Russian River Brewing Company, located north of San Francisco in Santa Rosa, California specializes in west coast style IPAs, Belgian style ales and barrel aged ales using wild yeast strains. Although they are recognized most for brewing Pliny The Elder and Pliny The Younger, currently the highest rated IPAs on Beer Advocate, Russian River have also been brewing up some award winning Belgian style ales. As Belgian strong pale ale, Damnation has won gold and silver medals at the Great American Brew Festival. The bottle re-fermented version is one of their three year round bottled ales and the easiest one to find.
Damnation pours a hazy golden color with a two finger foamy white head. The haze comes from the active yeast that finishes carbonating the beer and probably pushes the ABV past the labeled 7.75%. The head settles down after a few minutes leaving a bit of lacing as you go. As per the style, there is an abundance of carbonation in the beer – lots of tiny bubbles continuously flowing from the bottom of the glass. The aroma has all of the complexities you would expect from a Belgian style ale. Spice (think a mix of pepper and coriander), lemon zest and alcohol are the dominating aromas. I detected a note of another type of fruit, maybe some pineapple but the lemon seems to be dominating in the fruit side of the aroma. The yeast aroma is present but is light on the funkiness you get with the other Belgian styles.
Digging in, the front of your tongue is hit with the abundance of carbonation and the fruitiness detected on the nose. As the champagne-like carbonation dissipates mid tongue the spices come into play – the pepper mixed with coriander. As is traditional for the style, Damnation finishes dry with a big bready malt flavor, balancing between sweet and sour flavors (the hops playing their role), with lingering spice notes. The alcohol that is present on the nose is well hidden in the mouth feel – it drinks like a much lower ABV beer – but I find it lacking a touch of smoothness that would rate it higher.
Damnation has all the qualities of a fine Belgian ale but for me it is lacking somewhat in flavor and smoothness that make classic Belgian beers like La Chouffe and Duvel stand out in the Belgian strong pale ale category. I can tell from Damnation that Russian River know what they are doing in creating Belgian style ales and hopefully I will get the opportunity to try more from them in the future. Russian River distribution can be spotty but if there is a shop locally that carries their beers, give Damnation a try.
Beer Geek Nation rating: B+
Beer Advocate: B+ / 4
Rate Beer: 3.9