There was a time during my childhood that one night out of every week was deemed, “Poker Night.” My father would invite his friends over for an evening of high-class booze, middle-tier snacks, and low-stakes poker. It was a means to unwind, forget about work, and catch up with your buddies in a comfortable environment.
Now as an adult, I regularly try to emulate this tradition in my own home (albeit with much nerdier tabletop games). But the world has changed drastically in the decades since my youth. The idea of a “regular 9-to-5” has been replaced with shifting schedules and off-hour projects. Many of us deal with hour-long commutes between our homes and jobs, thanks to the high cost of living around major city centers. Plus, with the increased availability and quality of online gaming, many of my peers are turning to digital versions of classic games to engage with their friends.
So as my own gaming gatherings are becoming more irregular, I thought I would (finally) take my friends’ advice and try out their preferred virtual tavern game. And what better drink to have at a fantasy-themed bar than a Belgian-style blonde ale with “gnome” in its name?
Gnomegang was originally brewed in 2010 as a collaboration between the fantastic Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York and the rather magical Brasserie d’Achouffe in Belgium. The story goes that an ingenious gnome revealed himself to humans in Belgium in 1982 and helped Brasserie d’Achouffe brew its first beer. Many years later, one such gnome visited Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown and the resulting beverage was the aptly named Gnomegang.
No matter what the real story behind this whimsical brew may be, what makes Gnomegang stand out is the use of a yeast strain directly from Brasserie d’Achouffe. This special ingredient imparts a very fruity and spicy character to this rich blonde ale. Gnomegang pours with a cloudy golden color, a yellow-orange hue, and a fluffy white head. The beer has a strong, sweet odor of clove and banana, with a hint of wintergreen hiding among the fruit and spice. The first taste on the palate is of lemon candy, that gives way to a rich and sweet body, similar to overripe fruit. The beer finishes smooth, with the lingering sweetness of yellow cake, whipped cream, and a hint of clove.
Gnomegang is a delicious addition to Brewery Ommegang’s catalog of Belgian-style beers. The strong fruit and spice flavors from the Chouffe yeast mingle with the creamy mouthfeel of this drink. Fans of European-style wheat beers and sweeter blonde ales will be right at home with Gnomegang, although one should take care to avoid quaffing this beverage. The high alcohol content of 10% ABV is well-hidden by the rich sweetness and hearty spice taste. Without even paying attention, a novice could slug back one-too-many Gnomegangs while playing cards at the virtual table, leaving themselves wide open to attack in Hearthstone.
Since its release in 2014, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft has been ever-so-stealthily making its way onto my friends’ handheld devices. It started with a small comment from my long-time friend, Jeremy, who had downloaded the game onto his smart phone as a means to enjoy a collectible card game with his far-away friends. “You should totally download it,” read his text. “We can finally play cards again!” This was certainly a true statement: Hearthstone provided the means to play a fantasy-based card game with my best friend who was several hours away. Despite this convenience, I was satisfied to wait and play tabletop games with my friends during my next visit to my parents’ homestead.
The next suggestion came from my local buddy, Rob. He lauded the metagame of deck-building and talked about how his own community of players found it easier to play Hearthstone over their phones, rather than try to schedule a night of in-person gaming. He explained that the variety of cards and strategies available were top notch, allowing players to craft complex strategies and play styles according to their own gaming proclivities. I was certainly impressed by the various expansions and play types, but I stayed the course of my tabletop roots and avoided Hearthstone once more.
What finally broke my resolve was the same thing that originally drew me to Magic: The Gathering- totally awesome horror lore. The latest expansion of Hearthstone hit the market earlier this year, and it was a loving tribute to the stories of H.P. Lovecraft. With the release of Whispers of the Old Gods, there was no hope left for me. The chasm of collectible card gaming and horror flavor yawned before me, and I fell headfirst into its maw (read: I downloaded Hearthstone onto my iPad).
At first, I was rather impressed by Hearthstone. The game provides a great single-player training ground for newcomers to learn the rules and experience the thrill of victory. The artwork on the cards is gorgeous, and the user interface is very well-designed. The little animations on the playing grounds keep things interesting, while the action of tearing open a new pack of digital cards is very satisfying. Plus, there are all sorts of little nods to the history of the Warcraft series, with my favorite being the exclamation of, “Job’s Done!” anytime I finished a turn. However, after playing through the initial single-player offerings and trying my hand at battling online, my enthusiasm for the game started to wane.
At first, I thought it might be the lack to physical cards that contributed to my lack of interest. Or it could be the fact that I wasn’t invested enough in the game to pay for additional single-player content. But I think the real reason why I was not enthralled by Hearthstone is because despite its best efforts, this game does not emulate the joy of getting a gaggle of friends together to play cards. I certainly appreciate the tavern-influenced interface of the game. The soundtrack to Hearthstone features some of the best game music I have heard in years (no surprise, since it comes from LucasArts veteran Peter McConnell). Even with these fun flourishes, I simply prefer gathering a group of friends around a large table, pouring a few rounds of beer, and playing cards until the wee hours of the morning.
So while I certainly recommend the combination of Gnomegang and Hearthstone, this duo isn’t for me. I fully admit that the rich fruit and spice flavors of Brewery Ommegang’s beer is an ideal companion to the tavern games atmosphere of Hearthstone. I would just prefer to enjoy this Belgian-style blonde ale in the direct company of friends, holding a hand of cards, and planning my next epic play.