Brewer: Unibroue, Chambly, Quebec, Canada
Style: Spiced dark ale
Served in snifters.
Appearance: Coffee brown with a big, but short-lived head (all).
Me: Orange, ginger and malt on the nose. Light on the palate with a little gingerbread. Mild finish.
J: Smells fruity but doesn’t taste fruity.
B: Nose and palate are very different. Much less flavor on the palate than there is aroma in the nose. Mild. Watery.
Me: Mild nose, mildly effervescent on the palate. Spicy and stronger on the palate than 2013. Booze more obvious. Favorite of the three.
J: Not as spicy. More malty. Palate is more consistent with the nose. Finish lingers in the tongue. Elusive whiff of chocolate.
B: “ooh!” Much better on the palate. Agree with J. Malt is prominent but there’s underlying clove and nutmeg. Favorite of the three.
Me: Stronger on the nose and in the palate but less balanced than 2014. Orange peel and potpourri nose, malty on the palate.
J: Stronger “beer” flavor. Lager-like. Smells younger, a little grassy. Favorite of the three.
B: Spices are barely there, except for some clove and nutmeg at the end. Least subtle of the three. Strong tasting.
Parting words: Every year around this time, I buy at least three bottles of that year’s Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale. I always plan to drink them six months to a year apart but sometimes I forget they’re in my cellar or I get thirsty and drink one early. I forgot about my last 2011 and I drank it at about three years old and I drank my last 2012 shortly after that. I decided to get serious this year and do a three way head to head tasting. Normally I would enlist my wife to help, but she’s pregnant, so I enlisted the help of a beer-loving couple we’re friends with, Brian and Jessica.
We tasted over dinner (all three were OK with food) and I tried to take notes as best as I could. 2013 was the least favorite for all of us. It wasn’t bad, it was just bland on the palate. Jessica preferred the stronger taste of the 2015, but Brian and I liked the 2014. That said, we all agreed that 2014 and 2015 were both enjoyable pours. One remaining question is whether this beer rebounds after an apparent dip after two years in the bottle, like wines sometimes do. Maybe next year we can answer this question! Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale is recommended new and at a year old.