Beer Review 0384: Allagash FV13 American Wild Ale

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Allagash Brewing Company are based in Portland, Maine, and specialize in Belgian-style beers. Inspired by his travels and recognizing a void in Belgian-style selections here in the United States, Rob Tod founded Allagash in 1995, and hasn’t looked back since. Allagash are well-respected in the beer industry and are New England’s original Belgian-style brewery, using authentic ingredients and brewing methods.

I haven’t reviewed many Allagash beers, and that certainly needs to be remedied. (Hey, I can only get to so many at a time!) We have a special beer to look at today; FV13 is a beer I knew nothing about, and stumbled upon this rare offering in the right place at the right time — my bottle shop received only SIX bottles of this beer.

So what makes it so rare? Well, first, FV13 is a Wild Ale aged in oak barrels. The barrels used are actually called foudres, which is a French word for a high capacity barrel. FV13 — named after foudre 13, Allagash’s first high capacity oak tank, formerly used to make wine — sits in its oak container for four years where wild yeasts (Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus) are added for souring. The beer finishes at 8.9% ABV (alcohol by volume) and then goes to the bottling line, which is another installment of our story…

So how do you get beer stored inside a 2700 gallon foudre into bottles? The answer is 300 gallons at a time — segments of the beer were offloaded into smaller vessels, then each 375 ml bottle was HAND FILLED. After finishing with a cork and cage, Allagash used a 1940’s printing press to make labels.

Nothing seems easy about this beer, which might be why it is so rare. Without further ado, let’s give it a review!

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FV13 pours with a large, dense, tightly compacted head that is especially creamy and long lasting. It never completely disappears, and is always hanging out over the beer in a thin cover. The color of the brew is amber with orange highlights, and the body is very cloudy. There are heavy particles and sediment, but nothing I’d classify as being chunky. I did swirl the bottle before the last of the pour to get all the goodies out. Lacing is good, leaving behind a few thick patches. This is an awesome looking beer.

On the initial sniff, there’s plenty of sharp and tart cherry, some vinegar, and oxidation. As the beer warms, the aroma gets better, bringing on a note of grape and accentuating the malt backbone, which is quite hefty — plenty of deeply sweet caramel and a touch of roast. There are definite wine-like qualities here, and a nice presence of funky, dank yeast.

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Tasting, and the initial notes are tart dark cherries mixed with grapes, which stays steady until the swallow, when the malts kick in. The tartness is eased for a bit with bready caramel, giving off a savory sweetness. The final lingering notes mix sweet with sour, as candy-apple caramel collide with tart dark cherries, grapes, and Granny Smith apples. There’s a dash of the oak barrel, perhaps some vanilla, present too. As the beer warms, it gets much better, with the sour being scaled down in favor of the obvious base beer. FV13 is medium-bodied, with a medium mouthfeel that dries out the palate significantly.

Speaking as someone who doesn’t normally prefer sour beers, this is pretty good. I like that the sour doesn’t dominate, and the range of flavors really show themselves as this drink warms. However, with four years committed to this beer, I’m not sure the end result is worth it. Lots of time went into this brew, and it commands a large price tag — but I’m left feeling a bit unsatisfied. With four years investment, I was expecting something incredible, but was left with something just really good.

Allagash FV13 American Wild Ale, 86 points. Price: $12.99 for one 375 ml (12.7 oz.) corked & caged bottle.

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