I’ve had this bottle for a while, a collaboration between Ommegang from Cooperstown, New York, and the renowned Brasserie d’Achouffe from somewhere near the Ardennes. Want a beer, and I don’t see anything else in my fridge that I want to open, so Gnomegang it is. I should really tell you something about these two breweries, as both are fairly interesting and thus blog-worthy, but I think I’m going to wait until I write something about one of their regular beers, or else I’ll be here forever.
I do, however, want to talk a little about Belgian Strong Pale Ale, as this beer would seem to be a high-profile example of that style simply by virtue of association with the famous beer “La Chouffe,” one of the style’s benchmarks and arguably one of the best out there. Belgian Strong Pale Ale (“BSPA'”) is a style that holds wide appeal, and its examples are frequently “gateway beers” for those who think they don’t like beer.
Upon first glance, in the glass, BSPAs look a hell of a lot like Budweiser. They are fizzy yellow beers with lots of carbonation, thus they look harmless, innocuous – they can pass for Manly American Beers that get featured in Super Bowl ads. Bring one to a tailgate party, pour it into a glass, and frat boys and sorority chicks won’t even notice that you aren’t drinking Miller Light like everyone else.
Looks can be deceiving, however, as there is a gulf of difference between La Chouffe and PBR. The BSPA is high in alcohol – usually around 8-10%. Yes, the word “strong” is there for a reason. Even at that strength, though, these beers land light on the palate. Fluffy. Cloud-like. That, my friends, is what makes the BSPAs so dangerous – they go down so easy, you will not even CARE that you are drinking a 9% beer, you’ll just want more……until you can barely stand. This is why so many BSPAs allude to evil, the devil, etc – Duvel, Belzebuth, Inferno, just to name a few. They are dangerous, evil Luciferian beers, drawing the unsuspecting in with a pretty face and driving them to madness.
Where does all that alcohol go? Well, it’s deceptively hidden behind a veil of fruit-and-spiced sweet bread. Many, if not all BSPAs have sweet pear and apple flavors up front, a bready mid-palate, and a peppery dry finish that beckons another sip. The usual “I’m drinking a really strong, heavy beer” signals will not apply. Trust me.
It should come as no surprise that BSPAs are also accomplished food beers, nearly as promiscuous as saisons in their affinity for most foodstuffs. You can pour them in Champagne flutes and serve them in a reception setting, with fruit and cheese. Almost any cheese will do. Take them to a dinner party and marvel at the harmony with a roast chicken, turkey, ham. Seafood, are you kidding, the BSPA OWNS seafood – try one with shellfish, and thank me later. They don’t even shy away from desserts, especially fruity-creamy-spicy desserts. I could even see bread pudding being a phenomenal pairing.
I’ve rambled enough – on to the Gnomegang. Owing to having no room in my fridge, I had stored this bottle on its side, so I’m getting more yeast cloudiness than I otherwise would. Other than that, it’s the typical BSPA – voluminous foam, sunny gold body.
The aromatics are sweet, almost dessert-like. I’m getting a lot of caramelized pear and sweet apple; also very sweet cinnamon bread.
Up front, there’s an intense hit of carbonation followed by soothing creaminess. Taste follows the nose here, with pear, apple pie with nutmeg, clove, pepper. Some cotton candy and bubblegum; also normal for this style. All of this sounds very sweet, and would lead one to believe that this is a cloyingly sweet beer, but it isn’t. It still manages a peppery near-dry finish.
It might be just a tad sweeter than some other BSPAs, but all the food pairings I listed above will still apply. This one is easily available in the finer South Florida booze outlets for about $15 +/- $2, but even if you can’t find it, we have a plethora of BSPAs available – see the following:
Moortgat – Duvel
Unibroue – La Fin Du Monde
Huyghe – Delirium Tremens
Brasserie d’Achouffe – La Chouffe
Brooklyn Brewery – Local 1