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.”

Beer Review: Trooper Hallowed by Robinsons Brewery

Name: Trooper Hallowed
Brewing Company: Robinsons Brewery (Iron Maiden Beer)
Location: Stockport, Greater Manchester, England
Style: Belgian Dubbel
ABV: 6%

In the background: Enhanced/Remastered Number of the Beast CD (2002) opened to the lyrics of Hallowed be thy Name.

From Robinsons’ Landing Page for the beer:

Crystal Rye gives HALLOWED a blood red hue and a smooth dry finish. The Belgian style yeast we have used in this brew along with Noble hops combine to deliver a complex palate of subtle banana and a sweet plum finish.

A real ale enthusiast, band vocalist Bruce Dickinson has helped develop a beer with a true depth of character. Visit www.ironmaidenbeer.com & discover the latest news updates, HALLOWED stockists & much more.

I am a big Iron Maiden fan, they are one of my two or three favorites bands. A few years back, Robinsons Brewery (which began brewing in 1838) started brewing beers inspired by the band, the first of which was an ESB, simply titled Trooper. When I realized they brewed a Belgian Dubbel, I knew I had to find it and try it.

When I popped open the beer, the liquid that emerged was a deep amber/red which is what I’d expect from a Dubbel. The aroma is typical of the Belgian (style) yeast used in the brew process, too. Those two characteristics had me hopeful (especially since I didn’t care too much for the the original Trooper ale). First sip, and I thought, could this be some kind of error? But yes, this was a Belgian Dubbel from a British brewery. Not something I’d typically expect. Or rather, my knowledge of British/UK breweries is somewhat limited.

The sweetness and spice from the yeast creates such a wonderful flavor in the beer, it was hard to just sip it despite the fact that I only had one bottle of the beer. The typical plum/stone-fruit sweetness evoked by the Belgian-style yeast was present along with hints of banana. I don’t know what exactly other than tastiness. Sometimes the pure well-crafted nature of the beer shines through in the look and taste of the beer, this is definitely the case for Trooper Hallowed.

By the end, I realized the sands of time were running low. I took a look through the glass at the remainder of the beer. Could it be there was some sort of error? Was it really the end of the beer? Sadly, it was. But with other beers in the Trooper line of brews from Robinsons, I’m hopeful the others are closer in quality to Trooper Hallowed than the original Trooper beer. Unfortunately, the Red n’ Black porter is out of production.

The name of the beer is an homage to Hallowed be thy Name, one of the more popular (especially in concert) songs from Maiden’s landmark album The Number of the Beast, their third studio album and first to feature legendary, iconic lead singer Bruce Dickinson. Fans of the band may have noticed some lyrical homages in my review.

There’s a website dedicated to Robinson’s Iron Maiden/Trooper line of beer http://www.ironmaidenbeer.com.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

From the IronMaidenBeer.com web site: HALLOWED’s innovative bottle label pays tribute to Belgian beer, presenting IRON MAIDEN’s iconic mascot EDDIE, robed in traditional monk’s clothing: a nod to the Trappist monastic brewing tradition in Belgium.

 

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Dubbel, Tripel and Quad Oh My! (Level 7)

Dubbel, Tripel, or Quad, you can’t go wrong with these amazing feats of Belgian style brewing. Whether you’re looking for something light and golden or dark and boozy, one of these will do the trick!

Tower of Beer (Level 2)

While a pint traditional English ale will always remain a staple, the craft beer scene in England, much like the rest of the world, has continued to grow at a rapid rate!

 

Draught Diversions: Brewery Ommegang’s Game of Thrones Beers

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…

This Sunday, the biggest show in the history of HBO returns, Game of Thrones so what better time to feature the  officially “licensed” beers made by the fine folks of Brewery Ommegang inspired by the show. I’ve been a fan of the books for years having read the series when the first book published. I was lucky enough to attend a couple of George R.R. Martin’s signing events over the past couple of years, too.

At the Staten Island Yankees, who became the Staten Island Direwolves for the day. There’s an actual wolf sitting next to Mr. Martin

When HBO decided to make what even author George R.R. Martin considered an unfilmable project, the craft brewers of Ommegang knew they could complement the show. The show was an immediate success when it debuted in 2011, two years later in March 2013, the first Game of Thrones beer from Brewery Ommegang was released – Iron Throne Blonde Ale, a refreshing, relatively light beer at 6.5% ABV.

This was a smart move and a very approachable beer,  with hints of citrus. I recall having a sample at the second Garden State Brewfest in May 2013, when the event was held walking within distance from where my  in-laws live. I also remember the box/case of bottles Brewery Ommegang had at the event went very quickly so I was fortunate that a local favorite bar had it on tap a couple of months after that. As of this writing, Iron Throne is the only one of the Game of Thrones beers I haven’t checked into Untappd as I didn’t sign up until about a year later.

Later that year, the second Game of Thrones beer was released, a rich earthy stout clocking in at 7% ABV: Take The Black, which is named as an homage to the Night’s Watch. These men, often bastards or criminals who “commute their sentence” by taking the black of the Night’s Watch and live at the Wall. They are humanity’s defense against what may emerge from beyond the Northern borders. I recall enjoying the beer, but there was a bitterness to the finish that didn’t complement the chocolate profile so well. Not a bad beer, but I thought the Iron Throne was a better beer. (untappd check-in)

The third beer, Fire and Blood is a 6.8% Red Ale with chili peppers launched March 2014 about a month before Season 4 began airing. This beer is as an homage to the fire breathing dragons of House Targaryen and their matriarch Daenerys. The series Martin gave the books is A Song of Ice and Fire so there’s a thematic parallel there, too. I only recently began appreciating beers made with spiciness so when I had this one a few years ago, I wasn’t too keen on it. There seemed to be a fruitness to counter the spice at the end, but it is still a well-made beer. (untappd check-in)

October 2014 brought the fourth Game of Thrones beer and up to that point, the Game of Thrones beer I enjoyed the most. An 8% Belgian Dubbel, Valar Morghulis takes its name from one of the key phrases from the series which translated from the ancient language of Valyrian, means “All Men Must Die.” It should be no surprise that this is a well-made, delicious beer considering how very Belgian it is in nature. Ommegang’s year-round Dubbel, Abbey Ale, is incredible beer, earning a perfect 100 from Beer Advocate. Valar Morghulis doesn’t have as much of a fruit hint as does Ommegang’s Abbey, but it is still a delicious beer. I’d especially love to find another bottle of this in the next couple of days to enjoy while watching the season premiere on Sunday. (untappd check-in)

Season Five and beer number 5 in the Game of Thrones series synced up and released at the same time in April 2015. Beer #5 is a 7.2% AB Dark Saison named Three-Eyed Raven after a creature of prophecy and supernatural power whose visions have profound effect on the characters and their actions. This is a pretty unique beer, blending elements of a farm house Saison with a dark ale/stout. The IBU on this one is high at 80, but it is balanced by a mellow fruitiness on the finish. I would love to give this one another try, too. (untappd check-in)

Two things changed with beer 6. Rather than a fall release, it was released closer to the premiere of Season Six of the show in March 2016. The beer bottle’s shape/style changed slightly, too. This installment of the beer series takes its name from the collective realms where the story takes place, Seven Kingdoms, which is a Hoppy Wheat Ale at 6.9%. This is probably my least favorite of the Game of Thrones beers. I really like wheat beers, but there’s too much of a hop presence in this one for my liking. I know, the name/style says it right on the label, but it just didn’t work for me as well as all the others. (untappd check-in)

That’s a signed first edition of A Game of Thrones

Season Seven begins this weekend (July 2017), three months later than usual, but returning to the dual year release, Ommegang released beer number 7 in September 2016. This is currently my favorite of the eight beers they’ve released, a big 9% Belgian Tripel, Valar Dohaeris. The name is a companion saying to Valar Morghulis and means “All Men Must Serve,” (in this case beer) and a companion or “sister beer” to that earlier Belgian Style Dubbel. Oh boy is this a delicious beer and has the yeast, spice, banana, and bready profile you would expect from a Tripel. Since this a 9% beer, it might be a good idea to slowly enjoy this one over the course of an episode or two. (untappd check-in)

The most recent brew is timed slightly ahead of the premiere of Season Seven, Bend The Knee a Belgian Golden Ale that does not feel like the 9% the label indicates. It is more malty than I’d expect a golden ale to be, but the Belgian yeasts, along with the honey added during the fermentation seems to cut the bitterness some Golden Ales can exhibit. (untappd check-in)

So, those are the Game of Thrones beers. 8 beers, seven seasons and 5 books as of this writing.

All the books in the series, and all the bottles except the most recent, “Bend the Knee”

 

Draught Diversions: Jughandle Brewing Company

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

This is the first of what will be several posts featuring a single brewery I’ve visited. There are currently 73 production breweries in NJ and with state’s small size from a geographical perspective, it is quite easy to find a brewery either intentionally (by visiting the great and indispensable NJ Craft Beer website) or by accident. In my case, there are 4 or 5 micro/nanobreweries/brewpubs within about 15 miles of my house as of this writing. (More are on the way in some phase of start-up.)

Which brings me to Jughandle Brewing in Tinton Falls, NJ, soon to be celebrating their first year of brewing and selling beer. They have a great location, just off of the Garden State Parkway (Exit 102) and barely a mile from the Jersey Shore Outlets, which makes it very convenient to stop there after a day of shopping at the outlets or on the way home from the beach. In my case, my wife and I decided to enjoy the lovely weather and try to get some things at the outlets. We stopped in the brewery on our way home. After all, we had to pass it the brewery on our way to the Garden State Parkway after we left the outlets.

The brewery is located in a strip mall, which might seem somewhat odd initially. At least to folks not from NJ and unfamiliar with the peculiar laws surrounding breweries and microbreweries in particular. There are specific laws that preclude breweries from selling food. On the other hand, breweries in NJ like Jughandle and others (for example Ship Bottom in Beach Haven, Twin Elephant in Chatham, and Wet Ticket in Rahway) allow patrons to bring food inside the brewery. There’s a pizzeria and I think a Mexican take out place in the same strip mall as Jughandle.

What about the beer? What impressed me the most about the beer was the variety of styles on tap, with quality across the board for the four beers I sampled. There are too many breweries, I can think of a couple in NJ, that seem to only brew IPAs or focus on one primary style…or when you visit one of the smaller breweries and of the 12 taps, 9 are variations of one style. Not so with Jughandle, in addition to the styles I had, they were also pouring a Scotch Ale, a Brown Ale, a Irish-style Stout as well as a couple of IPAs

A cleverly designed flight paddle

I had four tasters, which is how many these fine folks include in their flight. I love the flight paddle they use for delivering their flight of tasters. I started off with Berliner Weisse with Raspberry – a very refreshing beer perfect for summer. Second was the Belgian Dubbel, a style I don’t see very often from smaller breweries, also quite good. Third was another style, steeped in tradition, but sort of drowned out by IPAs and other popular styles: Dunkelweizen. Jughandle’s Dunkelweizen really matched well against the style profile. Last was the classic German Hefeweizen and a very good rendition of it from the fine folks at Jughandle.  I’d likely fill my growler with their Berliner Weisse or Hefeweizen were I to visit them again.

I’d highly recommend stopping in if your travels take you near their location. If you are in NJ and enjoy quality beer, making Jughandle a part of your trip would be worth it.

As I mentioned at the top of my post, Jughandle is celebrating the first year on June 15 with a Pig Roast. Were I a little bit closer, I’d probably attend.

Ein Prosit!