Belgian Beer: Beck's Taps Runneth Over

Friday, September 14, 2007

Washington has a pretty active beer scene, but lately most of the good news has concerned Belgian beers.

Belga Cafe's owners recently announced that they will have a pilsner and a white ale custom-brewed in Belgium for their restaurant (514 Eighth St. SE; 202-544-0100) and will begin serving the new house beers on Capitol Hill later this month. At Georgetown's Birreria Paradiso (3282 M St. NW; 202-337-1245), manager Greg Jasgur has loaded the taps with funky, earthy farmhouse ales called saisons, which have a dry, citrusy taste. A new beer bar called Granville Moore's (1238 H St. NE; 202-399-2546) recently opened in the Atlas District, serving mussels, frites and at least 50 Belgian beers in bottles and on draft.

All exciting developments, but Brasserie Beck (1101 K St. NW; 202-408-1717) can trump them all: The downtown restaurant has a knight of a Belgian brewers guild selecting and pouring its beers.

Beck beer sommelier Bill Catron was inducted into La Chevalerie du Fourquet des Brasseurs (the Knighthood of the Brewers' Mashstaff) amid pomp and ceremony two weeks ago in Brussels. Though the guild has existed since the Middle Ages, Catron is only the 13th American honored, and the second Washingtonian, after the Brickskeller's Dave Alexander.

Catron, 31, who fell in love with the Belgian artisanal brewers on a teenage trip to Europe, was nominated for his work "growing the selection of Belgian beers in and around D.C.," he says he was told. That reflects more than his work at Beck: Catron spent more than a decade working as a beer manager at Whole Foods in Clarendon, and for the Hop & Wine and Legends import companies, which specialize in Belgian styles. Nominations are made by Belgian brewers and then debated by members of the guild. "Brewers from Gouden Carolus, Kasteel and Delirium Tremens all went to bat for me" during the five-month process, Catron says.

The dozen taps at Beck's long marble bar are filled with unfamiliar names: Troubadour Stout, Bavik Pilsner, Campus Gold ale. Good thing it is the restaurant's policy to let customers sample beer before deciding what to order, because Catron is about to get even more esoteric with the draft lineup. The knighthood "gives me more leeway to do things," he says. "It opens doors in Belgium" that will allow Beck to import beers that no one else will have, such as Gouden Carolus's Margriet, which is usually served only in the town of Mechelen, near the brewery, or kegs from the tiny Glazen Toren brewery in southern Belgium.

Some beers will be available for a limited time, so you may have to stop in at Beck frequently. While there, make sure to check out Catron's medal, which is being framed.

-- Fritz Hahn

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