Thursday, August 9, 2012

529. Great Divide 15th-18th Anniversary Wood Aged DIPA

Obviously, we’ve been sitting on these for a while—just a touch over three years, to be precise. But it is small verticals of beers like these that make cellaring an enjoyable and fruitful endeavor. As those of you who are avid readers know, we’re partial to Great Divide, although that partiality may have waned a bit. Nonetheless, this collection of beers was an excellent addition to the Great Divide beers we’ve experienced in the past: Grand Cru, Yeti ’08-’10, Smoked Baltic Porter, 16th Anniversary Wood Aged DIPA, Hercules DIPA, Wild Raspberry Ale, Hibernation, Samurai Rice, Hoss, Espresso Oak Aged Yeti, Fresh Hop, Double Wit, 15th Anniversary DIPA, and Denver Pale Ale. Dag. We’re getting up there.

Described on all four of the bottles as “quintessential” and “commemorative,” 15th-18th Anniversary Wood Aged DIPAs all pour a similar shade of tan and caramel—except for the bottle of 16th, which was notably lighter colored. Clarity also varied; all were pretty good, but 18th was stunningly clear, while the rest had different levels of slight hazing. All were squarely in the Great Divide family of beers, with a depth of malt flavor and body that supported the other components of the beer. I’m pretty certain I’ve said this in the past, but it bears repeating: the malt character of these strikes me as more British than American. And since we’ve tried some of these before (a while ago, admittedly), I’m going to focus mainly on the differences in flavor and mouthfeel—the color run down above pretty much sums it up.

15th Anniversary, bottled on June 29, 2009: Surprisingly, this one still had a fair amount of hop character to it—we could taste the pine and evergreen, although the bitterness was more hidden by the body. There was also a fair amount of oak still present, albeit it balanced by the chewy malt character—one of my notes calls it “chewy wood.” Some slight oxidized sherry and paper flavors were present as the beer warmed, but in a complementary manner. The vanilla flavors balanced well with the body, and the mouthfeel was creamy, rounded, and smooth. There was some lingering tannic bite still in the finish, along with a touch of warmth, although it was at this point low and very even and smooth. Age had served this beer well; the hop flavor, though, was something of a surprise here.

16th Anniversary, bottled on June 25, 2010: The lighter color corresponded with a different malt character—there was more butterscotch and caramel, although the beer had a chewy mouthfeel like the rest of them. There was less alcohol warmth than the rest—this one was by far the smoothest and cleanest of the group. The tannic oak character and bite was there in the finish, but it also dried the tongue and palate. There were less oxidized sherry notes, and less oak as a whole, apart from the tannic presence in the finish. I’d call this beer better and more approachable than the 15th—it is more even, cleaner, and has more depth and subtlety.

17th Anniversary, bottled on March 29, 2011: The oak flavor tasted younger, sharper, and more aggressive in this beer—the tannic bite was still a bit much. There was not much in the way of vanilla from the oak, which was somewhat surprising. You could also smell the creamy bitterness in the nose, and taste it more clearly in the body of the beer. As well, the alcohol heat was more pronounced than the last two, which is not surprising, given the age, but the contrast between this and 16th, which had less alcohol presence than 15th, made the effect more pronounced. With warmth, the evergreen hop flavors emerged more explicitly, pushing the previously noted bitter flavors. Besides the chewy malt, the creamy, rounded mouthfeel stood out in this beer in relation to the other components. With warmth, there was better balance achieved between malt chewiness and alcohol flavor—this one came on at the end.

18th Anniversary, bottled on March 21, 2012: The chewy malt character of this version featured rich caramel flavors. As well, the oak tasted even younger and greener than in 17th; there was a touch of vanilla—which was missing in 17th—and tannic bite and tang. The alcohol was hotter and younger tasting, and there was more warmth on the tongue than any of the previous beers. As the beer warmed, pine and evergreen hop flavors became much more apparent, the last portion of the bottle, which had some yeast dregs, further accentuated the hop flavors.

Several of the distinctions drawn above were mainly apparent from trying the beers next to one another—I’m certain the oak character of 17th and 18th wouldn’t have seemed as aggressive if they weren’t being directly compared to the smoothness (or absence) of the other two. And the same goes for alcohol warmth and flavor—the smoothness of 15th and the even smoother 16th made the distinctions that much more evident in comparison. As well, the malt flavor and character in all four continued to round and get chewier as the beers warmed, although not always with the exact same results, and evergreen and pine hop flavor also emerged with warmth. I’m still not sure which of the four I liked the best, although I do know that 18th needs more time. The cleanness and smoothness of 16th was its strength, but I liked the slightly bolder oak and hop flavors of 15th, and as noted above, once 17th warmed up, it became a completely different—and much better—beer. I’m not sure it completely turned the corner in comparison, but choosing between 15th and 16th would require favoring one distinct set of characteristics over another—they are, I think it safe to say, that different of beers at this point. I’m pretty sure the vast majority of those sampling would give the nod to 16th—I know Elli does—but I’m going to take the higher (and by that I mean lamer) road and abstain from choosing.

From the bottle: “Based on our award-winning beer, Denver Pale Ale, this copper-hued treat is a celebration of everything Great Divide does best. Plenty of malty sweetness provides a backdrop for earthy, floral English and American hops, while French and American oak round off the edges and provide a touch of vanilla. Thanks to everyone who’s supported us for the last 15-18 years—here’s to 15-18 more!"

ABV: 10.0%

P.S. Oh, and Jeffrey, when it comes to beer, I’m hard pour.


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