Unibroue: “17″ – Anniversary Ale

Photo: Craig Kalnin

When asked by our regular Beer Hobbyist to take over the posts for a little while, we immediately though “Awesome! And we have a GREAT beer to start off with!”

Welcome to the Hobbyists Unibroue. We are very excited to have you with us.

We’ve long been a fan of the work that Unibroue does; they were, in fact, one of our first steps outside the bounds of the university mantra of “whatever’s cheapest!” Encouraged away from the Blues and Kokanees of the world (don’t judge, we all started somewhere…) by an older, wiser sibling, we ventured into one of their classic beers, La Fin du Monde, and never looked back. Dial the clock forward to 2007 and an impulse splurge on a single bottle of their just released “17” in celebration of their 17th Anniversary. Wow! Bold dried fruits, rich toasty malts and a complexity we’d previously thought reserved for the whiskies of the world (we had so much to learn back then…). We came home the next day with a case of 12 and an ear-to-ear grin.

Fast forward another 5 years, having lugged our case of beer through several moves, and 5 bottles remain. Untwisting the champagne-style cage we are excited and nervous, it has been over 2 years since the last bottle was opened. Would it have gone bad? Skunky? Stayed the same? Or would time have worked some kind of magic…

With an encouraging pop we liberated the contents, which pour a slightly cloudy, rich brown, almost like a root beer float as the ice cream juuust starts to melt. Fine, lacy head appears and stays with us until the end of the glass. The nose has retained much of its inviting dark fruit and toasty malts with a nice spicy edge to balance the sweetness; this is a beer just asking to be tasted. The flavour doesn’t disappoint – after 5 years this beer has clearly matured from being a young, rambunctious powerhouse of dried fruits and powerful malts, into a velvet wrapped steel bar. All the wonderful strength of the characteristic flavours remains, but time has smoothed the edges and allowed some of the subtler flavours to shine. The vanilla notes are much easier to detect throughout along with a great uplifting oaky finish, a result of being aged in French Oak, along with hints of rich dark chocolate, salted caramel and even a touch of grapefruit.

This is a beer that gives you plenty to linger over and think about but doesn’t completely overtake your palate. We can see why it has won numerous international medals, including the 2010 World’s Best Dark Ale (World Beer Awards). The strength of the beer was never overtly apparent when it was young, and even less so now – its 10% lies in wait like a cougar – you may not know she’s there until it’s too late – definitely a bottle worth sharing.

Unibroue suggests 5-8 years as the aging potential of this beer, and notes that the yeast added to the bottle helps maintain the shelf-life, consuming those dirty, rotten excess oxygen molecules that can ruin all your hard work… er… sitting around. Some basic rules on cellaring beers – cool (5-15 degrees Celsius), dark and stable temperatures are key, but so too is upright storage – even a corked bottle like this will fare better standing up tall than laying down on the job.

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