Thursday, August 16, 2007

Beer o' the Moment: Ommegang Ommegeddon

Being only an hour's drive or so from Cooperstown, home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame (and quite a lovely little town in its own right) is a not unattractive aspect of life in the Capital Region of New York State. Proximity to the fantastic Belgian-style ales put out by Brewery Ommegang is no small part of that. Truth be told, we probably don't take advantage of either the town or the brewery nearly enough. We'd been hearing rumblings for awhile about the release of their latest creation, Ommegeddon, so you can imagine our excitement when a 750 ml bottle labeled "Batch #1, June 2007" was generously delivered into our hands.

Here's what the brewery says about it on their web site:

We are happy to introduce our newest addition, Ommegeddon.

It’s our new 8% abv Belgian-style ale with a wild twist- a dose of Brettanomyces yeast and a blast of dry hopping. Ommegedon is a strong blonde ale with a sharp citrus flavor that, like the other Ommegang ales has a dry finish. It’s dryness and funkiness begat the name of Ommegeddon-for the time when the forces of light and dark battle for world dominion. It’s time for you to pick your side.
We weren't really sure what to expect from this beer, especially given the line "Funkhouse Ale with Brettanomyces" on the bottle. Not knowing much about the wild yeast strain Brettanomyces (hereafter affectionately known as Brett), we did a bit of reading on the subject. A small bit, but still, give a little credit, eh? I don't claim to be anything but a novice in the ways of Belgian brewing, but, hey, I'm willing to work at it! Basically, Brett, along with Pediococcus and Lactobacillus is one of the "big three" beer (or wine - if you're into that sort of thing) spoiling micro-organisms. Most of the time, when of these bad boys is present in your adult beverage, it means something went horribly wrong with the brewing process.

Under a skilled hand, however, these bacteria can mean wonderful things. Brett, in particular, is at least partially responsible for the flavours of such luminaries as Orval, Rodenbach, and Liefmans. It is known for the "sweaty" or "horse blanket" qualities it can impart. In a good way.

To learn more, check out this article by Tomme Arthur, head of brewing at San Diego's highly regarded Port Brewing, and lead visionary of their Belgian offshoot, Lost Abbey. Alternatively, just try a few Brett-influenced beers. We plan to do both, perhaps repeatedly. Previous experience with Ommegang's five mainstay ales has taught us that they certainly know how to brew in the Belgian style. Well enough that they are now Belgian-owned and a portion of their line has been brewed in Belgium over the past couple years just to keep up with production. The Ommegeddon proved to be surprisingly easy to drink, and not nearly as "funky" as I'd hoped. Or was it feared? It certainly has that familiar smooth and slightly sweet Belgian quality to it.

We found it surprisingly similar to some of Ommegang's other offerings; almost a blend of Rare Vos and Hennepin, with just a dash of something unknown and earthy. It is faintly sweet and spicy, but with an oddly pleasant dampness. A little hoppy. Dry, bitter finish. There is a lot going on, but it definitely drinks lighter than the original Abbey Ale. This easy quaffability belies the 8% ABV. A 750 ml bottle of this stuff could easily disappear in a hurry.

A Second Opion - from (our very own) Bill:
Well from what I remember it seemed like a Saison or farmhouse ale.

It had that kind of strong Belgian taste which I can usually take or leave,
but in this case I did like it. It had a certain sweetness to it, too, like
a light cherry (this is all based on memory, of course). The thing that I
liked most about it was how smooth it was; it didn't have that champagne
fizz that most of those Saisons have. That made it a far more pleasant
drink for me. I wasn't blown away by it, and for $13 way overpriced. But it
was exemplary for the style (which is a style to which I am not
particularly partial).
The label does recommend that you should "Cellar 6 Months for maximum enjoyment of Brettanomyces funkiness." This one is crafted in such a manner that the mild funkiness in the beer now might turn into something George Clinton would envy in a year's time. Having grown up on a farm, we fear not a whit the "horse blanket" flavour, so aging this sounds like a good plan. It is hard to justify (at least to the wife) the $12-15 price tag too often, especially with most of Ommegang's other offerings available for less than half that, but this is certainly something we'd love to try again in six months or a year when those wild yeasts have had a chance to go about their work.

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