Beer: Game of Thrones Iron Throne Blonde Ale Brewery: Brewery Ommegang Style: Belgian Blonde ABV: 6.5 percent
Winter is coming, my brothers. I've just received a raven from the far-off land of Cooperstown, New York, where the alchemist guild at Brewery Ommegang has been working hard on a series of beers inspired by the HBO drama Game of Thrones. The package the birds left contained the inaugural ale, a Belgian-style blonde released just in time for Sunday night's premiere of season three.
This collaboration between Ommegang and HBO isn't your usual TV-beer mixed marriage, which usually involves product placement or slapped-on advertising on a beer label. The beers Ommegang produces, according to its press releases, will "directly tie into themes and nuances of the medieval-like fantasy realm of Westeros and the surrounding kingdoms, where the competition to sit on the Iron Throne is fierce and deadly."
For example, the inspiration for Iron Throne Blonde Ale came from Joffrey Baratheon, the current Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm who also happens to be a Sadistic 15-Year-Old Douchebag. Joffrey, the inbred son of his mother and her brother, Cersei and Jaime Lannister, held the Iron Throne at the end of season two.
"With a Lannister currently on the throne, it made sense to do a delicate, but piercing Golden Blonde Ale with Noble hops," says Phil Leinhart, brewmaster at Brewery Ommegang. "Iron Throne is certainly fair in color and soft in appearance, yet it still possesses a complexity and bite to be on guard for."
Noble hops are indeed a kingly choice for this ale. Unlike most modern hops, noble hops are wild, untamed varietals found and named for a specific region or city in which they were first discovered or cultivated. As a group, these hops are exhibitionists of the terroir of their traditional growing regions. They also tend to contain high amounts of the hop oil humulene and low amounts of alpha acids cohumulone and adhumulone, which is a fancy way of saying they contribute more to a beer's aroma than they do its bitterness. Just four races of hops hold this lofty title: Hallertauer-Mittelfruh, Tettnanger and Spalt, from Germany, and Saaz, from the Czech Republic.
Drink the beer out of a horn like they do on the show, if you've got one. Otherwise, a tulip will do just fine. When you pour out the contents of the corked 750-milliliter bottle, they'll erupt in the glass like green wildfire, filling it with luxurious foam. The brewers chose a blonde ale to match the color of the current king's hair, and the liquid reflects this choice, shimmering like liquid gold below the pillowy eggshell cap.
In the nose, you can detect a touch of unripe pear, a hint of honey, a handful of biscuits. But this isn't all. Viewers of the show -- and, I suppose, the suckers who've read the books -- know that Joffrey is, above all else, a huge dick, and that a beer based on him wouldn't be appropriate unless it also had some bite. The aforementioned noble hops as well as additions of grains of paradise and citrus peel lend some edge to the delicate ale. In the flavor, this bitterness is offset with hints of apple (both red and green), as well as saltines, pears, and a touch of tartness. The light, highly effervescent body pops and fizzles in the mouth before a finish as dry as the Garden of Bones, the desert around the city of Qarth. Lingering floral bitterness is all that remains.
Overall, Iron Throne Blonde ale has a bit of complexity yet is approachable enough to be quaffed easily and won't distract you too much from the show's myriad plotlines. Is it gimmicky? Maybe a little. But is it worth the suggested $8 price tag?
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Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.