In the long months between “Game of Thrones” seasons, it’s sometimes hard to find ways to fill the space between visits to Westeros. Fortunately HBO collaborated with New York-based Brewery Ommegang to develop tie-in beers to the hit fantasy series, and both created have been huge hits with fans.
The first beer released was the Iron Throne blonde ale, and later the Take the Black Stout was announced. With the stout finally hitting store shelves, Zap2it spoke with Ommegang’s Brewmaster, Phil Leinhart, about the brewery’s collaboration with HBO thus far and what fans can expect of the upcoming third “Game of Thrones” beer.
Zap2it: How did you guys get to the point where you decided the Take the Black Stout would be the second beer you introduced?
Phil Leinhart: In our discussions with HBO, they kind of suggest a concept for what they want the beer to tie in with. For this beer, it was the Wall, so we just knew right off the bat it had to be a rich hearty beer. The first beer we did, the Iron Throne Blonde Ale, that tied into the Lannister queen [Cersei] and all that. We liked doing a more delicate beer first because we knew there was going to be people having our beer who’d never had it before. We wouldn’t want to switch them around and do Take the Black first, because it probably would have turned off a lot of people who never had our beer.
Were you guys fans of the show before you were approached by HBO?
I can’t say I personally was. I don’t watch a lot of TV; I have two young daughters. But there are a couple people here who have read all the books and watched the show, and once we formed the partnership, we all got copies of the various seasons on DVD, so I’ve watch most of them now. A lot of people here were fans of the show.
What was it about HBO and “Game of Thrones” that made you partner up?
They contacted us, you know. We didn’t go searching for them. There was initially some hesitation, even on my part. I was concerned it was going to be too commercial and seen as too gimmicky and all that. But the more I learned about HBO and the show and how we were going to be doing these beers, I saw it as an opportunity to create even more beers than we normally do as far as specialties and one-offs. From a brewing standpoint, it’s been nothing but allowing us more creativity.
What’s been the response to the beers on your end?
So far it’s been very good. The first beer we only did about 26 brews of, which is not a small amount for us. It’s about a week’s worth of brewing, but it’s not a huge amount. We actually didn’t really know how it was going to be accepted and the rate of sale and all that. Well, we learned quickly that it just flew out the door. So on this next beer, the Take the Black, we did just about three times that amount, and I think our third beer will be roughly the same volume.
I know you can’t talk much about the third beer —
I can’t talk anything about it! I really can’t talk about anything. I’m sworn to secrecy. They’re very strict about that. We have the beer all set and everything; we know exactly what we’re doing. I just can’t tell anybody. I’m more in the bowels of the brewery making the beer.
The blonde ale and the stout are two types of beer that people are pretty familiar with. Is there something more experimental that you’d like to try farther down the road with the “Game of Thrones” beers?
Possibly. Depending on what we’re going to tie into in the show can kind of dictate what we do. I think what would become more experimental is some really unusual ingredients and things like that. I mean, base style of beer is beer. It’s malt, it’s hops, possibly sugar. Brewers don’t get so wrapped up in styles so much. When we think about making a beer, we think, “What color is it going to be? What’s the original gravity going to be? What’s the bitterness going to be? What’s the alcohol going to be, and what’s the flavor profile?” And then people ask us what style it’s going to be, and we kind of try and say it might taste kind of like this. As brewers we think in detailed ways, not just about broad styles, so I would think what would be more experimental for us would be unusual ingredients: unusual spices or something along those lines.
What other types of Brewery Ommegang beers would you recommend fans of the “Game of Thrones” beers try?
All of our core beers are good [Witte, Rare Vos, Hennepin, Abbey Ale and Three Philosophers]. Our Adoration, kind of like our winter seasonal/holiday beer, I think this year it’s the best we’ve ever made it. We’ve made some process changes to improve the flavor, and I think we succeeded. It hits the shelves around Thanksgiving, I think. Another one is Scythe & Sickle. It’s kind of like our entry into the autumn, fall, harvest beer. It’s made with several grains including oats, rye, wheat in addition to barley and malt, and then fermented with our Ommegang yeast.
Thanks so much for speaking with us! We’re definitely looking forward to finding out more about beer no. 3.
Another few weeks, you might know.
“Game of Thrones” Season 4 premieres on HBO in Spring 2014.