Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
Many a homebrewer has learned the hard way that trying to do too much with one beer can lead to disaster. And in beer, it doesn't take much to be "too much"; adding any sort of spice, flavoring or fruit beyond your standard beer ingredients can create an obnoxious clash of flavors (when done poorly) or something that belongs in the soda aisle (when done with no restraint.) So I was deeply intrigued to try 21st Amendment's Monk Blood, a Belgian strong dark ale brewed with cinnamon, vanilla, dried figs and oak chips. And it comes in a can, no less!
The secret to using flavoring adjuncts is, in my opinion, to use them to such an extent that you can just tell that they're there. They should compliment flavors that are already present in the beer, not attempt to create an intense flavor that the beer "lacks." (BEER IS PERFECT IT LACKS NOTHING.) So in this sense, Monk's Blood is a success. A Belgian strong dark ale is the perfect vehicle for all these flavors, as they are all nuances that you might pick out of a Belgian strong dark ale — the dark fruit fig flavors, the syrupy candied fruit depth, the sweet spice of vanilla and cinnamon. The nose is a big, bold aroma of dried fruit, heavy on the cherries, plum and fig, with a mild oak character that's barely distinguishable from the vanilla. As the beer warms, vanilla opens up as the dominant flavor, absorbing both the yeast and cinnamon spice character.
This style always runs the risk of heavy-handed malts, but Monk's Blood is fairly balanced, favoring naturally sweet flavors over dripping syrupy-ness. I am not a fan of overly-sweet beers, so that is good. Monk's Blood is a rich beer, though, one that dwells on its dark fruit flavors and sweets spices, but considering all that went into this, it could have much, much less subtle. The finish is a touch cloying but never unpleasant, and the "Belgian" character of Monk's Blood is also nicely dialed down, with a big yeast-spice character hitting upfront, blending into the spice-spice character, and quickly balancing itself out. Nothing knocks it out of the park, but this is the sort of beer where any attempts to do so would probably end up in sad failure. The restraint 21st Amendment shows is nice, and it makes for an interesting, balanced beer, though nothing so grand as you might think from the description.
Plus, I can say with confidence that this is the best Belgian dark strong ale I've ever had out of a can.
Availability: 12 ounce can. Winter release, although I could swear I've seen this year-round in a few stores.