Tag Archives: Belgian beer

New Brew: Ommegang BPA

11 Apr

A beautiful spring Sunday with good sports drama (the Masters and Brewers-Cards) and good food (pics to come) calls for a tasty beverage.  A quick jaunt across the street to Barriques fixed me up with a bottle of Ommegang’s new limited release BPA or Belgian-Style Pale Ale.  Ommegang has been turning out solid and inspired Belgian-stlyle beers in Cooperstown, NY since 1997.  From textbook takes on traditional styles like Hennepin and Abbey Ale to experimental creations like Ommegeddon and Chocolate Indulgence, I always know I’m about to drink a quality beer crafted with passion.  While their special releases rarely knock your socks off with over-the-top flavor profiles, Ommegang beers are always deftly balanced and well-executed.  They just don’t know how to make bad beer.

BPA is the first in a series of beers for the brewery that, according to a beernews.org, is testing the waters for possible flagship beer or what they’re calling an “accessible draft” candidate.  Currently, Hennepin is the Ommegang beer most likely found at better beer bars, at least in this region.  While certainly more complex than your average premium macro lager, Hennepin remains a great gateway beer for the Belgian-style genre.  Pale ales have become a de facto entry point for many new craft beer drinkers, so you can’t blame Ommegang for attempting a drinkable hop-forward beer with a Belgian twist.

Ommegang BPA (Belgian-Style Pale Ale)

Style: uhhh, Belgian-style Pale Ale

Vitals: 6.2% abv, Belgian yeast, 5 malts, 2 hops, dry-hopped with Cascade, warm-cellared at the brewery; ~$7.49/bottle at Barriques Market in Fitchburg

Company Line: “This fine pale ale offers citrus and tropical fruit aromatics coming from a well balanced – yet ample – hop character.  It uses our own Belgian yeast, 5 malts, two hops, and plenty of patience.  Finishing touches include dry-hopping, with Cascade hops, and warm-cellaring.”

My take: pours a distinct tangerine-amber in the glass with ample white foam that fizzles quickly to a patchy film.  Aroma brims with lime, dry, herbal hops, apricot and a little yeasty funk.  Dry-hopping with Cascade lends a powdery herbal character accentuated by toasty malts and buttressed by tropical citrus and juicy pineapple.  Finishes dry with a lingering herbal bitterness.

Ommegang were going for flagship-worthy drinkability and accessibility with BPA and they have managed to hit both marks here.  Just hoppy enough without being resinous and tongue-twisting.  Fruity enough without scaring off the alpha males.  Would make for a solid addition to their year-round lineup and a viable alternative to Hennepin tap-handles in better beer bars.


New Brew: BrewFarm Matacabras

28 Mar

The second public offering from Dave’s BrewFarm comes in the form of Matacabras, a dark Belgian-style ale named after a Spanish wind known for killing goats.  Yup.  Dave’s BrewFarm Blog explains this is the first in a series of “wind-themed” beers inspired by the BrewFarm’s towering wind turbine.  The next in the series, a gruit by the name of Harukaze (Japanese for “Spring wind”), is currently being offered at the BrewFarm Tap Room.  Let’s hope that one finds itself in a bottle sooner rather than later

Dave’s BrewFarm Matacabras

Style: “A Curious Ale”.  Ahh.  In reality, a sort of Belgian-style dark ale.

Vitals: 8.0% abv; little else to go on, really (aura of mystery and style ambiguity laid on pretty thick in most documentation)

Company line:

In Spain, MATACABRAS is “the wind that kills goats.” In Wisconsin, it’s the first in a series of wind-themed specialty beers from the BrewFarm. In our part of the Upper Midwest there’s nothing like a brisk north wind to get your attention. So when we stumbled upon the name of this wicked Spanish breeze, we decided to brew up something that would likewise stop folks in their tracks.

We brew for flavor and for the overall “beer experience,” and our results are often curious and always distinctive. This unique new ale is no exception. Like its name, it is dark, mysterious, and difficult to translate into a familiar category. The deep hue and creamy body might suggest one style, but the floral aroma and Trappist-inspired flavors say another.

It is dark, yet not heavy; complex, yet balanced; strong, yet very smooth … and unusually satisfying.

My take: pours a dark, murky mahogany in the glass with ample caramel-tinged sudsy head.  Nose is dominated by the Trappist-style yeast strain which lends plenty of banana, spice and clove.  Palate opens up with gobs of dark fig, plum and date, caramel malts, light-roasted coffee and more clove.  Somewhat cloying in a sticky lips way, but not to a deal-breaking degree.  A very strong effort in the tricky Belgian-style domain that so many American brewers enter with middling results.

New Brew: Great Dane Belgian Barleywine

9 Mar

Currently on-tap at the Great Dane downtown, Belgian Barleywine is a monster of a beer and over a year in the making.  According to Robin Shepard of Isthmus, brewmasters Kirby Nelson of Capital Brewery and Rob LoBreglio of Great Dane Pub & Brewing collaborated some 14 months ago on a beer with sights set on pushing the boundaries of traditionally-brewed beer.

The Reinheitsgebot or German Purity Law of 1516 decreed that beer should only be made from 3 ingredients – water, barley, and hops (yeast’s role in fermentation wasn’t fully understood until the 1800’s with the help of Louis Pasteur and wheat as a fermentable is still technically non-compliant with the law).  While the law was repealed in 1987, brewers in Bavaria and those abroad with German roots still use the Reinheitsgebot as a marketing tool and signifier of tradition and quality.

It was with this rich tradition in mind the Kirby and Rob set out to make the strongest (by alcoholic potency) beer that adheres to the Reinheitsgebot in the world.  Using Austrian über-bock Samiclaus and its 14% abv as a benchmark, Rob’s barleywine expertise as inspiration, they implemented an extended fermentation where additional wort was added to the special blend of high-alcohol-tolerant Belgian yeasts at 4 to 5 hour increments over the course of 5 days and aged the 10-barrel batch for 14 months. Despite falling short of their 17% abv goal, the resulting Belgian Barleywine is no joke at nearly 14% abv.

Beer: Belgian Barleywine

Style: Belgian-style barleywine

Vitals: ~13.75% abv, proprietary blend of Belgian-style yeast strains, adheres to Reinheitsgebot

My take: sits a densely hazed cider brown in the snifter with a thin ring of tan bubbles struggling to survive around the perimeter.  Nose is intensely fruity with notes of dried apricot, golden raisins and clovey Belgian yeast.  As you might expect out of an ale with the heft of 3,000 lbs of barley behind it, the palate is drowned in sticky sweet malts that again evoke concentrated dried fruits along with caramel and banana-clove courtesy of the Belgian-style yeasts.  The sticky mouthfeel is somewhat tempered by the dryness of the high-octane alcohol presence, but this is still a beer that will stick your lips together.

There is word that some of this rocket fuel might make its way into bourbon barrels for a later release.  I personally think wine barrels would be a more natural fit for the fruitiness and yeast profile of this beer, but am intrigued either way to try this beer again with the benefit of some age and softening.  A very cool collaboration by two of Wisconsin’s best brewers.  Won’t likely be available for long so get your butt downtown and get your six ounces before they’re locked back in the cellar.

Let’s do lunch: The Coopers Tavern

17 Jan

The Coopers Tavern is a restaurant a long time in the making.  A venture of Peter McElvanna, former manager of Brochach Irish pub, it was recently announced that local restaurant conglomerate  Food Fight! has stepped in as a financial partner with McElvanna retaining most autonomy to run the business.  A cozy space on the square that previously held short-lived dessert bar Sucré and a McDonalds has been transformed into a rustic-yet-chic upscale pub atmosphere.

A mix of exposed, weathered brick, lots of hardwoods, clean cool wall treatments and brass fixtures makes for country-meets-city vibe that works well for what they’re trying to do.  Tables made of barrels (owing to the cooperage theme) are foiled by the standard wall-length-bench-booth-facing-chairs-style seeting so common in upscale urban eateries these days.  Among the more unique features of the space are a genuine Irish snug a private room with access to the bar via a window or small door.  Historically used by women when it was frowned upon for them to socialize openly in a pub, and others seeking more privacy during their revelry; Coopers’ snug would be perfect for small gatherings and is apparently available on a first-come, first-served basis.  Also of note are the ceiling fans which are connected and driven belts and pulleys and add to the bucolic atmosphere.

The bar itself is dominated by two tap towers featuring some 28 beers on draft and a pair of large chalkboards over the bar listing the beer and wine offerings.  A pair of modest LCD TV’s on either end of the bar were tuned to soccer when we arrived (switched to the Vikings-Cowboys playoff game at the request of a fellow patron) and a larger wall-mounted TV dominated the rear wall of the pub next to the kitchen door.  While not a sports bar per se, I can imagine Coopers being a great place to watch the upcoming World Cup in South Africa with a good beer in hand.

In the gastropub tradition (is the gastropub phenomenon old enough to have a tradition yet?), Coopers’ menu aims at upscale pub fare paired with beverages for discriminating palates – namely the 28 tap beers and an extensive bottle list numbering over 100.  On this visit, I must warn, their tap offerings were limited either because the beers weren’t available yet or they had already sold out of them in the few days since their soft opening.  The first 3 beers I tried to order on-tap were not available, though I was happy to settle for a Blanche de Bruxelles Belgian white ale.

Their current offerings come from a limited lunch menu consisting of a few appetizers, soups, salads and sandwiches.  Word is a more comprehensive dinner menu will be added in a month or two.  I can’t blame them for trying to establish themselves with a solid and simple line-up that doesn’t overreach.  During today’s Sunday lunch with Mom, the poutine was tough to pass up as a starter.  For those unfamiliar with the French Canadian delicacy, poutine  consists of french fries/frites topped with fresh cheese curds and brown gravy.  Forget your diet for a day.  You’ll be fine.  It’s a wonder there isn’t another joint in town offering this joyous pile of deliciousness.  The frites were good, if not a little soggy (hard to avoid with a slathering of gravy that, as my mother commented “was good, but needed a little something”) and the cheese curds, which had melted into a mass underneath the pile of frites added another layer of gooey goodness.  It ain’t exactly high-brow, but it’s comfort food to the core.  Puzzlingly, the poutine was delivered with our meal instead of as, you know, a starter.  Apparently this isn’t a unique instance.

I ordered the reuben and my mother ordered the lamb sandwich, both with house salad of mixed greens and herb vinaigrette.  We decided to swap a half sandwich so we could each try both.  The reuben was very good, if not a little…sweet overall.  The corned beef was tender and flaky and the Lake Louie Warped Speed Scotch Ale-soaked sauerkraut and house-made 1000 island were tasty but lacked a certain zing, lending to the perceived sweetness of the sandwich.  The dark rye was buttery and held up well to the generous fixings within.  The lamb sandwich on sourdough was filled with tender thin-sliced lamb with creamy caramelized onions and a thick and herbaceous, paste-like “tomato jam” that served as a great compliment to the lamb.

Based on our experience today, I think Coopers fills a great niche on the square, much like Brasserie V does on Monroe Street.  While their tap list isn’t as inspired and their food offerings are limited, the concept is right and the execution seems to be on point.  And it’s always great to have another place to grab a good sandwich and tasty beer with friends.

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