TRADER JOE’S VINTAGE ALES are one of the beer world’s happiest and surely most random happenstances. Each year a clutch of these dull brown 750 ml bottles descends on TJ endcaps everywhere, bolstered by brightly hand-drawn signs crowing ‘$4.99!’, ‘Can be aged for years!’, and other impassioned appeals to our urge to stock up. Such tactics are usually worthy of great skepticism, but in this case the enthusiasm is at least partially merited since the Vintage Ale is brewed and bottled by none other than Quebec’s Unibroue, arguably the preeminent purveyors of Belgian–style ales in all of North America. Seems like those exclamation points were well earned.
Unibroue’s recipe for the Vintage Ale changes year-to-year and always reflects some member of their own lineup, albeit in a more rough-hewn form. Its 2012 effort is dark and spicy, very serviceable if a bit unrefined, reminiscent of Maudite’s bite and slightly slick alcoholic finish. Belying a demure bottle design, it boasts a 9.4% ABV and an almost piercing phenolic brightness that develops throughout the bottle. The trademark Unibroue yeast is discernible mostly in the aroma and towards the front of the flavor. Hops play a marginally larger role than is usual for Unibroue, though the spate of wintry spices and cocoa ultimately draw more attention. Its head also dissipates more quickly while the finish is drier and less full than their branded products. In brief, the ’12 Vintage is good, but not great, and leaves the lingering impression that the 2011 installment was more nuanced. Still a good value and a partnership worth supporting.
Served: 750 ml bottle