Beer Review 0477: Bell’s This One Goes To 11 Red Ale

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Alright, so I’m a little late to the party on this one, but for good reason. In mid-2012, Bell’s Brewery (Kalamazoo, Michigan) produced their 11,000th batch — as they had done for previous milestones, they created a special beer to celebrate, although this brew had an actual name rather than simply “Batch #XXXXX,” e.g. Batch 10,000 or Batch 9,000. (It should be noted that with Batch #11,000, Bell’s stopped producing these special edition beers.) This One Goes To 11 is a massive Red Ale, brewed with Southern Hemisphere and Pacific Northwest hops, including the super popular relatively new variety called Mosaic. The beer rings in at 11% ABV (alcohol by volume) and was a limited release that hit shelves in September 2012.

Unfortunately, the Bell’s distributor in North Carolina bungled this release; instead of getting bottles and kegs, they only got kegs. When I first heard about this beer, I was immediately excited for three reasons: 1. It’s Bell’s; 2. This is a gigantically hopped beer, which I love; and 3. The obvious reference to one of the greatest movies ever made, Spinal Tap:

What’s not to love? Well, you can imagine my disappointment when I found out that my state wouldn’t be getting bottles of this. Luckily, I happened to find it on draft one night and drank a glass. I wrote about it on my supplementary site on November 3, saying, “See how it says INTENSITY on the label? They’re absolutely correct on that front. The hops scrape your tongue with pine, grapefruit, and candied orange, while the malty balance adds twists of complexity that turn up the volume even more. Caramel, sweet bread, and white pepper lead to the finish that has another hop kick, and a big alcohol warmth through the nose. The 11% is hidden in the taste, but you feel it through the sinus and having more than one of these would be a challenge.”

So, how did I end up with a bottle of this so I could finally formally review it? Thanks to Dave (Untappd user OnWisconsin), who offered this up in trade. It was his last bottle, so a huge thanks to him! Now, a reminder before I review it: as of today, September 13, this beer has been in the bottle exactly one year. I’m not sure how that hoppy flavor profile has held up, so I will be taking that into account while reviewing. Please know that this is not a review of a beer that is fresh, as it was intended to be enjoyed. I’m only reviewing this because I wanted to do it and never got the opportunity. And, maybe it’s a legitimate excuse to put that Spinal Tap video on my website.

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The pour kicked up a small, creamy head that quickly diminished. The beer was as promised, reddish-amber in color, and was quite cloudy. I noted a fairly thick layer of sediment at the bottom of the bottle, but this distributed into the beer so as to not form floating particles or sediment. Lacing was fair, leaving behind several pods of soap sudsy bubbles.

Here’s where the age factor starts to come into play: the nose is nearly hop-deaf and almost all bready caramel. But there are some hops that do cut through all the sweetness; there’s some orange, which becomes candied when combined with the sweet grain bill, and also some fleshy grapefruit and a mild tropical fruit juice. This is certainly a pleasant smelling aroma but it’s definitely more Barleywine than anything hop-forward at this point. As it warms, some dark fruit notes begin to show, and even some woodsy oak.

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On the palate, there’s a baseline of very sweet caramel throughout, with other players moving in and out to contribute to the flavor. The caramel is consistent and is joined at the start by candied orange and quite a bit of tropical fruits, but this is quickly replaced by even more bready caramel, fruitcake, and a hit of alcohol. The finish comes on with mild grapefruit, Tootsie Rolls, and a big warming sensation in the sinus. I’d call the concluding notes bittersweet, as there is just an edge of bitterness to reign in the dominant (but not overwhelming) sweetness. This One Goes To 11 is full-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.

Indeed, it says INTENSITY on the label, and it is still intense, just in a very different way. This is an interesting study of a beer; I can’t say either way whether I liked it better fresh or not, but I enjoyed it both ways. The 11% alcohol was unaffected by the age, but the hops sure diminished, showing you what a large malt backing Bell’s had on this beer from the start. If you like Barleywine, you’ll enjoy this beer, and if you have more stored somewhere, I would definitely hang tight to it and let it go for another year.

Bell’s This One Goes To 11 Red Ale, 87 points. Price: $13.99 US for a six-pack.

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