Tag Archives: Utobeer

65. Ommegang Abbey Ale

Since there apparently are not enough Belgian beers in the world, we now turn to an American brewery doing their best to recreate famous Trappist and other Belgian ales in a postmodern mockup monastery in Cooperstown, New York.

Brewery Ommegang was founded in 1997 by Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield, two Americans with a genuine passion for quality beer, and everything else Belgian, but primarily with a keen eye for business.

With Don and Wendy having sold their share of the company in 2003, Ommegang are now owned by the European brewing giant Duvel Moortgat.

Despite the pretensions to authenticity and Belgianness, since Ommegang’s website contact page lists an extensive roll call of Public Relations, Marketing and Accounts managers, and almost nobody remotely involved with the brewing process, it’s probably fair to assume we are not dealing with an artisanal craft brewery here.


In terms of colour, Ommegang Abbey Ale is a lovely deep ruby, turning almost golden syrup-like in the right light. There isn’t much in the way of aroma beyond a few peppery Belgian-style esters, but it certainly isn’t lacking in flavour.

From the first taste, this is an intensely flavoursome beer. It’s rich, dark and treacly, and packs in dried fruit, christmas cake and rum notes. It’s every inch the Belgian Dubbel, but with every flavour turned up to 11.

The hefty alcohol content is hidden behind a slightly cloying sweetness, and unfortunately there’s a somewhat watery finish that lets the whole ensemble down a little.

I suspect some people would absolutely love this beer, and it genuinely has enough to say for itself to justify some enthusiasm, but to me it just isn’t the finished article. It’s a good beer, but I suspect there won’t be many Trappist monks losing sleep over Ommegang’s run on their territory tonight.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY
Style: Abbey Beers
Strength: 8.2% ABV
Found at: Utobeer, Borough Market, London SE1
Serving: 355ml Bottle

56. Oude Geuze Boon

Here’s another beer that should be a completely new experience for me. Oude Geuze Boon hails from Belgium and is an example of a style of beer known as Gueuze*, itself a sub-type of Lambic, a sour wheat beer synonymous with the town of Lembeek in Belgium.

This is the first time I’ve tried a beer labelled with any of the terms Gueuze, Lambic or “sour” and, truth be told, I’ve had the bottle sitting around for quite some time while I plucked up the courage.

That may be no bad thing, since Lambics are well known for their tendency to improve with age. This one dates from the 2010-11 bottling and sports a “best before” date of early October 2032. You get the feeling the date is only on there at all simply to satisfy an EU bureaucrat somewhere.


Oude Geuze Boon is presented in a smart 375ml bottle, and is Champagne-corked, to let you know you’re dealing with something a bit grown-up. It pours a typically Belgian and slightly cloudy deep golden colour, and has a tightly frothy white head backed up with a lively fizz.

There’s an immediate and unmistakeable pong of cider, in particular the distinctive sweet-yet-sour stench of the lamentable Scrumpy Jack, which briefly transports me straight back to memories of the early 90s.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the beer tastes sour, but unfortunately, aside from a fairly standard Belgian ale hiding in there somewhere, there isn’t really much more to it than that. As with Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, it’s hard to taste anything beyond the main gimmick of the beer, and as with the Rauchbier, I soon wish the bottle were smaller.

I fully accept that a lot of that will be down to my own inexperience with the style: these kinds of beers are quite literally an acquired taste, though I don’t foresee myself drinking enough of the stuff in future to acquire it. That said, there are a few more in The Book which I’ll have to wade through at some point.

Of course, at a mere three years old, this bottle has a lot of growing up to do, so it would also be fascinating to see what 20 years or so worth of cellaring would do for a beer like this.

All in all then, this is not to my taste by any means, but I’m glad I finally tried it.

* If it appears that I’m spelling things inconsistently here, my justification is that “Gueuze” is the name of the beer style as given in The Book, and on Wikipedia, while “Geuze” is the spelling used in the name of this particular beer, as seen on the label.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Brouwerij Boon nv, Lembeek, Belgium
Style: Lambic and Gueuze
Strength: 7.0% ABV
Found at: Utobeer, Borough Market, London SE1
Serving: 375ml bottle

52. Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier

Every so often, along comes a beer that takes me far outside my comfort zone. This is just such a beer, and I have very little idea what to expect.

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier hails from Bavaria, Germany and is a smoked beer. Smoked beers are made much like any other, except that the barley malt is infused with smoke from wood fires prior to mashing.

I’ve very little experience with this style of beer, beyond having once accidentally ordered a pint of Anarchy’s Smoke Bomb, which was so over the top as to be rather charming, and Beavertown’s much more subtle, and remarkably smooth, Smog Rocket.

Let’s see how this rather authentic looking beer compares to those two upstarts.


On cracking open the bottle, there’s an instant, ominous smoky aroma, and I’m reminded strongly of Lapsang Souchong tea. The beer pours a sinister and not entirely appetising dark greyish brown colour.

It tastes absolutely awful, of course. The use of smoke is in no way restrained, providing an unpleasantly bitter taste that sticks in your mouth and nose for hours afterwards. You can’t taste the underlying beer, as its flavour is completely obscured by the smoke. Apparently this one started life as a Märzen, but there’s no way of knowing that without reading the label.

The experience is reminiscent of sucking on charcoal or a burnt log, which is not my idea of a good time. The brewers have tried to tame the smokiness a little by upping the sweetness, but it just muddies the flavours and makes the beer sickly and cloying.

I’m sure there’s a lot of love and craft goes into Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, and the brewers are no doubt extremely proud of it, but it isn’t to my tastes. To be frank, if it weren’t for my dedication to the 300 Beers challenge, and to both of my readers, this one would be going down the sink.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Brauerei Schlenkerla, Bamberg, Germany
Style: Smoked Beer
Strength: 5.1% ABV
Found at: Utobeer, Borough Market, London SE1
Serving: 500ml Bottle

43. Fraoch Heather Ale

Now, here’s a beer I have been looking forward to. I haven’t had a Fraoch for at least 15 years, at which time I was a student up in Edinburgh. This Scottish heather ale was always a special treat in those days, being a little more expensive and harder to get hold of than the McEwan’s 80/- ale that was my main tipple.

Still, I had a bottle from time to time, and even remember enjoying it as a guest cask in the Blind Poet. Almost as much as the native barman enjoyed my attempts to pronounce the name correctly.

Since I spotted this one in The Book, I’d been wondering how I’d get hold of a Fraoch here in London. I needn’t have worried: as is so often the case, Utobeer have it covered.


Fraoch Heather Ale pours a lovely deep golden colour with a small white head, and there’s a very subtle floral aroma.

Fraoch is lighter bodied than I remember, but no less smooth. Scottish ales tend to employ very little in the way of hops, so are unlikely to be particularly bitter, and this one is no exception. Instead there are floral flavours, courtesy of the heather and bog myrtle with which the beer is brewed, and a slight peppermint note too. The finish is vinous and slightly sweet.

The beer doesn’t have a huge amount of depth to it, which isn’t quite how I remember it, but it’s nice enough. The botanicals are sufficiently subdued that I probably wouldn’t detect heather specifically if I didn’t know it was in there. I don’t consider that a particularly bad thing: I still want my beer to taste of beer.

All in all, Fraoch is an enjoyable beer, a little bit different, and I can certainly see how it made a nice change from the ubiquitous 80/- all those years ago. A pleasant and welcome blast from the past.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Williams Brothers Brewing Co, Alloa, Scotland
Style: Beers made with Fruit, Spices, Herbs and Seeds
Strength: 5.0% ABV
Found at: Utobeer, Borough Market, London SE1
Dispense: 500ml Bottle

40. Anchor Old Foghorn

This is the third and final one of the 300 Beers to be produced by the Anchor Brewery, following on from the Steam Beer and the Liberty Ale. While the latter didn’t blow me away, the Steam Beer was a revelation, and I must admit to taking a bit of a shine to this plucky San Francisco brewery with their stout little brown bottles and handsome label artwork.

Even more excitingly, this is the first chance I’ve had to try a beer labelled as a Barleywine. Barleywine is essentially just very, very strong beer, fermented for significant periods of time. It’s apparently a centuries-old English style of beer, originally brewed for the aristocracy, but it’s one we really don’t see a lot of in this country these days, to the extent that I’d always assumed it was an American style.

In fact it was Anchor themselves and their Old Foghorn which introduced the style to the States, where it quickly caught the imagination of brewers and drinkers alike. I think we’d better get more intimately acquainted. I’m looking forward to this.


Like the previous Anchor beers, this one is impeccably presented, though its label diverges from the usual sailor tattoo artwork for something a little more pastoral, featuring barley and hops. The beer itself is a dark, glossy Greek honey sort of colour with little to no head, just a light off-white lacing.

There isn’t a great deal of aroma to Old Foghorn, which lulls you into a false sense of security, as it completely belies the massive amounts of flavour within.

Old Foghorn is thick and rich, and almost the same texture as Greek honey too. It’s full of plump dried fruit and treacle. There’s a faintly medicinal note to it, which is less unpleasant than it sounds, along with a real sweetness, albeit a pleasing, tart, bitter sweetness which lingers in the mouth.

That bitterness comes from Old Foghorn being matured on a bed of Cascade hops for no less than 10 months, before being dry hopped, meaning that yet more hops are added to the finished beer. I suspect a lot of the depth also comes from the fact that only the first pressing of the mash is used, a technique we previously saw applied to a quite different beer, Japan’s Kirin Ichiban.

All in all, I’m reminded strongly of one of my favourite guilty pleasures, Fuller’s Golden Pride, though this is a little richer and darker. I’m starting to like it a lot.

This is a strong old beverage at 9.4% ABV, and there are naturally huge boozy notes, enough to remind you to take it slowly and savour Old Foghorn respectfully. The alcohol isn’t overbearing though: it just provides a lovely warming hit that gets to work pretty promptly.


This is a terrific beer, and one that reminds me why I started this blog. It’s thanks to breweries like Anchor and Brooklyn (particularly their Vienna-style Lager and Black Chocolate Stout) that my preconceptions about American beers have been shot to pieces, with Anchor Old Foghorn being the final, delicious bullet.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Anchor Brewing Co, San Francisco, CA
Style: Old Ales, Barley Wines and Vintage Ales
Strength: 9.4% ABV
Found at: Utobeer, Borough Market, London SE1
Dispense: 355ml Bottle

38. Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout

Just when you think it’s going to start getting difficult to find all these beers, you make a discovery like Utobeer. Little more than a big cage in an unpleasantly busy market in London, Utobeer claim stocks of around 2,000 distinct beers, of which, given space constraints, around 700 are on display at any one time. Needless to say, Utobeer will be a trusty ally on our beery quest.

Sam Smith’s are primarily known in Britain for their chain of countless improbably well-priced pubs, none of which happen to sell any beer you’ve ever heard of. That’s because they only sell Sam Smith’s beer, brewed up in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire. To my surprise, a lot of their beer is available in bottles, and four such beers are in The Book.

Conveniently enough, Utobeer stocks at least one of them: Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout.


Imperial Stout is fast becoming my favourite style of beer. Essentially, the style is like stout but stronger. Way stronger in some cases: I glowed about the 10% ABV Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, while my current favourite is probably The Kernel’s Imperial Brown Stout, which is marginally weaker at 9.9%.

Those are both incredibly good beers, so old Sam Smith’s version, clocking in at a comparatively shandy-drinking 7% ABV has some tough competition on its hands.

It’s a handsome enough bottle, with a charmingly old timey label, apparently designed by Charles Finkel, founder of Merchant du Vin who import Sam Smith’s beers to the US. True to form, even Sam Smith’s bottles are of a generous size, coming in at 355ml like this one, or at 550ml.

On cracking open the bottle, there’s an immediate chocolate aroma, though strangely it doesn’t stick around for long. Pouring the Imperial Stout, it certainly looks the part: black as it comes, with a smallish tan head.

It tastes, unsurprisingly, like a strongish stout but there’s slightly too much sweetness to it, followed by a odd bitterness that seems out of place for some reason. It’s also a little thin-bodied and kind of sticky.

Sam Smith’s Imperial Stout is quite drinkable, but it doesn’t rock my world. There just isn’t that depth of chocolate and coffee and smoke that one expects from a really good stout. It’s not a bad beer, but it’s not the best Imperial Stout out there by a long shot.

I’m no expert on brewing, but my feeling is that this beer is just crying out for more of the sugar to be fermented off, which would in turn result in an ABV more fitting for its style, and would no doubt add some of that complexity that it lacks.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Samuel Smith Old Brewery, Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, England
Style: Porters and Stouts
ABV: 7.0%
Found at: Utobeer, Borough Market, London SE1
Dispense: 355ml Bottle