Rating: 78 points
Stats: Red Ale. 6.8% ABV. Cooperstown, NY.
Size: 750 mL bottle
Colour: Deep red amber, slightly unfiltered (on lees)
Mouth Feel: Medium carbonation with a very dry finish
Pairing Notes: Beef fajitas
I know: I’ve been on a bit of an “imperial” bent for a few reviews, but it feels right with winter nudging at our doors. Time for something a little different now ….
I love Game of Thrones. I have been watching it since the very first episode aired — which means I’m not a follower, I’m a discoverer (at least, that’s how I define it). I have always loved good fantasy, great storytelling, and the creativity of new worlds. I escaped many a childhood day (and night) in the books of David Eddings and Piers Anthony and Tolkien. So Game of Thrones has an honest belonging in my heart and I gravitated to it immediately.
So when I spied this gorgeous bottle a few weeks ago, I snatched it up immediately. I’ve tasted a few others from Ommegang in upstate New York, and I must say, this a brewer that certainly deserves an award for its consistent attention to detail in its labeling. And as opposed to the last disaster with my fresh hopped beer, this one has appropriate pouring instructions clearly labeled.
It’s an intriguing beer even before you pour it. Pop culture references and labeling beauty aside, it’s a red ale (all too uncommon in my opinion) that in this case is brewed with ancho chilies. A few words on the ancho chili– what is it and is it hot? The ancho chili actually comes by two names: pablano (when green/fresh) and ancho (when dried). The ancho is the principle chili commonly used in many “chili powders.” It’s the chili that imparts the spice with a deep, dark richness. It isn’t particularly hot, but it is exceptionally flavourful and adds a rich and almost smokiness to the powder and the foods to which it is added. It is lovely and, if you haven’t already guessed, it’s a chili I adore.
Pour the beer and follow the instructions and you get a glass of dragon’s blood: a deep dark red amber that I immediately associate with both the label (fire and blood) and with the ancho chilies in it. A sniff is a less compelling, however: spicy, yes, but not from the chilies but more likely from the rye and other grains. There is also a good deal of caramelization off the nose as well, which isn’t surprising in a malty ale like a good red.
The first taste is a bit disappointing, however: way too much carbonation which reminds me of the problems of the New Zealand Renaissance brews I’ve sampled. The carbonation is ‘tight’ but falls fast, no matter how hard you pour, and which nevertheless leaves a telltale ‘burn’ in the mouth. Not ideal in any beer … and in most English-styled reds, it would be complete opposite (near flat). In American red ale, it may be more normal, but it still takes away from the malts and the essential sweetness you’d expect and covet in a red ale. This burn also washes away the subtly of the chili.
Middle of the tongue lays claim to some decent malts but not much more. Coffee and some dark fruits and even some red delicious apple come out. Nice, but short lived and it feels a bit like a dingy in a caught whirlpool of bubbles before the eddy pulls you back under the waterfall of carbonation. If there are nuances there, they’re lost. The ending is nice — but I’d say dry for a red ale. Still, nice, crisp, and clean which is where I think the rye malts take over again with a telltale sharpness which afflicts (and befalls) way too many rye ales. It’s also where you get the slightest of hints of the chili, some earthiness, a bit of smoke, a tinge of heat, but hardly enough to notice. Rather, for a beer that doesn’t claim to be a rye ale, it seems to rely very heavily on this grain and I don’t think it pulls it off nearly as well as it might (if that were the emphasis). The result is an acerbic aftertaste which disappoints even while it refreshes.
All in all, a good beer, a tasty beer, and a very very pretty beer. But in its class, I give it a B … maybe a B+. And as tasty as it is and pretty as it looks, at $10, this is not value for money — you can definitely do better if you want a good beer and a great red ale and a ton better if you want a great rye ale (see Beyond the Pale’s “Rye Guy” for a great example) . But if you want to collect a really great bottle, definitely buy one — but if it were me, I’d leave it corked and caged and just keep it as a souvenir.
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