Our fourth BrewView for the January 2015 BREWERY OF THE MONTH feature is for UNIBROUE’S 17 GRANDE RÉSERVE – MILLÉSIME 2014 Extra-Strong Specialty Dark Ale. This was made possible by very special arrangement from Master Brewer Jerry Vietz. Folks, this awesome beer is a must have- trust us! Read on…
CREATING A BEER FOR UNIBROUE’S 17TH ANNIVERSARY
Upon return from a business trip in the united States in October 2007, Jerry met with Laurent Xavier Gilbert (former VP of Sales and Marketing) to discuss the prospect of Jerry brewing a new beer to be released during the holiday season, right around the time of the brewery’s 17th anniversary.
Mr. Gilbert’s first idea was to have Jerry brew a Barleywine. He gathered different samples of Barleywines to taste, and to get ideas from. Being named Brewmaster very shortly before, Jerry recognized this as an opportunity to create a new liquid that would be his “signature” beer. However, he kept mindful of the possibility that people may see his new beer as one that departed from the cherished “Unibroue” profile that so many people became accustomed to.
ONLY 3 WEEKS TO COME UP WITH A NEW BEER
Not one to shy away from a challenge, Jerry was also told that he had just under a month to come up with a new beer to mark this special event in the brewery’s history. This beer was going to be a continuation of the anniversary ales that Unibroue began from the “10” ale (brewed at the brewery’s 10th anniversary). It was time for Jerry to get to work, and fast.
PDF versions of newspaper articles:
World Class Dark Ale
Brewer gave him three weeks to come up with a special beer
THE BREWING ADVENTURE BEGINS
According to the expectation set by Mr. Gilbert, he advised Jerry that this new beer needed a very dominant malt profile, hence the reason for the tasting of different Barleywines. However, the time constraints that were placed on Jerry forced him to come up with new ideas to impart massively complex flavors for the beer in a short amount of time.
During a training session in Montreal, the idea struck Jerry- why not use oak as a component to impart the flavors that were being sought for this new beer? But since aging in oak barrels was out of the question, Jerry’s next idea was to put a huge amount of French oak chips directly in the fermenter!
After Jerry’s first conversation with Mr. Gilbert (met with initial hesitation), he advised Jerry to go along with his plan since “I guess you know what you are doing, just don’t mess up the beer” as Laurent said to him with a nervous voice. No pressure! The initial brewing effort using oak chips were met with complications that had Jerry’s brewing team scrambling. “This is the price you pay when you do that kind of research and development on a full size fermenter,” Vietz adds.
THE ANSWER: FRENCH OAK INFUSION SPIRALS
3 years after, when Jerry was asked to brew that precious liquid again that would become a Vintage Ale named 17 Grande Réserve, he realized that he could not replicate the same brewing parameters as before. He did some research to come up with an idea to get the oak flavor extraction and came up with a better idea- use French oak infusion spirals directly in the fermenter.
This was advantageous for several reasons: First, the spirals allowed a quick extraction of the oak compounds- flavor extractions that take place with spirals in 6 weeks, take several months using barrels. Second, on an industrial scale, the spirals allowed the brewery to meet a reasonable production timeline without creating backorders for their established core brands. Third, spirals allowed for consistency in the brewing process, such is not the case with barrel aging. Spirals assist in keeping oxidation away from the beer, and have a direct impact on its aging potential.
Needless to say, Jerry’s instincts using French oak infusion spirals were correct, as all his subsequent brewing efforts for his “17” have won many awards for Unibroue, and created an instant classic. The rest, is history as they say…
BEER STYLE AND COMMERCIAL DESCRIPTION
Style: Unibroue-style, Extra Strong Specialty Dark Ale
Color: Dark amber color with spirited effervescence and cream-colored lacework
Head: Rich lacy beige foam
Bubbles: Fine, moderate
Nose: Complex bouquet of roasted malt, hops and aromatic spice notes with vanilla undertones
Flavor: Intensely malty, slightly sweet and hoppy with mocha & cocoa accents and a subtle oaky finish
Aftertaste: Pleasantly lingers on
Suggested serving temperature: 12º – 14ºC (53° – 57°F)
Suggested glass: Chalice or Tulip
Inspired by the great Belgian brewing tradition of Trappist monks established over the centuries, Unibroue 17 was first brewed in 2007 to celebrate our brewery’s 17th anniversary. However the overwhelming success of this specialty brew made it obvious that we could not let such a great ale slip into the anonymity of retirement.
As testimony to its remarkable flavor profile which increases in complexity as it ages, the original batch bottled in 2007 was awarded an international platinum medal three years in a row, and the prestigious title of “World’s Best Dark Ale” when it was well past three years in the bottle!
So in 2011, we proudly brought back this French Oak aged, bottle refermented dark ale, with the “Grande Reserve” appellation as a fitting endorsement of its exceptional quality for aging. Brewed only once a year, in limited quantities, and individually numbered “brasseur” bottles, this is truly a flavorful delight for the specialty beer enthusiast.
2008 Gold (Los Angeles International Commercial Beer Competition)
2008 Gold (World Beer Championship, Chicago Beverage Testing Institute)
2009 Platinum (World Beer Championship, Chicago Beverage Testing Institute)
2010 Platinum (World Beer Championship, Chicago Beverage Testing Institute)
2010 Gold (World Beer Awards London UK) (World’s Best Dark Ale, World’s Best Strong Dark Ale, One of the 5 Best Beers in the World all categories combined)
2011 Platinum (World Beer Championship, Chicago Beverage Testing Institute)
2012 Gold (World Beer Championship, Chicago Beverage Testing Institute)
2012 Gold (World Beer Awards London UK) (Americas best vintage Ale)
2013 Bronze (World Beer Championship, Chicago Beverage Testing Institute) (Vintage 2012)
2013 Silver (World Beer Championship, Chicago Beverage Testing Institute) (Vintage 2011)
2013 Gold (World Beer Championship, Chicago Beverage Testing Institute) (Vintage 2013)
2014 Silver (World Beer Championship, Chicago Beverage Testing Institute) (Vintage 2011)
2014 Gold (World Beer Championship, Chicago Beverage Testing Institute) (Vintage 2012)
2014 Gold (World Beer Awards London UK)
2015 Platinum (World Beer Awards) The America’s Best Vintage Dark Beer
OUR BREWVIEW OF UNIBROUE’S 17 GRANDE RÉSERVE – MILLÉSIME 2014
(NOTE: OUR SAMPLE WE BREWVIEWED WAS BOTTLED ON FEBRUARY 12, 2014)
APPEARANCE / THE POUR:
10% ABV. We poured it at 57°F in the signature Unibroue tulip-shaped tasting glass. It easily poured a voluminous, beige colored, dense, rocky, creamy 3 1/2 – finger head with large and small bubbles. Excellent head retention; the story is the same- before we even took the first sip, the head hardly collapsed. After about 6 minutes into drinking, it still held almost a 1/4 inch head, for it’s strength. The color is a dark deep amber, rim color variation- no variance.
The meniscus is very slow rising- the Brussels lacework the beer leaves behind as the head (finally) collapses, is thick and even sheeted. (We ensured this was a “Beer Clean” glass). There is a heavy cloudy haze to the beer, due to the Unibroue bottle conditioning and extremely heavy yeast sedimentation- “Dark Ale on Lees.”
Around 8 minutes later (even before taking the first sip) we roused up the beer, and it reproduced a 1/2 inch head, leaving behind very dense, even-sheeted Brussels lace work on the sides of the Unibroue glass. Even 12 minutes later when roused, it continued to produce that 1/2 inch head.
AROMA / BOUQUET:
The moment we opened up the bottle and poured the beer into the glass, your could smell the woody notes up to 3-4 feet away- this was before sticking our nose into the glass! The immediate hit is intense French Oak, followed by vanilla extract, intense caramel malt, and toffee. But make no mistake, the French Oak is the star in 17 Grande Réserve Millésime 2014. We knew that the bouquet would change and evolve as we did our initial aroma evaluation. The yeasts in this beer express different aroma components during drinking time.
Mild tropical fruitiness, mild chocolate notes, are also in the mix. MASTERFUL balance of the wood, yeast, malt, and fruit esters. There are very delicate hop aromas, but make no mistake, this is a malt-forward beer. We evaluated the aromas for a full 8 minutes before even tasting it. The French oak notes became more prevalent, as with the sweet caramel notes. More of the chocolate notes and even raisin notes began. It was almost Madeira-ish smelling, largely to do with the wood. Faint cedar notes started to develop. The beer now was about 60°F. After 12 minutes, faint Cherrywood notes began to express themselves. After 15 minutes, raw vanilla extract notes were more evident.
Magnificent, rich, intense French oak, with a very subtle smokiness. You do some gentle hop bitterness, but the hops play off of the subtle smokiness of the French oak. Intense malt sweetness, with notes of dark cocoa. With all these flavor compunds in the mix, 17 Grande Réserve Millésime 2014 reminded us of a peat-smoked, single malt, scotch whisky. This beer is so good, it gave us goosebumps while drinking it! All we can say is, WOW WOW WOW! Close to 20 minutes later into drinking, heavy chocolate cookie flavors infused with smoke began. There are no smoked malts used in this beer.
MOUTHFEEL / PALATE:
We found the beer to be medium to full bodied in viscosity. It immediate coats the tongue with its silky richness. The effervescence level is medium, and hits the top, back, and side of the mouth upon the first sip. The wood lingers, but not in an unpleasant way- quite the contrary. It invites you for that next sip. At 10% ABV, we found 17 Grande Réserve Millésime very easy to drink. We allowed a few minutes to pass between sips (we were intent and very serious about tasting this beer) and we found a cooling sensation began to develop in our mouth. From the wood, perhaps??
FOOD PAIRING SUGGESTIONS:
APPETIZERS: Charcuterie platter with smoked sausages or smoked meats, smoked cheeses would pair well. Kalamata olives would be interesting to see how the beer cuts into the saltiness of them.
ENTRÈES: Braised beef, spice-rubbed pork loin or roasted venison. Smoked or pepper-crusted salmon. Mole sauces over beef would be excellent. Heavy, meat-laden, spicy pizzas would be fabulous! If you do moules-frites, cook the mussels in the beer. Meat pies would be excellent. Cajun foods- specifically Andouille sausage.
DESSERTS: Bitter pieces of chocolate or chocolate that has been smoked over Alderwood. Gingerbread cake, dark chocolate truffles or mocha “pot de crème”.
As we were tasting this beer for the first time, words such as OUTSTANDING, FANTASTIC, SUPERB, and EXCELLENT were vocalized by us. MASSIVELY COMPLEX and ever changing, 17 GRANDE RÉSERVE MILLÉSIME 2014 is in a class all its own. We can see why it has won so many prestigious medals and garnered “BEST DARK ALE IN THE WORLD” for 2010!
This beer holds such a high pedigree that it could be presented at the most formal of occasions. Looking at the bottle, it almost presents as a high-level single malt Scotch whisky in appearance.
The last time we tasted 17 Grande Réserve was in 2011, and we were HIGHLY impressed with it back then! (We’d love to get our hands on Millésime 2011…) This is the best beer we’ve had in a long time. It’s in our top 10… NAY! our top 5 beers of all time!! We’ve told Master Brewer Jerry Vietz that another Grande Réserve- (Chimay Blue) was our favorite beer of ALL TIME. However, we may have a new favorite… it’s leaning that way!
World class for sure, and at the top of its class, this is one of the best beers on the planet, if not the best. That statement will cause a vigorous debate, without a doubt. This is Jerry’s “Baby” as he calls it, like a proud dad calls his beloved child.
The 750 ML bottles will be available in February 2015, and a limited amount of the 6-liter bottles will also be available later in 2015… (date TBA) keep your eyes open for that! Buy as much as this beer as you can possibly afford. Drink some when it is released, and cellar the rest in a controlled environment, up to 8 years (as Unibroue’s website states). Although, we feel you could age it up to 15 years. Keep careful tasting notes as you experience 17 Grande Réserve Millésime 2014 each subsequent year. As we said at the top of this BrewView- this beer is a MUST HAVE, and should be in your TOP BEERS TO DRINK BEFORE YOU DIE. Seek this one out. If your local retailer does not have it, ORDER IT. We were blown away with 17 Grande Réserve Millésime 2014… you will be too.
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 samples), Jean-Yves Lacombe for providing many images from Unibroue’s archives, and of course, Unibroue’s Master Brewer Jerry Vietz for generously giving of his time and insight, and brewing this MASTERPIECE of a beer!
VIDEO: UNIBROUE’S MASTER BREWER JERRY VIETZ DISCUSSES 17 GRANDE RÉSERVE
Below is the sixth EXCLUSIVE interview (and the fourth for the JANUARY 2015 BREWERY OF THE MONTH feature) that Unibroue’s Master Brewer Jerry Vietz graciously granted Belgian Beer Journal.
Jerry discusses his mega award-winning signature beer 17 GRANDE RÉSERVE. He talks about how he came up with the idea for the beer, the flavor profile, and much more. This video has lots of cool pictures, and there is even a surprise ending… you’ll want to watch this!