Unibroue's 17 Grande Reserve is a champion brew

One of the great virtues a brewery can possess is consistency.

One of the great virtues a brewery can possess is consistency.

Jordan St. John, Special to QMI Agency
 

, Last Updated: 1:04 PM ET

 

One of the great virtues a brewery can possess is consistency.

Periodically, I read about the passion people have for beer and brewing, but passion will only get you so far. To really succeed, you need obsessive attention to detail. Give me a brewer who wakes screaming in the middle of the night because he thinks he forgot to wipe down the nozzle on the fermenter. That’s the guy I want in charge of making my beer.

Unibroue has seemed to manage consistency with some degree of effortlessness for as long as I can remember. Now, granted I was not taking notes when I first tried their beers, but it seems to me that they have not changed greatly.

If you read descriptions of their flagship beers like La Fin Du Monde or Trois Pistoles from 10 years ago, and then open a fresh bottle, the experience will be vastly similar.

Consistency tends to result in positive feedback. If you judge these things by online ratings, the brewery overview page looks like a gifted child’s report card for all the 90-plus marks. If you judge these things by medals won, then they have enough of them weigh down Mr. T.

There’s one offering currently available that achieved something which speaks to attention to detail. Unibroue 17 Grande Reserve was originally brewed to celebrate Unibroue’s 17th anniversary. Not only did it prove so popular as to displace subsequent anniversary beers, it won Platinum at the World Beer Championship in three consecutive years. In 2010, it won World’s Best Dark Ale at the World Beer Awards. Not too shabby.

As you might expect, it’s as complex as an Escher staircase. It weighs in at 10% alcohol and is aged on French oak. For you barrel jockeys out there, French oak is different than its American counterpart in that it does not impart as much vanilla character. The accent leans heavily to spice and a round nuttiness.

The 17 Grande Reserve pours garnet with a lasting ecru head. The aroma has notes of almond, lemon peel, quince, plum, mincemeat and a hint of bubblegum. On the palate it’s initially coating and then there’s a bready marzipan charge straight down the middle with a mild touch of unsweetened cocoa. For some reason it puts me in mind of well-maintained oak panelling and restrained civility.

It’s an excellent choice as a contemplative winter beer, and given its credentials it’s a bargain at the price point. However, if I am honest, a beer this deep is not for everyone. I think a single glass would probably leave you slightly puzzled and a second might exacerbate the problem. It’s challenging stuff.


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