About eight months ago, I promised readers of this blog a post on beer. My strict publication schedule has finally brought us to that post in a timely manner. Rather than write on beer at-large, I have decided to approach things a beer at a time – and then elaborate too much in the usual fashion.
Earlier this week I imbibed a brew from the Ommegang Brewery1 of Cooperstown, New York. They call it “Abbey Ale”, and it is styled after the Dubbel ales produced by those wizards of beercraft, the Trappist monks of Belgium. Here is some information that greets the viewer of this 750mL, $9.99, corked bottle of beer: 8.2% ABV, a silhouette of two monk-like creatures clinking their goblets together, and the following script, “Ale Brewed with Licorice Root, Star Anise, Sweet Orange Peel, Coriander, and Cumin”, followed by, “Rich, Fruity and Aromatic Burgundian Brew”. All very nice, though it is this label information that has made this beer the second (maybe third) Ommegang brew that I’ve tried. Cumin, weird. Coriander, weird. And I dislike licorice. I also wasn’t sure what “Burgundian” really meant in relation to a beer, and I’m still not sure2.
Still, their Three Philosophers ale was ever-so-tasty, so I trusted the brewer if not this particular brew3. So, I bought it, brought it home, carefully considered it, removed the cork, and poured half a glass in such a manner as to not disturb the settled yeast carcasses over much, yet produce a healthy ‘head’ of bubbles on the poured glass. I read somewhere that this last bit (the pour) is crucial. CRUCIAL. Hard to say if I accomplished the first goal of the pour, though I can attest to achieving the second part. Anyway, my impressions of this fancy brew once I had a sniff and a taste were – mixed. All the visual cues were pleasing. Nice carbonation and attractive color, a warm brown with a touch of red. The problems started as soon as I lifted the glass toward my face. The aroma of the beer had a fair amount of that anise/coriander in it, at least to my nose, and this is not what I’ve been conditioned to expect in smelling a beer. Persevering, I took a drink, and was greeted by much the same. All the herbs, so proudly displayed in the label text, were equally proudly displayed in the taste and odor of the brew. This is not to say that the herbs completely dominated the beer. I’ve had beer, fruity beer usually, in which that occurs, and it is akin to an assault. No, here it is more akin to a slightly-too-firm handshake. Not unpleasant, but perhaps a little uncomfortable.
Now this bottle cost me about eleven dollars, so I’m clearly not a particularly frugal person, but I’m also not such a spendthrift that I would let the rest of the bottle go to waste just because I didn’t like the first sip. Luckily, because the herbs, though assertive, are not overpowering, the beer improves with continued imbibing. You might ask, doesn’t every beer do this? The short answer is yes of course4, but the point I’m trying to make here is that the unusual flavors of this beer grew on me. By the time I was half a glass into the bottle, the taste and aroma of the beer became familiar, less obtrusive. When I encounter a beer that is a little off-putting to start, it is not common that by the end of the bottle I end up rather liking it. I think that if I had (1) a more open mind about how beer was meant to taste and smell, and (2) liked anise/licorice, I might have enjoyed this beer thoroughly from start to finish. As it is, however, I don’t think I’ll be buying it again. At least not at that price.
1 Also the brewers of a licensed promotional beer for Game of Thrones called the Iron Throne Golden Ale. A quote from the brewer, “With a Lannister currently on the Throne, it made sense to do a delicate, but piercing Golden Blonde Ale with Noble hops.” Well spoken, sir.
2 The only thing I could come up with after a bit of looking around is that good Burgundy wines are almost always hailed for having very complex and rich flavors. I believe this is the quality that Ommegang meant to attribute to this beer. Still, it is so unclear to the reader that I can only assume that the brewer was just attempting to piggyback on the good name of the Burgundy wine region, despite this brew having nothing to do with it. Very odd.
3 Made this mistake with Dogfish Head Brewery once at the Oregon Brewers Festival. The brewers of the very fine 90 Minute IPA also make the Black & Red. Stay far, far away from that one my friends. Syrupy, heavy, very fruity, high alcohol, and very, very minty in the middle of the hot Oregon summer. Mint? What?
4 Well, to a point anyway.