Over the past weekend, my wife and I went up to the mountains. We rented a small cabin up near Ellijay and took the dog. It was wonderful (Review to come later.) However, you have to understand, this is not just a mountain vacation. I am a food and beer snob, we have to go all out. I cooked one night and one breakfast, my wife did likewise, and I got deserts and snack foods. This included a cheese plate and charcuterie; to properly enjoy this food, we enjoyed our beer and wine. As a rule, I am a guy who likes his beer. My wife likes beer and wine equally. Since I know little about wine and she cares little about what kind she drinks, we had 2-buck-chuck (the Charles Shaw wines from Trader Joe) chilled in the fridge; which was lovely. However, as the beer guy. I am here to talk beer.
First beer we shared was a Great Divide Grand Cru, served at around 50F. The color was a brilliant maroon red. The smell was perfect; sweet, caramel candy, syrupy. The flavor is fig, raisins, and perhaps cherry. The alcohol is sharp, but covered well in the sweetness of the beer. It is nearly cloying, but the complexity of the beer, if sipped more then covers this as well. The carbonation was appropriate and the flavor goes great with creamy cheeses. If you could pair it with a fruit jam, this beer would replace it well. This is a great American example of a Belgian Dark Strong, well balanced for the style and complex.
The next beer we tried is the new Heavy Seas Plank I. The beer is an old ale, which is not a style I assume most people are familiar with, so I will describe it briefly. In the US, the closest style you may find is an imperial brown. This British style is imperial, but unlike high gravity Belgian beers which get their punch from sugar, old ales get their punch from Treacle; a kind of British molasses. Thus, old ales (the classic example is Theakson Old Peculiar) are sweet in a southern desert way, like a shoo-fly pie, pecan pie, etc sort of way. In the Plank I, you can taste the subtle vanilla sweetness that comes from the wood aging and the dark complex sweetness that is carried by the Treacle. However, this is not to say the the Plank I is a standard old ale or even a standard wood aged beer. The wood flavors are unusually, this is because they use yellow poplar as opposed to a more traditional oak. The flavor is more unique and I like that. However, it’s reviews have been mediocre. I find this to be a shame. To judge this beer as an old ale, it falls a little short; there are odd/off flavors and frankly, it is too carbonated. However, to judge it as an imperial beer, it is very good. The extra carbonation carries the scent to the nose and the sweetness is well balanced.
The final beer we tasted, which was my wife’s favorite, was the Old Ruffian by Great Divide, an American style Barleywine. I want to emphasize here two things. First, we ate palate foods, but ate similar food while drinking (the cheese plate) and secondly, we drank these over time, I was not drunk on the floor giggling. This beer surprised me, though. The flavor popped, but was well balanced. The alcohol led to high sweetness, but this was balanced by the hops. I immediately tasted it and loved it, but was concerned that my wife would find it too hoppy, not at all, she loved it and I did as well. This beer is phenomenal and one of my favorite American Barleywines.