For Xmas, my family (well, mostly just I) did a vertical tasting of the ’08, ’09, and ’10 Vintage Ales from Trader Joe’s. If you aren’t familiar with the VA, it’s a BDSA, contract-brewed by Unibroue, that’s only available for a few weeks around the holidays. As with most things at Trader Joe’s, part of the appeal is the price – in this case, $5 for a bomber of above-average beer. That makes it pretty convenient for fun exercises like this one. Anyway, some notes:
2008: This had the lowest carbonation and least retention, but it was also by far the brightest – almost totally clear, actually. It had a faint astringency or tannic character in both the aroma and flavor, and it may also have been the booziest, unless that’s the astringency playing with my palate. My parents store these at room temperature, so it’s possible – even likely – that this bottle is simply past its prime. Still, it wasn’t unpleasant, just sort of flat and lifeless.
2009: Substantially darker than the other two, this is a full brown where the others are more ruby. I suspect that the 2008 and 2010 are very similar recipes and the 2009 differed from them. It was also the most highly carbonated, albeit without great retention or lacing. A definite hint of chocolate in the finish makes me think that some dark roasted malt was used in this one, then removed again for the 2010.
2010: Best retention and the only bottle to display significant lacing. Dark fruit flavors are predominant, but like the others this is a very dry beer, without the strong yeast character that would normally offset the perception of excessive dryness in the best Belgian (or home brewed) examples. Side by side with Maudite, for example, even though the two presumably use the same yeast strain, this would clearly be inferior.
Perhaps Unibroue deliberately over-attenuates the VA so that they can use less malt for the lower-cost product? Still, I feel I should emphasize that this isn’t a bad beer by any means. Given its wide availability and low cost, you could probably find several vintages available locally for your own tasting. Unfortunately, doing a vertical like this just isn’t as instructive when the recipes for the bottles (I believe) aren’t the same. On the other hand, it is a quasi-classy excuse to pour 2.25 L of beer.
Merry Xmas, everyone!