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    Ommegang, NY
    Posted under The New England Beer Reviews by Avery Glasser ( on Monday July 02 2001 @ 08:47PM CEST

    Brewery Ommegang
    Cooperstown, NY

    Many people have told me to try various "Belgian-Style" beers produced by American breweries, and for some masochistic reason, I always give it a try. Unfortunately, no matter how valiant the attempt, the beer tends to fall short.

    Why can't you make good Belgian-style beers in America? It's the same reason that you can't make good sourdough bread outside of San Francisco: it's the yeast. In the air, trillions of yeast cells are floating around... and every area has their own native yeasts. When you make a sourdough bread, the sour starter (the hyper-fermenting dough used to start the leavening process in a real sourdough) is exposed to the wild yeasts, and that starts the fermentation process. The specific yeasts in San Francisco don't survive well outside of their native habitat, meaning that the smell and taste of a good sourdough bread can't be replicated outside the Bay Area.

    The same thing goes with Belgian beers. The Belgian lambic breweries, for example, don't choose any specific type of yeast to ferment their beers, they simply throw open the doors of the fermentation room and let the wild yeast settle in the sugar-rich malts. It was this initial wild flora that was tamed at the great abbey breweries into more domestic (and reliable) strains for their brews. Unfortunately, it seems that even if you bring most Belgian live yeast cultures into the US and try to make the same beer using the same recipe, the beer just doesn't have that deliciously sweaty odor that makes Belgian beers so distinctive.

    However, just as soon as I was ready to throw my hands up and never try another American interpretation of a Belgian beer, I tried an Ommegang.

    Ommegang, if you have never seen it, comes bottled in the traditional Belgian-style 750ml short-shouldered bottle and is sealed with a bulbed (champagne) cork. It also comes in a bottlecapped 330ml bottle, but those tend to be hard to find in most liquor stores and are usually sold only in bars. It is an Abbey-style ale, on par with a Chimay Grand Reserve or any other Dubbel/Double Abbey Ale. It's full bodied brew with a sweet nose, rich caramel color and a bready yeast taste. They achieve this traditional taste by truly understanding that the yeast, and specifically the flavor the yeast imparts to the beer, is what makes Belgian beers great. The brewmasters at Ommegang truly had a vision in mind when they developed/selected the appropriate flora to give Ommegang its heavenly aroma and taste.

    Brewery Ommegang has also released a Singel/Single style beer called Hennepin, which is a crisp, hoppy, thirst-quenching beer. Both of these beers are worth searching out, and at $4 or $5 per bottle, it's less than half the price of their Belgian cousins. As with all Belgian beers, watch out, as they pack more of a kick than your traditional American beer (Ommegang 8.5% / Hennepin 7.5%)... so don't plan on gulping it down. Then again, with a beer this good, it's worth the time to savor it. (Avery Glasser)

    Copyright 2000, Avery and Janet Glasser
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