One Barrel Brewing has offered a Belgian strong ale as one of its standards since opening in 2012.
Germany often gets credit as the birthplace of many modern beer styles, and rightfully so. But beer history buffs like to point out the lands that became Belgium boast a 5,000-year history of brewing. Although there are specific Belgian styles marketed today, these beers actually comprise a wide range of interpretations on the ingredients used in the brewing process. That's quite different from German brewers with their 500-year-old beer purity law (Reinheitsgebot) that requires that only water, barley and hops be used to make beer (yeast was a later addition).
Belgians were more adventuresome with their approach to brewing, and as a result their beers offer unique flavors that include fruity sourness, candy sweetness and even earthy-musty qualities. All are considered desirable, depending upon the beer.
One Barrel Brewing in Madison has offered a Belgian strong ale as one of its standards since opening in 2012. Owner and brewmaster Peter Gentry tries to keep #2 Strong Ale on tap as much as possible. It's a good example of the varied flavors that can be found in a robust Belgian beer.
What is it? #2 Strong Ale from One Barrel Brewing Company of Madison, Wisconsin.
Style: Belgian strong ales are amber to dark brown in color. Their malty character can be rich and sweet, with complexity in flavors that include roastedness and mild hoppy bitterness. They are commonly brewed with Candi sugar, which can add to the style's alcoholic strength, which ranges from 7% to 11% ABV.
Background: "This is the beer that made me want to build a brewery," says Peter Gentry. His #2 Strong Ale was an award-winning homebrew, which gave him his first opportunity to brew commercially. In 2009, Gentry was one of three winners in the Grumpy Troll Challenge who got to make their beer at the Mount Horeb brewpub. A year later, Gentry's strong ale was entered by the Grumpy Troll in the United States Beer Tasting Championships, where it received an honorable mention. Gentry calls the beer #2 Strong because it was the second version of the original recipe he made while homebrewing.
One Barrel Brewing recently held its inaugural Fresh Hop Fest, which featured several new brews made by Gentry and assistant brewer Dan Sherman, who harvested fresh hops directly from farm fields near Oconomowoc. Gentry is also moving forward on his plans to open the Star Bar, an establishment serving both cocktails and beer, to be located in The Constellation building at 754 East Washington Ave.
- Aroma: A musty and malty nose.
- Appearance: Cloudy, brown-bronze body with a medium, soft tank head.
- Texture: Full-bodied, round.
- Taste: A spicy-yeast beginning with firm caramel underpinnings. There's a light musty and fruity component to latent stages of the main body of its flavor.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Ends with a yeastiness and a hint of sour-fruitiness. Also a firm alcoholic warmth that builds and reminds you this is a strong beer.
Glassware: One Barrel serves #2 Strong Ale in a chalice or small goblet. It's a great glass for showing off the beer's color and rocky tan head, while encouraging sipping.
Pairs well with: The earthy sweetness goes well with meaty entrees like rich stews, grilled steaks and slightly mild, sweet and smoky cheeses.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: One Barrel #2 Strong Ale lives up to its name. It's a strong beer that leaves you with lingering warmth at 10% ABV. The Candi sugar pushes that alcohol strength upward, while also lending raisin and floral notes. For those who like the Belgian Dubbel style, this beer has many of the same sweet and musty qualities. However, it's so strong that after one you're done. (Or you should be, because who really needs more than one 10% beer at a sitting?)
Because #2 Strong Ale is so flavorful, it's a beer that stands up to a big meal. It's a little early to think about Thanksgiving, but turkey and all the trimmings could be a great pairing for this bold brew.