Beer Review: Brewery Ommegang’s Game of Thrones Winter is Here

Name: Game of Thrones: Winter Is Here
Brewing Company: Brewery Ommegang
Location: Cooperstown, New York
Style: Witbier / Double White Ale
ABV: 8.3%

That is indeed George R.R. Martin’s signature on A Dance of Dragons in the background.

From the beer’s description on Ommegang’s Web site:

Winter is Here is brewed with pilsner malt, white wheat malt, and soft red wheat flakes, hopped with Saaz hops, and spiced with white pepper, sea salt, coriander and sweet orange peel. Brewery Ommegang’s house yeast is used in primary and secondary fermentation. This double white ale pours a hazy pale straw color with a stark white head. Aromas of banana, clove, and pronounced peppery phenols lead, and the flavor is slightly sweet malt, subtly balanced by hints of sea salt. Despite a full mouthfeel and healthy ABV, it still manages to drink quite lightly. The finish gradually builds in a warming crescendo of peppery spice

I’ve been trying to “spread the love” and not cover the same breweries in my reviews and Draught Diversions. Sure I’ve posted a Tuesday Beer Review for breweries I’ve visited, but I’ve tried not to repeat myself and I’m aiming to continue that trend through the end of the year. I think I’m still getting away on a technicality here with this review since I haven’t truly reviewed a beer from Brewery Ommegang yet. Since I’ve done a review/overview of all the Game of Thrones beers from Brewery Ommegang, I almost have to review the newest in the series, right?

Wheat based beers are high up on my list of favorites and Witbiers are the Belgian take on the style. As loyal readers of this blog may recall, the first beer review here at the Tap Takeover was of a Witbier. Ommegang’s primary output is Belgian influenced styles so a Witbier is a natural fit for them. I’ve enjoyed their Witte Wheat in the past so I was especially looking forward to this latest installment of the Game of Thrones series.  In the latest Game of Thrones offering, Ommegang has really hit it out of the park, so to speak. Billed as a “Double White Ale” this beer is everything you’d expect from a finely crafted Witbier and more.

It pours a little thicker than I’ve come to expect from Witbiers, but the aroma is spot on. The one thing that stands out on appearance for me is the extremely fluffy head. Regardless of how I tilted the glass or patiently I tried to refill from the 750ml bottle, the head was quite large. The beer looks very inviting once the pint glass has the full head on, but it is thicker than most Witbiers I’ve enjoyed.

The spices and clove are up front, as one expects from a Witbier. Excellent so far. I got a little more banana hints than orange/coriander compared to most other Witbiers I’ve had. This is by no means a slight on the beer. Rather, I like the slightly different profile for this one. It gives the beer a wonderful feel and taste of gravitas; this is far from your standard Witbier.

The other thing that stands out in this beer is the level of maltiness. Most wheat beers, especially the lower in alcohol Witbiers, aren’t nearly as malty as Winter is Here. Again, this is not a knock on the beer by any means. I think the higher alcohol (about twice that of a typical Witbier, this one is 8.3%, most Witbiers are between 4% and 5% ABV) accounts for the more pronounced malt.

The only thing that strikes me as a little odd is that I typically associate wheat beers, especially Witbiers, with warmer months. With higher a ABV, though that thought sort of evaporates. Also, since the glowering fellow on the label is the Night King, the head of the White Walkers, it makes sense to make a beer in homage to him and his followers as a White Beer, another name for Witbiers.

Of the nine Game of Thrones beers Ommegang has brewed and distributed, Winter is Here is my personal top two or three. This is a beer that is a delicious “leveled-up” version of a Witbier that really works to the strengths of Ommegang’s wonderful Belgian heritage and brewing styles.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Keep Your Wits About You (Level 8)

Hazy and white like a winter storm, but best enjoyed on a warm sunny day. This specific style of wheat beer brings with it a subtle mix of spices and hops, giving it a distinct flavor with little bitterness.

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”

 

Tapping The Tap Takover

What is The Tap Takeover? It is a craft beer blog focused primarily on beer reviews, with some reviews of breweries as well as other assorted beer thoughts. I have enjoyed beer for many years now and like many other “craft beer enthusiasts,*” I feel we are in a golden age of beer. In New Jersey alone (where I’ve lived my entire life), there are over 50 craft breweries and a significant portion of those opened over the last 2 or 3 years, and close to a dozen within less than an hour’s drive from where I live and work.

With that thought in mind, most of the beers I review and/or talk about will be available in the Northeast with a slight focus on NJ craft/microbreweries though I will try to include beers with more of a national distribution, like Founders or Sierra Nevada. For example, I know of Schell’s Hefeweizen because a friend on untappd checks it in throughout the summer. Since the beer is unavailable in NJ/Northeast, I of course can’t review it which is a shame because for me, few beers are as satisfying in the summer as a Hefeweizen. Likewise, beers I review from Carton Brewing in Atlantic Highlands, NJ will have limited availability outside of NJ. Hell, some of Carton’s beers are tough for me to get and I live a little over an hour away from the brewery! Point being, I’ll try to mix it up, but ultimately, I can only drink the beers available to me, obviously.

Let’s face it, “craft beer enthusiasts” are even more connected because of untappd, Beer Advocate, and local to me here in NJ, perhaps the best resource, New Jersey Craft Beer, as well as the growth of small, independent breweries across the country. Learning about new beers is both easier and more challenging with so much of a good thing whittle down to what you want to try. It can be an endeavor fraught with the potential for buying and drinking beer you don’t like. #FirstWorldProblems, I know.

So why turn to writing about craft beer? For the past decade and a half or so, I’ve been writing book reviews for various outlets (SFFWorld.com, SFSignal.com, and Tor.com as well as my own blog) and will continue to do so. However, I wanted to shift that review/critical focus to craft beers. There are craft beer blogs out there, and with the popularity of untappd and Beer Advocate, why go the extra step? Well, as I said, I like sharing my opinions in more than 140 characters.

GOTBeersandBooksCropped

Game of Thrones A Song of Ice and Fire and Ommegang exemplify the convergence of two of things I enjoy most: Great Beer and Great Fiction (Specifically Science Fiction & Fantasy)

Why “The Tap Takeover?” I was trying to come up with a clever beer-associated name for this blog; each name I thought was clever, was of course taken. After only a few minutes, my wife said “How about ‘The Tap Takeover?’” So here we are. Most of the beers I’ll be talking about are from a bottle or can, rather than on draft or from a tap, so apologies for the slight misnomer.

* If the term Craft Beer Enthusiast has any real meaning any more, as the term “craft beer” has lost some of the weight it had even a few years ago, especially with the giants like AB InBev buying the “Microbreweries.” The term that now seems to be in more use is Independent Brewery.  Whatever you call it and whoever makes that beverage made from Grain, Hops, Yeast, and Water, I’ll be discussing it here. 

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy what I share with you all.

Cheers!