Bottles of beer typically enter the house as gifts, and I am appreciative, because as a homebrewer, I spend way too much money on my hobby. My ego can’t take it if I’m buying commercial beer on top of the grain, hops, yeast, cleaners, kegs, and other needed equipment for brewing. Receiving a bottle of beer allows me to venture out of my comfort zone and try styles that I might like to brew in the future myself.
Enter Sierra Nevada Double Dubbel, a gift from a great friend and holy priest (sorry Fr., I know I said we’d open it together, but then you went to WYD and it was in my beer fridge, and I was between kegs, and I needed something to blog about, and… couldn’t resist opening it).
This beer is described as a “Belgian-style Dubbel – Ale Aged Two Years in Brandy Barrels.” Let’s cover a couple terms.
The Belgians, like the rest of Europe, make their own styles of beer. They have low- and high-alcohol styles. But on the label of an American craft brewer, “Belgian-style”, no matter what follows in the description, probably means you’re looking at higher than average alcohol content. A “dubbel” is generally a fairly dark and malty, high-alcohol beer that has been aged for some period of time. Dubbels are frequently barreled or casked during aging. In this case, the ABV is 10.5%, compared with most beers which land between 4-6%.
This beer is another labor of love for Sierra Nevada. What strikes me most when I visit the brewery is how much they love beer. The highest degree of attention and craft goes into all the styles that Sierra Nevada makes. I’ve tasted a number of their “Beer Camp” beers that could easily become part of the regular roundup. They constantly make great beer. They also sponsor projects, like Sacred Stones and the Abbey of New Clairvaux, by making their Ovila series beers in the Trappist tradition.
Sierra Nevada calls this a “Double” Dubbel, which makes me think hardcore, high-alcohol, concentrated flavors. After spending two years in oak casks used to mature brandy, you know that it’s going to taste like something. Indeed, it exemplifies the style of a tripped-out amped-up dubbel.
“The flavors are incredibly complex…” True, there’s a lot going on. It’s what you would call a “sipping” beer. The aroma has a sweet ketone or “paint thinner” smell, not unlike a tawny port. There is a slight astringency from the maturation process that obscures the natural malt and hop flavors, overwhelming the palate slightly. It would be an interesting experiment to allow a few bottles to age another year or two and see if some of the roughness smooths itself out.
Verdict: Sierra Nevada Double Dubbel is a triumph of technical achievement. Beers like this one are incredibly difficult to produce, and require a commitment of time and attention that even most craft brews do not receive. It’s definitely worth picking up, if you like the style. If you’re a beer novice and want to know what the beer craze is all about, you’re going to need to try a few things first to acclimate, before you try Double Dubbel.