Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Ommegang, Allagash Beat Belgians

By William Brand
Wednesday, August 10th, 2005 at 10:53 am in Uncategorized.

Quick: Which beer do you like better: The legendary Chimay Grande Reserve, produced at a Trappist monastery in Belgium or Ommegang, a Trappist-style beer made in Cooperstown, NY, USA:?
According to Tim Webb, who conducted the tasting for about 70 Belgian beer enthusiasts at the Great British Beer Festival, this past weekend in London, the favorite was Ommegang.

In a second comparison, Allegash White, from Allagash Brewing, Portland, ME, USA tied with Sint Bernardus Wit, from Brouwerij Sint Bernard in Watou, West Flanders, Belgium. Saint Bernardus (in English) is easily one of Belgium’s top wheat beers.

There was a third beer, Italy’s Panil Barriquée from Birra Panil in Torrechiara, near Parma (Italy) was compared with Rodenbach Grand Cru from Brouwerij Rodenbach in Roeselare, West Flanders (Belgium).

According to a posting on a Belgian beer site, Tim, who publishes the authoritative,Good Beer Guide to Belgium, an audience of 70 beer lovers had each paid 10 pounds in addition to their admission tickets, to attend what was billed as a tutored tasting of Belgian ales. What they got instead was a chance to vote on which of four pairings of beers tasted the more authentic and which they preferred as a beer.

This was a repeat of a blind tasting held in Washington D.C.by BURP, a group devoted to Belgian beer. In that one, the superiority of the American beers was striking.
But Belgian fans wondered if the long trek across the Atlantic might have injured the Belgians. So the repeat tasting was organized.

So Webb and CAMRA organized the British tasting, Aug. 5.
“The most amazing result was the comparison of the strong abbey beers. I had agreed with the majority of the audience that one beer was clearly both of superior quality and greater authenticity. The other tasted frankly rather uninspired.

“I will confess that I assumed what had happened was that the beer that crossed the Atlantic had suffered in transit. When I got told that it was the Ommegang that had won hands down over the Trappist beer I did not believe it at first. I thought there must have been a misunderstanding, but the event manager confirmed that the huge majority vote was for the US-made beer,” Webb said in a CAMRA news release.

“I guess it should not have surprised me that much,” Webb said. “After all Ommegang is Belgian owned ( Duvel Moortgat) and created (by importer VanBerg & Dewulf) with the intention of authenticity.

Allagash, of course, is all-American,founded in 1995 by Rod Tod. It was the first brewery in New England devoted to making Belgian-style beers.

Ommegang and its champion wheat-based cousin Hennepin are widely available at stores in the Bay Area with good beer stocks. I’ve seen Allagash Wit at Beverages & More from time to time. Panil is imported by Shelton Bros., which specializes in rare, interesting foreign beers. But I’ve never seen it on the West Coast. A phone call to Shelton was not immediately returned.
((Don’t know where to shop for beer in the Bay Area, drop us an email (whatsontap@sbcglobal.net) and ask for our retail beer list.))

In the CAMRA blind tasting, members of the audience sampled each pair, then were asked: Which beer was the most authentically Belgian in style and which beer would they have been more pleased to have bought.
The results:

Strong Abbey-Style Ales: More authentic Belgian Style, 80-20 percent in favor of Ommegang.
More pleased to have bought: 70-30 percent in favor of Ommegang.

Wheat Beers: More authentic Belgian style:
60-40 in favor of Sint Bernardus
More pleased to have bought: 60-40 in favor of Allagash

Oak-Aged Brown Ales:
More authentic Belgian style: 50-50
More pleased to have bought: 60-40 in favor of Panil.

By the way, the 2005 edition of Tim Webb’s Good Beer Guide to Belgium has just been published. The best way to buy a copy is to purchase it from Tim’s own website www.booksaboutbeer.com. For $29.95 you get a signed copy of the book delivered to your door. Besides, buying directly from Tim helps support his research, which is extensive, authoritative and expensive.
You choice, save a couple of bucks, maybe, and buy from Amazon or support Tim in his work. And, if you care about Belgian beer as I do, Good Beer Guide to Belgium is the best.

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