American “Craft Beer” Classic: Brewery Ommegang’s Abbey Ale Dubbel

Here’s the third installment of the American Craft Beer Classic posts. There’s a mild disclaimer on this one; however. Brewery Ommegang is owned outright by Duvel Moortgat, a large Belgian brewery. However, Ommegang began with Duvel as a partial owner and by and large, the brewery works fairly independently. They also are actually in America.

The impact of Brewery Ommegang on the American beer landscape cannot be underestimated. Along with Allagash, the two Northeastern US breweries are two of the three major reasons why American palates not only accepted Belgian-style ales but sought them out in good numbers. Third being The Beer Hunter himself, Michael Jackson. Granted, Michael Jackson’s love for Belgian ales may have been a larger contributor, but Brewery Ommegang capitalized on palates thirsty for more than adjunct lagers, West Coast IPAs, and lagers out of Boston when Brewery Ommegang was founded in 1997.

Sort-of proper glassware with the Ommegang logo

Abbey Dubbel was the first beer Ommegang brewed and they certainly landed pretty successfully on their first try. With an ABV of 8.2% and amber body, the beer stands out from the crowd in two immediate ways. With an ABV nearly double what most American beer drinkers were accustomed to at the time beer first appeared (and many people now drink), Abbey Dubbel is not a chugger. The flavors evoked by the magic of the yeast make for a beer you want to experience, enjoy, and consider.

Original label & packaging, courtesy of Wikipedia

The second standout is the flavor profile. This beer is very far in flavor profile from the mass produced lagers of the 1970s and 1980s and is quite different from the emerging IPAs of the time. Like many Belgian style ales, the yeast is what gives the beer its strongest character. Similar to German wheat beers, there’s a hint of banana at the outset and the beer has the breadiness you’d expect given the strong yeast character in the beer’s make up. Stone fruits like plums, figs and raisins are evoked in the thick beer, giving it a sumptuous sweetness. Here’s what Ommegang says about the beer on their web site

Abbey was Ommegang’s first beer and was styled after Dubbels produced by Belgian Trappist monks. A deep, rich and malty ale, Abbey uses several Belgian specialty malts and spices resulting in a very aromatic, flavorful beer.

Deep burgundy in color, topped by a dense tan head, Abbey Ale is rich on the palate but with a dry finish. Suitable for cellaring, Abbey develops wonderful caramel, fig, and currant notes with age.

Abbey is in a class of its own when it comes to food friendly beers. Rich, chewy and fruity, the dubbel mimics the palate sensations of drinking a big zinfandel or cabernet sauvignon. If you know these wines, you know Abbey. Its flavor profile perfectly complements charcutterie, game meats, linguini with cheese, meatballs, and red sauce.

And just like its grape relatives, Abbey Ale is amazing in the kitchen. Using it like a red wine in a Bolognese, with demi-glace and mushrooms for a sauce, or for marinating chicken – it works beautifully. Combine one part Abbey and two parts beef stock as an amazing base for French onion soup, or reduce with rosemary and some stock, mound it with butter and top a steak.

I’ve had a decent amount of Dubbels from Belgian breweries (including the world class Dubbels from Westmalle, St. Bernardus, Corsendonk, and Chimay), and I really can’t say the Dubbel produced in Cooperstown is a lesser beer than those I’ve had. I’ve seen/heard how a Dubbel is one of the most difficult beers to brew and you wouldn’t know that by having a full glass Abbey Dubbel in front of you.

The great Jeff Allworth, over on his Beervana blog, has a great overview/piece on Brewery Ommegang, with this nice little quote about Abbey:

Their sort-of flagship Abbey, the dubbel, is a continual revelation. Dubbels are one of those beer styles that are composed of subtle elements and are very often, even in the case of Belgian examples, insipid, overly sweet, or just boring. Ommegang’s is a rich, layered experience.

I haven’t had the beer on draught, only out of bottles. The beer is now available in 4 packs which is nice. A beer this rich and flavorful is probably best enjoyed slowly in 12 oz. This is a beer that ages well, maybe up to 3 to 5 years. Ommegang has recently brewed and released a barrel-aged version called Double Barrel Dubbel, which is aged six months in a mix of bourbon and brandy casks. I’ve yet to try this one, though I will likely eventually grab a bottle.

Double Barrel Dubbel, photo courtesy of Brewery Ommegang’s blog

Abbey Ale is as close to a flagship beer for Ommegang as any of their beers except maybe the equally iconic Hennepin so is likely one of the easier beers to find from Ommegang. Well, the Game of Thrones beers might be more prevalent, but that’s a different story altogether as I posted in July 2017.

There are decent number of American breweries who include a Dubbel as part of the brewing portfolio, but few are as iconic or as elegant and stylistically perfect as Ommegang’s Abbey Ale. I’d even guess that most American breweries attempting the style were inspired by Ommegang’s Abbey Ale to some degree. In short, this beer is an absolute “must try.”

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