Beer Review 0557: New Glarus Anniversary Belgian Strong Ale

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2013 saw New Glarus Brewing Company (New Glarus, Wisconsin) celebrate its 20th anniversary. To mark the occasion, they released a limited bottling of a Belgian Strong Ale in 500 ml. bottles.

New Glarus are all about keeping it local. “DRINK INDIGENOUS,” their bottle crowns say — and they mean it; New Glarus doesn’t distribute beers beyond the state of Wisconsin, saying it’s all they can do to keep up with demand just from their home state.

Founded in 1993 by Deborah Carey (the first woman in the United States to found a brewery), New Glarus started life in an abandoned warehouse with used equipment. Dan, Deborah’s husband, is a master brewer and was a production supervisor for Anheuser-Busch. Dan found copper kettles from a brewery in Germany that was to be demolished; when the retiring German brewer learned that his equipment would live on, he sold all of the goods for scrap value to Mr. Carey.

I reviewed several New Glarus beers in 2013 — notable for their incredibly tasty fruit beers (see Strawberry Rhubarb and Serendipity, both rated 97 points), the brewery also does wonderful takes on styles that range from Imperial IPA to Berliner Weiss. Not a single one of their brews has failed to crack outstanding status (at least 90 points) on this website.

Anniversary Belgian Strong Ale is brewed in the style of a Belgian Strong Dark Ale; the bottle label and company website features very little information about the beer, and there’s no official ABV (alcohol by volume) listed for the brew, which is an important piece of information and it’s a shame it is missing. New Glarus technically considers this a Belgian-style Dubbel, but the label does say “Anniversary Strong Ale…” cheers to 20 years, New Glarus, but some clarity on the label would be much appreciated.

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The pour made for a large, fluffy, and billowing off-white head that lasted. The beer was a dark amber in color, with lighter orange hints toward the bottom of the glass. The liquid is crystal clear when held to light, and there are no particles or sediment. There are, however, tons of carbonation bubbles that zoom to the top of the glass and support the head. Lacing is excellent, right from the first diminish of the head, coating the glass in thick whipped foam. This is a very nice looking beer.

On the nose, we’ve got a very traditional presentation of the style — banana, clove, and bready sweet caramel note dominate, with dashes of doughy yeast and a faint bit of orange peel. It’s a bit candy like and as it warms shows some depth, hitting a touch of fruitcake.

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The taste is very much the same: a solid offering but nothing overly special. Sweet, bready caramel banters with banana and spicy clove. The middle ushers in some sweetness; crystalline sugar-coated raisins take us to the finish, where this beer turns slightly bittersweet with orange peel, dough, and cinnamon. Anniversary Strong Ale is medium-bodied, and medium in mouthfeel, foamy when swirled and with a lively carbonation.

Overall, a nice, solid beer that is no frills or anything that sticks its neck out. That’s a good thing; the style is nailed — but the disappointment is that this is supposed to be a special beer, and it just doesn’t meet that mark. I’m not so sure this style of beer lends itself to being reserved for a special brew, but cheers to New Glarus for trying. And hey, I enjoyed sipping on this one. Perhaps my one piece of constructive criticism: the carbonation seemed a bit too high in comparison to other classic beers in this style.

New Glarus Anniversary Belgian Strong Ale, 88 points. Price: $6.99 US for one 500 ml. bottle.

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