Session 18 – Anniversary Time

Posted on 08.01.08 8:29PM under Aimée, Alcohol, Pairing, Tasting, The Session

This month’s session is hosted by The Barley Blog, and the topic is “Happy Anniversary”, where we’re all popping the cap on a very special beer and giving it the review treatment.

Avery is one of my favorite brewers these days. It’s got a lot to do with the Maharaja and the Czar and their other gigantic beers. Even their normal beers are pretty good. I dunno, I just like Avery. Maybe it’s the foil around the cap that gets me? This session was a perfect excuse to open one of my cellared bottles of Avery Fourteen. That’s the 14th anniversary beer from our friends in Boulder. This beer was bottled in 2007.

The Beer
Avery Fourteen is described as “A Very Dark, Different, Dry-Hopped Ale”. It registers 9.46% ABV and 60 IBU with an OG of 1.090 (all this from the bottle). That makes the FG about 1.018 (this from BeerSmith). That’s a respectable 80% apparent attenuation (this from my calculator). It’s also a big beer with not too much bitterness and plenty of body, according to the numbers. Should be fun.
This beer pours a deep dark brown with a lot of purpley-red highlights when you hold it up to the light, and there’s a huge head.

The initial smell is somewhat sour and musty, like an Oud Bruin. I don’t know, must have been the bubbles, because as this beer progressed, the aroma migrated to a more traditional “brown” smell. Nuts or chocolate or something like that.

The taste hits you at first as big and boozy. What do you expect for 9+% ABV? It’s also very bitter. Tastes more than 60 IBU, but numbers can be deceiving. And the alcohol warmth might increase the perception of bitterness. It is not sour or musty tasting at all.

This thing is warming throughout your whole body. I love that in a beer. It makes me feel cozy. Even if it is the middle of summer. It is also sharp on the tongue. I have a feeling like a bunch of little cuts, as if I’ve been chewing on a popsicle stick for way too long. I don’t like that feeling so much, but it isn’t long before the ABV kicks in and the tongue is forgotten.

Overall, this is a lot like a brown IPA. But there’s more to it than that. It’s almost barley wine-ish, there may even be some oxidation in there. All in all, I like it. It’s too bad it’s a one-off beer. That’s the double-edged sword of Anniversary Beers. Great beer, only made once ever.

Another Perspective
As a special treat, my lovely wife Aimée enjoyed a small pour with me. A little background: Aimée is an IPA fan. The more hops the better, for her. Ipswich IPA – yeah! Sierra Nevada Celebration – yummy! And so on. Darker beers aren’t really her thing, and high alcohol beers are often a bit much for her. She doesn’t drink that much, given that we have a three month old baby. Although her appetite for alcohol is not that great, she loves beer.

I knew that a beer like this was a gamble – she might like it, she might not. It is high alcohol and it is dark, and it isn’t really an IPA. Time to push the boundaries a bit.

Her immediate reaction confirmed my suspicion. Her first words were, “You can definitely taste the alcohol.” This lasted for a little while. Her next comment was along the lines of, “I feel like I’m drinking…what’s that…flavored brandy stuff?” She means Mr. Boston. I don’t know if Avery was going for that Blackberry Brandy thing, but there might be a bit of an impression of that in this bottle.

Soon, she began to come around. Looking at the bottle and reading the description, she agreed that it was dark, different, and dry-hopped. This continued to grow into the positive, as she proclaimed it “A good sipping beer.” This is quick progress.

Then it all came together. She asked for some vanilla cookies. She wanted to try the beer with some food. I guess the darkness of the beer and sweetness of residual sugar and alcohol inspired in her a dessert food pairing. Avery Fourteen paired with Earth’s Best Organic Letter of the Day Very Vanilla Cookies. I feel a beer dinner coming on. Complete with the Cookie Monster.

It was at this point that she began to fully enjoy the beer. She excitedly declared, “This beer is a lot better with food.” Several times in several ways. It was clear to me that she had discovered a great lesson in beerology. Beer and food are a natural pair. We are complete.

The Lesson
I enjoy beer by itself. I love a great food pairing, but sometimes seeking the perfection of the match I push away the pleasure. I just simply enjoy beer in and of itself, no accompaniment required.
It turns out that Aimée, while she enjoys many beers à la carte, sometimes finds food and beer to be a lot more enjoyable that just beer alone.

This led me to a piece of insight. If you’ve got a friend or lover that “doesn’t like beer” or even “just drinks normal beer”, a beer and food experience might be just the perfect venue for introducing that person to some of the best beer in the world.

In hindsight, it’s so obvious. Think about an extreme case. Gueuze. That’s definitely an acquired taste. Consumed alone, Gueuze can be tough to make your way through when you’re acquiring the taste. But paired with the appropriate salty or greasy or even acidic food, and Gueuze is like a heavenly refreshment, even to the rookie Gueuze drinker.

It was nice, no, it was awesome to have Aimée liking a beer like this. It begins to open up a world of possibilities. I’ll just have to make sure I have a nice food pairing for strange exotic or extreme beers I want to spring on her. Fortunately, it’s easy to pair beer and food for the most part. I could probably get by with a packet of Ritz crackers for just about any beer. This should be fun as I try to find the perfect food for the perfect beer for my wife. What will I feed her to improve her Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA experience?

I’m glad I was given this chance to open a beer that might have otherwise sat unused for years. I’m happy I tried it, I’m happy that Aimée liked it, and I just might go see if I can find a few more bottles.

Another cute segment to this story, and then I’ll let you go. Aimée pointed out that we have been together for fourteen years. That includes pre-marriage, and the bottle is a year old, but still. Avery is fourteen, and just a few weeks ago, our relationship turned fourteen. All together now… “Awwww……”

Read Comments

  1. Posted by Rob on 08.01.08 10:29 PM

    Very nice post! For the perfect pairing for the 120-minute IPA, consider the cinnamon graham Crunchin’ Blocks. Not to mention they’re an excellent source of zinc, iron and B vitamins