Some beers you just can’t pass up. KBS, Abyss, hell even Sculpin for some of us – There’s simply no way that any card-carrying Alehead is going to pass those by no matter how often or how recent they’ve had a taste. Those are just no-brainers. You see them, you buy them. While there are numerous existing beers that must be purchased at first sight, there are also two other categories of beers that don’t stand a chance of staying on the shelf. The first category is beers from your favorite brewers that you’ve never heard of before but have enough faith in the brewer to scoop up immediately. For me, this would be anything new from Lagunitas, Lost Abbey, Founders, and Victory. If I haven’t seen it before, I’m sold before even reading the details. The second category is beers from brewers that you hold in the highest respect, though they might not be your favorite, but they’ve put out a new beer that looks rare, carries a hefty pricetag for a good reason, and looks to be a must-purchase. Perfect example – North Coast Old Stock Ale Cellar Reserve. Solid brewery with good beer putting out a super-pricey reserve of one of their classics? Sold. Sometimes you just have to reach and trust your instinct. Here’s another example. Ommegang Biere D’Hougoumont. Spectacular brewery with reasonably priced Belgian-style ales putting out a $15 special bottling of a French-styled Biere de Garde? How could anyone pass that up? I didn’t stand a chance.
I don’t know what it is about $15 bombers and 750′s that draws me right in. Maybe it’s a strange trust I have in this industry that anyone ballsy enough to slap a pricetag that’s triple what anyone else is charging must be putting out a good product. If it’s $15 it has to be good, right? I assume that if Ommegang can continually put out solid Saisons, Dubbels, and Biere de Garde at roughly $4 per 750ml bottle, they must have something special if they feel the need to charge $15 for the D’Hougoumont. Flawed logic, yes, but it’s my way of justifying a hefty purchase. Now, I won’t buy any $15 bottle of beer just because it comes from a reputable brewery. I like Ommegang and respect what they do, but I certainly don’t need to try everything they put out. Lots of beer in the world, I need to draw the line somewhere. What really got me with this one was that it was different than anything else I was looking at yesterday. I thumbed through plenty of Imperial IPA’s, a slew of sours, even some German Lagers that I hadn’t had the pleasure of sampling yet. Variety is the spice of life and I like picking things that drag me out of my IPA wheelhouse. The Biere d’Hougoumont certainly fit the bill. 8 malts, French yeast, French Strisselspalt hops, aged on oak and maple staves. You just don’t see that every day. Again, there’s simply no way I could pass this up. To the tasting note we go!
OMMEGANG BIERE D’HOUGOUMONT
Notes: 750ml caged bottle with depiction of Napoleon at “Gum Hill” Hougoumont, at Waterloo. I think something bad happened after that.
ABV: 7.3% abv, Biere de Garde.
APPEARANCE: Rich, amber with an enormous pillow of healthy bubbles crowning the top of my tulip. While they dissipate quickly, you’re left with that nice marshmallow float in the middle of the glass that never quite goes away. Sticky lacing abounds.
AROMA: Caramel and bready tones jump right out with a lingering sticky-bun aroma. Grains, some biscuit. If you’ve ever gotten a yeast starter going for a Belgian Dubbel or Abbey Ale, that’s almost the exact nose you get. Slightly grassy, fresh – Smells fantastic.
TASTE: While some of the sweetness from the nose comes out, it seems to be well balanced by a drying finish. Yes, it’s sweeter than I would normally like in a Biere de Garde, but it’s quite enjoyable. I think the slight tartness was what masqued some of the fruitier, sweeter malt flavors that I thought I’d be overwhelmed with after experiencing the nose. I’m not getting any of the “Oaky” flavors that I might expect with their aging process so maybe that would come with time. Extraordinary balance.
MOUTHFEEL: Fuller than I thought but still right down the middle in terms of weight. Just enough effervescence to keep this refreshing and steer it back on track.
DRINKABILITY: Let’s just say this guy didn’t last long while I was preparing the grill last night. Just light enough to be refreshing but just enough substance to make you feel like you’re knocking back something special. If I had $30, I would love to drink two.
OVERALL: A little restraint by the drinker will go a long way in bringing out the full character of this ale. Although many higher-end bottlings claim they’re “Meant to be Aged”, I think the aging would do wonders for this beer. Oh well, I was thirsty, and I was not disappointed. While I think the aging would change the character a bit you’re really just making a great beer even greater. I thoroughly enjoyed this as is. 3.5 hops.