I got together last night with my regular drinking buddies for an eclectic evening of beer tasting. Jerry had been given an Ommegang gift pack for Christmas and was generously saving it until we all could enjoy it together. So Jerry, Frank, Tom and I planned to gather at Jerry's house to drink the Ommegang and a number of other tasty brews. When I arrived Frank and Jerry were already enjoying some Sam Adams Boston Lager. "We didn't know when you'd get here so we started with some Sam." So I had one as well, to prime the pump so to speak. A large spread of crackers, cheeses, fruits, vegetables and dips had been prepared as well to prepare for the evening.
We enjoyed some snacks before settling down to business. First up, Ommegang Hennepin. This Farmhouse Saison pours straw-yellow with a thick billowy head. The aroma is a nice blend of floral hops and earthy yeast. The taste is lightly sweet with orange and apple fruits, and slight hop bitterness. The 7.7% ABV is only barely noticeable. We all enjoyed this one very much.
We opened the Ommegang Three Philosophers next. This interesting beer is a blend of a Belgian dark strong ale and a cherry lambic, Lindeman's Kriek. The pour brought forth a rich mahogany liquid with an off-white head that dropped fairly quickly. The aroma of cherries was at the forefront along with some other dark fruits and sweet malt. After the first taste, none of us were sure we were going to enjoy this. The dark cherry flavor comes out initially, followed by the rich, sweet malt backbone of a Belgian dark ale. It was slightly tart, and somewhat astringent. The 9.8% ABV can be faintly detected in both the aroma and taste. However, I continued drinking and the flavor grew on me. Perhaps some of the initial impression was influenced by coming right off the Hennepin. In the end, Frank and I both decided we liked this one, Jerry passed on finishing his portion.
After the Three Philosophers, Tom finally arrived. Now, our buddy Tom usually prefers his Goldschläger over the beers the rest of us drink and Frank made sure there was a bottle of this cinnamon schnapps on hand, but Tom is always game to try a few beers with us. (I figure if Tom can handle the flavor of the Goldschläger, we'll find a strong beer to his liking sooner or later!) At this point we briefly changed gears, Jerry wanted to try the Cottonwood Low Down Brown Ale he had brought back from a recent trip to North Carolina. Following the strong flavor of the previous beer, this English Brown Ale from Carolina Brewing had a challenge standing up. But we were here for enjoyment, not an ordered tasting. The aroma was faint with just a bit of malt and nuttiness coming through. The flavor was sweet malt with a bit of roasted chocolate. The general consensus was it left us wanting more out of the beer. To be fair, this is decent English Brown Ale and perhaps in another grouping it would present better.
Okay, now we were ready to get in to the third Ommegang beer in the box, Chocolate Indulgence Stout. This beer is made with dark Belgian chocolate. Chocolate Indulgence pours a very dark brown with a thick tan head. It certainly looks like chocolate! The aroma of dark bitter chocolate is very strong and to me it was almost off-putting. Besides the chocolate (dark cocoa, not milk) I noted some dark fruit backed by a faint tartness. The flavor was full of cocoa bitterness, along with some roasted malt that lingers in the end. The beer is only 7% ABV but a bit of alcohol warmth comes through in the finish. The mouthfeel was moderately carbonated and not as thick as I had expected. The general consensus was a drinkable beer but we enjoyed the prior two Ommegang selections more.
At this point I opened the Victory Baltic Thunder I had brought along. I reviewed this beer not too long ago, but hadn't yet had the chance to share it with friends. I gave a quick "history" of the beer as we drank it. I seem to recall it was around this point in the evening we started singing the "B, double E, double R, U N" tune thanks to Tom over at Yours for Good Fermentables. The group was unanimous in our enjoyment of the Baltic Thunder.
After returning from one of his trips to Raleigh, Jerry showed up at my door bearing gifts; a six pack of Highland Kashmir IPA and a 4 pack of 2006 Samichlaus Bier. The IPA was consumed a while ago, but I promised to bring some of the Samichlaus along when we did the Ommegang tasting and we decided to open one now. Samichlaus pours a clear dark amber with a thin head. After the dark or cloudy beers we'd been enjoying so far this was a marked change. There's little carbonation and the aroma is sweet malt and alcohol. The flavor is syrupy sweet but not in a bad way at all. There's a dark fruit aspect to it as well. It is apparent that this is a high alcohol drink (14% ABV) and meant to be sipped. The mouthfeel is slick and warming and everyone enjoyed it very much. I had tasted some 1995 and 1996 vintage Samichlaus recently and decided I really wanted to put some away for a few years. However, this drink is such an enjoyable nightcap that I'm not sure my stash will stay untouched.
At some point a bottle of Piedmont Porter from the Minhas Craft Brewery in Wisconsin made an appearance. What immediately struck us was the label. This had to be the smallest text I've ever seen on a beer bottle, and it was in a script font as well, making it all but impossible to read. We passed it around and all tried to pick out bits of the text. Granted, we've all got 40+ or 50+ year old eyes but this was crazy! The beer poured a very dark brown, with some red showing through at the edges. The thick off-white head dropped rapidly. A faint, but typical porter aroma of roasted malt with a hint of smoke. The flavor was roasted malt and dark chocolate with a thin but highly carbonated mouthfeel.
Tom had left us by this point, and a basket of roasted peanuts in the shell and made it to the table. We opened another bottle of Samichlaus and settled in to sit and sip for a while. Eventually someone looked at the clock and we decided to call it an evening, just barely finishing within the same day we started.
Admittedly my notes from the evening are limited, and, shall we say, scratchy. Most of this was written from memory and will likely be edited when the other participants send corrections! However, the purpose of the evening was to spend time with good friends and enjoy some good beers, which we did quite successfully. And isn't that what beer is all about?