Everyone is always yakking around this time of year about how its better to give than to receive but I'm a big fan of receiving, and my sentiment might never be stronger since I was given a bottle of Trader Joe's 2011 Vintage Ale a few days ago by someone very dear to me. To say that I was skeptical at first would be putting it very lightly; since this whole "Trader Joe's" phenomenon is so new to Louisville I had not brought myself to try any of their beers yet, and figured I would probably be disappointed when I did. I thanked my giver of gifts and proceeded to look the bottle over for any signs that it might even be remotely enjoyable. When I came across the fact that it was brewed by Unibroue exclusively for Trader Joe's I at least felt a little bit better about the fact that Trader Joe's didn't have some guy in a closet somewhere brewing what they claim to be "Vintage Ale". My skepticism was still slightly on edge since this 750 ml bottle only cost a mere $6.00 and I figured the only other 750 ml bottle of anything you could get for $6.00 would be the equivalent of PBR or the High Life.
So, with fear in my belly I popped the cork on my bottle - yes, it even comes corked - and proceeded to pour. The head was thick and creamy and instantly I could smell the aroma of the malts and dark fruits. It was a dark, coffee colored brew and upon first sip the fruity and slightly spicy flavor came through. I have to admit that I was in pleasant awe of what I was drinking and it took me nearly the whole bottle to come to terms with the fact that this is a really enjoyable beer. I went on Ratebeer.com and Beeradvocate.com today for the first time since trying it and saw that many others who have tried it - and past variations - feel the exact same as I did. The readers of the two sites scored the 2011 version of Trader Joe's Vintage Ale a 93 at Ratebeer and an 84 on Beeradvocate.
Long story short, this is a very nice, enjoyable beer for an extremely affordable price for a Belgian Strong Ale. At 9% ABV it gets the job done without a heavy alcohol taste, and if you served it to someone without them seeing the bottle you could probably fool them into thinking it was something much more expensive. If you're someone who likes to cellar beer to try in years to come, for the price, I'm not sure you could do a whole lot better. I'm pretty sure I'll head back to Trader Joe's to see if I can't find a few more bottles, and you might even want to consider picking one up for yourself and for a friend this holiday season. After all, isn't it better to give than to receive?
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