Beer Review 0549: Great Divide Hibernation Old Ale

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Great Divide Brewing Co. is the vision of Brian Dunn, who during the late 1980’s, spent five years outside of the United States building farms in developing countries. Dunn had a passion for beer, and upon returning home to Colorado, started home brewing and graduated from college.

Dunn thought that he could start a brewery in Denver, and with help from family, friends, and a loan from the city, Great Divide started producing beers in 1994. At first, Dunn was the only employee — but his beers were outstanding, winning medals at beer festivals and catching attention by word of mouth.

Things got big, and today Great Divide has 47 employees, and has won eighteen Great American Beer Festival medals. Now brewing 9 year-round beers and 12 seasonals, Great Divide proudly says they have “something for everyone.”

The October-December seasonal from Great Divide is their Hibernation Ale, an English-style Old Ale that has been in production since 1995. While you might think this to be a malt bomb, it’s actually dry-hopped, a bit unusual for this style. But Great Divide still promise plenty of malt, and something must be going right considering this brew won a silver medal at the 2003 Great American Beer Festival. Hibernation Ale comes in at 8.7% ABV (alcohol by volume).

Before I get to the pour, it should be noted that the bottling date on the label was stamped 9/19/2014. How cool is it to have next year’s batch already? Must have been a problem with the dating machine that day…

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Flowing out of the bottle, Hibernation Ale produced a small, soapy head that quickly diminished. The color of the beer was a lovely shade of red when held to light; out of light, its murky brown. The beer is clear, obviously filtered, and there were no particles or sediment to observe. Lacing was good, leaving behind wispy thin sheets of light tan foam.

On the aroma, heavy malts and steady hops provide for a deep and pungent scent supported primarily by sweetened coffee, hazelnut, and dark chocolate. The hops are also significant, contributing a big note of pine and some lemon peel, but are generally overshadowed by the malts. It’s like there is a battle being fought here and the winner is your nose, because this brew smells very nice. There’s lots of roast here and it reminded me of a Black IPA much more than an Old Ale. The hazelnut threw me for a loop, as I didn’t really expect it — it’s like the coffee aroma is sweetened with hazelnut. Nice.

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And the taste supports the Black IPA theory — loads of pine collide with milk chocolate, producing a moderate bitterness that grows more stiff as the flavors begin to unwind. A brisk note of coffee is introduced, and when combined with dry grapefruit, really amps up the acidic and bitterness aspect. It begins to smooth over with a bit of sweet hazelnut, but more black coffee is poured on for the finish, which is solidly bitter; however, as it continues to play out, a wall of dark chocolate overtakes the coffee, turning the finish bittersweet. But the hop players never exit out of the game, riding fresh pine and citrus until the end, making this a confusing drink for the style. Hibernation is full-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.

If we’re grading by style, the mark isn’t met, but luckily, we aren’t — and never do. At this moment, Hibernation drinks like a Black IPA, but some age could and will probably drastically change that. And yes, this is full-flavored, perhaps a bit too much. But I think it’s good enough to return to in a few months after the cellar has done some work. Oh, and the alcohol is completely hidden — not exactly a high drinkability, but that helps.

Time to go into hibernation, Hibernation…

Great Divide Hibernation Old Ale, 88 points. Price: $1.99 US for one 12 oz. bottle.

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