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.”

Draught Diversions: December 2018 Six Pack

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and non-review posts here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

November was a bounce-back month, at least in terms of new beers. Even outside of the 6 brewery tour, the main highlight of the month, I managed to have quite a variety of brews. Additionally, one of my favorite Pennsylvania breweries, Tröegs Independent Brewing, released a fantastic variety pack this year – Most Wonderful Beer of the Year. This 12 pack features 6 varieties, two cans of each of the following beers: Troegenator, Blizzard of Hops, Perpetual IPA, Dreamweaver, Mad Elf (A Christmas Classic, now in cans!), and the beer I’ve highlighted towards the end of the post. Now, to the beers which comprise the December 2018 Six Pack…

Fudge Machine – Porter – Imperial / Double (Demented Brewing Company) – 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd

This beer was a helluva way to start the month. I’ve written multiple times how much I enjoy Demented’s beers and this is near the top of the list of what they’ve brewed over the last few years. One of my favorite NJ beers is River Horse’s Chocolate Porter and Fudge Machine is pretty damned close. I’m not sure how long this will be available from Demented or if it was a one-shot beer, but it should be in their regular rotation. As it stands, the beer is available on draft and in cans from the brewery.

Boomsauce (Lord Hobo Brewing Company) IPA – Imperial / Double New England – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Beers from Lord Hobo started appearing on NJ shelves maybe a year ago? Something like that. At the time, I was still a little averse to IPAs and that’s all Lord Hobo seems to brew. Be that as it may, I gave this one a try and really liked it – good hoppy juiciness. Basically, a perfect example of the New England IPA.

Falconer – Pale Ale – American (Czig Meister Brewing Company) – 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve had quite a few specialty beers from Czig Meister, but not too many of their core beers. I’d wanted to try Falconer for a while now and I’m glad I finally did. This is a clean, sweet, and refreshing take on the American Pale Ale. A great everyday beer and one that would be a great introduction to folks wary of craft beer.

Delirium Tremens – Belgian Strong Golden Ale (Huyghe Brewery [Belgium]) – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

When it comes to iconic Belgian ales, Delirium Tremens is quite high on the list. The pink elephant is a beacon to a quality ale and with Tremens, they set the bar for a yeasty, potent golden ale. I had this on draft years and years ago (well, before untappd at least). This bottle was birthday gift from a couple of folks I manage, which was nice. This beer is very similar to Cape May’s Devil’s Reach so if you like that, you’ll like this.

Chocolate Stout Stout – Milk / Sweet (Tröegs Independent Brewing) 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

If it hasn’t become clear lately (especially the last couple of months), I’ve been on a Tröegs kick. They do a great job with their variety packs and this winter/Christmas, they produced a great one – Most Wonderful Beer of the Year. For me, the star of this variety pack is this outstanding Chocolate Stout. It does just about everything you’d want a chocolate stout to do. This beer may have begun as one of Tröegs’s Scratch beers, but it really should be a style that gets its own six pack.

Belgian Freeze – Winter Ale/Belgian Dark Ale (River Horse Brewing Company) 3.75 bottle caps on untappd

Untappd lists this as a Winter Ale, Beer Advocate calls it a “Belgian Dark Ale.” Sure it is a winter beer, but the Belgian yeast and sweet and spicy flavor it evokes sets it firmly as a Belgian Dark. Regardless of what style this beer falls under, it is a tasty beer that can warm you up on a cold winter night. This is one of the beers River Horse has been brewing the longest and I can understand why. This is in rotation from River Horse from October to December.  With an ABV of 8% it won’t completely knock you out, but it isn’t a beer you want to throw back too quickly.

There were quite a lot of standouts this month, so there isn’t a real dud I want to call out above in great detail. But to be fair, and to show I don’t like every NJ beer I try, there was one beer that was a bit of a letdown – Bolero Snort’s Snickermoodle. This is a sweet porter brewed with cinnamon and Madagascar vanilla beans. I think I just don’t like vanilla as a component in my beers because in this beer, the vanilla finish completely destroys all the other flavors. Well, at least it did in this beer. I had two of the four from the four pack the second can was better, but that Madagascar vanilla is still overpowering.

Beer Review: Czig Meister’s Uholy Ritual

Name: Unholy Ritual
Brewing Company: Czig Meister Brewing Company
Location: Hackettstown, NJ
Style: Belgian Quadrupel
ABV: 9.4%

There isn’t much of a description on this beer, either on the brewery’s Website or on untapped and I don’t recall seeing much on the label, so in this spot, I’ll drop in the Beer Advocate description of the Quadrupel (Quad) style

Inspired by the Trappist brewers of Belgium, a Quadrupel is a Belgian style ale of great strength with bolder flavor compared to its Dubbel and Tripel sister styles. Typically a dark creation that ranges within the deep red, brown and garnet hues. Full bodied with a rich malty palate. Phenols are usually at a moderate level. Sweet with a low bitterness yet a well perceived alcohol.

Czig Meister is one of the Hackettstown trio of breweries, which also includes Jersey Girl Brewing and a recent feature here, Manskirt Brewing. I’ll go into more detail in a couple of days about Czig Meister, but suffice it to say, they are aggressively brewing and hitting NJ distribution, both good things.

Unholy Ritual is a big, dark beer that hits a lot of the expected notes for a Belgian Quad/Quadrupel Ale. The style is one of the older varieties of Belgian ales being brewed and one of the strongest – most clock in between 9% and 13% ABV. Usually dark brown to deep amber, Czig Meister’s take on the beer pours a deep mahogany/amber and has a strong, earthy aroma. I found it very inviting indeed, with a sweet aroma that started hitting the right flavor buttons.

The first sip is sweet and malty with hints of stone fruit/plums as well as figs and raisins. There’s enough complexity with the yeast and other flavors that I found it a little difficult to take my time with the beer. I wanted to give this beer the opportunity to shine on its own after my meal, so it was effectively a dessert beer. With those earthy, stony fruits being emulated, I couldn’t have planned this beer any better. I also did take my time with it, enjoying the full 500ml bottle over the course of about an hour and as usual, the flavors became more delicious over that time.

Since being on untappd, I’ve had only three other Belgian Quads before this one but they were there of the more prominent American Craft Breweries (Ommegang, Weyerbacher, and Victory). As such, I’ll admit to perhaps not being the best to judge this one exactly against the style and its peers in the style, especially a Quadrupel from a Belgian brewery. Against the three “classic” American Quadrupels; however, Unholy Ritual compared very, very favorably and worked very well for me. It hit the notes the flavor notes in the style description quite well, too.

Czig Meister’s beers are available in Central and Northern NJ and maybe, NY and Pennsylvania. If you happen upon this in a bar or find a 500ml bottle with that awesome label, grab it and savor the complexities of a classic Belgian style interpreted by a newish, growing NJ brewery.

A final note: I realize the standard pint glass isn’t the “proper glassware” for a Belgian Quadrupel, but I always lean towards using the glass of the brewery’s beer I’m drinking rather than appropriate glass style. I do have a couple of snifters. I’ll also admit the label and name of the beer drew me to it, so that’s successful marketing at work!

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: The Bruery Autumn Maple

Name: Autumn Maple
Brewing Company: The Bruery
Location: Placentia, CA
Style: Belgian Brown / Pumpkin/Yam Beer
ABV: 10%

From the beer’s description on The Bruery’s site:

Brewed with 15 lbs. of yams per barrel (in other words, a lot of yams!), this autumn seasonal is a different take on the “pumpkin” beer style. Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla, maple syrup, and fermentation with our traditional Belgian yeast strain, make this bold and spicy beer perfect for a cold autumn evening.

We have also created bourbon barrel-aged, barrel-fermented, and darker variations of Autumn Maple.

A shift to a California brewery this time around, The Bruery. A brewery known for big, bold, flavorful brews distributed in what seems to only be 750mL bottles and draft. I’ve never seen any of their beers in 12 oz bottles here in New Jersey. I’ve seen many of their bomber bottles and have had two of their “Days of Christmas” series and loved both. I recently received a promotion at work and my wife, knowing what kinds of beers I enjoy, picked me up a bottle of this in congratulations. The timing was also perfect as I was approaching unique check-in #1,000 on untappd. I figured this beer would be a perfect celebration of both of those things and I was correct in that assumption. As you can see by the screen-grab to the right, Autumn Maple was my 1,000th unique beer on untappd.

As the name of this beer indicates, Autumn Maple is an annual Fall / Autumn release. It pours very brown and a little bit cloudy, not the brownish-orange-amber of many fall beers like Oktoberfests or Pumpkin beers. The first thing that struck me with this beer was the Belgian yeast, it came through in the aroma along with the spices associated with pumpkin beers (cinnamon and nutmeg in particular) even if this isn’t really a pumpkin beer. The longer I breathed in the aroma, the more I could smell the spices and knew this could be a really tasty beer.  That aroma did not lead me astray.

The presence of the Belgian yeast is up front in the taste, too. A quite potent presence at that. But then the spices come through and there’s a nice intermingling of the cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla with that yeast strain that is quite interesting. I don’t quite get the taste of the yams (despite 15 pounds of them) as much as the spices, but they give the beer an added earthiness and weight. Even when I have candied yams or sweet potatoes they act more as a delivery mechanism for the other flavors.

The beer is a big one, not just in the size of the bottle, but ABV at 10%. I wound up enjoying this one gradually and I slowed down even more once I realized how much more flavorful the beer was once it had the chance to air out, warm up, and have more open space for the flavor components to play together. Those spices played even more with the yeasts to make this a very, very tasty beer. For an unfiltered beer, there wasn’t really much sediment at the bottom of the glass, good or bad.

The label says this is a “Belgian Brown Ale” but the beer sites consider it a Pumpkin/Yam/Vegetable beer. I don’t care how Autumn Maple is categorized, because quite frankly, I found it to be a unique, delicious beer. Definitely an out-of-the-box take on the traditional fall Pumpkin beer, I can see myself returning to this beer every Autumn.

It was an early September evening when I enjoyed this beer, a cool evening that felt more like Autumn than late summer. This is a beer to drink alone while you are engrossed in a great, enjoyable book for a couple of hours (as I was) or one to share with a friend or family member over a hearty, Autumn meal or as a desert beer following that same hearty meal.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Beer Review: Trappistes Rochefort 8

Name: Trappistes Rochefort 8
Brewing Company: Brasserie de Rochefort
Location: Rochefort, Belgium
Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
ABV: 9.4%

Maybe not my best pour, but look at that fluffy head

From the beer’s description on Belgium Tourism’s Website :

History and provenance are readily apparent, in the taste of the 8. Ever since the 1960s, Rochefort’s own yeast culture has produced those characteristic esters in its divine brews.

Rochefort 8 is considered the ‘lad’ among the three Rochefort beers, with its green-bottle cap hat, which first saw light in 1954. This youngest member of the family straightaway received a warm welcome, after its commissioning by one particular (and rather important) client. One year on, and it was made an official addition to what is now the Rochefort trio, and marketed as a ‘spéciale’. Some still refer to it by this name.

The Rochefort 8 is a beer to be savoured at your leisure. Not too dense, it goes down easily, quietly sparkling. The alcohol in the finish never lets you forget that this is an authentic degustation beer, one that cannot be hurried along. It is sweet and chocolatey, pleasant but certainly never boring. The same can be said of the alcohol content – it makes itself known, but it never overpowers, leaving plenty of room for all the rich subtlety to be found in a glass of the 8.

If beer is said to be liquid bread, then Trappist Rochefort 8 is a great example of that ideal. Trappist beers are relatively rare, there are certain rules and regulations around what is considered a Trappist Brewery, Rochefort is one of only a eleven breweries in the world that can be called a Trappist Ale, and is a classic example of a Trappist Brewery in Belgium. The Abbey in Rochefort has been brewing since 1595 so, like last week’s beer from Weihenstephan, this beer can be considered a European Classic.

So what can one expect from a beer brewed by an Abby that’s been around for over 800 years and brewing beer for a majority of that time? A lot of complexity. The yeast in this one releases a bounty of flavors that will appeal to beer lovers who appreciate low-hopped, dark, bready beers with hints of fruit. This is a beer to enjoy over time and not one to consume quickly.

The beer pours brown from the bottle and, at least with my bottle, a very fluffy tan head. The aroma hits your nose and invites you to linger for a bit to give your taste buds an idea of what to expect. A “Belgian Strong Dark Ale” is almost like a stout, largely from the hue of the beer and the robust nature of the flavor profile, but it isn’t quite a stout either. At least this one is fairly far removed from a stout.

The first hints are of a malty, thick beer that will linger on the palate. I didn’t quite get the plum flavor evocations in the taste profile others claim to taste, but I definitely get the banana hints from the yeast. Or maybe my palate is unaccustomed to plums, especially as a flavor component in a beer. There’s also a spice flavor laced throughout the beer that isn’t quite clove, nor is it too assertive. Rather, it gives the beer a very well-rounded flavor profile. That was all on just the first couple of sips of the beer.

This beer warms up real nice. As it gets closer to room temperature, the flavors come out more prominently. Maybe the plum hints come through as the beer warms, because I get *something* that is a bit of a fruity taste, but not the banana evocation I tasted initially. Maybe something earthier like figs, I don’t know, but I like it quite a bit.

At 9.4%, this one does have a noticeable bite of alcohol. This beer has a quality similar to barrel aging that gives stouts an extra kick, but it is welcome in this beer and not too overpowering. Of course I took my time drinking this beer over the course of maybe 45 minutes to an hour. There’s not a lot of filtration going on here, so expect some yeast particulates to linger at the bottom of the glass, even thicker from this bottle than I’d come to expect from a Bavarian Hefeweizen. Some people think those particulates are the best part of the beer. I was a little wary of finishing them off, but what allowed the flavor of the beer to evolve even in the last few sips was swirling the beer with those particulates, which continued to release flavor bursts.

This is the second Belgian style brew I’ve reviewed here at The Tap Takeover and the first from an actual Belgian brewery. I’m coming to thoroughly enjoy the beer produced by the Belgian brewing methodologies and Belgian ingredients, particularly the yeast which gives the beer the robust flavor, a great deal. This is a beer worth trying once. I know I’ll be trying more of the Trappist Ales in the future.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

Beer Review: Victory Brewing Peach Belgian Blonde with Coriander

Name: Blackboard Series #6 Peach Belgian Blonde with Coriander
Brewing Company: Victory Brewing Company
Location: Downingtown, PA
Style: Belgian Blonde Ale
ABV: 7.5.%

From the beer’s description on Victory Brewing’s Web site:

We’re excited to bring you the series in adventurous and unique beers –the Blackboard Series. Combining our award winning brewing techniques along side the deliciously fresh ingredients we are known for, we bring you four new rotating “special” brews available on draft, with two of them also available in bottles throughout our distribution footprint. We invite you to taste what our brewers are cooking up!

Blackboard Series Release No. 06 is Peach Belgian Blonde with Coriander. Bursting with fresh peach and spice aromas, this Belgian-Style Blonde Ale features stone fruit notes with a touch of sweetness and a refreshingly dry finish.

Victory Brewing is one of the giants of American Craft Beer, with a few of their brews considered classic or landmark beers that helped to establish the American Craft Brewing movement/ I’m looking at you Prima Pils and Hop Devil. One of those styles is classic European, the other a beer more associated with American brewing (at least as of late). Their motto is, after all, “European Tradition, American Ingenuity.” That convergence of styles and motto is quite evident in this beer (and much of the Blackboard series).

I’ll be upfront and say that Victory Brewing is also one of my favorite American Craft breweries, I’ve had well over two dozen different beers from them, visited the Downingtown, PA Brewery a few times, and have enjoyed just about everything I’ve had that has the big red V on the bottle. I’ll probably write up a Draught Diversions about them in the future. But on to this beer…

Last year (2016), Victory started the Blackboard series of beers. Special, one-off beers that are more experimental in nature than you’d expect from a Pilsner or an IPA. The first beer in this series was an Agave IPA with Grapefruit. I’ve had two of the Blackboard beers, the Coffee Cream Ale and the extremely well-rounded and refreshing Berliner Weisse with Elderflower. Problem with this series of beers is their limited run, so I knew I had to snag a six pack of the latest (as of this writing) beer in the series – the Belgian Blonde with Peach and Coriander. I’m very pleased I did.

Blondes and golden ales may be considered a very ordinary style, unless the style is more Belgian in nature, like this beer. The Belgian yeast adds something to the flavor profile that sets it apart from most other yeasts, and subsequently, adds a dimension of complexity to the beer. The beer pours a deep gold with a slight tint of orange or amber that may come from the addition of peaches to the brewing mix. It almost looks like peach juice, or at least the peach syrup from the can of peaches. (Cue the song “Peaches” from the Presidents of the United States of America). The aroma gives off the peach and yeast blend which is a nice hint of what’s to come once you drink the beer.

The peach is very strong in this beer, but is complemented really nicely by the Belgian Yeast and the flavors of clove and banana that yeast typically imparts. That drawing of the peach on the label tells it all, the peach is the dominant flavor in this one. It hit the right notes for me and evoked the same taste happiness as does peach cobbler. This is a fine dessert beer, but a beer you’d only want one sampling of per session because of the strong sweetness from the peach. But make no mistake, I am more than happy that I have 5 more of these in my refrigerator waiting for me.

If you don’t like peaches, you probably won’t like this one. But if you don’t like peaches, you probably wouldn’t try this one anyway. This is a really nice experimental beer from the fine folks at Victory that is timed perfectly as a summer release. I can see myself enjoying one of these on a late summer evening or early fall evening after the dessert has settled into my belly and I want to relax with a beer that will give me the hit of sweetness we all crave following a tasty meal.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.