Sud Savant: Ommegang Rare Vos – Cheers Ommegang! You’ve Done it Again

I realize that somehow I have not yet reviewed a bottle from Brewery Ommegang. This is not because I haven’t been drinking it, far from it. I’ve been drinking their beer at festivals (especially their BIPA), bars (Gnomegang, anyone?), and buying bottles to share with friends because I am supremely confident that even those new to craft beer will enjoy a brew from Ommegang (their Witte seems to go over especially well).

For those not familiar, Rare Vos is the Belgian-style amber ale from Brewery Ommegang. Their bottle description reads as follows. “Rare Vos is Flemish for ‘Sly Fox’ and the name of one of Brussels’ great cafés. It is also the name of our cunning Belgian-style Amber, which sports a mellow, fruity character and an elusive spiciness.” That’s all I need to hear. Let’s pour!

Aroma 11/12 The Belgian yeast is strong, sweet, and a delight. I’ve always associated Belgian yeast aroma with bananas, but this bottle clearly let’s me see why others say bubble gum. The Belgian bubble gum aroma is strong enough to make it difficult, though not impossible, to smell the amber ale behind it. Any of the amber malts sweetness is overcome by that of the yeast, but the malts do still add a toasty, lightly earthy note to things. As the beer warms, a surprising citrus arrives with the previously absent malt sweetness, which also helps loosen some of the yeast’s stronghold.

Appearance 3/3 I’m on my first glass, so there’s still quite a bit of sediment at the bottom of the bottle, but currently this beer shines like a new penny. A bright, high-clarity copper color that absolutely glows as it sits in the glass. It also enjoys a column of ascending carbonation and a superior head. The head pours generously without threatening to overflow the glass. It’s so thick and tighly packed that it mutes the sound of the pour. I love that. It retains this head for, what after a while seems like just showing off and eventually as the bubbles join each other, the sides of the head turn soapy and leave a delicate lace around the glass. Full marks!

Flavor 18/20 The beer slides immediately into its primary flavors with no introduction. I was concerned after smelling the beer that it was going to be a witbier with a bit of amber malts. Not so. This beer’s flavor is that of an amber ale all the way and what an amber it is! It has everything that an amber should, but also adds a clean citrus behind it, which I can only attribute to a hop presence. Holding the beer in the mouth, allows the Belgian sweetness to make an appearance, but it never comes close to stealing the show. Slurping this beer brings out the toasty notes from the malts and bits of the yeast. The finish is again more amber than Belgian, by being crisp and clean. Well, clean minus a final good-bye from the toasted malt and a hint of spice (nice!). The aftertaste is also clean, but leaves whispers of the earlier citrus.

Whoa! Ok, so I just got down to the bottom of the bottle where all the sediment (a.k.a. the good stuff) was resting. I stirred it up a bit and it gave a whole new cohesiveness to this beer! Obviously the appearance became much more translucent and hazy, but the flavors now seemed more in tune with each other. Instead of having an amber ale with a Belgian yeast “witbier” note in the background, this beer is now a wondrous blend of amber malt grain flavors and toastiness plus a dull, darkened Belgian yeast note that now seems more inclined to wrap itself in the amber ale instead of being placed along side of it. Oh, and a increased bitter in the finish. Very cool.

Mouthfeel 4/5 The carbonation is appropriate even toward the end of the bottle. It’s tiny and far between, but what is there is quite lively and adds to the refreshing, clean nature of an amber ale. The medium-full body is more substantial than an amber ale requires, but the Belgian yeast flavors allow that body to not seem out of place. There is not detectable warmth in this 6.5% ABV brew, but sometimes the yeast aromas can make it seem otherwise.

Overall Impression 9/10 I’m pretty pleased with this. It’s a substantial beer, but never lost the refreshing, crisp nature that makes the amber ale so popular. I love that it shows you its different faces at different times (when cold/warm, in aroma, etc), but when utilizing the sediment at the bottom of the bottle, everything comes together in a very nice and unexpected harmony. It’s like when chords finally resolve in music; it is both a relief and pleasing. Being from Ommegang, it should come as no surprise that the technical aspects (appearance, mouthfeel) of the brew are top notch.

Total 45/50 As I mentioned earlier, I was initially worried that this beer labeled as a “Belgian-style Amber Ale” would end up being a Belgian yeast laden ale, with touches of amber ale just to be able to sell something different. Allow me to say that Ommegang is delicious even with my foot in my mouth. This truly turned out to be a craft beer that proudly emphasized the amber ale and only gave hints at a Belgian influence. True to form, this beer not only satisfies the experienced, but would also please the novice. If you’re looking for something crisp, but a more substantial that the light, citrusy spring offerings, then you should definitely pick up a bottle or two. It’s definitely worth sharing. Cheers Ommegang! You’ve done it again.

Joel R. Kolander is the Cheif Blogger for Sud Savant, a beer-savoring blog for the rest of us. We’re not here to get plowed. We’re not here because we are world-famous beer critics. We’re here because we enjoy savoring a great beer with even better friends. Sharing great beer is just as amazing as finding it in the first place. Lets share!