Trader Joe’s 2010 Vintage Ale

You know it’s the holiday drinking season when Traders releases their Vintage Ale. Since 2005 Trader Joe’s has contract with a brewery, in this case a Canadian brewery called Unibroue to brew a special beer for the holiday season. The past couple of years have been about the same, a heavy dark ale in a 750ml bottle with a cork and a wire cap like a Belgian style beer.

I suppose I should back up about 35 years to give you a brief rundown with my love affair with beer. I suppose it all started when that beer can collecting craze hit us all. Of course I was under aged at the time, but my father was game since it involved a lot of beer drinking. I think he tried hundreds of different beers over the years and he would let me take a sip here and there. Especially the really bad ones!

Then in 1979 my father was assigned to work at the American Embassy in Bonn, Germany for three years. I has a choice as a high school senior and finish my last year in my school or live in Germany for three years. It didn’t take me a second and we all moved to Germany. Two of the years I spent living in Munich and going to college and drinking beer! I had a great time for most of the three years. After that, I came back and was always on the look out for good German beer. Back in 1982 it was hard to find any of the beer that I drank while I lived in Germany but slowly but surely you would find the larger German producers showing up.
Then in 1990, I had an epiphany of sorts. One day my father brought home a book he found at the store called The Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian. I asked my father when he was going to make beer and he said in a couple of months. I simply couldn’t wait that long. I borrowed his book (permanently!) and one of the few times I stayed up and read a book almost all night. I ran out the next weekend and bought a full blown homebrewing kit and the rest was history. I became very active in a homebrewing club in Washington DC called BURP and even met my wife on a club trip. At the pinnacle of my homebrewing endeavors I passed the BJCP test and start to judge homebrew competitions.
Things kind of came to screeching halt when my wife and moved to Seattle and kind of fell in love with wine more, but there was a time when I knew most of the beers in the world! I still drink a ton of beer, but wine is my real passion now.
So on to the beer at hand. This is a heavy, brown, Belgian styled ale that has been infused with some spices during the brewing process. The beer is re fermented in the bottle to give it the carbonation. Therefore, there will be a layer of sediment on the bottom. Some people like it, I usually don’t pour that last little bit into my glass.
Hard to to tell exactly what the spices are, but we can probably guess that they are the standard Christmas type of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger and cloves. These spices have been used in beer for a very long time. I don’t mind them as long as the brewer doesn’t go overboard with them.

(Disclaimer: I had to buy two bottles of this beer as the first one was bad. I was wondering what all the hype was about when I first tasted it and it tasted like crummy homebrew where there as some type of bacterial infection so I went out and bought a 2nd bottle and this review is based on the good second bottle, but still should not have a bad bottle)

When I first poured it, it was overly carbonated. You can see it in the glass in the last picture how much foam was generated, but after the beer warmed up, things calmed down and future pours were OK. You can immediately smell the spices when you stick your nose in the glass, not too powerful, but definitely there. The color is a real dark brown, similar to a Porter style of beer but don’t be surprised how different it is when it goes down. This is not a beer to pound on a nice hot day, this is a sipping beer. In fact, you would get quite wasted trying to drink a whole bottle by yourself. This beer clocks in at 9% alcohol which is more than double most beers out there. The beer has a long finish and has flavors reminiscent of dark dried fruits, almost fruit cake like. There is some bready/yeasty tastes as it goes down. This is a beer meant to age, so if you are so inclined, I would put a bottle in your wine cellar for a year or two and see how it ages. I’ve had a few aged beers and have always been pleasantly surprised how nicely they age.

The price in Washington state is $4.99 and I’d call that a bargain anywhere.

I was expecting a better showing on this beer. From the bad first bottle and the over carbonation, but all in all not a bad beer.

I’m going to rate this 7 Bells!


    • I have bottles going back to 2011, but really this beer should be drunk within a couple of years. I find the corks start causing problems and losing carbonation whereas bottlecaps keep for many years.

  1. We just opened a bottle of the 2011 Vintage Ale its been safely tucked away in the fridge since I bought it! It’s still AWESOME! It’s Feb 1st of 2019. Why I kept it so long is still a mystery to me I still have every year after 2011 except the one year they couldn’t sell it in NC. I may have to break open 2012 soon!!! BEST BY 2016..Not hardly!!!

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