Plowing the road for new styles
A Review of Otto Ale by Victory Brewing Co.
Posted on 2/8/2012 by Chops
Certain beers come with high expectations. It's only natural for fans of better beer to eagerly anticipate exciting new creations from their favorite breweries. This can put a great deal of undue pressure on breweries to perform, which can sometimes result in disastrous reputation-marring brews. But luckily for beer fans, there are several top notch breweries out there who thrive in these environments. They relish the challenge of continuously wowing their fan base and you can taste that passion in every beer. One such brewery for us here at BrewChief is the Victory Brewing Company. They have thoroughly impressed us time and time again with their delicious creations, which is why we have been eager to get our hands on their newly released Otto Ale. Just read this teaser and try not to salivate:

Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet, Victory co-founders, developed the recipe for the new smoked malt dubbel based on their experience with the style during a trip they took to Bamberg, Germany in 1987. In order to create a deliciously palatable smoked beer, Bill and Ron decided to combine the sometimes-overpowering qualities of the smoky rauch style with Belgian caramel malt, which yields a perfectly harmonized final flavor. “The complimentary flavors of smoked malt and Belgian yeast seemed like an obvious combination,” said Bill. “As far as we know, no one has bothered to put them together until now.” Victory Otto Ale is made up of smoked, Munich and Belgian caramel malt, German hops and Trappist yeast. Alcohol by volume is 8.1%.

In the glass, Otto Ale has a beautiful deep ruby red color and is crystal clear. It comes with a bubbly white head that dissipates fairly quickly. Considering the description, the aroma is oddly muted. I was expecting a serious smoky punch with a Belgian slap, but it remained mercifully tame. I found a pleasant roasted malt with those signature Belgian yeasts, plus some caramel notes and a light smokiness. While not overpowering, the intro is very nice and properly stages the experience.

That first sip was an unexpected delight. I found Otto Ale to be much more complex than the aroma let on and it takes time to properly digest. The core model is easy to grasp: a quality Belgian Dubbel with a smoky infusion. This beer actually tastes meaty, almost like crisp apple wood bacon, but again, not overpowering. You can easily pick out all those savory dark fruits of a quality Belgian Dubbel, namely figs and cherries. The flavor train slowly transitions into a warm smokiness, giving the fruit notes a caramelized character. I also found some toasted breads and honey along with a few nondescript spice notes. The piney German hop profile was the biggest surprise, which ended up being a perfect counterweight to the Belgian sweetness. The mouthfeel is quite smooth with only a whiff of roasted grittiness. The finish consists of a roasted malty character mixed with a hoppy bitterness, which eventually exits as a wisp of smokiness.

Overall, Victory's Otto Ale is a delightfully rewarding brew that I can happily recommend to all levels of beer fan. Otto Ale might be a little too complex for novices to properly appreciate, but its easy drinking nature can also serve as an excellent intro into the smoked beer style. Otto Ale is very unique among smoked beers and certainly deserves an audience. Fans of Rauchbiers and other smoked styles will adore this beer as a fantastic interpretation. I applaud Victory's adventurous spirit in successfully creating a new hybrid: the Belgian Rauchbier. It may not fit snuggly into any particular style (for now), but it's a perfect example of how quality hybrids can plow the road for new styles.

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Otto Ale by Victory Brewing Co.
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