Your humble narrator decided to sit down on the couch over the weekend to binge-watch the latest season of Game of Thrones, as it was becoming increasingly difficult to avoid hearing spoilers from the more faithful watches.
Fortunately, my friendly neighbourhood booze merchant had a healthy selection of officially licensed beers sporting images of dragons and iron thrones from the show.
Yes, gentle reader I am referring to the Ommegang Brewery, which is celebrating its twentieth birthday this year, and hails from the city of Cooperstown, just a few hours north of New York City.
Ommegang has a rich and storied history, started by an importer of Belgian beers who decided to open his own brewery on a former hop farm, and produce Belgian-styled beers locally, instead of bringing them all the way across the ocean from Belgium.
The location is distinctive, as Cooperstown was the epicenter of hop production the USA back in the 19th century, although that market has since shifted to the west coast.
Currently owned by the famous Duvel Moortgat Brewery, Ommegang is a little bit of Belgium in a sea of watery American beers.
The closest Canadian equivalent we have to Ommegang would be Unibroue out of Quebec, which also produces Belgian-styled ales.
The beer nerds in the audience will quickly recognize Belgium as the gold standard in the world of beer, with over 500 unique beer styles, most of which even have their own specialty serving glass.
In a brilliant marketing move, Ommegang partnered with HBO to release a fiercely flavourful ale for each season of the show.
The release for this season is called Bend The Knee Golden Ale. For those not familiar with the Belgian Golden Ale style, they tend to have flavours of spice and pear from the Belgian yeast strains, and generally have a high alcohol content.
Bend The Knee Golden Ale weighs in at a whopping 9% ABV, and since it comes in a 750mL bottle, be sure to have a friend to share it with! Ommegang added clover honey during the fermentation process, which provides a light sweetness to balance the firm hop bitterness. Best paired with aged cheese, and preferably consumed from the skulls of your enemies.
As an added bonus, my local bottle shop still had some stock from last year, including the Valar Dohaeris Belgian-style Tripel Ale. Your intrepid liquor reporter generally prefers his beers to be fresh, but the high-test beers can easily last a year or two without going stale.
The Valar Dohaeris was typical of the Belgian Tripel style, with plenty of white fluffy head, gracefully lacing the glass as I took each sip. The voluminous mouth feel is from the oats added to the more traditional wheat and barley grains, while the subtle use of Belgian candi sugar provides a bright sweetness on the tongue, complementing the doughy yeast notes, and a very slight floral bitterness.
Keeping in the same theme, I picked up a few more bottles of unique Ommegang brews to enjoy during the TV binge, all in ancient Belgian styles.
The Ommegang Three Philosophers Quadrupel weighed in at nearly 10% ABV, and was so strong that your intrepid liquor reporter took almost 3 hours to finish the 750mL bottle. Fortunately, Belgian styles are often consumed much warmer than more mainstream brews, so the slow and steady pace was quite rewarding.
Pouring a dark amber into my pewter goblet, the thick and creamy head was filled with aromas of leather and dried fruit, with hints of cherries, prunes, and molasses on the tongue. Definitely a beer for adventurous souls that will sip slowly rather than chugging. The Quadrupel style reminded your globetrotting liquor reporter of his own pilgrimage to Belgium many years ago, where I sipped my way through the finest beers the world has to offer.
For those looking for a more approachable brew, the Ommegang Witte Ale is made from wheat, and similar to Queen Cersei on Game of Thrones, this beer is a little tart. Naturally, by tart, I mean it has a citrusy lemon flavour underneath a spicy flavour profile.
Luckily, Alberta is a large enough market for Ommegang to export to, so it can be found at pubs where beer nerds congregate, as well as a dozen or so retailers in the Calgary area. Check HYPERLINK “http://www.liquorconnect.com” www.liquorconnect.com to find your nearby booze merchant with Ommegang in stock.