Hennepin is a suitable pseudo-Belgian
It must be a tall order for an American brewery to attempt to produce a Belgian-style beer worthy of the title. Most attempts fall woefully short. A few of the simpler versions are decent beers on their own, but even they pale in comparison to what the greatest brewing nation on earth routinely cranks out. The more complex styles usually get lost in a muddle, and even the best are largely ignored by the beer chugging masses in the U.S. It's a brave brewery, then, that decides to go for a difficult style known to be full of what many Americans would consider to be, well, odd flavors.
The Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, New York, has, mostly, thrown caution to the wind by brewing up a farmhouse saison-style ale. A style purposely meant to taste a little like a farm. All parts of a farm. Hearty and earthy. This style of beer assumes you have the taste of dirt and horse in your mouth after a long day of working the land, and reinforces that with a bit more dirt and horse. Hennepin, being American after all, keeps those flavors muted, though. Pushing more familiar tastes with which their market is more accustomed. But, still, it's in there.
One drawback right from the start is that I've only ever seen this beer in those large, corked, 750 ml bottles. Nice enough, but no one is ever going to buy more than a couple at a time. That makes it tough to share and tough to session. This beer, by design, is only ever going to be a tasting beer.
It is well worth a taste, however. It pours a golden yellow with a large, off-white head. It is bottle conditioned, so the floating yeast makes it nice and properly hazy. Always a good sign, and in this style, a must. If that puts you off, you probably shouldn't be drinking this stuff anyway, but you can limit the amount of yeast in the glass if you let it settle after opening and are careful with the pour.
Even though this is a burly beer, the aroma is fruity and sweet. Some spices stand out front as well, especially pepper, cloves and ginger. As mentioned, in a true saison the farm should be smelled and tasted. Hennepin keeps the smallest hint of that for accuracy's sake. But it is the lemon that is most noticeable on the tongue. The taste is very dry. The hops easily pound the sweet malts into submission. It is a rustic-tasting beer, with grains and even a little banana smoothing things out. You'll still be able to taste the horses galloping off in the distance, but it's the lemon that you're going to remember.
Because Hennepin is a slightly tamer version of a full-blown saison, it goes a bit better with dinner. I shy away from the farmhouse ales while eating unless I'm having something I don't really like. They tend to overpower the food. Hennepin is softened up enough that it can go with just about anything. I'd still pair it with something with tons of flavor. Curry or chili, and the strongest cheeses might be the best choices. This is still a manly, hair-on-the-chest beer. The effect of a good old fashioned dinner from the farm would be further pounded home by this style, but it might verge on overkill.
Hennepin is one of those rare beers for all seasons. It is rough and heavy enough to warm on the cold winter nights, and crisp and dry enough to refresh on the hot summer days. The medium body is going to leave you a bit on the full side, but these aren't pounding beers anyway. The 7.7 percent alcohol will be noticed by the time the big bottle is empty, even if it's fairly well hidden in the flavor.
Hennepin may not be a home run from the Hall of Fame city, but it is a solid hit. It won't be popular with the flavor-averse masses, and some of the snobs will complain it isn't quite complex enough. There's no pleasing everyone. This beer is for a small and particular market. But there is a lot to like about this American Belgian. Unfortunately, any place that's likely to carry it is sure to have a good selection of beers straight from the beer brewing heaven itself, for just about the same price. But maybe you have a grudge against the Benelux countries. Or, maybe, you just insist on patriotically buying American. Go ahead, then. Hennepin will do.