Thursday, January 19, 2012

Harpoon - Vermont Spruce Tip Ale Review

Brewery: Harpoon (MA)
Style: Spiced Beer
ABV: 7.0%
Grade: B+

I admit, I was expecting a much darker beer. That's probably because the only other beer I've tried with spruce in it is Anchor's annual Christmas Ale (which, at least this year, was absolutely fantastic, in large part due to its unique spruce flavor). That beer is a winter warmer, and thus a nice, dark, malty beer. Not so here — this has more in common with a Scottish or Irish red ale, at least in appearance. The flavor, too, is much milder than I expected — but here's where I partially disagree with many of the other reviews I've read. "Mild" doesn't have to mean "disappointing."

Once you can get past how relatively aggressiveness this beer is in the flavor department, there's a lot to like. The flavor, while unassertive, is great — very crisp, sweet in a creamy (not malty) way, and most importantly, balances a unique spruce flavor with a clean malt base. I don't like the spruce-iness here as much as I did in Anchor's Christmas Ale, but it's balanced for the beer it's in, with earthy, woody sweetness and even some floral hints that might just be echoing the hops. Beers where the spice addition is meant to play along with (and almost serve as) another hop addition tend to work well, even if they're keeping things on the safe side. The cleanness of the malts means this is both a highly unique beer and an extremely smooth, drinkable beer, which is a fairly rare feat. Think of it as a highly unique, high ABV 'everyday' beer.

Vermont Spruce Tip Ale could serve to be a little drier — the sweetness drags on the tongue the deeper you go into it — but the sweetness is maybe my one complaint. Honestly, Harpoon could have a wonderful new addition to their regular lineup if they dialed down the ABV and the sweetness on this one; it's approachable and drinkable and interesting, but not so overly-ambitious that it stands out as a 'beer nerd's beer.' 

Availability: Limited one-time release as a part of Harpoon's 100 Barrel Series. You might still be able to find this in some random beer store, but it's one you'll have to look for. (Though it's likely more common in other parts of New England than it is in New York.) Probably won't be brewed again.

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