August/September 2007

Belgians Come To Buffalo

It's vacation time, come on! Join the Beer Beacon tasting crew on a virtual vacation to Belgium. As a prelude to the Ommegang Fest, we're tasting Belgian styles this month. If you've never been there - beer tasters beware - you may be unintentionally initiated into the elusive Belgian beer seekers and stashers. Believe me, once they've got you, there's no going back home, folks.

The Place:
Pizza Plant, Williamsville, NY

The Tasters:
The Core Four were all there (Hop Jack, Vinny, Big Evil and Magistrate),
along with several newcomers: The Malt Tease Falcon, Pint and Half Pint.

The Beers:

Otter Creek White Sail (Belgian witbier)
793 Exchange Street, Middlebury, Vermont 05753

Avg Rating: 7.4

Off to an agreeable start, the panel found this beer to be very drinkable - “refreshingly crisp” - said Pint. (They could have been a bit thirsty, too - long voyage and all.) The Magistrate thought the beer had “Classic wit spices, but was not overly done.” Vinny noticed a nice, wheaty flavor, with a soft, sweet body and a tart finish. The Malt Tease Falcon noted a spicy nose and a zesty, pleasant fruitiness. Half Pint commented that it smelled fruity, whereas Hop Jack claimed the beer was rather nondescript. Overall the tasters gave it a “definite thumbs up”.

Wolaver's Wit (Belgian witbier)
793 Exchange Street, Middlebury, Vermont 05753

Avg Rating: 5.4

A certified organic witbier, this one was naturally cloudy with a pronounced yeasty, strong wheat flavor and was also very estery. Hop Jack claimed it had a classic Belgian dirty socks nose. (We couldn't find a Belgian laundromat, so maybe it was one of us.) The Magistrate thought this beer had more wheat character, but was a dryer style that lingered, with an almost astringent quality. Vinny said the sharp bitter wheat flavor and contrasting dry finish made it two dimensional, as opposed to complementary.

Lakefront Brewery White (Belgian witbier)
1872 Commerce Street, Milaukee, Wisconsin 53212

Avg Rating: 7.4

Evil called this a great hot tub Party beer. Half Pint suggested a future Beer Beacon hot tub venue and the panel enthusiastically agreed. Vinny and The Magistrate both noticed a strong, wheat character - “a wonderful yeasty, fresh bread aroma” and a spiciness that blended well. The Malt Tease Falcon commented that the mouth feel was full and smooth, with a light creaminess. ”

Ommegang Rare Vos (Belgian Amber)
656 County Highway 33, Cooperstown, New York 13326

Avg Rating: 7.5

The panel all thought this beer had a rich sweet flavor that was uniquely refreshing. Hop Jack found it frothy and fruity and Evil thought it had more foam than Mr. Bubbles. Half Pint loves a foamy head and said the beer was tasty, too. The Magistrate noted a sweet spicy nose that lingers, with a pleasant finish. Vinny noticed a caramel aroma and a lemony citrus fruitiness flavor. A little zing put us all in the Belgian countryside.

Great Divide Hades (Belgian Strong Golden)
2201 Arapahoe Street, Denver, Colorado 80205

Avg Rating: 7.4

This beer was brilliantly clear and had a more subtle fruitiness than the previous Belgians. Vinny immediately commented on the earthy, somewhat pungent skunk-spice. The panel wasn't sure about that, until Vinny qualified it with a “good skunky-spice” (available all over Belgium). The Malt Tease Falcon swirled the glass and declared it a double bubblegum aroma. Hop Jack found it pleasantly malty and along with a bold sweetness, the big beer hid the alcohol well. The Magistrate suggested saving this one for a cold night.

Ommegang Hennepin (Belgian Farm House Saison Ale)
656 County Highway 33, Cooperstown, New York 13326

Avg Rating: 7.6

The Malt Tease Falcon guessed this one immediately - but kindly didn't spill the barley until all the tasters had shared their thoughts. Vinny liked the big earthy-spice aroma and the citrusy, spicy finish. Hop Jack noted the strong fusel alcohol nose with a fruity, extra dry finish. The Magistrate liked the unique, spicy crispiness and smooth malty flavor and soft mouth feel. Pint had fond memories of this one - “a great picnic beer”. Evil put it best - “this beer danced on the tongue like a fox trot”. (We're still waiting on that fox trot demo so we know exactly what he was talking about.)


Ommegang Ommegeddon
(Belgian Strong Blonde Ale w/Brettanomyces)

195 Taylor Way, Blue Lake, California 95525

Avg Rating: 6.9

The panel had mixed opinions on this beer. Half Pint thought this one smelled much stronger than the taste - she said it didn't match. We were ready to call in the Fashion Police, when Vinny called it a Funky Beast. The Malt Tease Falcon agreed, saying it had an organic taste he wasn't fond of, with a funky finish. Always original, Evil wanted it served with fresh fruit and a bikini'd waitress. The tour guide was pulling her hair out trying to get a compromise. The Magistrate stepped into the battle, commenting that the initial nose was spicy and sour, but not offensive. He also said the malt flavor released to an excellent hop finish, making it a very nice beer. Even in virtual Belgium, the battle for beer dominion continues.

New Holland Moxie (Belgian Sour Ale)
66 East 8th Street, Holland, Michigan 49423

Avg Rating: 8.7

“The aroma is huge!” said The Magistrate of this 10th Anniversary Ale, “And the flavors are so interesting. I can't stop tasting it.” Vinny liked the sour cherries, raisins and cinnamon flavors - a unique and complex, rich big beer. Hop Jack thought maybe the nose had some rye notes; however it was unquestionably a Belgian style with a sour winey finish. Half Pint thought the beer was overpowering and the Malt Tease Falcon agreed, suggesting it was great in small doses (like a lot of people I know - and a few countries - Belgium excepted). The panel agreed this was a sipper, but several of the tasters thought it would be a good aperitif, whereas the others thought it was a better dessert beer. Evil called it “Mi Sherry Amour”.

Ommegang Three Philosophers (Belgian Sour Ale)
195 Taylor Way, Blue Lake, California 95525

Avg Rating: 6.3

Pint said this was rich and dense (goes together sometimes) and Half Pint tasted dark chocolate. Vinny commented on the earthy aroma and thought it had a soft mouth feel with a brown sugar, light spice taste. Hop Jack smelled a bubble gum and a strong fusel alcohol aroma with a malty and hot, tart finish. The Magistrate said it was a great winter-warmer. As we neared the end of our virtual tour, the quadrupel set us firmly back to Buffalo terra firma. Our sincere gratitude to all the breweries who participated, the tasters (both novice and seasoned), our hosts (Pizza Plant) and tour guides. We'll see you in two months.



--- by Kelly Kroese, Beer Beacon columnist

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