Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Unibroue - Trader Joe's Vintage Ale Review


Brewery: Unibroue (CAN)
Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale

ABV: 9%
Grade: B


First of all, it is incredibly awesome that any grocery store chain has its own line of beer. Of course Trader Joe's hardly counts as a regular ol' grocery store — they are far more awesome than that — but still. That's cool. (How does Whole Foods not have its own contract-brewed line of beer yet? Those guys are slacking. I'm calling it now: Whole Foods Brand Beer is an inevitability.) Trader Joe's regular lineup of cheap sixpacks is nothing crazy, but also certainly nothing to scoff at for the price.

Then, every winter, they release their Trader Joe's Vintage Ale, contract-brewed by Unibroue. The beer might change a bit from year to year — not much though, so far as I can tell — and it's always / usually a Belgian Strong Dark Ale clocking in around 9.0%. A 25 ounce bottle is $4.99. "Holy balls, that's a good deal," you may be thinking, and you would be correct.

And, also, the beer is pretty decent too. It's in that realm of mid-range beers that are kind of hard to review: nothing super exciting, but competent enough to avoid disappointing in any significant way. Highly carbonated and yet light bodied, this Vintage Ale is designed to go down quickly, with that 9% ABV sneaking up on you. As a result, the mouthfeel is a bit aggressive and raspy, and yet the flavors come across somewhat subdued. Good, but not great. Trader Joe's Vintage Ale has a strong raisin / prune spiced flavor that reminds me of root beer and Coca-Cola, but in a milder, yeasty beer form. If that sounds bad, it's not, really. It's a dark, coarse flavor that goes well with the high carbonation, roasty malts and spicy Belgian yeast. The Belgian character of the beer is pleasant, though the cola-like spices can make it easy to forget it's even there.

As far as spiced beers goes, this one is actually rather unique — not particularly exciting, but unique. And really, it's just amazing to see this occupying huge amounts of shelf space at Trader Joe's. With such a cheap price and prominent in-store placement, they're undoubtedly introducing a ton of people to a new world of beer, styles of beer that those shoppers might never otherwise try. God bless them for promoting the world of craft beer. That, truly, is what Christmas is all about.

Availability: Only available at Trader Joe's, in large 25 ounce bottles. Usually appears around Thanksgiving and sells out sometime after or around Christmas.



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