If you read my Ale Series, you learned about “old ale” as a style in the context of Beau’s “Gilgamesh.” If you haven’t already, it is a unique style worth exploring. I was an instant fan of Amsterdam Brewing from the first taste of their “Boneshaker” IPA which has been a staple in my fridge ever since … so I’ve been looking forward to trying another of their creations – but also wondering if they could possibly live up to the success of that first product I tasted.
Vicar’s Vice is, on paper, nothing like the Boneshaker. Indeed the gorgeous old-style label looking like vellum tells you the brewery is going all-in on this beer. I mean, the label really is gorgeous and just as beautiful in the hand. As an aside, I can’t tell you how many beers have left poor first impressions before I even tasted them with their sloppily applied, dinged-up labels, on worn old bottles. I really appreciate a brewer’s attention to detail – which says to me that they don’t think this is “just” beer … it’s an experience.
And indeed, at 8.1%, I knew this beer was going to be an experience and when it poured a deep dark, chocolaty brown, I knew I had picked a great brew for this chilly, grey day. And once the almond bit of head faded from its surface, this beer revealed pretty much all its secrets in the nose: roasted malts which is as it should as an old ale.
The aroma was smokey caramel with some earthy sugars that pulled in the yeasts and some definite chocolate right out of the glass. The alcohol so common with big dark ales is there as well … but unlike many that reek of ethanol, this one smelled like it was in balance.
A first sip revealed much the same. Tight, not overly effervescent bubbles upfront — they created a nice mouthfeel from beginning to end. The malty chocolate is quite upfront along with dried fruit — much like the label describes — and which emerges well in the middle taste profile. I definitely buy into the sweet dried dates in the middle and, yes, something akin to apricots or even dried mango at the end. All this is to say, this is a malty ale, but the malts are anything but one-dimensional … and if you’re a person drawn to the bitter, hoppy ales of the day and not sure you like malts, this beer will turn your head and convince you otherwise. It tells you that malts in a big dark beer don’t have to be cloying and sweet. You don’t have to have something that tastes like hops in an alcoholic cough syrup. My other complaint with some big bad dark ales, like some porters, is that there can be at the end an over-pronounced earthiness mixed with the alcohol: something earthy, like the forest floor. While there is certainly a bit of earthiness with this as well – I suspect it is the result of deep dark malts — but in this case, instead of a rotting old log, I would liken this to roasted hazelnuts and dried prunes. This is why I think it pairs exceptionally well with a rich, meaty and slightly sweet food like poutine. And, indeed, with food, I think this beer is even better with an almost chocolate-covered-nut aftertaste. Pretty cool.
Still, I will say that the biggest and most delicious surprise of this beer are the 34 IBUs … which I’d say are twice that of many dark ales and moving it into “extra special bitter” territory. That is to say, this beer has a delightful ending, like hot and sour soup, like peanut butter and pretzels … it puts the yin in the yang.
All in all, this is a well balanced beer, with decent complexity; layers that will surely please from beginning to end. Another very solid product from Amsterdam Brewery. Definitely worth a few looks.
Stats: Old Ale. 8.1% ABV. Toronto, Ontario
Colour: Dark chocolate brown
Mouth Feel: Medium carbonation.
Pairing Notes: Poutine
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