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Friday, August 01, 2008

The Session #18: Happy Anniversary Beers

The Barley Blog is the host of this month's Beer Blogging Friday. The 18th edition of The Session is themed “Happy Anniversary."

As The Barley Blog put it when announcing the topic: "Use this as an excuse to celebrate. Open a limited release anniversary beer from your favorite brewer. Enjoy that special beer you normally only open on your wedding anniversary or birthday. Either way, tell us about it."

Brewers have issued limited release beers to mark the seasons, holidays and special events for centuries. Some brewers even brew vintage beers that often are designed to be laid down for future vertical tasting adventures. The anniversary beer has emerged recently as something that American craft brewers have adopted, often giving their brewmasters the chance to try something a little different. This is a time for brewers to be imaginative and stretch, making signature beers to mark the passing of another year.

These limited edition products can set off a feeding frenzy among the fans of a particular beer. The profiteers are not far behind and hefty premiums end up being charged for these beers. A good example is the annual release from Firestone Walker reviewed in a Tuesday Tasting last November.

Since the topic was announced, I've been on the look out for anniversary beers. Two actually arrived at my door as tasting samples. Another was found in a friend's refrigerator. One was being poured at a local Charlotte beer bar and another was located in a liquor store during a visit to Chicago last month.

The one clear picture that emerges is that an anniversary beer can be anything a brewer wants it to be. Don't expect a certain style, taste, color or aroma. Most often these are in larger format bottles -- at least 22 ounces or more. The one nearly universal commonality appears to be that these brews tend to fall well outside of the session beer category. You can expect the alcohol content to be dialed up a bit when it comes time for a brewery to celebrate a milestone.

Here are the five anniversary brews tracked down for this tasting:

Three Floyds Fantabulous Resplendence XI: This Indiana beer rolls out orange, grapefruit and jasmine flavor notes. Fantabulous is 7 percent alcohol by volume and has a nice hop floral nose. There is quite a bit going on in the glass flavor wise, but the beer is subtle and not overpowering.

Avery Anniversary Ale Fifteen: I'm a big fan of this Colorado brewery, so I was let down a little bit by this brew. It's not that Avery did not try to turn out something special. This farmhouse-style ale is brewed with black mission figs, hibiscus flowers and white pepper, using a 100 percent brettanomyces form of yeast. The beer comes in at 7.68 percent alcohol by volume. For some reason this ale just never came together for me. With a beer this distinctive, it comes down to personal taste. I'm sure someone else may have tried this beer for this edition of The Session and chances are they loved it.

Carolina Platinum Blonde 10th Anniversary: This North Carolina brew poured fairly flat, and gave off a slightly amber and tarnished brass color. At 8.5 percent alcohol by volume it actually tastes like it might pack more of a punch. There is a touch of a malt liquor-like tang going on with the beer. This beer has notes of sweet malt at the start and hop bitterness at the finish.

Deschutes 20 Anniversary Wit: At 5.5 percent alcohol by volume, this is a session beer in the anniversary category. It has plenty of nice Belgian-style wheat beer characteristics. The label says they use curacao, orange peel, coriander and grains of paradise in the brew. These combine to create a refreshing Oregon beer with a tart edge that is perfect for hot weather.

Black Butte XX: Deschutes Brewery decided that you need at least two beers to celebrate 20 years. Black Butte XX is an imperial porter brewed with cocoa nibs and coffee beans. The brewers age 20 percent of the beer in ex-Bourbon barrels. It comes at you with 11 percent alcohol by volume. My advice is to find a comfortable chair and settle in. Black Butte XX throws more flavor at you in a single glass than an entire six pack of most craft beers can hope to deliver. Rich, thick and satisfying. There is plenty to experience here. Deschutes got the right level of oak from the barrels, while the chocolate and coffee balance each other out. This achieves a level perfection in a dark brew worthy of a twentieth anniversary.

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