August 12th, 2010
By Kevin Burns
Several years ago, RealBeer.com held a contest called “Create a Great Beer” in which writers submitted descriptions of their dream beer. A home brewer named Noel Blake from Portland won the contest with his entry on a Belgian-style ale, and RealBeer chose Brewery Ommegang as the brewery who would brew the beer. The result was Three Philosophers, a bottle conditioned, Belgian-style quadrupel that was brewed with 2% Belgian Kriek that was introduced for the first time in 2003.
Three Philosophers was an instant hit and has evolved into one of America’s favorite beers. It is currently ranked in the 99th percentile of all beers on RateBeer.com as well as an A- rating and the #58 Beer on Planet Earth by BeerAdvocate.com.
On a personal note, Three Philosophers has always had a special place in my heart. Along with Hennepin, Three Philosophers was the beer that served as my craft beer ephiphany. I was a young college student who had been drinking cheap beer and tried my very first craft brew. After drinking one, I went out and bought another bottle and put it away in my cellar. Little would I know that five years later that first bottle would be the start of an incredible experience.
On August 10th, I was able to make my first trip to Brewery Ommegang located in Cooperstown, New York. I was able to take a private tour of the brewery before sitting down with Brewmaster Phil Leinhart, Director of Beer Development Jason Parrish and Press Relations Director Larry Bennett for a vertical tasting of Three Philosophers.
The aforementioned first bottle stayed in my cellar, and I have since bought one bottle of Three Philosophers each of the following years to join the original. While speaking with Larry, I proposed the idea of sitting down with the brewers and tasting through my personal collection.
The “cellaring” or “aging” beer is a relatively new, and at times hotly debated idea within the craft beer community. The best beers to age are vintage dated, strong, dark, and have a higher alcohol by volume. When storing beer, the two most important things are temperature and light. Varying temperatures and exposure to light will ruin, or “skunk” the beer. As these beers are aged, different flavors will start to emerge and the beer will change, taking on complex flavors.
After arriving, I handed Jason the six bottles from my cellar, a 750 mL bottle of each year from 2005-2010. Jason dug through the cellar and added a 2004 to extend the vertical another year. After taking a wonderful tour of the facility, the four of us plus my father sat down to taste through the beers. After a few photo ops and some small talk, Phil cracked the 2010 bottle and we worked our way down the line. Our tasting panel was in for a surprise as the bottle that was grabbed was not a 2004, but rather a 2003 vintage, the first year that the Three Philosophers was produced. While the tasting was incredible and lead to plenty of observations, there were a few points that I came away with.
- Three Philosophers is still too young to determine a maximum number of years in which it can be aged. The 2003 was still quite good, with plenty of the same characteristics of the newest vintage.
- Jason has done this same vertical multiple times, and his personal preference is to age the Three Philosophers for about 2-3 years.
- The older vintages start to take on some port like characteristics.
After the Three Philosophers, Jason brought out a special bourbon barrel aged version of the Three Philosophers as well as a bourbon barrell aged version of Adoration, last winter’s seasonal hit. Each beer was aged in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrells that had reportedly held Sam Adams Utopias in it prior to Ommegang’s beer. Only 200 bottles were produced and all have stayed within the brewery’s walls and are not for sale.
Brewery Ommegang is one of the best breweries that New York has to offer, as well as being one of the best in the entire country. A trip to Cooperstown is a must for any craft beer fan.