Admit it: you love beer.
Sure, liquor is quicker, and wine may make the ladies blush, but deep down inside, you know it’s always been beer. Like Marc Antony and Cleo, like Wall-E and Eve, the passion between college kids and beer is one for the ages.
Luckily, this world is friendly to the smitten suds-fan, and once a year one specialty retailer writes a love song to the sweet malty nectar. Forget Grimm. Forget Fifty Shades. If you want to get dark with your love story, look no further than Trader Joes 2012 Vintage Ale.
Trader Joe’s, the private-label giant better known for their tasty guacamole and dirt-cheap wine, have once again released their annual TJ’s Vintage Ale. The retailer has spent the last half a decade building their reputation for good-quality beer (even going so far as to carry non-Trader Joe’s brands, what a shocker!).
This year’s offering, brewed by the Quebecoise Unibroue, is a Belgian-style dark ale, and it is well worth the pomp with which it’s released.
A well-roasted, full-bodied variant on the classic Belgian Strong, the dark is an uncommon style on this side of the Atlantic, so those who enjoy it should take advantage of this rare opportunity.
Unibroue, famous for their La Fin du Monde, are French-Canadian brewers with a decidedly Belgian bent. While they put out a number of blondes, strong ales and specialty brews, few are as hearty as this annual treat.
Served in a 750ml bottle and clocking in at 9 percent alcohol by volume, it should be readily apparent that this beer is not to be trifled with. It is bottle-conditioned, meaning that it undergoes a secondary fermentation after the bottling process, and this makes it suitable for aging if you don’t happen to be thirsty in the next few years.
Although the champagne-style cork makes it harder to get open than a bra on prom night, this pitch-black behemoth is well worth the effort.
It pours with a frothy cappuccino head, topping a body so dense that no light can escape its gravitational pull.
All joking aside, this beer is as full-bodied as they come, but it manages not to be so heavy that you can’t finish the bottle.
While one might expect the flavors of a porter or dark lager, the Belgian character comes through loud and clear. It starts with the sweet caramel goodness of dark-roasted malt, which soon gives way to more subtle notes of coffee, chocolate and Christmasy spice. The hops are strong enough to make themselves known, but the pumpkin pie-like spices definitely play first string.
Unibroue really shows its true colors at the end, as it finishes with the fruity, yeasty character that one might expect from a Chimay, Duvel, or yes, La Fin du Monde. Even this, however, bears a darker quality than usual, recalling ripe plums or chocolate-dipped bananas. If that makes it sound more complicated than your typical brewski, that’s because it is. Even in this season of dark roasts and malty browns, a beer this complex and deep is hard to come by.
Available (of course) at your local Trader Joe’s, this spicy seasonal treat is a fine example of the breadth of flavor and style in the world of beer. For those who love dark caramel flavors, it is tough to top the 2012 Vintage. And in this most romantic of seasons, one could hardly ask for a finer tribute to our eternal flame, the Beer.
Andrew Sheridan can be reached at Andrew.firstname.lastname@example.org.