Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Brewery Ommegang: Three Philosophers Belgian Style Blend

First off: apology, I missed my promise to review five new breweries in five weeks. We're now in week six, and this is only brewery number four. But better late than never.

I've been a bit hostile towards Belgian style beers recently. I had the impression that a lot of the hype surrounding these brews was just that: hype. I still generally think that a lot of the attention that Belgian brews have been receiving is over-the-top, but I can say that I have found one that is deserving of praise (and a spot in your fridge). And I swear it has nothing to do with the name.

Three philosophers is a quadrupel. Traditionally, tripel is the strongest of the Belgian beers, so a quadrupel must think it is something truly mind-blowing. While 9.8% ABV is quite strong, it's not any more alcoholic than your standard high ABV beers. But I will give Ommegang this: they manage to mask the alcohol taste entirely. Yup. entirely.

But that's not really the beer's chief merit. Where it really wins is on taste. The taste here is complex, balanced, satisfying and yet somehow very drinkable. There is a dark maltiness that is faintly earthy, accented by hints of cherries (there are actually cherries in this beer). This beer strikes me as having faintly more in the way of hops than most Belgian ales, which along with the carbonation level gives the beer a fresh and crisp finish.

Cherry beers tend to get a bad rap. Usually, that bad rap is deserved. But here, Ommegang has managed to use the cherry hints in a way that is actually constructive to the beer's taste. Belgians have a very earthy flavor to them, and the cherry flavors do a lot to keep that flavor from lingering on the tongue. The result is that you don't gradually get sick of this beer as you work your way through it (a problem I've noticed with several Belgians). But, apparently aware that it is very easy to overdo the whole cherry thing, the brewers only used the flavor sparingly.

In sum, this is a beer that gives you an idea why Belgian-style brews have attracted so much attention. I recommend it without hesitation.

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