This beer is one hell of a complicated mess, and in more ways than one.
It pours an opaque dark brown with a rich walnut head. The silk-screened 750ml bottle, sealed with a champagne cork, describes the contents as “Dark Ale on Lees, 9% ABV.” Lees means yeast sediment, which is another way of saying the beer has been “bottle-conditioned”, which is another way of saying a secondary fermentation has taken place in the bottle. All of which means this is what I like to call a “live beer” as opposed to a dead beer that has been filtered and pasteurized and therefore contains no living or dormant yeast.
The Dark Ale nomenclature indicates this beer doesn’t fit in an easily defined category but is unruly and irreverent, which is ironically appropriate for a beer that is fashioned after those produced by nuns and monks in Belgian abbeys.
The initial bouquet is faint, but that may be due to the fact that I served it at too cold a temperature to allow the fruity ale yeast esters to fully blossom.
The flavors, on the other hand, are disarmingly complex, dense with holiday spice and yet crisp and light for such a big beer. The latter character is likely a result of the high level of carbonation which propels the dark juice over the tongue and cleanses the palate on its way down. Nutmeg, clove, and aniseed spices make brief appearances, as do a cluster of dark fruits like plum, raisin and cranberry.
The “Best Before” date is listed on the bottle as 08-28-2009 and I have no trouble believing this beer will grow increasingly complex over the years, which brings me to the second complicated aspect of beer.
It is marketed as Trader Joe’s 2006 Vintage Ale. Trader Joe’s is a grocery chain, not a brewery, so naturally I wondered who they contracted to brew this annual elixir. The first answer seemed simple enough. The small type at the bottom of the back of the bottle says “Brewed by Unibroue.” Great, Unibroue is a wonderful brewery in Chambly, Quebec specializing in Belgian style ales. I recently acquired a whole slew of their beers and am planning to have a special tasting of them with some friends. But upon further investigation, I realized the brewery answer wasn’t as simple as that. Unibroue is actually owned by Sleeman Breweries Ltd., Canada’s third largest brewing company. But it doesn’t end there either. Sleeman was acquired in August 2006 by Sapporo, a Japanese-based global beerhemoth. So Trader Joe’s 2006 Vintage Ale is brewed by Unibroue, which is owned by Sleeman, which is owned by Sapporo.
Goddamn! Can’t a guy have a simple beer any more?