In October of 2011, Victory Brewing Co. released Otto, a beer that was conceived after a trip to Bamburg, Germany by the Downingtown, Pa.-based brewery’s founders,1 Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet.2 They envisioned a beer that combined flavors of smoked malty sweetness with spicy Belgian yeast to form a very different flavor profile than what was on the market at the time.
Named Otto after the German bishop who converted a large number of people in parts of what is now Germany and Poland to Christianity in the 1100s, the 8.1 percent ABV Belgian dubbel uses not only German hops and Munich malt, but also incorporates Trappist yeast into the bottle=conditioned beer.3
The bottle label shares some other details:
In 1987, when we arrived in Bamberg, Germany for the first time, St. Otto was not there to greet two thirsty travelers in a rented Fiat. He’d been dead for 848 years but we were alive, and our recent visit to the Belgian brewery of Orval only fanned the flames of our desire for fermented pleasures. The smoked malt (‘rauch’) beers of this lovely town where St. Otto was once Bishop were our siren song, luring us into deep, exotic flavors that we never before imagined in beer. Three decades later we wondered what smoked malt might add to a Belgian-style dubbel ale. Here is it, an Otto revival of sorts. We hope it helps rejuvenate some of our brain cells that were martyred in Bamberg so long ago.
In 2012, Victory bottled a variant of Otto that was aged in oak bourbon barrels that was somewhat predictably named Otto In Oak. Like the original release, Otto In Oak was sold in 750ml corked and caged bottles and came in at 8.1 percent ABV.
Victory Otto pours a dark amber color with plenty of off-white head and a lacing that sticks around for much of the drinking experience. Aroma from the glass is strong sweet malts, smoky peat, oak, dark fruit and black pepper.
From the first sip, the profile of the Otto follows the aroma almost exactly: strong and musky smoked peat and oak on the palate, with a very sweet malty finish. There is some black pepper noticeable as well, along with other minor flavors of cherries, bitter coffee and earth, although they have a hard time breaking through the dominant combination. The mouthfeel is a bit thinner than I expected for a dubbel, but the amount of carbonation is fine, and it does stick around nicely as the beer warms up. The alcohol is very well hidden, and I have to strain to actually detect it at most points while I am drinking.