Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, N.Y.
7.3 percent ABV
Ommegang has been the standard for American-made Belgian-style ales for many years with such ales as Hennepin, Witte, Three Philosophers, Rare Vos, Abbey Ale and others.
While I’ve had many fine Belgian styles from U.S. breweries, very few are able to authentically recreate the magical beers of Belgium, which benefit from centuries of brewers developing the brewing techniques, special yeasts, barrel aging, bottle conditioning and blending that make them so special.
Ommegang is the best and most consistent doing so, though it shouldn’t come as a surprise, seeing that its parent company is the esteemed Duvel of Belgium.
Ommegang’s latest offering, Biere D’Hougoumont, is a biere de garde, the French version of a farmhouse ale, referred to as saison in Belgium. They are generally light-bodied yet strong ales, traditionally made in the days before refrigeration to be thirst quenchers for the warm summer months, but needing a higher alcohol content in order to be stored for long periods without spoiling.
D’Hougoumont is named after a farmstead near Waterloo, Belgium, the site where Napoleon met his you know what when defeated by Britain’s Duke of Wellington.
Just the description on the label was enough to convince me to try a bottle: “brewed with French ale yeast, eight malts, French Strisselspalt hops and aged on wood.” In particular, maple and oak wood staves.
There are three main areas that make D’Hougoumont as good as any farmhouse ale I’ve had from France or Belgium: A strong bready, light pale malt presence, lemony, grassy hops and a semi-dry character that does not descend into pucker territory. These are where most American brewers fall short when attempting farmhouse ales — they either use inappropriate hops, make a too-dry, sourish beer or have no real malt taste to speak of.
Ommegang also doesn’t skimp on the details with D’Hougoumont, with pear-apple fruit notes, a rocky head, delicate lacing, slight earthiness and noticeable — but not overbearing or hot — alcohol presence. It’s a superb beer.
Ommegang is available in 45 states. Its Beer Finder link is at www.ommegang.com/#!locator.
Beer Man sez: Ommegang’s Biere D’Hougoumont is as good as any of its farmhouse ale counterparts in Europe.