to fill you should expect more than a few surprises (who knows, they might even have a bottle or two of Westvleteren XII tucked away somewhere).
You'll also be able to taste regional Belgian styles from such noted craft beer heavyweights as The Bruery in Orange County or Ommegang out of Cooperstown. But perhaps best of all is the release of Lucky Baldwins' own red Belgian ale, courtesy of the Brouwerij Van Steenberge in Belgium. In a conversation with L.A. Weekly, co-owner Peggy Simonian recounts the fantastic relationship Lucky Baldwins has had with the 227-year old brewery, ultimately culminating in a house-only beer for the Pasadena craft beer outpost. If that's not a sign of respect, I'm not sure what is.
Since there are two full weeks of Belgian beer goodness happening at all three of the Lucky Baldwins pubs, you don't necessarily have to push down old ladies as you rush to make your way to Pasadena. But you should definitely make it a priority to grab a pint or two while you can. That's especially true for anyone searching for a better beer, or trying to understand what all this craft beer nonsense is about in the first place. Hopefully, Lucky Baldwins will pour you your own "A ha!" moment.