Brewery: Russian River (CA)
Style: Belgian Strong Pale Ale
ABV: 7.75 %
A perfect Belgian beer, to me — well, outside of Belgian sours, which exist on a whole higher plane — is one that's subtle in its Belgian character, understated, nuanced, et cetera. So, yes, I like my IPAs extra hoppy, my sours extra sour, my wilds extra funky, my stouts extra dark, and so on, but Belgians... those guys are best when they aren't carried away. Phenols and esters and spice and clove are best as suggestions, not wallops. In my opinion.
So in that regard, Damnation is a pretty good Belgian strong pale ale. Put another way: it's not the best I've had, but superior to many other American takes on the style. (And, in fact, Russian River does an oak-aged version of Damnation, which is in my opinion much better than the plain version. So if you can find that one, get that.) In place of spicy phenols, Damanation favors that sort of musty, funky Belgian yeast profile — somewhere closer to a saison than a witbier, with earthy, tart notes that wouldn't be out of place in a Brett beer. Bread and biscuit ease over the tongue, and the mild carbonation gives these drier flavors more room to breathe. On the other hand, there's a good amount of sweetness in the finish, and that sweetness enhances the fruit character. It's subtle, but there's definitely some banana, apple and pear, with a smooth, clean finish that's almost honey-like. This isn't sweet-sweet — it's not a hefeweizen or anything — but it's rich enough to totally mask the booze, and provide something easy-drinking and thirst quenching. Which is, I believe, exactly what this style should be.
Russian River continues to prove — to me, an East-coaster with limited access to their beer — that they can pull off all styles with aplomb. While this maybe isn't one I would reach for on a regular basis, I certainly wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.
Availability: Year-round. "Vinnie" size bottles.