Wednesday, March 3, 2010

An Old, Old Wooden Ship

Last night I had three beers at the apartment: 2 Brooklyn American Ales (only one left in the fridge!) and 1 Ommegang Abbey Ale. Ommegang's Abbey Ale (which, annoyingly enough, is just called Ommegang), is a Belgian double. Abbey ales (notably Trappist Ales) tend to come in three styles: Double (or Dubbel), Triple (or Tripel), and Quadruple. If you guessed those labels correlated with alcohol content, well, you'd be right, sort of. Although there is no hard and fast rule about what constitutes a doubles versus a triple, etc., generally the higher alcohol content, the more likely it is to be a quad. The less alcohol, the more likely it is to be a double. It gets a bit tricky though. Is your Belgian beer super sweet, almost a molasses/caramel flavor? Well you're probably in triple land, which derives it's name from a specific brewing process as well as it's general in-between-a-quad-and-a-double alcohol content. Rich and malty? Well then you'll want to check the alcohol content. Under 9%? Probably a double. Over 9% probably a quad. Light and fruity? Again, check that ABV.

All of this is to say that I generally think beer is way navigable than wine. This isn't going to be my "why beer is better than wine post," which someone remind me to write about later. I just wanted to make a point about beer names/labeling. The almost hyper specificity of beer style labeling I think helps you know what you're getting into a bit better. Let's look at comparison of beer and wine, in regards to labeling. I want to know what I am going to drink. Someone offers me an ale. Not very helpful. Then they say it's a Belgian ale. Okay, we're getting somewhere now, but there are a million kinds of Belgian ales. Then they say it's a Belgian Abbey ale, awesome, but we already know we can get more specific. Finally, I'm informed it's a Belgian Double Abbey ale. Perfect. I know, to some extent, what the beer is going to taste like. Ok, now let's suppose I want to know what kind of wine I'm going to drink. Someone offers me a Merlot. Okay, but what kind of merlot? Uh, a merlot merlot? Not very helpful. While I get that the hyper specificity can be off-putting to beer novices (What the hell is an imperial india pale ale? I wanted a beer!), I really do think it's better than the alternative.

I think beer labeling/language starts to goes astray when it starts to mirror wine language. I don't mean to say that terms of art such as "tanniny" or "malty" are bad. I more mean to talk about the use of words like "grassy" or "ripe" or any other phrase that you wouldn't hear coming from anyone that wasn't a wine snob. This leads me back to the Ommegang I had tonight. I love Ommegang (the specific Double and the brewery). Ommegang's Double might be the best Double made outside of Belgium. But as I was looking at the bottle today, I noticed that the label described the beer as "burgundian." Even after a whole host of research (a quick google search), I still couldn't figure out what the hell that meant. I found sites describing other beers as burgundian, but no one said, "and this flavor is what makes it burgundian." It tastes like burgundy? I have no idea. I feel like when wine and beer drinkers use these types of words, they're all just talking past each other. Like, "I said this beer tasted burgundian and that other beer drinker agreed, so what I said must actually mean something, but don't tell her I don't what that is!"* All this is to say that I would describe Ommegang as a malty (malts have a taste, like apples have a taste, same with tannins, which is why I don't mind people using those words), sweet, cinnamony, alcohol-heavy beer. I would call it burgundian, but I don't know what that means. And neither do you.

Total Beers: 186
Where I Should Be: 167.123

*Admit it, when you read "her" in there, you did a double take. You're so sexist. Like women can't be beer drinkers...

No comments:

Post a Comment