Hello again, everyone!- As promised at the very beginning of our JANUARY 2015 BREWERY OF THE MONTH feature for Unibroue, we wanted to fit in our final BrewView for January 2015. This is our second “Quick” BrewView of another VERY RARE, EXPERIMENTAL dark ale brewed by Master Brewer Jerry Vietz. This BrewView is a another first on the web, and EXCLUSIVE to Belgian Beer Journal.
The beer we got to sample was the 17 GRANDE RÉSERVE MILLÉSIME 2014 aged in double wood, cask finished barrels from Cognac Ferrand. Before Jerry acquired these barrels, they were used by Cognac Ferrand to age Cognac in them for 5 years and then Rum for 3 years. Needless to say, the wood was quite saturated with the flavor compounds of these 2 spirits!
Jerry took the inspiration to barrel age the 17 Grande Réserve Millésime 2014 from his days in the wine industry before starting at Unibroue. This was a side project for Jerry that would allow him test and see how different Unibroue beers would develop in flavor. “Many people have approached me over the years to do barrel aged beers on a commercial scale, but the time wasn’t quite right for us. We are using barrel aging as a means to monitor the flavor profile changes for our different beers,” he explains.
When Jerry obtained the spirit-soaked barrels from Cognac Ferrand, he knew right away that the first beer he wanted to age in them was the “17”. After fermentation of the 2014 batch, he centrifuged the beer and then put the liquid in the barrels for a 5 month aging period. A different wood profile was sought for the beer, thus no French oak infusion sprials were added in the aging process. Jerry told us, “I was looking for a nice malt-wood balance; I did not want the barrel character to be overpowering.”
NOTE: The 17 GRANDE RÉSERVE MILLÉSIME 2014 we are BrewViewing here was aged in the Cognac Ferrand barrels from January 2014 – May 2014, and bottled in May 2014, thus making it nearly 9 months in the bottle. We were VERY intent, and very purposeful in drinking this beer for the first time. We knew this was going to be another one of those beers whose aroma / bouquet and flavor profile would change during consumption time. We savored this bottle for over an hour…
APPEARANCE / THE POUR:
11% ABV. Poured into the Unibroue tulip-shaped taster glass, and served at 60°F. Pours a deep copper / mahogany color with a light beige colored head. The head poured an easy 3 finger height- dense, with large and small bubbles. As the head collapses, the Brussels lacing it leaves behind is thick and even in the glass. (We ensured this was a “Beer Clean” glass). The meniscus is murky slow rising. There was a heavy cloudiness to the beer, due to the bottle conditioning. Rim variation color- deep golden. About 4 minutes later before even tasting, it held a thick 1/4 inch head- very impressive for a beer at 11% ABV. When we roused up the beer, it kicked up nearly a 1/2 inch head again that held just under a few minutes..
AROMA / BOUQUET:
This was another one of those beers where the aromas just screamed at us before we had a chance to purposely stick our nose into the glass. We sat around 3-4 feet away, and you could smell the richness of the wood and spirit aromas that this beer inherited through it’s 5-month barrel age journey.
This beer is different from the 17 Grande Réserve Millésime 2014 that used French Oak infusion spirals to age it. Heavy caramel notes, very boozy impartations. Deep rich, raisiny, toffee, chocolate, and heavy dark rum aromas are first, with woody notes right behind. Heavy in the caramel malt, it almost has a Belgian “Special B” malt aroma to it. About 15 minutes into drinking time, the burnt dark raisin and rummy aromas expressed themselves more. 20 minutes into drinking, dark molasses / brown sugar aromas begin. Around 45 minutes later, the cognac aromas kicked through. Try drinking a cognac in a brandy snifter and see how it feels on your nostrils. The feeling was a bit similar to that, by this time…
The flavor imparted from the Cognac Ferrand barrels definitely has more of a cognac flavor to it, versus the “smokiness” that comes from the “17” aged in French Oak infusion spirals. There are heavy notes of dark rum, burnt raisin, treacle toffee, balanced beautifully by the wood. The impression we got was akin to an “old ale.” Imagine mixing cognac with sweet dark rum… The hop bitterness level is low, making this a very easy beer to drink at such a high alcohol content.
MOUTHFEEL / PALATE:
Effervescence level is medium, incredibly smooth, yet complex at the same time. This version has more of an alcoholic “bite” to it. One would expect this beer to be more “hot” from the 11% ABV, but it is not. Mind you, the alcohol content is there, but it does not drink as such. Medium bordering on full bodied, the mouthfeel is somewhat similar to the French Oak aged 17. The first sip hits the front of the tongue, but hits more of the back top and sides of the mouth. The texture is slightly oily, but the finish has a nice alcoholic, cognac “dryness”, if you will.
We were VERY PRIVILEGED to get the chance to taste this rare and extremely delicious treat from Jerry! This is a highly sophisticated, high level beer. Cigar aficionados would enjoy drinking this out of a nice snifter shaped glass. This is a beer that is not for the childish at heart. At risk of sounding negative, inexperienced beer drinkers may not understand this beautiful liquid. Well seasoned beer drinkers would fully appreciate it. Cognac and rum lovers would enjoy it for sure!
The image that came to mind while tasting- we could see this beer being served at exclusive, private, membership-only clubs. It is a beer that is very contemplative, and brewed with purpose. It will evoke deep discussion, as you experience its ever-changing aromas and flavors.
This beer is a stellar example of Master Brewer Jerry Vietz’s solid understanding on how the yeasts will play off the components inherent in the rum-cognac soaked wood.
To answer the question that many of you have by now- “Is this beer going to be on the market soon?” At this point, it is not available on the market. If Jerry and Unibroue release this on a commercial scale, it would be destined for world class status, without a doubt! We were blessed once again with the VERY RARE opportunity to taste this masterfully brewed beer. This version of the 17 GRANDE RÉSERVE MILLÉSIME 2014 is tied with the French Oak aged version for being in our top 5 beers of all time.
Huge thanks go out to the following individuals for making this BrewView possible: (In chronological order as we created business associations with them) Martine Geoffrion of DDMG Communications in Québec, Canada for initially contacting us, Andrew Murphy of Unibroue in Portland, Oregon (for sending us the beer sample), and of course, Unibroue’s Master Brewer Jerry Vietz for generously giving of his time and insight, and brewing another MASTERPIECE of a beer!