I love it when I have a beer so gripping, so immediately compelling, that I have to go out and buy more of it immediately. When I took the family out for a DEFCON dinner at the Queen Vic recently, that's exactly what happened. I don't think it was a full hour after we left the restaurant that I had a couple of bottles of 11.11.11 in hand.
The funny thing is, though, it took me a while to get around to drinking it. I brought some over to a friend's house on New Year's Eve, and had a small pour from one of a few shared bottles. It didn't really strike me as all that terrific. Perhaps, I thought at the time, the beer just doesn't show that well out of a bottle. Perhaps, I'm thinking now, it was just the fact that I'd already had several drinks, fatiguing my palate and dulling my senses slightly. Besides, there were more interesting things going on that evening; a dude was opening champagne with a sword. That's not him.
Whatever the cause, my enthusiasm waned slightly. I think that was a premature reaction. When I opened a bottle the other night, I remembered what I'd been so excited about in the fist place.
For starters, this is a beautiful beer. It pours a reddish mahogany with a creamy, full finger head that recedes to a pronounced ring. That reddish tint takes on a jeweled character when you hold the beer up to the light, throwing off shards of garnet like a faceted stone.
The nose offers lots of Belgian yeast character up front, with banana and clove managing to be both pronounced and elegant at the same time. Cinnamon lingers in the background, a slightly spicy character hiding behind brown sugar richness and a dark fruit element not quite raisin, not quite fig.
Big, round, deep sweetness opens the beer up on the palate. As sweet as it is, it's surprisingly mellow, with no harsh or saccharine quality at all. There's an almost cola-like, syrupy thing going on, followed by dusky maple and cinnamon. The dark fruits come on next, and I still can't quite pin them down.
The bottle tells me there's chile in there, Anaheim to be specific. If you really focus on it, you can pick up a bit of chile flavor, though no heat. A bit of fire might have been nice here, though I don't think the beer suffers for its absence. The beer finishes a bit peppery, with a somewhat stridently bitter edge. Somehow, that bitterness always takes you by surprise, closing out the beer's not inconsiderable sweetness to good effect. It's a great palate cleanser, making the beer taste fresher and more exciting at ever sip.
This is what I remember from my drought pint - luscious and immediately gripping. Then it spreads out and deepens, with that sneaky bitterness acting as a perfect foil and shill at the same time.
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As I was drinking, my wife came by and stole a sip, not knowing what it was. "It's spicy," she opined. "It tastes like jalapeños." This was after the beer had been sitting for almost half an hour. I tasted again. She was right; the chile character had come out a lot more, though I still didn't get any chile heat. She may have been synergising the effects of the chile and cinnamon, combining them in her mind as one element.
I've already got plans to grab some more bottles for aging. Stone wants you to save this for next year, to go with the 12.12.12 installment of their Vertical Epic series. I think that's a great idea. I also think it's a great idea to drink more of it right now.