I TASTE A lot of beer. Sometimes, I find about what I expected. Sometimes, I'm disappointed. And occasionally — very occasionally — I'm totally blown away. It was like that this week when I popped the cork on a big 750 ml. bottle of Ommegeddon 2008 HHHH from Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, N.Y. Wow! It's our Beer of the Week and easily one of the best I've sampled this year.
The style is saison, a kind of farmhouse ale popular in Belgium a century or so ago. It's a cloudy, unfiltered, dusty gold, with a big creamy head that lasts and lasts.
There's a bit of "horse collar" or barnyard in the nose. But from the first sip, it's a pure delight; there is an intriguing balance between the faint malt sweetness and a mild sourness.
At the end, there's a hit of ginger and warming alcohol, ripe fruit, maybe pears and lord knows what else. The finish strongly reminds me of Orval, the Belgian Trappist ale bottled with both a regular beer yeast and a strain of brettanomyces, a wild yeast.
Ommegang is a Belgian-style brewery founded by two longtime fans of Belgian beer. It is now owned by Duvel Moortgat, the famous Belgian brewery.
They've outdone themselves with this baby.
It's 8 percent alcohol by volume (quick reference: Red Tail Ale is 5 percent), made with Belgian pale and pilsner malts. Hops are Styrian Goldings and spicy, earthy Saaz. A dose of a wild yeast, brettanomyces, is added to each bottle for a slow, secondary fermentation. My guess is if this beer ever has a chance to age, the funky horse collar note will intensify.
Ommegeddon 2008 is making its way to better beer stores now.
Speaking of beers that may make a brief appearance in the Bay Area and go away, by all means check out Flying Dog Kerberos HHH½, a Belgian-style, 8.5 percent triple: orange-ish color, nose of malt and spicy hops with a tart, spicy finish.
Calendar: There's a big event coming up, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, at Bistro, 1001 B St. in downtown Hayward. It's the Bistro's 11th annual India Pale Ale Festival. More than 50 IPAs will be on tap, plus live music and some barbecue.
Proprietor Vic Kralj has quite a lineup: Full Sail of Hood River, Ore., is bringing down its special Prodigal Son IPA; San Diego brewers will be well-represented, with IPAs from Ballast Point, Pizza Port and Alpine. The list goes on and the mind reels.
Cost is $25 for a 6-ounce glass and six tastes. No reservations; pay at the door. See ya there.
Can you imagine: A beer fermented with 45 million-year-old yeast? This is truth. Microbiologist Raul Cano, founder of the Environmental Technology Institute at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, isolated the yeast from a piece of ancient amber.
Joe Kelley at Kelley Brewing in Manteca has brewed the wheat beer.
I've tasted it and it's very drinkable and most unusual, more like a spiced Belgian beer. A beer made with same yeast, by the way, was served at the cast party for the "Jurassic Park" sequel — "The Lost World: Juraasic Park" back in 1997. Now Cano and another scientist have formed Fossil Fuels to make and distribute the beer.
In the meantime, you can taste it at Kelley Brewing and read about it in my blog: www.ibabuzz.com/beer.
HHHHH World classic.
HHHH Don't miss it.
HHH Very good.
HH Good beer; no defects.
H Demand a refund.