We named Abbey Ale as one of the 24 best beers in America, but it's not Brewery Ommegang's only great offering. The Cooperstown, New-York-based brewery has been crafting worthy Belgian-style beers for 15 years now, and, in the process, scooping up competition medals by the armful. It shouldn't come as any surprise, then, that its Ommegang XV – 15th Anniversary Ale is something particularly special.
On its site, Ommegang bills XV as "an homage to the great Trappist Breweries of Belgium" and it's a fitting tribute to those complex, often extremely potent beers. The Trappist Breweries are, by charter, not-for-profit enterprises overseen by Cistercian Monks within the walls of the very abbeys where they work, pray, and maintain a vow of silence. The beer keeps the Abbey self-sustainable, and any profits must go to charity. Of Belgium's six Trappist Breweries, just three (Chimay, Rochefort, and the notoriously elusive Westvleteren) make beers in the Quadruple or Belgian Dark Strong style – the most powerful and complex of abbey beers. Unfortunately for beer fans, Ommegang's onetime release of XV will continue its tradition of putting out only a limited release of this exotic and excellent beer: The brewery produced just 130 barrels (the equivalent of 260 kegs), which have been spread thin across 44 states.
If you do happen to be one of the elect to snag one of the rare 750 mL bottles of XV, you'll be rewarded with a dark brown beer with ruby highlights and a creamy tan head. The nose comes off sweet, featuring hints of raisins and molasses. That raisin-tinged sweetness continues as you drink it, but it finishes bone dry with a highly nuanced toasty and chocolate-y malt character. It weighs in at a hefty 9.5-percent alcohol, which helps explain the smooth warming sensation that spreads as you sip, letting you know just what you're in for. If there were ever a beer fit for meditative sipping around a roaring fire on a cold day, this is it. Happy anniversary, indeed. [From $17; ommegang.com]