Ommegang 20th Anniversary Ale

According to my records, I haven’t done a proper review of an Ommegang beer in almost 5 years. Can you imagine that?! Yes, well, you are pretty sharp, so I’m not surprised that you can, indeed, imagine that. My three readers are the best. Anyway, it’s perhaps fitting that the last review was Ommegang’s XV Anniversary beer, a rock solid Belgian Strong Dark. Since that time, Ommegang seems to be most famous for their Game of Thrones series of beers, popular but mostly unremarkable. Ommegang does occupy a special place in Kaedrin history though (being that they were the ones that introduced me to great beer way back during the turn of the century timeframe), so I’m glad they’ve stepped up their game for this 20th Anniversary brew.

This beer starts out as something similar to that XV Anniversary beer, a Belgian Strong Dark, but then it spent a few months in old Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels. Sometimes I find that bourbon barrels overwhelm the more subtle Belgian ale characteristics. Will that be the case here? Spoiler: nope, this is great!

Ommegang 20th Anniversary Ale

Ommegang 20th Anniversary Ale – Pours a clear, very dark amber brown color with a finger of off-white head. Smells great, lots of fruity esters, dark fruit, some spice, clove, and hints of boozy bourbon. Taste hits more of those spice notes than the nose, lots of clove, some sweet, rich caramel, molasses, a little of those fruity esters, finishing on a boozy note. A light touch on the bourbon and oak character, but it’s clearly there. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, medium to full bodied, moderately rich, a little booze. Intense, but very well balanced. The bourbon contributes while not overpowering the more subtle Belgian notes. Overall, this is pretty darn good. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.8% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/14/17. Vintage: 2017.

Good ol Ommegang. It’s been far too long, old friends, and I see you’ve been doing some more interesting stuff, like brett-dosed beers and more barrel aged variants. Nice.

November Beer Club

Tonight was Beer Club, a gathering of beer minded friends from work who get together every month at a local BYOB for libations and fun. This month, we hit up a local BBQ joint, which is always nice. Got me some smoked Chorizo, Brisket, and some fixins which made for a great accompaniment to all the beer. And there was a lot of it this time around. The picture is actually missing a bunch of bottles because we did not account for people showing up later with their own stuff.

beerclub-november13.jpg

(Click for larger version)

So yeah, lots of stuff this month, so these notes are almost certainly useless, but for the sake of posterity, I’m including them anyway. Because I’m a good person, that’s why. Yeah, let’s get to it: in approximate order of drinking (not necessarily pictured):

  • Southern Tier Krampus – An “Imperial Helles” is sorta like a contradiction in terms, but hey, it’s an amped up Helles, and it works well enough. Nice uncommon hop character gives an otherwise clean beer the punch it needs. Really quite nice. B+
  • Ithaca Excelsior! White Gold – Bottle wasn’t quite a gusher, and we managed to not lose any, but it was hugely carbonated and most of us poured a cup of foam that resolved into more normal beerlike appearance in a minute or two. Once we got to it, it was pretty damn good. Nice Belgian yeast character, wheat is there but not as dominant as you might think (slightly reminiscent of something like St. Bernardus Tokyo). This was one of the first beers we tasted, and I liked it a lot, but we revisited it towards the end of the night and damn, it got almost (not quite) sour. Big fruity esters started showing up when it was warm. Again, not quite sour, but it was going in that direction. All in all, I enjoyed this more than the Ithaca Excelsior Rye beer I had recently… B+
  • Victory Root Beer – Yep, it’s a root beer! I’m no expert (hay, there’s no alcohol in this!?), but it’s really good as root beers go.
  • Sprecher Bootlegger’s Bourbon Barrel Hard Root Beer – Not sure I would have pegged this as having anything to do with a bourbon barrel, let alone an alcoholic beverage at all, but perhaps the power of suggestion lead me to believe that there was some bourbon present in the taste. Or something. Ultimately, it drinks like a good root beer, which is nice…
  • Avery White Rascal – A beer I’ve had before and greatly enjoyed, it doesn’t quite fit in with a tasting like this – it is easily overwhelmed by the other brews of the night. Still, I like this as a lawnmower beer on a hot day (alas, it’s pretty cold here these days). B
  • River Horse Double Wit – I don’t know if it’s the 7% ABV or the way this was spiced, but it didn’t really connect with me. It’s not bad at all, and other folks appreciated the different take on spice and booze level, but it never quite hit me where I wanted it to. B-
  • Ken’s Homebrewed Schwarzbier – We need to get on Ken to start entering his beers into untappd or something, because these are getting good. Not my favorite style, but it’s a nice dark lager style beer, clean and crisp, lighter than it looks, and quite flavorful. Toasty but not quite full on roast. Me likey. B+
  • Kaedrin Xmas Dubbel – My homebrewed dubbel, with a slight dose of cinnamon when I was bottling, is actually drinking really well right now. The regular dubbel has really matured and changed a lot over time, getting more and more raisiny, but this one was more subdued (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I’ll leave it at B+
  • Lost Abbey Deliverance – One of my other contributions, and a beer I’ve reviewed before! It’s still great. A-
  • Atwater Vanilla Java Porter – While opening this directly after Deliverance was a supremely bad idea, I still get the impression that this would underwhelm. It does have a nice vanilla character, but it’s a little thinner than I generally want out of a stout and while I’m not a big fan of coffee, it’s nonexistent here. Certainly a drinkable beer and would be welcome change of pace at a macro bar, but it’s not something to really seek out. C+
  • Spring House Big Gruesome Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout – Can I just point you to a review from a couple weeks ago? No? Well too bad, cause that’s what I’m doing. Still a B+ in my book.
  • Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale – The younger, weaker, smaller sibling to Really Old Brown Dog is a rather straightforward brown ale, which naturally has its merits (nice toasted malt and some heft to it) but again, should’ve probably opened this earlier in the night. Still glad I tried this, just to give context to Really old Brown Dog if not for its regular solid nature. B
  • Saucony Creek Chocolate Cherry Schnickelfritz – An object lesson in things sounding better than they taste, this seems to be a relatively well made imperial milk stout, but it’s got this artificial feeling cherry aspect that sorta ruined the beer for me. Not an abomination, but not particularly good either. I guess all the beers I bring can’t be winners! C
  • Ommegang Game Of Thrones #2 – Take the Black Stout – These Game of Thrones beers are actually pretty solid introductions to the whole Belgian beer world, and they work well enough for beer dorks too (a neat trick, appealing to the jaded hardcore and mainstream alike). I actually would call this more of a roasty Belgian Strong Dark rather than a full on stout, but to each their own. It’s got a nice Belgian yeast character, spice and light fruit, with a hint of that roasted malt too, but the carbonation (and presumably attenuation) cuts through more than your typical stout. Still, it’s very good, if not my favorite Ommegang beer. B+
  • River Horse Special Ale – No idea why this was opened so late in the night, but it’s such a profoundly average beer that I doubt it would have made that much of an impression earlier in the night. There’s absolutely nothing wrong wit it, and it’s certainly a step up from fizzy yellow stuff light lagers, but its not really something to get excited about. C+
  • Victory Harvest Ale – I totally fell in love with Victory’s Harvest Ale last year (and while I’m not a big Pils guy, the Harvest Pils was pretty good too), but this year’s take fell completely flat to me. Not bad, per say, but something about this is rubbing me the wrong way. Perhaps it was a different hop variety, perhaps they used their Kolsch yeast instead of their normally clean IPA yeast, but whatever the case, it didn’t inspire like last years. Again, it’s pretty good, but it’s disappointing. And I had this a couple weeks ago straight from the source too, so it’s not just palate fatigue talking here! B

Yikes, that was a lot of beers. Luckily there were a lot of people in attendance, so my tastes were limited on most of these (yet another reason to take my notes with a grain of salt), but this was a really fun installment. Here’s to hoping the December one will be just as great!

Beer Club: Part Whatever – The Clubbening

Tonight was Beer Club, a gathering of beer minded folk from my work who get together every month at a local BYOB for drinkening and fun. Minor error in tonight’s choice of establishment in that it’s summertime, so it’s super hot, and this place isn’t air conditioned. Great pizza and sandwiches though. It actually wasn’t that bad, but it’s off the list for summer events from nows on… Anywho, solid turnout and lots of great beer. I event remembered to take a picture (unlike last month):

Beer Club - July 2013

One of my friends was all scared about what she should bring and so she was trying to downplay her contribution, but then was all “So my friend from Vermont thought you might like this,” and pulled out two cans of Heady Topper. She wins beer club.

For the sake of posterity, random thoughts on each beer below. Standard disclaimers regarding small samples and less than ideal conditions, but don’t worry, next month we’re renting out sensory deprivation chambers and using industrial grade palate cleansers between each sip. But for now, you’ll have to settle for imperfection:

  • Kona Wailua Wheat – A pretty straightforward take on a wheat beer, unremarkable, but a nice first taste for the night. B-
  • The Alchemist Heady Topper – Hard to believe, but I actually scored a 4 pack of this stuff last week, so there will be a more detailed review in the next couple days. In short, it’s superb. Stay tuned for more (review probably posted on Thursday). A
  • San Miguel Pale Pilsen – From the best beer of the night to the worst. This was actually a can of beer from 2007. Vintage! A friend at work visited the Philippines and brought a couple of us back a can of this stuff. It’s pretty generic, bland pilsner stuff, but let’s just say there’s a reason you don’t age pilseners. It’s actually not undrinkable, but it’s definitely started to get that apple-like off flavor and not something I’d ever want to drink except in small quantities as a joke, like it was tonight. D
  • Professor Fritz Briem 1809 Berliner Weisse – From unintentionally sour and bad to intentionally sour and pretty damn good. One of my contributions! Berliner Weisse (translates to “Jelly Donut Wheat”) is a style that’s hit or miss for me, but this one is a definite hit, and it was perfect for the hot summer night. Super light, crisp, refreshing tartness, really nice. Definitely worth trying. B+ or A-
  • Horny Goat Watermelon Wheat – Watermelon can work in beer, but it did not work at all for me here. It had this weird artificial twang to it coupled with a sorta almost spicy note? Really weird and unpleasant. Lots of strange faces made around the group, though one person liked it enough. Me, I give it a D
  • Ommegang Fleur De Houblon – One of the recent Ommegang releases that I’ve been slacking on, this one is a pretty straightforward Belgian Pale Ale, with a nice floral hop character, maybe some herbalness, but it all matches well with Ommegang’s standard Belgian yeast flavors (spicy and banana). I wouldn’t describe it as super hoppy, and there isn’t a lot of bitterness, but there are some hop flavors here. Not an amazing beer, but definitely worth drinking. B
  • Jolly Pumpkin Baudelaire IO – One of my contributions and a beer I’ve reviewed before. Yep, still a great beer, more fruity and less funky than I remember, but that may be a function of drinking a bunch of other beers and eating food and whatnot. Still fantastic, no matter what, and everyone seemed to enjoy it and would come back to this after some of the next beers (though one person noted that the label artist was stealing the style of another artist!) Still an A- in my book, and I’ve got another one in the cellar just in case I want another taste.
  • Heavy Seas Holy Sheet (Brandy Barrel) – I like it. It’s got a typical Belgian dubbel sorta vibe, but nice rich, boozy Brandy notes hit at the front of the taste before those raisins and molasses kick in during the middle to finish. It was a little too warm when we opened it, but I’ll give it a solid B+ for now.
  • New Holland Envious – I got a very cough syrupy vibe off this thing, which wasn’t the grossest beer evar, but not particularly great either. The fruit comes through a bit, but there’s that syrupy feel that sorta drags it down, and I didn’t get much oak at all. Actually very disappointing. I suppose my palate could have potentially been shot by this point, but it still was not very good. D
  • Victory Otto in Oak – My last contribution, I was a little worried about this because I hadn’t tried it since it first came out (when I loved it) and I’d traded a few of them out recently, so I was curious to see how it’s held up. Apparently pretty well! Indeed, the smoke has faded even more than it had when I first tried it, and the rich bourbon and oak character was really nice. It’s not something that beer nerds will go completely wild over, but I really enjoy it and think it retains the A- rating I initially gave it.

At this point I got a phone call telling my that my neighbors (the folks who live under me) had water dripping into their condo, so I had to leave (fortunately, I think we were mostly finished at this point). It turns out that the water leak was not coming from my condo, so all is well at Kaedrin HQ. Stay tuned, some exciting beer on its way, including that Heady Topper review (so good). So all in all, a successful night and naturally, already looking forward to the next meeting.

April Beer Club

In the Beer Justice System the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups. The drinkers who investigate crime and the District Attorneys who prosecute the offenders. They meet once a month at a local BYOB to sample beers. These are their stories:

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The following notes, compiled by our resident stenographer, should be taken with a grain of salt as I’m pretty sure the stenographer was also drunk (as evidence, well, the stenographer was me). In order of drinking (not in order of picture, and sadly, we didn’t get to all beers in the picture either):

  • Starr Hill The Love – A pretty straightforward but enjoyable hefeweizen. Super carbonated, overwhelming head, but a nice banana/clove weizen yeast character, highly drinkable stuff. B
  • The Captain’s Brew House All American – This is actually a buddy’s homebrew, and I arrived a bit late, so I only really got to try the yeasty dregs of the bottle, but it seemed pretty darn good – easily the equal of the previous beer. Would like to try it fresh sometime. Still, truly a beer worthy of Captain America (i.e. the namesake of my buddy’s home brewery).
  • Ommegang Hennepin – You know, I’ve mentioned this beer numerous times on the blog, but I’ve never actually reviewed it. It’s a really nice beer, one of my favorites, the beer that introduced me to the world of good beer. Nice Belgian yeast character, light, crisp, refreshing, quaffable stuff. I might be into chasing more funky varieties of saison these days, but it’s always fun to revisit this beer and it holds a special place in my heart. A
  • Ommegang Rare Vos – The slightly maltier sibling of Hennepin, I also love this beer (which, yes, I’ve actually reviewed before), one of those beers that is also probably impacted by nostalgia for me, but it’s just as good as ever. A
  • The Captain’s Brew House Shameless IPA – Another homebrew, this one is actually a Northern Brewer Dead Ringer. It was very good, with a big malt backbone, but also a nice hop character. I’m not a huge fan of centennial single hopped IPAs, but this one was solid.
  • Kaedrin Dubbel – My homebrewed dubbel continues to evolve, with an almost coffee-like character emerging right now (but not straight coffee, and not really a roast either, somewhere perhaps between those flavors). It’s actually quite interesting. I’ll be interested in trying this again in isolation, as beer club isn’t exactly the best setting for my palate!
  • Trappistes Rochefort 8 – Truly a classic beer, one of my favorites of all time. Previously reviewed.
  • Boulevard Collaboration No. 3 – Stingo – A collaboration with Kaedrin favorite Pretty Things, this one goes a more English route, though it’s souped up a bit more than that might lead you to believe. Nice subtle hints of breadiness and toffee with maybe a hint of dark chocolate. Didn’t really strike a big chord with me, but it was certainly a well made beer. B
  • Starr Hill Double Platinum – A solid, if a bit boozy DIPA. Nice hop character, but the booze was more prominent than I expected for an 8.5% ABV beer. It was probably a little warmer than it should have been, but I’ll leave it at a B for now.
  • Lost Abbey Red Poppy – Another of my contributions for the night, this is still a spectacular beer, and made a lot of waves with the attendees, even folks who don’t normally go in for “beer”. Previously reviewed, and still an A in my book.
  • Firestone Walker §ucaba – Very generously contributed by Kaedrin friend Dana (she’s not a huge bourbon fan, but knows that some of us other beer club members are), this sucker is as good as ever. Previously rated and still an A in my book.

And that just about wraps up this episode of Law & Order & Beer. Fortunately, all As and Bs, so no District Attorneys needed. See you next month.

February Beer Club

Yeah, so I’m still running dry on beer puns. Fortunately, there’s a pretty good chance you don’t care about that, so I’ll just explain that Beer club is a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together for a meal and lots-o-beer once a month. It ended up being a rather small gathering this month, with just the core group showing up… and yet, plenty of fantastic beer was had by all.

Beer Club February 2013

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Despite the less than ideal conditions, I’m going to record my thoughts on each sampled beer. For posterity! Yeah, the sip test is often unreliable, so take this with a giant boulder of gourmet sea salt, you nerd (he sez, as if it’s a bad thing). Roughly in order of tasting (not necessarily the order in the above picture):

  • Samuel Smith’s Organic Lager – Pretty standard Euro-lager affair here, though perhaps a higher quality version of such. Nice noble hoppiness and a surprising yeast character (nowhere near a Belgian strain, but it did add character to an otherwise normal beer). B
  • Eagle Rock Jubilee – One of my contributions for the night, or should I say, it’s actually Jay’s contribution, as this was part of our trade. I figured I shouldn’t hog all of it to myself, though perhaps I should have, as this was reallly good. Smooth, creamy, spiced but not harshly so, this was a beauty. They call it a spiced old ale, but it feels a whole lot like a winter warmer and heck, let’s just call it good beer. Beer Club crowd seemed mighty impressed as well. A-
  • Cisco Lady of the Woods – My other contribution, I liked it so much the first time, that I just had to share another with everyone else. I’m always surprised at how well received sour beers are by the Beer Club crowd, though perhaps I shouldn’t be. I tend to call this beer club, but it originally began as beer and wine club, and this beer certainly has a nice Chardonnay character that turned some heads. Still an A by my reckoning…
  • Heavy Seas Black Cannon – One of them semi-local Maryland breweries, this wound up being a very solid black IPA. Beautiful nose, slight roasted malt character dominated by piney, resinous hops and maybe a bit of citrus. Alas, the taste didn’t quite hold up, though again, still a very solid beer. B
  • Flying Fish Grand Cru Winter Reserve – Hoo boy, I hope you like clove, cause they must have packed this thing to the gills with cloves. Fortunately, I do like that, though the beer is pretty straightforward otherwise. B
  • Ommegang Three Philosophers – One of my long time favorites, just as good as ever. Fancy new label, too…
  • Heavy Seas Bourbon Barrel Aged Siren Noire – Holy chocolate milk, Batman! Seriously, like drinking slightly boozy yoohoo. Not getting much bourbon at all, though perhaps it’s contributing to the almost creamy, vanilla character that goes so well with the chocolate flavors that dominate this beer. Really enjoyable and perhaps the most interesting beer of the night, if not exactly the best. B+
  • BrewDog Tokyo* – Another beer I’ve had before, this thing is a total monster. Clocking in at over 18% ABV, it’s a pretty potent beer, though the solid malt backbone and addition of cranberries and jasmine help even that out a bit. Still a B+ in my book.

And with that, we had to cut things a bit short. A few sad beers were left unopened, but it was starting to snow and we didn’t want to crack open that bottle of 14% Samichlaus (seriously, beer club compatriot Anthony brought Samichlaus and Tokyo*, which average out to somewhere around 16% ABV, pretty badass if you ask me. As a fan of older vintages of Samichlaus, I advised him to cellar this 2010 vintage until at least next Christmas and he seemed pretty excited about that prospect). So that just about covers it for this beer club. At the next beer club, my Fat Weekend IPA should be ready to go, so I’m pretty excited.

Ommegang XV

Another Belgian Strong Dark from Ommegang, I wasn’t sure if I’d go for this “extremely limited” release, but dammit, they put it in a tin canister thingy and I’m powerless against fancy packaging. So here we are. I’m not sure exactly what makes this worthy of their 15th anniversary, aside from the fact that it’s big and dark and strong. They claim it’s unlike any other ale they’ve brewed, but I can think of two obviously similar beers in their lineup. How does this stack up to the solid but straightforward seasonal Art of Darkness? Or, for that matter, the admittedly unique and most excellent staple beer that is nonetheless big and strong and dark, Three Philosophers? Only one way to find out:

Ommegang XV Anniversary Ale

Ommegang XV – 15th Anniversary Ale – Pours a dark brown color with amber highlights and half a finger of bubbly tan head. Smells faintly of Belgian yeast, a little spicy with biscuit and maybe a hint of fruit. Taste is sweet, lots of spice from that Belgian yeast, some caramel, a non-roasty chocolate character that’s really nice and perhaps unique (definitely sets it apart from Ommegang’s other Belgian Strong Dark styled beers). Mouthfeel is well carbonated, almost but not quite effervescent, medium bodied, relatively dry for such a big beer, though there’s a bit of stickiness in the finish. It’s all rather well balanced though, and that’s a good indicator that Ommegang is hitting on all cylinders. They’re at their best when they’re doing stuff like this. Overall, an easy drinking, very well balanced, complex brew, worthy of a look, though it’s a pretty steep price tag. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.6% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 12/31/12.

Ommegang has recently gained some notoriety for partnering with HBO to create a series of Game of Thrones beers. The first beer looks to be a relatively ho-hum affair, a 6.5% blonde ale. Certainly will be approachable for the non-beer-nerd fans of the series, but I’d be more excited if they did something really wacky. I can’t say as though I’m excited by this. I like Game of Thrones fine, and Ommegang was the brewery that got me into beer, but somehow this combination isn’t doing it for me. I suppose it will prove beneficial to both companies though, and as corporate tie-ins go, this is much better than most. I do wish success on Ommegang though – maybe if they can make enough money, they’ll start an actual sour program or something (they’ve made overtures in that direction in the past, but nothing regular).

Decembeer Club II: Electric Boogaloo

Tonight was beer club, a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together for a meal and lots-o-beer once a month. As usual, a core group of stalwarts showed up, along with some new faces and other return guest stars. All told, a solid turnout, plenty of good beer, and a fun time had by all.

Decembeer Club 2012

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Apologies for the image quality. Brightness kinda got away from me there. Stupid flash. For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we tried are below. Standard disclaimers apply, though I think I’ve achieved a new level in beer nerdom in that I’ve already had (and probably reviewed) a lot of the beers presented here. Go figure. Roughly (yeah, yeah, gimme a break, it’s a social gathering after all, you’re lucky I can do this much) listed in order of drinking, not the order in the picture above:

  • Hitachino Nest White Ale – This has actually been on my radar for a while, but it’s not something I’ve ever tried before. It’s a very solid Belgian wit beer, not super strong on the wheat (though it’s there), more defined by the Belgian yeast character of fruit and dry spice. Sorta reminded me of St. Bernardus’ Tokyo beer, which is not suspicious at all, as Hitachino is Japanese (I swears, I didn’t realize it when I was drinking, except perhaps subconsciously because Hitachino does sound pretty Japanese). Really worth checking out, and it won’t break the bank like St. Bernardus will. A-
  • Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer – This must be the 4th or 5th time I’ve had this. I’ve always enjoyed it too, though I didn’t have any sticky toffee dessert dish to pair it with (like I normally do). A solid contribution from a beer club newcomer. B+
  • Ommegang Scythe & Sickle – Malt-focused, Belgian-style harvest ale, recently reviewed! Well chosen and well placed in the tasting. This works well with food (which came out as I was drinking this)… B+

  • Ballast Point Sculpin IPA – Yep, another that I’ve had several times before, but I do love this beer. It seems that some beer club members have been doing some research on Beer Advocate and this is a pretty good choice. Well played, Paul. A-
  • Magic Hat Hi.P.A. – A decent enough IPA that I think just pales (pun intended!) in comparison with Sculpin. Flavors seemed muted and a little bland, but seemingly well crafted enough. Not something I’d seek out again, but I wouldn’t turn it down if you handed me one. B-
  • Kaedrin Abbey Dubbel Xmas – A variant on my homebrewed abbey dubbel beer, when I was bottling and I got to the bottom of the bucket I added a cinnamon stick and some clove to the remaining beer. Alas, I didn’t get much additional spice out of this, at least in my small sample. However, I feel like the beer has finally conditioned into something solid. Still not quite what I was going for, I think perhaps too much in the Special B department, yielding a bit too much in the way of toasted malt character, but still, it’s coming along well. I will refrain from rating this for now, as I don’t think it’s peaked yet, but perhaps a full review will be forthcoming.
  • Anchor Our Special Ale 2012 (Christmas Ale) – Just reviewed this one yesterday (along with the 2011 variety). This was one of my contributions, so of course it was good.
  • Evolution Secret Spot Winter Ale – I’ve enjoyed most of Evolutions offerings that I’ve tried so far, and this one is no exception. But it’s not really exceptional either. Another beer that may have suffered a bit by comparison to the previous beer. Technically an altbier, this drinks kinda like a winter warmer without the spice. I like. Want to try again in better context. B
  • Lagunitas Brown Shugga’ – Yep, just reviewed this one too. Big flavors do well in beer club setting.
  • Mikkeller Santa’s Little Helper 2011 – One of my contributions… I’ve had the 2010 vintage, and though Mikkel claims to tweak the recipe every year, this seemed pretty similar to me. It’s listed as a Belgian Strong Dark, but it reads more like an Imperial Stout. Lots of chocolate and roasted malts, smooth, well hidden booze. It’s said that this is a spiced beer, but it’s hard to detect in this. Definitely a complex beer, and I’m guessing the spices contribute to that without being overpowering. Overall, a very good beer, worthy of the holiday. A-

So there you have it. Another successful beer club. Good company, good food, good beer. As always, already looking forward to the next installment.

Ommegang Scythe & Sickle

Unlike the harvest ales I’ve covered so far this year, Ommegang’s take on the trend is decidedly less hop-based, instead focusing on a complex malt bill consisting of freshly picked barley, oats, wheat, and rye. This is pretty much in line with Ommegang’s identity of Belgian brewing in America, as traditional Belgian styles aren’t very hoppy, instead focusing on malt and yeast for their flavor profile (perhaps part of the reason for good Belgo-Scotch relations, but I digress). Clocking in at 5.8% ABV, it’s also one of the lower-gravity offerings I’ve seen from Ommegang (the only thing lower that I can think of is Witte). Let’s see how they fared with this harvest ale:

Ommegang Scythe and Sickle

Ommegang Scythe & Sickle – Pours a darkish golden orange color with a few fingers of fluffy white head and plenty of lacing. Smells strongly of banana esters and a little clove, big Belgian yeast character. Taste pretty much follows along, big and bold bready, biscuity flavors along with a lot of assertive Belgian yeast spice, a light fruitiness, and even a little bitterness emerging in the finish. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent, but medium bodied and easy to drink. Spicy with a dry finish too, probably a good accompaniment with food. Overall, this is a really enjoyable beer, and it would make a fine go-to beer during this time of year. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.8% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a goblet on 10/28/12.

So Ommegang recently redesigned their website and rebranded their entire lineup of beers. I have to say that I find most of this unnecessary, though not entirely unpleasant. I suppose their label designs were in a bit of a rut, and the only label I’ll really miss is Hennepin, but the new labels with all the silhouettes. Their website certainly needed an update and the new design is pretty but… damn, it’s pretty much unusable. It’s like one of them horrible Flash sites from ’02 or something. As usual, it’s what’s in the bottle that counts, so as long as Rare Vos, Hennepin, Abbey Ale, and Three Philosophers are the same beer, I don’t really care about the labels… Next up on the Ommegang front is their 15th Anniversary ale, which appears to be another Belgian Strong Dark Ale…

Ommegang Biere D’Hougoumont: A Screenplay

1. INT. FRENCH BIVOUAC NEAR WATERLOO, DAY (CIRCA 1815)

EMPEROR NAPOLEON stands over a map of Waterloo, discussing strategy and tactics with three of his TRUSTED GENERALS. TRUSTED GENERAL 1 slices a block of cheese and sips wine.

TRUSTED GENERAL 1: This has gone on for far too long. We must surrender!

An embarrassed silence descends upon the tent, though the mood lightens when everyone realizes that TRUSTED GENERAL 1 will be chosen to lead the attack and thus almost surely die a horrifying death.

TRUSTED GENERAL 2 (rolling his eyes): We must take Château d’Hougoumont! It’s… strategically important.

NAPOLEON: Non! We will use Hougoumont to draw Wellington’s reserve to our left flank, then attack through the center right!

TRUSTED GENERAL 2: But sir, our troops need wine! We will surely find ample stores at the Hougoumont farmhouse. We must secure it immediately.

NAPOLEON: This is Belgium, you fool, that farmhouse makes beer, not wine!

TRUSTED GENERAL 3: That’s good enough for me.

TRUSTED GENERAL 1: I concur. Once we have an ample supply of booze, we can surrender in style. I do not think any of you are considering the merits of a good, old fashioned surrender…

NAPOLEON: Non! Non! Non! Non! Who is the military genius here? Who amongst you has been summoned to the future for historical study, eh?!

TRUSTED GENERAL 2 (looking pained): Sir, with all due respect to Messieurs Bill and Ted, I do not think you can rely on your limited time with them. For all we know, you’re famous for losing this battle!

NAPOLEON: Nonsense! I will take Waterloo and build an eighth wonder of the world based on my visions of the future, a water-park to inspire awe in all who witness its glory. Waterloo? Water park! This is no coincidence, it is fate!

TRUSTED GENERAL 1: You make a good point. I have been quite impressed by the visions you brought back from the future. I quite liked that… la glacé… what did you call it?

NAPOLEON: Ziggy Piggy.

TRUSTED GENERAL 1: Yes, magnifique! Let us make a Ziggy Piggy and surrender!

NAPOLEON: Non! Non! Non! We are not taking Hougoumont, and that is final. Beer is not worth taking.

2. INT. ENGLISH BIVOUAC NEAR WATERLOO, DAY (CIRCA 1815)

FIELD MARSHAL WELLINGTON stands over a map of Waterloo as a FIELD SCOUT returns from his mission.

SCOUT: Château d’Hougoumont is filled with beer. Apparently something called a Bière de Garde.

WELLINGTON (perking up): Beer? We must commit all our troops to taking Hougoumont! It is… strategically important.

3. EXT. BATTLE OF WATERLOO

The camera slowly PANS across the famous painting Battle of Waterloo by William Sadler.

Battle of Waterloo 1815 by William Sadler

KEN BURNS: And thus the fate of Battle of Waterloo was decided. By beer.

4. INT. COMPUTER DESK, EVENING

MARK: What? I’m pretty sure this is how it really happened. I realize this is too late for instruction, but if you read the above with horribly stereotyped French accents, it’s much funnier.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: Isn’t this supposed to be a beer blog?

MARK: Yeah, yeah, I’m getting to that. This is Ommegang’s take on a Bière de Garde, brewed with a rather complex malt bill (apparently eight different varieties), French Ale Yeast, French Strisselspalt hops, and aged on a combo of oak and maple staves. As Ommegang specialty brews go, it’s actually rather expensive, but I’m a sucker for these guys (who were my first real introduction to the world of good beer), so let’s get this party started:

Ommegang Biere d Hougoumont

Ommegang Biere D’Hougoumont – Pours a slightly hazy, burnt orange color with a finger of loosely bubbled off-white head. Smells of sweet fruits, maybe a little caramel, and musty Belgian yeast, with perhaps a hint of something else (maybe that’s the wood coming through). Taste starts off with some rich caramel, followed by some spicy mustiness from the yeast, finishing surprisingly sweet and fruity. Mouthfeel is on the higher end of medium bodied, very well carbonated, dry at the start by yielding to sweetness in the finish (an unusual but pleasant reversal of the norm, which starts sweet and finishes dry). While very sweet, it never gets sticky or cloying, perhaps because of the strong (but not at all overwhelming) carbonation. This beer drinks big, but it goes down easy too. Not quite a summer thirst quencher, but a very nice fall beer. Overall, straightforward but very well crafted and balanced. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.3% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 9/7/12.

Ommegang claims that this “malty French-style Farmhouse Ale is brewed to be aged” and that makes a certain sort of sense to me (and I’m not alone). I only bought the one bottle, but I may get another of these to add to the growing list of beers I’d like to cellar for a few years. Or not. I’ve established that I’m a weak, weak man when it comes to buying (er, hoarding) beer, but I’m also pretty lazy, so we’ll see what wins out.

Ommegang Cup O Kyndnes

Since I’m drinking hard to classify beers, let’s try this one on for size: A Traditional Belgian-style Scotch Ale. How can such a mashup be “traditional” you ask? What’s that? You didn’t ask? Well, too bad, because I’m going to wax philosophic on the topic for a while and you’re going to like it. Or not. I’m not your mother.

Where was I? Ah yes, the historical and beertastic relationship between the Scottland and Belgium, as laid out on the label of this beer:

The Belgian-Scotch brewing connection dates to World War I, when thousands of Scotsmen spent years in Belgium. To satisfy their new customers, Belgian brewers learned to brew Scotch-style ales, and the style became a new and significant part of the Belgian brewing tradition.

As the Aleheads note, this sounds more like marketing fluff than an attempt to carry on time-honored traditions. However, after looking into this a bit, it seems like there actually is a Belgo-Scotch connection dating back to WWI and involving Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat (which is notable in that they’re the parent company of Ommegang). Apparently a great deal of British soldiers brought their own beer over to Belgium during the Great War, and thus even the locals began to crave British styles, especially Scottish brews. To celebrate the end of the war, Moortgat brewed a special “Victory Ale” that was apparently dark, hefty, and malt-focused (just like Scotch Ales). Legend has it that folks referred to it as “a devil of a beer”, so Moortgat renamed the beer Duvel1 (which is Flemish for “Devil”). As peacetime trade was restored, imported Scotch ales became all the rage in Belgium.

Albert Moortgat had spent considerable time in Britain learning the intricacies of ale brewing. When he returned to Belgium, he brought with him a cache of bottle-conditioned McEwan’s Scotch ale. Each bottle was a treasure trove of viable, alien microorganisms. In his zeal to create a beer that was similar to the Scotch versions lapping up market share, Moortgat decided that the amalgam of yeast in the McEwan’s was worth investigating. He enlisted the help of none other than Jean De Clerck, the preeminent brewing scientist, pioneer of yeast isolation and characterization, and prestigious member of the Faculty of Brewing at Leuven University.

If you’ve ever spent time reading about beer history, especially that of eccentric Belgian brewers, the name Jean De Clerck will be immediately familiar. Dude is a legit legend in the brewing community, and if you like Trappist or Belgian beer styles, you owe the man a debt of gratitude. Anywho, with the help of De Clerck, Moortgat was making distinctive Beglo-Scotch ales in the 1930s.

So as it turns out, Ommegang really wasn’t blowing smoke up our arses when they made this beer. Indeed, of all the breweries out there, they may be the one most uniquely qualified to tackle such a historically-based brew. I suspect this beer, brewed with heather tips and a “wee bit” of smoked malt, isn’t quite an exact replica of what Duvel was making in the 30s, but their heart is in the right place. And while I have no basis for making such a claim2, I’ll go ahead and say that there’s a chance that Ommegang’s house yeast is distantly related to Duvel’s De Clerck strains. Or not.

One last thing before we get to the boring tasting notes, which is the name of the beer. It’s apparently derived from a line in Scottish poet Robert Burns’ infamous New Years anthem Auld Lang Syne: “For auld lang syne, my jo, For auld lang syne, We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, For auld lang syne.” No idea why Ommegang decided to spell “kindness” with a “y” and only one “s”, but I’m guessing it has something to do with those wacky foreigners and their silly languages and dialects getting all mixed up and impossible to translate, like Qwghlmian3. Alrighty then, since I’ve gone from wild and irresponsible speculations on history to insulting foreigners, I guess I should just get on with the drinking:

Ommegang Cup O Kyndnes

Ommegang Cup O Kyndnes – I suppose I should also note that this beer is almost 2 years old at this point. It was brewed and packaged in 2010, and I actually bought a half-case of the stuff (only 6 bottles, but the stupid PA case law actually worked in my favor this time, as this beer has aged rather well).

Pours a dark brown color with an amber hue and a finger or so of light colored head. Smells of rich, sweet malts of the darkish crystal variety with a little spice and maybe even some fruitiness apparent. Taste is sweet, but not quite as richly flavored as the nose would have you believe. This isn’t to say it tastes bad though, it’s really quite nice and well balanced, with a big spicy component emerging in the finish. I have to admit that I’m not entirely sure I can pick out heather, but the beer does have a distinctly Scottish feel to it. Also, I’ve never detected any smoke in this beer, so I’m guessing it’s a very small and delicate amount (I wasn’t really looking for it though, so who knows). I’m told that smoked malt acts as a preservative and can extend the life of a beer, and given my experience, that may be happening here. Mouthfeel starts off velvety smooth, but the carbonation and spice seem to pick up steam through the taste, finishing with a stronger kick than expected. Relatively dry, but very well balanced. I have to say, the years have been kind to this beer. I didn’t quite love this as much the first couple times I had it, but it’s really hitting the spot right now. Very nice beer. When I first had it, I would have awarded it a B or B+, but like I said, this particular bottle struck a nerve, so it gets an A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.6% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 6/29/12. Packaged on 8/2/10. Best by 8/2/12.

Ommegang continues to be one of my favorite breweries. This particular beer is a weird case, in that I just happened to pick up a sixer of the stuff on a whim about a year and a half ago (this is something I probably wouldn’t do these days) and while I liked it a lot, it wasn’t something that really struck me as fantastic until now… then again, the bottle sez this is best by 8/2/12, so maybe I just caught it at the height of its conditioning or something. It makes me wonder how accurate reviewing of single bottles can really be, but that’s a discussion for another time.

1 – Of course, this dark “Victory Ale” that became “Duvel” does not resemble what’s known as Duvel these days (which is light colored and maybe even a bit tart). But that is a long tale for another day. Or the article I linked to…

2 – If I were a historian, this claim would be downright irresponsible and Martyn Cornell would strike me down in righteous fury and vengeance. Fortunately, I’m just a random dude on the internet and my 3 readers probably take everything I say with a grain of salt.

3 – “…everyone hears it a little differently. Like just now–they heard your Outer Qwghlmian accent, and assumed you were delivering an insult. But I could tell you were saying that you believed, based on a rumor you heard last Tuesday in the meat market, that Mary was convalescing normally and would be back on her feet within a week.”

“I was trying to say that she looked beautiful,” Waterhouse protests.

“Ah!” Rod says. “Then you should have said, ‘Gxnn bhldh sqrd m!'”

“That’s what I said!”

“No, you confused the mid-glottal with the frontal glottal,” Rod says.

“Honestly,” Waterhouse says, “can you tell them apart over a noisy radio?”

“No,” Rod says. “On the radio, we stick to the basics: ‘Get in there and take that pillbox or I’ll fucking kill you.’ And that sort of thing.”

Before much longer, the band has finished its last set and the party’s over. “Well,” Waterhouse says, “would you tell Mary what I really did mean to say?”

“Oh, I’m sure there’s no need,” Rod says confidently. “Mary is a good judge of character. I’m sure she knows what you meant. Qwghlmians excel at nonverbal communication.”