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.


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.


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.


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.


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).

Pepe Nero

A farmhouse Ale brewed with black peppercorns. Why, you ask? You can get a spicy peppery-like taste with rye, and pepper is so ordinary, so meh. Who cares? It’s what you get on your table at your local diner.

There is a reason that pepper is the most popular spice in the western world. It is a powerful spice, that can add depth to any dish, and more than likely the problem comes from not using enough of it during cooking.

Goose Island did a good job with this beer. It is a unique take on a farmhouse ale.

The aroma is of very dark fruits. You also get some wood and nuts as it warms up. I don’t particularly smell pepper, but it is pleasant nonetheless.

The taste is amazing. One of the best beers I have had. You taste dark fruit up front. It is peppery across the tongue.  Not as sharp as a Rye beer, but along the same path. It is like half the time you are drinking something akin to a Dubbel and the other half the pepper sings through. It is a unique and an amazing taste. The pepper really adds a balance that you don’t realize it needs until you try this.

They claim this is a Saison, but it is much darker than any Saison I have ever seen. Although you might taste the memory of the herbage you would come to expect from a Saison, it is much closer to a Dubbel than anything else in my opinion. Of course, farmhouse ale is kind of a vague term, and it is not as intense in the dark flavors and sweetness as a lot of Dubbels, so maybe farmhouse ale is the right style.

Whatever you call it, it is a great beer, and I will cellar the rest and see how it changes over the next five years. Enough writing, I am going to thoroughly the rest of this beer.