Beer Review: Avery Brewing’s Samael’s Oak Aged Ale

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)

You don’t have to be a superhero to enjoy a strong beer. Boasting a higher than average ABV, these styles really do pack a punch, so be ready for it. That’s 45 different beers with style of Strong Ale – American, Strong Ale – English, Strong Ale – Other, Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Belgian Strong Golden Ale or Lager – Euro Strong.

Draught Diversions: 12 Beers of Christmas (2018 Part 2)

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

Here’s part two of the 12 Beers of Christmas 2018 I promised on Tuesday. Like that post (and all similar posts this year), this follows the six pack format. There’s a mix of beers I haven’t had, haven’t had in a few years, and a recent favorite.

Old Jubilation Ale – Avery Brewing Company (Boulder, CO)

This beer is one of the modern American Christmas classics. Though not technically a winter warmer like many Christmas beers, this one is more along the lines of an Old Ale/English Strong Ale. A high ABV of 8.3% makes this a long sipper and without having had this one yet (by the time I was looking for it in early December, stores had already sold out of their annual allotment), I imagine it would be similar to Founders’ Curmudgeon. I’ll have to keep my eyes open a little earlier next year if I want to grab some of this one.

What Avery says about the beer:

Our winter strong ale has a gorgeous mahogany hue, a hint of hazelnuts, and a finish reminiscent of mocha and toffee. No spices, just a perfect blend of five specialty malts.

For 2018 we used light brown sugar, raisins and figs to bring out caramelized sugar and dried fruit flavors. Also added to the boil is star anise, clove, cardamom and cinnamon. The spices balance and play nice with the caramelized sugars!

Corsendonk Christmas Ale – Brouwerij Corsendonk – (Antwerpen, Belgium)

Here’s the Obligatory Belgian Christmas beer for this list. I had this one for the first time last year and thoroughly enjoyed it so I may have to grab some again before the Christmas season ends. I received a gift pack of this beer last year for Christmas, which included the glass in the picture above. Again, like many of the Belgian Christmas Ales, this one is categorized as “Belgian Strong Dark Ale.” I remember being really surprised that the ABV on this was 8.5%, but on the other hand, that could be a reason why the bottles are a little smaller (I think 8 or 9 oz).

About the beer:

Brewed with Pale, Munich and Caramunich malts; Kent Goldings hops. This is a rich, dark, joyous brew with which to celebrate the holiday season. It’s aroma of chocolate malt and spiciness is reminiscent of the wonderfull smells of holiday baking in Mom’s kitchen. Silky smooth on the palate, it’s predominantly malty, with smoky, spicy and citrusy notes and a long, lingering finish that is lightly tart and malty. Bottle conditioned for a fresh, lively taste. Round and well balanced, it’s a welcome addition for holiday tables and beyond.

Santa!! I Know Him! – Evil Genius Beer Company (Philadelphia, PA)

Image courtesy of Evil Genius’s Facebook page

A Saison is not your typical style of beer for Christmas, but Evil Genius (at least going by the clever the names) aren’t your typical brewery. I’ve enjoyed some of Evil Genius’s tasty beers over the years, but haven’t had a chance to give this one a try. Yet. The name for this beer is in homage to the modern classic of Yuletide films, Elf. Some interesting components are utilized in the brew process for this beer.

What Evil Genius says about this beer:

Festive Saison -Santa!! I Know him! is our holiday saison brewed with rose hips, chamomile, black currants and dark Belgian candi syrup. Deep, complex and intriguing, this bone-dry Belgian-style ale is sure to seduce you, or the one you’re with. Roses, chamomile, and currants have long been considered powerful aphrodisiacs, so we decided to combine them with mysterious and beguiling Belgian saison yeast. The result is something very special and sure to help spice up nights spent at home during the cold winter months. Have you been Naughty or Nice this year – or both?

Chrismukkah – 902 Brewing (Hoboken, NJ)

Image courtesy of 902 Brewing’s Facebook page

This is probably the newest beer in this post as I think 902 is debuting the beer this holiday season (December 4, according to their Facebook page, where I snagged the photo above). That said, it looks like it fits the bill with all the holiday spices and brownish hue. I’ve had only 2 beers from 902 Brewing and both were very good so hopefully, this beer continues that trend should I come across it.

What 902 Brewing says about the beer:

It’s the holiday season! What better way to warm up than this 7.6% winter ale? Brewed with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, it’s hitting distro today. Well in time for your holiday needs! A nice treat for when the big man drops by on Christmas Eve, too!

2XMAS – Southern Tier Brewing Company (Lakewood, NY)

I haven’t had this one in a few years and the last time I had it, the beer was very spicy. Other times; however, I recall really enjoying it. I might have to locate some and give it a try this year, but the figs, cinnamon, and cloves in the brew process are flavor components I enjoy.

What Southern Tier says about the beer:

Spiced double ale with fig paste, orange peels, ginger root, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves

Swedish flags are a fairly common sight in our part of the country. Holiday parties often have warm concoctions of spices and booze at the ready to knock the ice off of toes while raising spirits. We were inspired by a “Glögg” party, deciding on the spot to brew a beer that pays tribute to this Nordic tradition.

2XMAS ale combines traditional brewing ingredients with figs, orange peels, cardamom, cinnamon, clove and ginger root. It’s a holiday addition to the 2X line and another reason to toast to the season, but unlike Glögg, we recommend serving this one chilled.

Xocoveza – (Stout –Imperial Milk/Sweet) – Stone Brewing (Escondido, CA)

I had this beer for the first time last year and really enjoyed it, .I said at the time this beer is the closest beer I’ve had to one of my local favorites, Conclave’s Mexican Morning Stout. The beer emulates Mexican Hot Chocolate with peppers and cinnamon and if any beverage says Christmas morning then it would have to be Hot Chocolate. For 2018, Stone released the beer in cans.

What Stone says about the beer:

This is a beloved stout. When first introduced as a limited special collaboration release with San Diego homebrewer Chris Banker (after his recipe won our annual homebrew competition) and Cerveceria Insurgente, it was an instant hit and fans began clamoring for its return. Seeing as how its amazing flavor profile is evocative of Mexican hot chocolate, featuring coffee, pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and a generous amount of our own in-house made chocolate, we concluded it was the perfect stout to re-release in celebration of the Holidays and the entire winter season. This is now a highly anticipated yearly tradition that we are pleased to present from us to you, and makes a perfect wintry gift from you to your friends, loved ones, or simply to yourself. Cheers!

So, 12 Christmas beers over the course of two posts this week here at The Tap Takeover. Any favorites out of these or any I missed?

Draught Diversions: Oktoberfest 2018 Six Pack

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

The longest, largest, and lager-est beer holiday is nearly upon us. Of course, I am referencing Oktoberfest – the time of year when German beers and German inspired beers are celebrated. Well, when they should be celebrated since some Oktoberfest beers begin hitting shelves late July and August. There are many, many, interpretations of the style from which to choose as nearly every brewery seeks to capitalize on the season and take the chance to brew a lager. Since we’re about a week and a couple of days away from the official start of Oktobefest (September 22, 2018), what better time to highlight a few I may try this year.

The Kaiser Avery Brewing (Newport, OR)

Image courtesy of Avery Brewing’s Web site

How do I *not* at least mention an Oktoberfest named The Kaiser? Avery, like many Colorado breweries, has a tendency to lean into Ales, particularly hopped up ales. Much of what they brew can be considered over the top so of course they push the limit on the Oktoberfest beer by brewing an “Imperial” Oktoberfest with nearly double the ABV.

What Avery says about the beer:

Just in time for fall and its most notable Fest, this limited release Imperial Oktoberfest Lager is our emboldened Prost! to one of the world’s most recognized styles. The Kaiser weaves together rich, toasted Vienna and Munich malts with the floral spiciness of Hersbrucker and Bravo hops to create a bold and brazen dry Imperial Oktoberfest.

Octoberfest Beer – Bell’s Brewing Company (Comstock, MI)

Image courtesy of Bell’s Brewing’s Web site

With Bell’s hitting NJ earlier in the year coupled with how much I’ve enjoyed the half-dozen beers I’ve had from them, I do want to give their Märzen a try. Everything I’ve had from them has fallen into the Ale half of the brewing divide so I’d like to see what they can do with a Lager.

Bell’s says this about the beer:

Crafted as a flavorful session beer and perfect for autumn, Octoberfest spends a full six weeks fermenting.

With herbal hop aromas, this balanced amber lager focuses on lightly toasted malt that lends body without too much sweetness. Perfect for a week-long wedding celebration in Germany or the start of the Michigan autumn.

Oktoberfest – Cigar City Brewing (Tampa, FL)

Image courtesy of Cigar City Brewing’s Web site

Cigar City made a decent splash when they first started distributing in NJ a couple of years ago, especially with their highly acclaimed Jai Alai IPA. Skimming through untappd, this one seems to connect correctly with folks looking for a quality Oktoberfest. That said, there is a bit of a contradiction for a brewery based in a state with temperatures averaging 80 degrees brewing a beer primarily associated with cooler autumn weather.

What Cigar City Says about the beer:

In Florida the changing of seasons is decidedly more subtle than in most other places. Palm fronds rarely turn brilliant red and orange the way leaves do in the rest of the country, and for Floridians sweaters exist only as rumor. We at Cigar City rely heavily on our seasonal beers to mark the passing of each month and few beers are better at heralding the arrival of autumn than our Oktoberfest Lager.

Our Festbier nods firmly toward the style’s history with it’s amber color, bready malt complexity and restrained hop flavor and bitterness. At the heart of this beer is a malt bill of six different German malt varieties, including a generous helping of Munich malt. After adding Hallertauer Mittlefruh hops we ferment the beer with an authentic Bavarian lager yeast, resulting in a clean, dry and complex lager that’s at once intriguing and drinkable.

Oktoberfest (Marzen Style) – (Hackettstown, NJ )

Image courtesy of Jersey Girl’s Facebook page

I had to include at least one NJ brewery in this post since quite a few around me brew a version of the style. Of the half-dozen beers I’ve had from Jersey Girl, I’ve really enjoyed them all. I like that these are 16oz cans, as is all of Jersey Girl’s canned beer. Also, I’m not going to lie, I really like the label on this one.

What Jersey Girl says about the beer:

With an ABV of 5.9%, it’s a delicious Copper Hued Märzen. Oktoberfest started as a festival where the citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the royal wedding of King Ludwig I and Princess Therese. In honor of this celebration we have brewed a medium bodied, Copper Hued lager.

Oktoberfest – Lakefront Brewery (Milwaukee, WI)

Image courtesy of Lakefront Brewery’s Web site

I’ve seen good things about Lakefront’s interpretation of the style (3.90 bottle caps on untappd) and I’ve had a handful of pretty good brews from the Milwaukee regional brewery. I don’t see their beers everywhere near me, but in enough of the liquor stores in my travel radius that snagging some shouldn’t be a problem. At the least, maybe I’ll throw a mix-six pack together at Wegmans and try to grab this one.

What Lakefront says about the beer:

The radiant copper-orange hue and rocky, off-white head of our traditional Märzen-style lager comes from generous amounts of Munich malt. Caramel malt aromas complement the German lager yeast’s slightly floral aroma. Mt. Hood hops balance the substantial malt body, while the lager yeast adds a subtlety to the flavor, making this a great rendition of a classic German lager. Prost!

Oktoberfest – von Trapp Brewing (Stowe, VT)

Image courtesy of von Trapp Brewing’s Web site

From one of the most Germanic of all breweries in America, von Trapp’s Oktoberfest one I’d like to try. I’ve enjoyed their Bock and their Helles Lager quite a bit, so I’m interested in tasting their take on the iconic style.

What von Trapp says about the beer:

The Bronze Medalist at the Great International Beer Festival and Attitash Oktoberfest “Best Brew Award” in both 2015 and 2016.

Oktoberfest is brewed with a blend of light and dark Munich Malts, which not only adds to its depth but delivers a residual sweetness. Carmel and toffee notes linger but are balanced by the subtle hops additions in this beer. We use hallertau and Tettnang hops which adds a floral yet peppery aroma to this beer. It’s our take on this traditional fest beer.

So there it is, my 2018 Oktoberfest Six Pack. I hope to try at least one or two of these over the next few weeks. Perhaps as you head into the coming weekend and prepare for next weekend’s (09/22/18) official start to Oktoberfest 2018, you’ll give one of these a try.

Draught Diversions: Sierra Nevada Beer Camp 2017 Six from the States

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and non-review posts here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

This is the first of two posts focusing on Sierra Nevada’s annual collaboration beer project, Beer Camp. I had couple from last year’s mix pack, but this is the first year I picked up the whole 12 pack. For 2017, the fine brewers at Sierra Nevada invited breweries from around the world to collaborate and as such, this year’s variety pack features 12 different brews, six collaborations with US breweries, 6 collaborations with oversees breweries, three of which (all from the US) are 16oz cans.

Today, I’m going to give my thoughts about the six collaboration beers between Sierra Nevada and breweries from the United States. I’ll go from the one I enjoyed the least and finish it off with the one I enjoyed the most.

West Coast DIPA – A collaboration with Boneyard Beer (Bend, OR)

As I’ve said a few times, IPAs are not my preferred style of beer. On occasion, I will find one that is to my liking but as a style IPAs are unavoidable since they are so popular. If I don’t enjoy a “single” IPA, chances are I won’t enjoy a Double IPA and that is the case with this beer. Everything I don’t like about IPAs, especially Double IPAs are highlighted in this beer. The hop presences is funky, piney and extremely overpowering. The bitterness exemplified by IPA/DIPA is on full display in this pint. I like there to be a little more of a malt profile, but this one had none of that, or at best, was overpowered out by the drowning hop presence. This was a rare case of me actually pouring out a beer I paid for, I couldn’t finish this one as it hit every wrong button in my palate. That said, if you love DIPA as a style, chances are you’ll love this one. This one was in a 16 oz can.

Barleywine style Ale – A collaboration with Avery Brewing (Boulder, CO)

I haven’t had too many Barleywines, not out of dislike, more out of just not gravitating towards them. If I’m going to be honest, they are often at a price tag of $15 for a four pack and I’m hesitant to spend that much on four beers I may not like, which is why I’ll order them if I’m at a bar with a good beer menu. This one was pretty good.

Most Barleywines have a big hop hit and this one was no exception at 90 IBU. The IBU was a bit much for my palate. I think I prefer the “English” style of Barleywines, which tend to have a lower hop presence and are usually a bit sweeter with the malt overtaking the hop presence. This one tasted like a variant on Sierra’s popular Bigfoot Barleywine, which is essentially what this brew is. In other words, if you like Bigfoot, you’ll probably like this one.

Ginger Lager – A collaboration with Surly Brewing (Minneapolis, MN)

This was an interesting beer and not like many I’ve had before. This one, as I said on untappd, has “all the ginger,” which given the title, is no surprise. The description indicates there’s cayenne pepper added, too, but all I tasted was ginger. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this one since ginger is a flavor I only really enjoy in Asian food. This is the kind of beer one would expect in a variety of experimental beers, not exactly to my taste, but an interesting beer altogether. This was one of the other 16 oz cans.

Dry-Hopped Berliner-Style Weisse – A collaboration with Saint Arnold Brewing Company (Houston, TX)

Berliner Weisse is a style I’ve really come to enjoy over the past couple of years and this sour-wheat beer is a really good example of the style. It isn’t too overpowering on the sour end of things and is a little more tart than sour. This beer hit all the right notes associated with the style, though I would have like to taste a bit more fruit in the beer. I could see myself going back to this one again.

Now, for my two favorites of the Stateside Collaborations

Raspberry Sundae – A collaboration with The Bruery (Placentia, CA)

Again, the name implies it all – Raspberry Sundae. This is a perfect dessert beer or one for the middle of a warm day. The raspberry flavor isn’t overpowering, for me at least, and blends well with the chocolate for an extremely pleasant and tasty beer. Per the description linked above, lactose is also added which enhances the flavor even more. I think I enjoy sweeter beers more than most, so this beer worked really well for my palate.

The beer pours golden-red and the aroma, coupled with the taste, give a nice evocation of what you get at your ice cream parlor when you order a raspberry sundae while still retaining the flavor profile of a delicious beer. I’ve had a couple of the Christmas offerings in The Bruery’s ongoing/annual 12 Beers of Christmas and they were both delicious. I was looking forward to this beer because of that and I was not disappointed in the least. I’d definitely buy this one if it became available in 4 packs, 22oz bombs, or somehow on its own.

East Meets West IPA – A collaboration with Treehouse Brewing Company (Charlton & Monson, MA)

This beer surprised me the most. First and foremost I never thought I’d enjoy an IPA more than four other styles, especially when one of those styles is a wheat-based beer. Second, I was so disappointed by the other Stateside IPA I was even more hesitant to give this beer from a 16oz can a full pour.

After thoroughly enjoying this beer, I think I came to the conclusion that I prefer East Coast / New England style IPAs over their West Coast cousins. The hop profile of many West Coast beers, especially the IPAs, just don’t register positively in my palate.

But this beer, with its citrusy and sweet profile complementing the hops was delightful. It poured a bright and inviting orange-yellow almost like orange juice, as I’ve seen quite a few of the New England IPAs on untappd. The aroma is fairly hop-forward, but that first sip just sets the taste buds crazy begging for another sip. And another.

This is, what I believe many craft beer, especially those who favor IPAs. would call a juice bomb. I’m glad this one came in a 16oz can and would buy this one over and over again, it was a delicious surprise that stands out as my favorite of the Stateside Beer Camp collaborations.

I’m going to have to hunt down some IPAs from the fine folks at Treehouse.