Saturday, June 14, 2014

Five Years of Great Divide Anniversary Ales

Breweries' 20th anniversaries are great times to gather people, reminisce and drink a lot of new beers. But for Great Divide, which turns the big 2-0 today, anniversaries also have been a good time in recent years to make and bottle a new experimental ale.

I'd managed to cellar the Denver brewery's 15th, 17th and 19th anniversary beers (no, I don't know why I didn't keep 16 or 18) and figured that this seemed to be a great time to break them out and try them. And what the Fearless Tasting Crew discovered a few nights ago in doing so was that wood-aged IPAs get older nicely, syrupy beers need that extra year of mellowing and beer geeks everywhere should spend more time collecting these gifts for a future vertical tasting.

20th (not aged): Belgian ale with viognier grapes
We started with the newest to ensure we set a baseline for freshness. This latest anniversary version is actually the easiest-drinking Great Divide has made in years, despite its 8.2 ABV presence. The grape is subtle and the body is sweet without being anywhere near cloying. Crew members decided it was a tasty high-alcohol summer beer, though not an earth-shattering new experience.

19th (aged 1 year): Strong ale brewed w/ birch syrup, aged on birch wood
Those who remember this ale at its birth generally associate one word with it: Syrupy. The aging seemed to do wonderful things to it. The sweetness mellowed, while the taste of the birch wood was more accented. This is still an extremely thick-bodied beer, but one that seems to have grown up from its somewhat rambunctious youth.

17th (aged 3 years): Wood-aged double IPA
It's usually a bad thing to age an extremely hoppy beer, as the citrus/grassy mouthfeel had, as expected, almost completely disappeared. But the oak has taken on a new life, and a vanilla taste now seeped smoothly through the beer where hops once dominated. I could have used a tad more bite to my taste buds (thinking that drinking this at 1 year of age would have been fantastic), but this was the favorite selection of the other three crew members.

15th (aged 5 years): Wood-aged double IPA
I'm not sure exactly what the difference in recipes was for the 15th and 17th anniversary ales. But the difference in aging was this: The hop taste had completely vanished here, leaving more oak but also a smoother, almost buttery texture to it. And that lingering touch of sweetness presented itself in such a way that you no longer had a beer lacking hop bite but a completely new ale, showing off a big wood backbone but a pleasant, complex taste. This was the winner to me.

And when I head to the 20th Anniversary bash in a little while, I may just have to ask if any more of the 15th Anniversary ales still exist, as I think it might be completely different again in another two years ....

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