Vintage Ale 2009-2015 Vertical Tasting

California Grocer Trader Joe’s partnered with French Canadian brewery Unibroue to produce an affordable, Belgian style dark ale. It’s the type of beer made for aging. It has a firm malt foundation, plenty of sugar, 9% ABV, and bottle-conditioned. Today I’ll report on our vertical tasting of seven vintages, 2009 through 2015.

We brought all bottles to about 48f, the recommended temperature, and began with a 2015, the current year, as our control for what a fresh vintage tastes like.

2015 – Pours dark brown with a bubbly head of foam. Sweet aromas of spices, yeast, and dark fruits. It tastes bold, with sweet malts, distinct spices, and firm carbonation. It’s a good example of a Christmas beer.

2009 – This one was a gusher. Spraying a third of the bottle out on uncorking. Light aromas of spices but nothing strong. The taste is very changed from the current vintage, though reminiscent. The body thinned, very smooth, with sweet, sherry-like qualities.

2010 – More complex than the 2009 with more body, well-integrated spices, caramel & toffee notes, and dark fruits.

2011 – Similar to 2010 but with more caramel malts, leather, vanilla and more body.

2012 – Bump up in bubbly carbonation. Getting close to the flavor profile of the current vintage, but with better integrated flavors.

2013 – We sipped the 2015 again first. The only different we could pick out from in the 2013 was a little more sweetness, less boozy, and smoother spice notes.

2014 – We skipped it because the 2013 was so similar to the 2015. I put it back in the cellar.

After tasting through each vintage we retasted most and picked out favorites. The 2009 was the most different, with it’s dramatic loss of body, changed to sherry-like qualities. The consensus was the 2011 vintage with it’s smooth, complex, well-integrated flavors. I’ll be targeting 4-5 years of aging for Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale.

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    While it’s difficult to picture Santa as a young man, he was once. He met the future Mrs. Claus one snowy night when she offered him a winter ale that she brewed herself. It was love at first sight – for both the Mrs. and her winter ales. With Santa’s growing fame, his favorite brews became named after his favorite day – Christmas. Santa now travels the world each year to spread the joy that began in a stable in Bethlehem two millennia ago.

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