Brother Thelonious

The great jazz musician Thelonious Sphere Monk. Known for his dissonant harmonies and angular melodic twists. His  unorthodoxies on the piano remind me of the unorthodoxies of his namesake beer. But as his piano work influenced jazz for decades to come, this beer just reminds you where differences can go wrong.

You see, North Coast’s Brother Thelonious is nominally a Belgian Strong Dark. It definitely smells like the dark fruits and malts you are expecting from a strong dark, but when you taste it, there is something… missing. Usually a strong dark is attacking the senses from every direction, and you have this feeling that it is everything that beer can be. This falls flat. There is a bit of spice, and a bit more brown sugar. There is malt. There is fermented fruit. There is plenty of tartness, and just a memory of bitterness. Don’t get me wrong, it is still smooth and tasty, just compared to “everything a beer can be,” it doesn’t hold up.

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Unibroue 17 Grande Reserve

For the past six weeks I had a field assignment in the hills of eastern Tennessee. An interesting aspect of eastern Tennessee is their apparent hatred of Alcohol.  Apparently by default, all counties in Tennessee are dry and a county or specific city actually has to amend the law to allow the sale of alcohol. Only 9 out of the 95 counties in Tennessee allow liquor sales in all jurisdictions of the county. The specific county I “lived” in was one of 26 completely dry counties, meaning no jurisdiction could sell alcohol. The surrounding areas that sold alcohol were almost a desert of liquor. The strange laws and the thought of drinking bud light or “shutter” Big Flats on my one night off was too depressing, and not a drop of liquor passed my lips for the whole 6 weeks.

Soon after returning to Chicago I headed towards my favorite liquor store/bar Fischman Liquors and Tavern with only the thought of getting something expensive and good. I ended up with Unibroue 17 Grand Reserve. This beer was originally brewed in 2007 in celebration of the brewery’s 17th anniversary. The 2007 batch won the Platinum metal for World’s Best Dark Ale at the World Beer Championship in Chicago in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Showing how well it ages. It did so good that Unibroue decided to brew a batch of the same recipe again in 2011. This is the batch I came home with a few days ago.

I finally get to use my Unibroue glass for a Unibroue beer.

I suppose that I could have aged it for several years, but I was beer free for a month and a half and I didn’t go to Fischman to get a beer to cellar. It was time to see if it lived up to the hype.

Aroma

Beer Advocate calls this a Belgian Strong Dark Ale. I suppose this is a something like a dark triple or quadruple. Those Belgians were never as keen on the style thing as the Germans, that’s for sure. The aroma is similar to that of a dubbel. It is sweet and smells of some dark fruit with a lot of malt. There are some delicious smelling spices thrown in there as well.

Color

It is a very dark brown. When held up to the light it is dark burnt orange and very hazy. It reminds me a of nice homebrew. The head is off white/light brown and about two fingers tall.

Taste

This is where is differs more for a Dubbel. It tastes a lot more like a bitter coffee. After that comes the malt and a slight hint of vanilla, which probably comes from the oak. You do get some sweet fruits and spices on the back-end. I can’t pick out specific spices, but a subtle something something is very much in keeping with the Belgian “tradition”.  A lot of breweries, especially in the Trappist tradition, claim not to add spices, but you always have to wonder. All in all, a good balance, and very enjoyable.

Mouthfeel

It has a medium mouthfeel and carbonation, that goes down real smooth. There is some alcohol warming, but not as much as you would think from a 10% ALV beer.

Overall Impression

It is a great beer, there is no denying it. It would be very interesting to see how this ages in about 3-4 years. I suspect there would be more fruit and spices showing up and less bitterness. I might get another one and throw it in my cellar (i.e. my closet in the basement that I keep all my brewery equipment and the few cellared beers I have).