Every time around late October / early November, the Trader Joe’s retail chain releases its yearly VINTAGE ALE brewed by Unibroue. We wanted to offer a quick BrewView on it for 2016.
BEER STYLE AND COMMERCIAL DESCRIPTION
Style category: Specialty Dark Ale / Strong Ale
Unique and limited edition, this Belgian style ale is crafted once a year as a special treat for those of you who appreciate flavorful, bottle conditioned ales with character. Our Vintage Ale is a rich , dark and full-bodied ale with a fine and generous coffee-colored beige foam. It’s ready to enjoy right away and you may also wish to cellar a few bottles. It will evolve interestingly well, developing more complex flavors as the years go by.
Keep the bottle upright in storage. Brewed with a delicate balance of noble hops, roasted malts and spices, this is a remarkably smooth ale with a wonderfully complex finish. It is best served slightly chilled, around 53 degrees Fahrenheit and pairs exceptionally well with grilled salmon steaks, curried lamb, beef, or tuna au poivre. Crafted and bottled exclusively for Trader Joe’s.
OUR BREWVIEW ON UNIBROUE’S 2016 VINTAGE ALE
APPEARANCE / THE POUR:
9% ABV, we served it at 55° F in the signature Unibroue tulip shaped tasting glass.
It poured an easy 4-finger height head with a medium tan color, large and small bubbles, dense and rocky. We actually had to wait around 4 minutes until the head naturally collapsed down to a 2-finger height so the Unibroue logo in the glass was behind liquid and not foam. (See video)
The meniscus is slow rising, the color of the liquid has an SRM value of 30-35 (Deep Brown). The rim variation color is Amber-Brown, (SRM value of 18.) Like our previous Unibroue BrewView on Éphémère Blueberry, the lacework the head left behind once it collapsed (it took around 7 minutes) was patchy, dense, spider-cobweb thick. It held a 1/2″ height until the bottom of the glass. Amazing for a ale at 9% ABV.
NOTE: Unibroue has a very specific way they want you to pour their ales into a glass. They fully advocate incorporating the yeast at the bottom of the bottle into your drinking glass. For more info (with a link to a video) of the Unibroue pouring ritual, click here.
AROMA / BOUQUET:
There is a distinct difference from the 2015 version and this year’s version. Last year’s VINTAGE ALE was more assertive with the holiday spice aromas- cinnamon, nutmeg, clove. This year, the malt and yeast aromas push their way forward more. This year’s version has some ginger snap, deep cocoa, dark molasses, along with Jerry Vietz’s signature cherry aromas that he sometimes puts on his dark ales. The yeast bouquet is in the background, as this is more of a spice-malt forward ale.
The aromas carry through to the taste, along with cacao / dark baker’s chocolate. There are some ginger snap notes and saltana raisins. The spicy phenols are very well balanced.
MOUTHFEEL / PALATE:
This is a medium to full bodied specialty dark ale, with Unibroue’s signature effervescence. It is moderate in the carbonation factor, similar to the other Unibroue dark ales in their portfolio. The flavors in the aftertaste are deep treacle toffee, dark molasses, bitter cocoa, the holiday spice mix, and gentle black pepper notes in the finish.
FOOD PAIRING SUGGESTIONS
As you have most likely discovered from our previous BrewViews on Unibroue ales, the brewery is very culinary oriented – (with it’s own cookbook with recipes featuring their products).
Along with the dishes that the brewery suggests (see BEER STYLE AND COMMERCIAL DESCRIPTION above) we would also suggest a charcuterie board with slices of Duck sausage and fennel seed-flecked-finocchiona. Vintage Ale is a must to pair with desserts that have the holiday spices in them – we would highly recommend a high end fruitcake like the 1-LB. TRAPPIST GINGER DATE NUT CAKE AND BRANDY fruitcake from our friends at Monastery Greetings!
We were very impressed with this year’s version of Unibroue’s VINTAGE ALE. Of course with all of their dark ales that are 9% ABV or more, it can easily be cellared up to 5 years with the holiday spice flavors rounding out over time.
This is a product that we never fail to enjoy for the holidays. And with two of the biggest holidays coming up (Thanksgiving and Christmas) the 2016 VINTAGE ALE would be a very welcome addition to your dinner table. You could even get a bit brave, and mull it a bit with cinnamon sticks- it’s flavor profile would do well under the pressure.
Master Brewer Jerry Vietz tells us that the brewery never fails to receive pictures each year from people that do vertical tastings with previous year’s vintages. We have not yet been so disciplined to store some bottles away and age them for this purpose.
We purchased our 2016 VINTAGE ALE at our local Trader Joe’s store here in Redding, California. At $5.99 at bottle, this ale’s quality far surpasses its cost. Buy as many as you can, and cellar some… IF you have the willpower to wait.
LA BRASSERIE UNIBROUE
80 Des Carrières Street
Chambly (Québec) J3L 2H6
BrewView author GORDON A. PONCE is the main driving force behind Belgian Beer Journal.com. Since 1983, Gordon recognized that beers from Belgium were special, set apart from the typical craft beer.
He views beers from Belgium (plus Belgian-style and Belgian Inspired beers from other countries) great examples of the brewer’s art. Gordon and his wife live in beautiful Northern California- a great place to enjoy Belgian beer! Ecclesiastes 8:15