Boulevard Collaboration #4: Saison

A lot of brewery collaborations seem pointless. They give the sense that the brewers simply cobbled together a recipe over a couple of emails. There is no convincing reason for the collaboration – at least none that is apparent. There is no sense that some piece of each brewery has come together in some way in the finished beer. Marketing gimmick? Perhaps, but I’ve never been able to get a brewer to admit to that.

They don’t all seem pointless, though. In some cases the joint project really does tie the two breweries together. Avery/Russian River’s Collaboration Not Litigation is a good example. Two brewers selling beer of the same name in the same markets decided to blend their beers rather than engage in sticky trademark litigation.

In another example the brewers from Avery, Russian River, Allagash, and Lost Abbey decided to brew a lambic after traveling together to Belgium. The beer was brewed at Russian River and barrel-fermented with the house lambic bugs from each brewery. The four beers were then blended into the final product; a true coming together of the breweries.

Boulevard Brewing Company’s collaboration with Brewery Ommegang is one of those that seems genuine. Having started as independent companies, both are now owned by Belgian brewing conglomerate Duvel-Moortgat. They are sister breweries so to speak. Ommegang brews only Belgian inspired ales. While it was built on other brews, Boulevard has made a splash with its Belgian styles such as the delicious Tank 7 Saison. And Boulevard’s brewmaster Steven Pauwels comes from Belgium.

The collaborative process involved brewing separate batches of a saison recipe that used pale malt, oats, rye, corn and wheat and was spiced with coriander, grains of paradise and lemon peel. Each batch was fermented with the house yeast from the respective brewery and then the beers were blended. To me, that’s a collaborative beer.

Here’s my notes:

Boulevard Collaboration #4Boulevard Collaboration #4: Saison
Boulevard Brewing Company, Kansas City, Missouri with Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, New York
Style: Saison
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
ABV: 7.3%
IBU: 28

Aroma: High fruity esters – orange, mango, lemons, banana. High peppery phenols. Medium-high noble hop character – lemon and spice. Low biscuity malt.

Appearance: Full, rocky, ivory head with excellent retention. Medium-light amber and very hazy.

Flavor: Banana, clove, and zesty black pepper with high notes of lemon citrus. Bitterness is high, accentuated by very high attenuation. As it warms other fruits come through – blood orange, mango. Low malt sweetness gets a boost from the banana esters, but gives up past mid-palate. Some biscuity malt character. Alcohol adds some floral notes. Finish is extra dry with emphasis on peppery phenols, lingering bitterness, and alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium-full body. Mouthfilling in a hefeweizen kind of way. High carbonation – effervescent. Moderate alcohol warming.

Overall Impression: A full-throttle saison. Big and filling, yet high attenuation leaves it refreshing. Zippy and spicy. A good saison for the fall season.

Ommegang Rouge

Ommegang Rouge is a Flemish style sour red ale that is my pick as the best beer of 2009. Thanks to Al McCarty at the Blue Nile, who snatched up all the remaining kegs in the Twin Cities, it is quickly taking the lead for 2010. This beer is heaven in a glass. While Rouge is marketed as coming from Brewery Ommegang, the great producer of Belgian styles in Cooperstown, New York, the real story is more complicated. I’ll give it to you as I understand it.

When the Rodenbach Grand Cru, the benchmark beer of the style, was pulled from the US market a couple years ago Duvel Moortgat, the parent company of Ommegang, looked to fill the void. To do so they went to Brouwerij Bockor, a small, family owned brewery in Bellegem, Belgium near the French border. While better known for their lager beers, Bockor still produces a full line of traditionally brewed, spontaneously fermented lambics.  Their Cuvée des Jacobins Rouge was the perfect choice to replace Rodenbach. It was introduced to the US market as a beer from Ommegang, presumably to cash in on that brewery’s brand recognition and reputation for crafting first-rate Belgian style beers.

Ommegang Rouge/Cuvée des Jacobins Rouge is a 100% unblended lambic beer. Made from a mix of barley malt and unmalted wheat, following a traditional spontaneous fermentation with wild yeast and bacteria from the air, it is aged in oak vats for a period of eighteen months. In my view it is a better beer than Rodenbach, which is a very tall order indeed. My understanding is that it will soon be available here under its original name. Here’s my notes:

Ommegang Rouge/Cuvée des Jacobins Rouge
Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, New York/
Brouwerij Bockor, Bellegem Belgium
Style: Flanders Red Ale
Serving Style: Draft


Aroma: Balsamic vinegar and fruit. Cranberries and cherries. Light barnyard

Appearance: Cherry red and clear. No head to speak of but maintains a fine film of foam on the surface of the beer and leaves light lacing on the glass.

Flavor: Sour, sweet, and fruity. While this is definitely a sour beer, the acidity is restrained and smooth. The tartness blends with a complex mix of background “footy” and barnyard flavors (in a good way) and an explosion of fruits. Currants, cherries, cranberries. Dry and tart but not without some lingering malt sweetness.

Mouthfeel: Light and refreshing. Moderately high carbonation. Sparkling. Pleasant acidic burn on the way down.

Overall: This beer is heaven in a glass. An outstanding example. My best beer of 2009 and taking an early lead in 2010.

Autumn Brew Review Recap

Autumn Brew ReviewSaturday was Autumn Brew Review. At least half a million people turned out at parking lot of the historic Grain Belt Brewery in Minneapolis. Okay, so maybe there weren’t quite that many, but there were a bunch of people there. The sold out annual event was very well attended with beer lovers given the opportunity to taste the wares of 57 different breweries both local and national. Construction in the field approaching the river made the festival confines feel much more confined than last year and hot muggy weather made the compact crowds a bit hard to take by the end, at least for me. However, food lines never reached the epic lengths that they did last year, which was a definite improvement. I think the line at the Surly Brewing booth was the longest that I saw anywhere all day.

It was a good day for sour beers in my view and so-so day for pale ale and IPA. The first three of my top five beers were sour beers, with funky wild brews on offering from a number of brewers including Surly, Herkimer, Ommegang, Two Brothers, Victory, Great Waters, and others. As for the huge numbers of pale ales and IPAs on offer, nothing really stood out. With so many of these out there, brewers have to do something really special to rise above the crowd. In this category I found myself writing over and over again, “yet another hoppy IPA.” I think I’m just kind of over it.

Because of a tie for the top beer, my top five picks are really my top six picks. Starting at the bottom and working up, my number five beer was Summit German Style Kölsch. This is just a fantastic beer. Light and delicate, bready and subtly bitter, it provided me a blissful retreat at the end of the day when my palate had been smashed by the excesses of big, bitter, and barrel-aged. Remarkably its flavors still held their own. My number four was Odin Baltic Porter from Town Hall. This was a wonderfully rich and chocolaty porter with luscious caramel undertones and assertive herbal/grassy hop flavors and bitterness. Continuing up the list, my number three pick was Chestnut Hill from Lift Bridge Brewery. A big Nut Brown Ale, this beer had a creamy nutty and caramel malt profile nicely balanced by spicy/herbal hop bitterness and flavor. Rich but drinkable, Chestnut Hill would make a nice session beer even at 7% ABV. In the number two slot I put Thermo Refur from Furthermore Beer. This was an aged version of the beer they released last winter. The further aging has done it some good. This beer has developed a wonderful wild yeast funk; not sour, but redolent of earth, leather and barnyard. It is bone dry, but not lacking in body. I even think I tasted the beets.

My two top picks for this year were Rouge from Brewery Ommegang and Gose from the Herkimer Brewpub. Rouge is a Grand Cru style Flemish red ale that is a collaboration between Brewery Ommegang and Brouwerij Bockor in Belgium. It was spontaneously fermented and aged for 18 months in oak tuns. The result is a beautifully sour and barnyard beer with loads of cherry and berry flavors. While the acidity is strong, there remains a balancing malt sweetness that keeps it from being over the top. Beautiful. The real surprise of the festival for me was the Gose from Herkimer Brewpub. Gose is a rare North German ale style from the city of Leipzig, one of the few surviving representatives of the “white” beers that were once brewed all over northern Europe. A sour wheat beer flavored with coriander and sea salt, Gose is unique. Only one or two breweries in Leipzig still produce it and I know of only one that is available in the US. The Herkimer example was a nice one. Light and refreshing, tart but not overly sour, with a roundness of body and subtle saltiness from the addition of sea salt, I went back for this one three times during the day.

Other beers that seem worthy of mention but didn’t make my top five list include New Belgium Hoptober, Schell’s Roggenbier, Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ and Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Extra from Lagunitas (the only pale ales that managed to stand out from the crowd), Surly Brett, Avery Collaboration Tripel, and Vine Park English Premium Bitter. All in all it was a great event with a lot of great beers to sample. Can’t wait for Winterfest.

Ommegang Biere de Mars

Beire de Mars is a special version of the French farmhouse ale Biere de Garde. Brewed to a higher strength during the gusty month of March, it is intended to last through the summer, providing a welcome relief from the doldrums of July and August, and keeping the family in beer until brewing starts again in the fall. Brewery Ommegang makes their version extra special with a shot of Brettanomyces, the wild yeast that is partly responsible for the crazy tastes of Lambic.

Ommegang Biere de MarsBiere de Mars
Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, New York
Style: Biere de Mars
Serving Style: 750 ml Bottle

Aroma: Caramel malt and fresh dark fruit, plums and cherries, not raisins. Pronounced leathery and barnyard brettanomyces funk.
Appearance: Deep golden to light orange. Clear. Long lasting, fine, off-white head
Flavor: Light caramel malt supporting rich cherry and plum fruitiness. A hint of acidic sourness, but only a hint. Good amount of barnyard and leather funkiness like the aroma. Medium-high bitterness and light spicy hop flavor complements the funk. Dry finish that lingers on brett character.
Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. High carbonation. Dry.
Overall: A very nice beer. Good balance of malt and yeast with an extra charge of spicy hop that really complements the brettanomyces character. Light and easy to drink. Drinking it with a stinky, Spanish, washed-rind cow’s milk cheese and they pair wonderfully.