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.

Beer Review: Firestone Walker’s Old Man Hattan

Name: Old Man Hattan
Brewing Company: Firestone Walker Brewing Company
Location: Paso Robles, CA
Style: Strong Ale – American
ABV: 9.6%

A potent beer evoking two popular potent bourbon-based cocktails makes for a complex and tasty slow-sipping dark ale.

From Firestone Walker’s landing page for this beer:

A barrel-aged mashup of two classic cocktails: the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan.

This inaugural Proprietor’s Vintage release features a blend of five notable Firestone Walker beers, including select lots of Parabola and Helldorado aged in cherry, orange and aromatic bitters barrels.

The result is a barnstorming beer that exhibits pronounced whiskey notes while artfully expressing essences of both the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan cocktails.

Originally conceived as a brewery-only Black Friday release, Old Man Hattan now makes its Proprietor’s Vintage debut due to popular demand.

I’ve been wanting to feature a beer from Firestone Walker on here for a while. Granted, one of their beers (Nitro Merlin Milk Stout) was the second beer I ever reviewed here at the Tap Takeover, but their barrel aging program and blending programs are arguably the best/most respected in the country, whether those beers are on the sour side or on the big stout/dark ale side.

The beers in this “Proprietor’s Vintage” aren’t always the most widely distributed or easiest to find, and when they do appear on shelves they don’t last for long. I’d been hoping to get a bottle of this one specifically given that part of the aim of Firestone Walker in brewing this beer is to evoke the classic “Old Fashioned” drink, my favorite cocktail. So, let’s get into it, shall we?

The beer pours dark, maybe a very deep brown, maybe black, maybe even dark burnt sienna. In one of the lights in my house, I can almost see a deep reddish brown. The aroma is strongly of beer, strongly of the bourbon, and of the bitters. At least from the aroma perspective, I’m getting the evocation of the Old Fashioned and Manhattan Firestone was aiming to evoke. So far, so good.

That first sip sure is interesting, I don’t quite think I’ve had a beer like this before. That’s good, by the way, because I like what I’m tasting. More of the beer proves the same. The beer elements remind me of a stout, but not quite as heavy on the roasted malts as a stout. I’d expect some roasted malts from a Russian Imperial Stout (Parabola) and maybe hops from a Barleywine (Helldorado), the two styles of beer which comprise this blend. Again, the absence of the strong roasted malts isn’t bad. The hop presence is mild, too. I get a little bit of hops, but not overpowering. The beer elements are there, bottom line.

What does come through are the whiskey/bourbon elements from the aging of the two base beers. I also strongly get fruit elements from the bitters barrels, cherry and orange most strongly. The beer finishes its journey through my palate with the same little pep that an Old Fashioned does. A great flavor finish that encourages careful and thoughtful consumption, rather than quickly throwing back the beer.

This beer is a great example of how complex flavors can be coaxed into beer through innovative brewing, blending, and barreling methods. I’ve had two of these boxed barrel aged beers from Firestone Walker and now I want to give more of them a try, particularly the beers blended to make this beer. Ten bucks for a 12oz beer, but you’re getting a beer bottled in very limited quantities (3,000, I think) and a beer that has undergone an extensive aging/blending process to get to what is in the bottle. It is also clocking in at just under 10% ABV, so the price is more than justified and well worth trying.

Highly recommended, link to 4.25 bottle-cap Untappd check in.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Iron Man(Level 8)

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 40 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.

Beer Review: Yards’ Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale

Name: Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale
Brewing Company: Yards Brewing Company
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Style: Strong Ale – English
ABV: 8.0%

The beer’s description on Yard’s Landing Page for the beer:

This powerful and complex golden ale pays homage to Founding Father and fellow brewer, Thomas Jefferson. Yards Brewmaster, Tom Kehoe, worked closely with Philadelphia’s historic City Tavern to recreate this recipe, employing honey, rye, and wheat, just like the beer Jefferson made at Monticello.

Yards Brewing is one of the most recognizable and long-standing American Craft Breweries, an East Coast institution since 1994. Much of their portfolio leans heavily on British brewing traditions and early American brewing traditions, like the “Beers of the Revolution” subset, including this Tavern Ale, an interpretation of Thomas Jefferson’s recipe. With the President’s Day holiday yesterday and the Philadelphia Eagles winning the Super Bowl two weeks ago, what better time to highlight a presidential beer from a Philadelphia brewery?

What exactly is a tavern ale? I’m not too sure, but what *this* tavern ale is is a Strong English Ale. That may not be may not the hottest or most popular style of beer, but that doesn’t mean the beer can’t be well-crafted and pleasing.

The beer pours a deep gold, almost amber, with a decent head atop the glass. There’s a lot of malt in this beer, the wheat and rye combine really nicely to give this beer a solid, appreciable backbone. There’s also a sweetness up front in the beer from the honey that makes Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale a really balanced ale.

This is more of a slow-sipping beer than a guzzler or a crusher. Whereas much of the American craft beer on the market falls into the IPA and Stout categories, it is nice to see a steadfast traditional style in continuous production.

The maltiness and overall way the beer felt as I was drinking it reminded me of an Oktoberfest or Märzen beer. This beer; however, is stronger, available year-round, and sweetened by the honey. That’s where you have to be a little cautious, the beer is very drinkable with the sweet malt, but the 8% makes it a beer you don’t want to crush. This is the type of beer you would enjoy in a pub amongst friends after a long day of work, while waiting for your barmaid or bartender to serve you that order of French Fries you’ve been craving.

Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale, like many beers from Yards, is very widely available, in bottles and on draft. It is also part of the Ales of the Revolution branding (as the label states) and available in an Ales of the Revolution variety pack along with General Washington Tavern Porter and Poor Richard Tavern Spruce. I haven’t had the other two “Ales of the Revolution,” at least since being on untappd, so I may have to give them a try.

I’ve only had small sips of this one at brewfests and beer tastings, but liked it enough to give a fully try. I’m glad I did and could find myself reaching for this beer again in the future.

Recommended, link to Untappd 3.75-bottle cap rating.