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Monday, July 22, 2013

New Glarus Brewing's Anniversary Strong Ale

  • Style: Belgian Dark Strong Ale
  • ABV: New Glarus doesn't list the ABV for this beer, but my best guess is at the very least 9% or above.
  • Ease to locate: Only distributed in the great State of Cheese Curds.  But like many New Glarus beers, definitely worth the drive North.
  • Color: Oaky brown with golden and amber highlights.  Slightly hazy.
  • Head: Two & 1/2 finger light beige head with strong lacing and wonderful retention.
  • Aroma: Malt bomb with lots of caramel, raisins, dates and dark cherries.  A hint of chocolate malts and Belgium yeast as well.   
  • Mouthfeel: Very robust, thick and coating on the tongue.  Not a lot of carbonation.
  • Finish: Long & sweet.  Leaves a pleasant malty taste in your mouth.
  • Food friendly?: Somewhat.  Would go wonderfully with sticky, sweet molasses based barbeque sauce or a straight up grilled Porterhouse steak.  Serve it with sharp cheeses, like a Wisconsin extra sharp cheddar.

 Birthdays are big deal.  I don't care how old you are, I don't care how much of a grumpy, crotchety, old- beyond- your- years, curmudgeon that you pretend to be.  Everyone secretly wants to be acknowledged for denying the Grim Reaper another year.    Breweries are no different.  New Glarus Brewery celebrated it's twentieth year in business this summer and decided to throw themselves a malty, boozy, totally Belgium appropriate party.  And luckily, we all are invited (provided we find our own transportation across the great cheese border.)  Back in 1993, when Micheal Bolton's mane of hair ruled the airwaves and The Fresh Prince was still Tupperware fresh in Bel Air, Dan and Deb Carey brewed their first ninety-nine barrels of beer.  They broke ground on July 4, 1993 and were up and brewing three short months later.  In the past twenty years, they've brewed at least one hundred different beers, by Dan Caey's estimation (I'm going to just assume that he's been keeping track and isn't just counting Spotted Cow ninety-nine times.)  New Glarus has fans across the entire US, somewhat surprising for a smallish brewery that refuses to distribute their beers outside of their home state of Wisconsin (although, it looks as if at least one New Glarus offering will be part of a sampler pack that Sierra Nevada will be distributing nationally in 2014.  The next thing we know, Lagunitas will be canning their beers. Where will it all end? )

                                                                                                                     Everyone loves their birthday

Belgium Strong Dark Ales are (obviously) similar to Belgium Dark Ales, but, (obviously) stronger in alcohol content.    They generally have an ABV somewhere between 7% and 15%.  New Glarus typically doesn't release the ABV percentage on their beers (they were grandfathered in before Wisconsin passed a law requiring breweries to list the alcohol percentage on their labels.  Apparently another good reason to be old in Wisconsin.)  So while I'm not sure what the exact ABV is for the Anniversary Ale, I do know my own reaction to certain percentages and feel comfortable estimating it at between a 9.5% and 11%.  I can also tell you your ring size by just glancing at your hand.  We all have gifts.  Belgium Strong Dark Ales can go one of two ways, either very in your face booze-wise or sneaky and under the radar.  New Galarus' release has chosen the stealth approach, which I honestly much prefer.  Troegs Brewing's Mad Elf, Brouwerij Huyghe's Delirium Noel, North Coast Brewing's Brother Thelonious and Brooklyn Brewing's Brooklyn Local 2 are all well known examples of this sort of beer. 

An ancient 20 years old and still sprouting a full, lush head like a young whippersnapper.

Still got it going on, New Glarus.
My Anniversary Ale poured a slightly hazy, oaky brown with golden and amber highlights when held to the light.  I was greeted by a two and a half finger tan head.  I reminded me of a creamy stout, and I think we all know how I love me a creamy stout.  There was an abundance of stick, foamy, strong lacing that adhered  to the sides of the glass.  The head had wonderful staying power  (check out the photos above).  The nose was a bit of a malt bomb with lots of caramel malts right up front.  Mixed in were scents of raisins, dates and some dark cherries.  I could detect a bit of toasty chocolate malts in there as well and, of course, the obligatory Belgium yeast.  It smelled dark, robust and a bit sweet.  The taste was a bit stealthy, however.  The first sip found me slightly disappointed.  After the grand show of superb  lacing and  inhale worthy aroma, the taste seemed light and almost watery.  At first.  If I had to chose one word to describe this beer, Deceptive would be my only choice.  Because after that first, underwhelming sip, the beer truly kicked in (kicked down the door and took names, actually.)  A boozy, slightly sweet, complex robustness emerged after the first sip and nearly knocked me over.  There I found all the caramel, date, dark cherry and raisin goodness that I noticed on the nose. The spiciness of cloves were also present and emerged more as the beer sat for a bit.   Fruit esters of banana and apple gave the beer the Belgium quality that I was hoping for.   A very mild, earthy hop presence came out towards the end.   The mouthfeel was as creamy and robust as the label promised.  There was no alcohol heat at all , just a pleasant boozy element on the long and slightly sweet, malty finish.             

New Glarus, honest, you don't look a day over 19.
New Galrus, keeping it tight.
 New Glarus' Anniversary Strong Dark Ale is an extraordinary beer.  I know that all beers are like most people gathered at a Thanksgiving dinner: all relative.   But to me, this has been easily one of my favorite beers of the Summer of 2013.  It had a complexity that I search for in a well crafted beer, but presented it in such a simplistic and delicious way that I was never distracted by any bells or whistles.  Because of the higher alcohol content, it's also a great beer for sharing.  I don't know about you, but when I find a beer that I really enjoy, my first instinct is to pour a tasting portions for just about anyone who crosses my path.  And I have yet to find anyone who has not begged me for a bit more.  I would serve this beer with a plate of ribs dripping with sticky, sweet molasses based barbeque sauce.   Or keep it simple with a perfectly grilled porterhouse steak served with a roasted corn and heirloom tomato salad.    We all have that one, extremely difficult to buy for, person on our gift giving list.  You know who your's  is (and if you're racking your brain for a name, chances are it's probably very similar to your own.)  You could do a lot worse than picking up a few bottles of this Belgium inspired gem and slapping on a big red bow.  And just in case anyone is feeling overly generous, my birthday is at the end of August.