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Coming for the holidays...

America's first 'Cave Beer'

As news of the Presidential election reached saturation point, a little liquid relief was offered by the Ommegang Brewery, of Cooperstown, New York. Ommegang chose Nov. 6 to invite the New York media to a tasting in Howe Caverns, near Cobleskill, in the foothills of the Catskills. These natural caves, in the Helderberg Hills, are a local tourist attraction. There, 156 feet underground, 3,000 bottles of the brewery's Hennepin ale had been maturing since the beginning of this year, at an even natural temperature of 52°.

Because of the natural moisture in the limestone caves, the bottles stored there were not labelled. They will now be packaged with the normal Hennepin label and a neck tag with an icicle design, and offered by selected retailers as a special product for the holidays.

Don Feinberg
Don Feinberg: He runs the Brewery Ommegang with his wife, Wendy Littlefield.
Hennepin is named after the 17th-century Belgian missionary and explorer who, during his travels in the Great Lakes, was the first European to write about Niagara Falls. The brew is a strong (7.5 per cent alcohol by volume) golden ale in broadly the aromatic, dry, cleansing, style of a Belgian saison. Hennepin has a very spicy aroma; a firm, smooth, palate; and a lemony dryness in the finish.

It is a bottle-conditioned brew, with the potential to gain slightly in dryness and natural carbonation, and greatly in complexity, if laid down for months, and probably years. As the brewery has operated for only three years, it is too early to say what is the optimum duration of bottle-aging for its beers.

In the bottle-conditioning of beers, temperature can be a problem. Most refrigerators are too cold, and not every house has a cellar. The best conditions are an unchanging temperature in the mid 50s, in natural darkness. Hence the experiment at Howe Caverns.

In the caverns, I found the beer drier than other bottlings I had sampled, with more depth of flavor, a more delicate balance, and a softer carbonation. My guess is that Hennepin would hit its stride at three months, and comfortably develop for at least a year. The brewery's stronger, richer, dark Ommegang might well enjoy five years or more,

The first bottled beer to be promoted as being cave-aged was the Belgian Grottenbier, created in recent years by Pierre Celis (Notes from the road, Antwerp, Dec 5, 1998).

Tasting the new Samichlaus

I have now received tasting samples of the new Samichlaus ("Santa Claus"). The news that this famous beer was to be reintroduced, after four years' absence, was first broken in this column (Notes from the road, October, 2000).

The new version, from the Eggenberg Castle Brewery, in Austria, retains much the same attractive reddish, chestnut, colour; sappy, brandyish aroma; creamy, cherryish flavors; and a long, spicy, peppery, earthy finish, with a late alcoholic warmth. If there are differences from the original Swiss version, the new interpretation may be fractionally paler in color and lighter in body, and more bitter in finish. I compared it with a 1996 bottling from my cellar but that has, of course, developed some characteristics of age in the meantime.

The new version is labelled "The Strongest Beer in the World - Guinness Book of Records". This was true some years ago, but what about Sam Adams' Millennium at 20 vol? Alcohol content is not a measure of quality, but both of these are very interesting beers.

I hope to visit the Eggenberg brewery next month, so look out for a profile of the brewery.

The first Christmas Beer...

...from Britain to arrive in my tasting room this year is from the Robert Cain brewery, of Liverpool. This is a pale bronze ale, with a barley-sugar aroma; a firm, crisp and dry palate, with suggestions of cough sweets; and hints of lemon-peel and ginger in the finish (5.0abv). The beer is, indeed, spiced, but not with those ingredients. The additions are raisin essence, cassia and nutmeg.

Carlsberg Cerise

Following my story in August about Carlsberg Abbey Ale, I have now received an experimental cherry brew in the same series. This is called Carlsberg Cerise. It pours with a big head, and has an attractively natural-looking dark-cherry color and aroma; a big, textured, body; a palate that is more dry than sweet; and gradual development of nutty, cherry, fruit-skin and woody flavors. A nice touch of tannic dryness very late in the finish. (8.3abv)

Published: NOV 6, 2000
In: Beer Hunter Online

Beer Review - Beer Styles

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