I can remember the first Belgian-style I ever had…North Coast’s Brother Thelonius Abbey Ale. I sat in my basement watching a movie on the big screen, slowly taking down the entire bottle, with each sip feeling the wave of intoxication rolling over me. It was stronger than just about anything I’d ever had to that point, and the flavor profile really intrigued me. It got me wondering what else was out there. So I picked up a book by the late, great Michael Jackson on Belgians, and devoured every piece of info I could find on what, in my opinion, is probably the most complex and innovative beer making region in the world. I tried everything I could get my hands on, especially the Trappists, including Chimay, Westmalle, Orval, Achel, and Rochefort (minus of course the elusive Westvleteren…I will try you yet). And I enjoyed them all, for different reasons. I kind of fell in love with the whole Belgian scene, and in some ways OD’d on the style for a few months.
I’ve been coming back to it a little here and there, mixing in a few Belgians amidst some nice IPAs, and of course stouts and winter ales as we get into the colder months (in Minnesota, there’s two seasons…winter and road construction).
I picked up Russian River Damnation through South Bay in San Diego, and looked forward to trying it. My experience with Pliny the Elder was fantastic, and I’ve heard great things about the brewery.
Damnation is a Belgian-style Strong Golden Ale. Poured with a respectable head, with lots of fine carbonation. Coloring is straw, very pale. Very pleasant and characteristic yeasty aroma. My bottle was from batch 39. 7.75% ABV. The taste is pretty sweet up front. Somewhat hoppy, and finishes mildly spicy and dry, with a definite estery quality going on. I think more citrus than banana. They talk about cedar wood on the bottle, but I didn’t pick that up. Very smooth and refreshing throughout, almost watery (that’s not an insult).
I think this is reminiscent of a slightly weaker version of Duvel…not as much aroma, not as much carbonation, and not quite as much boldness in flavor or spice. I realize it’s a totally different style than Pliny the Elder and maybe not fair to compare, but Pliny the Elder really met my expectations, while Damnation didn’t stand out in any significant way for me.
I almost didn’t want to include this, but my fiance said the only difference between Damnation and Michelob Golden Light is that Damnation had a worse aftertaste. Ouch. Not sure I’d go that far. But she is a teacher, and grades a little harder than I do.