Beer Review 0313: Westbrook Vanilla Tree Dubbel

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I took a trip down to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for the New Year holiday, and an out of town trip naturally means a visit to a couple of local bottle shops for beers I can’t get back home. Westbrook Brewing Company makes beer in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. I picked up four bottles of their brew for review, and I’ll be going through those all this week.

While Westbrook’s website doesn’t divulge much history about the brewery, they are pretty new to the scene, having first produced beer in late 2010. The founder, Ed Westbrook, started with a local home brewing club, earning the name “Prolific Ed” because he brought 5-10 different home brews to the club each month. After graduating Furman University with a degree in computer science and later Clemson University with a MBA, Ed had the idea to start a brewery.

Planning began in 2009, and Mr. Westbrook hired an experienced brewmaster to run the show, given that he had no commercial brewery experience. Currently, Westbrook list two year-round brews and a host of seasonal/special offerings; in fact, they have so many of these type beers that I couldn’t find either of their regularly scheduled programming. Every beer I came home with is either seasonal or special release.

Vanilla Tree Dubbel is Westbrook’s fall/winter seasonal, brewed in the months of October-February. The beer is a Belgian-style dubbel that sees aging on whole vanilla beans and oak chips. The beer is 7.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 20 IBU (International Bitterness Units).

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The pour drew a small, soapy and frothy head, lasting with large bubbles. The beer looked murky brown out of the light, but in the brights, it was ruby red with a clear body, free of particles and sediment. Toward the bottom of the bottle, the yeast clouded up the beer significantly. Lacing was fair, leaving behind only small dots of suds as I sampled.

The aroma featured a main note of yeast; a sharp, bready punch, laced with a soft backing of orange peel and spiciness. There is a large presence of woodsy oak, some mild vanilla, and a sweetness that contributes caramel and brown sugar. The malt base is some general toasted aromas, and I could swear there was a bit of cinnamon in here. Pleasant, but heavy on the oak.

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On the taste, this is a tale of two beers — without significant yeast in the glass, this beer is loaded with the oak chips, which opens to the vanilla and some caramel on the swallow. It finishes with a touch of the spicy yeast, a deeper vanilla, and brown sugar. With the yeast in the glass, the woodiness mellows significantly, changing the finish to more dark fruit (raisin, specifically), vanilla, and cinnamon. Vanilla Tree is medium-bodied, with a medium mouthfeel, foamy in texture, with average carbonation.

This is certainly an interesting beer that I believe could improve if the oak was dialed down and the vanilla turned up — it’s interesting how barrel aged oak beers tend to be smooth, while beers put on oak chips tend to be ultra woodsy and moderately out of balance. A tasty beer that I think is worth your time, at least once. Reminds me very much of 21st Amendment Monks’ Blood (91 points).

Westbrook Vanilla Tree Dubbel, 89 points. Price: $6.17 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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