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Brew Blog: Independence Jasperilla Old Ale

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As I mentioned back in June, while writing about a Camp Beer event, Old Ale is kind of an oddball. From what I understand, nobody really knows what it is, and brewers are left to their own devices and historical notes and anecdotes to fashion their own versions of this antediluvian brew. From what I've read about the stuff, though, Jasperilla is pretty sound, historically.

I'm intrigued by the notion of Brew-linary Anthropology, and find the idea of researching and reviving forgotten styles endlessly interesting. In the same way that the Rosetta Stone, and the subsequent re-discovery of the language of Ancient Egypt, reshaped many of our notions about the world of antiquity, so too can a rediscovery of lost brewing traditions reshape our notions about the history and legacy of beer, and therefore civilization.

Okay, so that prose might have gotten a little purple. I don't think I gleaned any history-altering insights from my bottle of Jasperilla, but the fact remains that the more thorough an understanding we have of the history of our collective culture, the more thoroughly we understand ourselves. If we can do that while drinking a tasty bottle of beer, all the better.

This lesson in a bygone zeitgeist pours a ruddy brown, with mild carbonation producing a fluffy, one-finger head, which quickly recedes to a quilted cap. The aromas are saturated and deep, which stays true to the accepted history of Old Ale, a typically strong, aged beer kept on hand for blending with younger stock. Caramel, brown bread, and the tiniest hint of esters come pouring out of the glass, strident and heady. The experience is bit like a really good fruitcake, with its deep flavors and aromas of dark fruit, booze wood and molasses.

The flavor comes on with rich molasses notes, followed by that brown-bread malt character. A deep nuttiness follows, with more than a hint but less than a wallop of booze. The impression of fruit, mostly a vague, marasca cherry flavor, rides through, right before a finishing bitterness and slight heat of alcohol. It seems almost sweet, but more in impression than taste, and very mildly so. Despite the few wisps of alcohol heat, it hides its 9 percent or so ABV pretty well.

As it warms, the fruit flavors come forward more, as does a pronounced nuttiness. Caramel corn comes to mind. Again, fruitcake (a much maligned delicacy) pops up as a reference point. Take the intellectual concepts of fruitcake, dial them back a bit, and wrap them in malty, bready richness, and you have a good idea of what this beer is like.

While drinking this, I could almost envision a dimly lit, slightly smoky inn, filled with heavy wooden furniture and the merriment of hard-working men sloughing off the troubles of the day over a pint. It tastes old, in the best possible way; it tastes rich with history; it tastes delicious. I'll let you decide which of these is the more telling descriptor.

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