Beer Review 0317: Fullsteam Fruitcake… The Beer Old Ale

(Editors note: Without the help of Charles Jones, a complete stranger until the release of this beer, I would have never gotten to review or enjoy Fullsteam Fruitcake. Charles graciously got me a bottle and saved it until we could meet up — thanks again! This beer, released a few days before Christmas to a store called Bestway in Greensboro, NC — was denied to me because the store “didn’t have it in their system” despite having the product and knowing for several days they would be receiving it. Bestway is a 45-minute drive from my house, and they wanted me to return the next day to buy it. I later found out that they began selling the beer a mere 30 minutes after I left; I had offered to stay up to an hour so they could “put it in their system.” If your beer travels ever take you to Greensboro, I recommend you skip Bestway and look for other, friendlier places to buy your beer.)

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Fullsteam Brewery is located Durham, North Carolina, which makes it a local brewery for me. The craft beer world is going crazy here in North Carolina; not only are some of the big boys coming to our backyard (New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, and Oskar Blues), but we also have a ton of smaller, truly local breweries that are hitting home runs with their beer.

And while beer is exploding here in NC, Fullsteam are seeking to create an identity for beer created in the South: brews that celebrate the culinary and agricultural heritage of this area. I don’t think I could find a better beer from them to review that holds to this goal — while Fullsteam do have several year-round beers and some seasonals, they also produce a series they call ‘Forager,’ which is beer brewed with ingredients harvested by the community. What a sweet concept!

How it works: Fullsteam uses the interwebs to put out a call for ingredients. You respond, and they pay you market price for your goods, and give you a bottle of the beer when it’s ready. I don’t think I’ve seen another brewery doing this, and I’m proud to have Fullsteam in my home state.

Fullsteam’s 2012 holiday beer is Fruitcake… The Beer, which is an Old Ale brewed with local roasted chestnuts and a combination of grilled local and not-so-local figs. Because of a soft fig harvest, some came from California, but the rest came locally, and harvesters were paid $2 per pound. The chestnuts came from High Rock Farm, which is in nearby Rockingham County. The beer is aged on bourbon barrels and can be aged for extended periods, like a fine fruitcake. Alcohol content (ABV) comes in at 9.5%.

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Fruitcake pours with a large, bright white, creamy head that had soapy bubbles in the center. The head stuck around awhile, before it audibly fizzed away, but as it warmed, it completely disappeared — no swirling the glass to regenerate here. The beer itself was crystal clear; a nice, bright amber in color, and had no particles or sediment. Lacing was minimal, but there were plenty of alcohol legs when the brew was swirled.

Bourbon was heavy on the aromatics; in fact, this is one of, if not the most bourbon-forward beer I’ve ever laid nose to. If you don’t like bourbon, that could be bad…but I love bourbon, so for me, it’s good. Very good. Loads of coconut and woodsy oak, followed by a good dose of fig. It’s so bourbon-y that it borderline hit banana creamsicle. Supporting players were vanilla and caramel. The nose here is quite unique and enjoyable.

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Tasting, and wow, this is nothing like an Old Ale. This hits the palate with lots of coconut, banana, fig, and oak up front, and it warms fast with a big dose of untamed alcohol. The bourbon really takes over in the middle, and the finish comes on with sweetness, a fig/prune note, deep caramel, and toasted oak. The final flavor is a mild bourbon, with a fairly large alcohol burn. I found Fruitcake to be medium-bodied, with a medium mouthfeel, quite foamy when swirled around the tongue.

If going by style, it misses the mark of Old Ale. Bottom line here, a month after being placed in the bottle, this beer is a bourbon bomb and that tends to mask the fig and chestnut flavors. While this might not be “fruitcake” as advertised, if you’re into bourbon barrel aged beers, you’ll probably dig this. With a couple years of age, I think the other flavors will probably come out more. Some people will see this as a sweet boozy mess, and it does walk a fine line…but I found more to like here than dislike. Perfect for the bitterly cold night I enjoyed it.

And, hey… fruitcake is kind of an oddball thing, and this beer is a touch oddball.

Fullsteam Fruitcake… The Beer Old Ale, 87 points. Price: $14.99 US for one 750 ml bottle.

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