Name: Samael’s Oak Aged Ale
Brewing Company: Avery Brewing Company
Location: Boulder, CO
Style: Strong Ale – English
ABV: 15.47% (2012 vintage under review)
A beer that showcases how aging can impart flavors before the beer is put in the bottle, and age on the shelf can enhance that flavor to an even greater degree.
From the Avery Brewing’s page for the beer:
Samael is the prince of demons, the angel of death, accuser and destroyer. Filled with enmity towards man, he planted the vine, the forbidden tree of paradise. Behold his venom and vengeance, both sweet and tempting, enticing you, his spellbound victim, within his wings.
Avery is one of the great, respected Colorado breweries who helped to kick start the Western US Craft Beer movement. Avery began brewing/selling beer to the public in 1993 and although they are now part of the same group Founders Brewing is part of – Mahou-San Miguel – their reputation for quality beer is still quite high. Like many breweries, they have core offerings, but the beer under review today is part of the now defunct Demons of Ale series, which ceased bottling/production in 2016. So yes, this beer is very old. In fact, it is the oldest beer I’ve ever consumed at about 7 and a half years of age since it was bottled in April 2012 according to the label.
The bottle itself has some cool artwork, but because it was seven (7) years old, the foil and label was a little faded worn out. There wasn’t an overly noticeable pop and hiss when the bottle opened, but there was a bit of noise. Being that the beer was 15479%* I split it with my father on Christmas Even in two snifter glasses. Once the beer was in the glass, one could be forgiven for thinking the liquid wasn’t beer but rather apple cider. One would realize as the beer drew closer to one’s nose and mouth; however, that what they held was most certainly not apple cider.
Sweet oak and vanilla are most prominent elements of the aroma, but it is such a wonderful smell that sniffing the beer is nearly as enjoyable as drinking the beer. The same elements of oak and vanilla make their presence known immediately upon tasting the beer. Intermingled elegantly with those flavors as the beer sits in your palate are elements from the abundant malts; flavors of caramel and toffee most prominently as well as burnt/brown sugar. I also got some hints of fruitiness, but not enough to really pinpoint what exactly those fruit elements are. A very sweet, pleasant beer.
The beer is fairly thick and the while the booziness is extremely present, there’s little to no burn from the alcohol in the same way I’ve experienced burn of some level with other barrel-aged ales. The level of booze – a very specific 15.47% – is well enmeshed in the whole flavor profile of the beer and not a kick at the end.
As the beer finishes off the oak and vanilla elements reassert themselves. There’s some sediment at the bottom of the glass, which for me is a feature and not a bug. This beer also skirts the line between what a beer is and can be and when beer can be something else, not unlike Samuel Adams Utopias. Samael is still about half the ABV of Utopias, but the transcendence of the form is still a hallmark of this Oak Aged Ale from Avery.
I noted early in the review this is the oldest beer I’ve ever had. I’ve let some barrel-aged stouts and higher ABV stouts sit for a year or two before enjoying them. This beer was a revelation, I’d seen many comments online about people drinking beers they’ve aged for 5 to 10 years and what a great experience it was. With this beer, I don’t have a comparison as to what it tastes like the year it was bottled or even a couple of years later like I do for with other aged beers. What I can say is that 7(+) years on this beer gave me a beer experience unlike few beers I’ve ever enjoyed before. Sharing it with my Dad helped to make it that much more enjoyable.
So why review a beer that is so old and difficult to find? Two reasons…if you can find this beer, grab a bottle regardless of vintage. Second, I wanted to to illustrate why aging a beer can be such fun part of enjoying the plethora of possibilities in beer.
I can see why people would want to let beers like this sit before opening. If possible, I’d probably buy multiple bottles of something like this (if the price-tag wasn’t cost-prohibitive) to enjoy immediately and “cellar” or age for multiple years.
Many beers have a story of how they were procured, but I figured I’d leave this part until the end …. At the Bridgewater Beer Fest in the spring of 2019, there were only a small handful of beers to make a good impression on me, but this beer was the clear standout to the point where I had multiple tasters of the beer. Probably enough tasters to equal a half bottle throughout the evening. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t give a little shout out to Mat of Massive Beers since he recommended this beer to me. He and I live in NJ and we happened to both attend the Bridgewater Beer Fest in 2019. One of the first things he said to me was that this beer was being poured at the festival, and that it was a fantastic beer and one of his favorites. I was only familiar with Avery’s core lineup, but the way Mat spoke of this beer was as if it was something legendary and a beer I wanted to at least try. I can’t say I disagree with how Mat spoke of the beer since it is first and foremost a wonderful beer and secondarily, because it is no longer being brewed and distributed as of the writing of this post. Much to my delight, I was able to procure a bottle* of the same vintage and I wanted to save it for a special occasion, which turned out to be Christmas Eve 2019.
* By procure, I mean the gentleman who was pouring samples at the beer festival saw how many return trips I made to the table and was kind enough to slip me an unopened bottle, since he had a couple of additional bottles and the festival was winding down.
Highly recommended, link to 4.5 bottle-cap Untappd check in. This is a whale of a beer that is worth keeping at the front of your mind or mental list when you visit bottle shops with a deep shelf.
Untapped badge earned with this beer:
Iron Man (Level 9)