Christmas Eve I cruised the aisles of an ale shop near my inlaws’ home in Vineland, NJ. My mission- to secure an alternative to the Dos Equis and Blue Moons that awaited me that evening. As luck would have it, this store had a nice selection of craft beers tucked away in the back, including some bombers coated in a thin layer of dust. Immediately my mindset turned from “I hope I can find something decent” to “I hope I can keep this purchase under 3 figures”. As usual, my thoughts turned to Magnus so I decided to pick up some brews to toast his memory. In a nod to his Scottish heritage, I was delighted to find the Cup O Kyndes (Cup of Kindness), a concept Scotch Ale from the Belgian brewmasters Brewery Ommegang. The beer is a reference the New Year’s anthem Auld Lang Syne by Scottish poet Robert Burns, whom Magnus held in the highest esteem:
For auld lang syne, my jo, For auld lang syne, We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, For auld lang syne.
I respect brewers who shape an identity through their beers. I like to know I’m in good hands- Lagunitas make great hop bombs, Oskar Blues serves up big flavors in a cool can, Duck-Rabbit focus on dark beers. But for me, Ommegang takes this to the extreme. Billed as “Belgian Brewing in America” with beers that aren’t “overhopped” (i.e. hopped), they offer great examples of the signature Belgian styles with their Abbey Ale (Dubbel), Perfection (Trippel), Three Philosophers (Quad), and Rare Vos (Belgian Dark Ale). The benefit to this strategy is that when someone mentions “US Belgian beer” I think Brewery Ommegang. On the other hand, if you want your brewery to remain straight-outta-Brussels, you’re limited to 18 styles, many of them obscure and commercially unviable. Thus Ommegang is painted into a corner- take advantage of the plethora of beer styles but dilute your brand, or stay true to your roots but ignore the diversity that makes craft brewing great in the first place.
Ommegang tries to have it both ways with their Specialty Beer Initiative, in which they examine the symbiotic relationship Belgian brewers have had with the global beer community. The label explains how the Cup O Kyndes is a riff on Belgo-Scotch beerelations since the Great War:
“The Belgian-Scotch brewing connection dates to World War I, when thousands of Scotsmen spent years in Belgium. To satisfy their new customers, Belgian brewers learned to brew Scotch-style ales, and the style became a new and significant part of the Belgian brewing tradition.”
Thousands! Umm, sure. The cynic in me says that these mashups are more marketing gimmick than an attempt to carry on time honored traditions, and I sort of wish Ommegang would just cop to that, but sense of humor does not seem to be a strong suit for the why-so-serious wizards of Cooperstown, so I guess I will have to be satisfied that they know how to make damn good Belgian beer:
STYLE: Belgian-style Scotch Ale
APPEARANCE: Dark copper with ruby flecks when held to the light.
HEAD: Fluffy white holding fast at two fingers.
LACING: Not much of which to speak.
NOSE: Take a a funky yeast Belgian nose (like the Abbey Ale) and dump in some caramel syrup. It’s kind of like that.
TASTE: Very sweet at first, with a wall of malt including maple, honey, and raisins. The Belgian yeast trails quickly and cuts the sweetness to nice effect. The advertised smoke and heather per the label are not evident, even as I search for them. An unexpected nip of hops cleans up the finish, along with a bit of booze that’s surprising considering the relatively low ABV of this beer. Perhaps this is an indicator to why malty high alcohol Scotch Ales often have trouble concealing that burn?
DRINKABILITY: Despite the heavy malt profile, this brews has a nice medium mouth feel and decent drinkability. I was hoping for a Belgian Ale that channeled the great Speyside Whiskys, but what we’ve got is a decent Scotch Ale with a Belgo-yeasty twist. If this sounds up your alley, by all means check out the Ommegang Cup O Kyndes.
RATING: 3 Hops