Unibroue – 17 Grande Réserve (2011 Vintage tasted in ’12 & ’14)

Unibroue 17WHETHER THE 17 should be a Belgian Strong Dark or a Quadrupel is frankly immaterial: whatever its name, it is a beer of profound density and balance. Recognizably Unibroue, loosely a furthering of their Trois Pistoles, but with the added complexity of spices and oak-aging. The head is lingering, bright and faintly acerbic; the beer itself powerfully malty, but balanced sufficiently by the relatively high IBU of 35. Blending of head and liquid make for a mocha-like concoction that’s almost creamy, but never too sweet. (And, for what it’s worth, given the 17’s prominence of spice and malt instead of fruit, the Belgian Strong Dark is the better category after all.) A slow-sipping triumph even this young, at peak maturity it will rival better ports as a pairing for a cheese dessert plate. A slow-sipping triumph even this young, at peak maturity it will rival better ports as a pairing for a cheese dessert plate.

Served: 750 ml (2011 Vintage, best by ’17)

Rating: 94


2014 Addendum:

Happy coincidence brought about another encounter with the 2011 bottling of Grande Réserve, coming straight from the supplier and thus more assured of gentle treatment over the years. While still fundamentally recognizable as the same beer sampled in 2012, two additional years have matured and mellowed 17 considerably. This process occurred more quickly than one would have guessed, in fact, though not so swiftly as to already see the beer past its prime.

The first noteworthy change is in the pour; the color is almost ruddy and a bit cloudier while the head is considerably less generous. Next is how the oak has diminished considerably in both aroma and flavor. While still readily apparent on the first nosing and in all stages of flavor, its edges are softened and melded more smoothly into the malt core of the beer. (As an aside, Unibroue do not actually age the beer in oak vessels, but rather with oak spirals. The first vintage used French oak chips, but spirals were found to deliver mature flavors faster and more credibly.)

That subsiding presence allows other notes to have a greater impact, primarily from the malt: raisin, date, a sprinkling of medium-dark chocolate, and a small hint of sherry towards the finish. Carbonation has also stepped back, explaining that less lingering head and a slightly fuller, creamier mouthfeel. Yeast is also more conspicuous, a little earthier and denser in texture than the fresh bread and spice from the fresher vintage. Hops were never a major player in the mix, despite 35 IBUs that are fairly high for Unibroue. Here they have faded enough to be indistinguishable, though perhaps they still contribute sufficient bitterness to keep the maltiness from becoming cloying. Altogether it’s virtually impossible to say whether aging has improved the beer, but on all accounts it’s a rewarding experience worth waiting for—intentionally or otherwise.

Served: 750 ml (2011 Vintage, best by ’17)

Rating: 93



2 thoughts on “Unibroue – 17 Grande Réserve (2011 Vintage tasted in ’12 & ’14)

  1. Pingback: Southern Tier Brewing – Crème Brûlée Imperial Milk Stout | Constructive Consumption

  2. Pingback: Trader Joe’s Brewing – Trader Joe’s 2012 Vintage Ale | Constructive Consumption

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