Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Whale A Week: Fifty Fifty Eclipse 2012 Old Fitzgerald

A Whale A Week is my attempt to force myself to not only drink some amazing rare beers I've been hording, but share and blog about it.  I welcome folks to play along and link up their pages/blogs if you have one of these beers to try yourself.  Last week my intrepid friends helped me study and savor the smooth flavors of Westvleteren 12.  For this Whale A Week we move to Imperial Stout territory with...

Fifty Fifty Eclipse Old Fitzgerald 2012 Vintage

Fifty Fifty Brewing Company, is a smaller brewery and restaurant located in the somewhat remote Truckee, California.  They are most famous for their Imperial stout called Totality, which has won three GABF medals over the past seven years.  Not bad for a small brewpub!  Until 2014, their brewer was Todd Ashman, formerly of Illinois' Flossmoor Station Brewpub.  Interestingly, I got to Flossmoor after Todd had originally left it and the "award winning" beers we had there were pretty mediocre at best.  Todd has since returned to his former haunts in Illinois to help open Flossmoor's production facility.  This past year his protege, Alyssa Shook took over as head brewer for Fifty Fifty.  I have not tried their beer since the change, so I can't comment on current quality.

I spent some serious time working on this photo for my weekly post!

For the production of Eclipse, they brew a 300 gallon batch of Totality around March or April, and age it in a mix of used oak barrels for at least 6 months.  They mostly use whiskey or bourbon barrels, but have been known to throw in some rum barrels and other surprises as well such as coffee versions.  Each version of this beer is then hand-dipped in a different color of wax for future reference.  There is a Style Guide on their website with a list of the colors so you can figure out what you have lurking in your cellar.

Eclipse was first brewed in 2007 and aged in Old Fitzgerald barrels.  I have several versions of this beer in my cellar, but decided to go back to the beginning and try the 2012 version of the Old Fitzgerald aged beer.  According to the Internet Old Fitz was pot distilled in Kentucky during the 1870's for the rail and steamship trade, and released to the general public around 1900.  During prohibition, Old Fitz was one of the few bourbons allowed to be used for "medicinal purposes".  At one point the brewery was bought by the now incredibly famous Pappy Van Winkle, and is currently owned by Heaven Hill Distillery.  With that much history behind it, it must be good!

Each year, for the special release of Eclipse, the brewery hosts a small ticketed event to celebrate.  There, one can try all the versions of the beer and buy bottles.  Entry isn't cheep and is hard to come by, as demand for this beer is off the charts!  In 2013 my friends Rob Wengler and Ron Johnson, of the web-based beer hunting show Limited Release, were able to gain entry to the event for the show.  Later that year Rob hosted a tasting party at his home on the day of a crazy ice storm and we tried all of these beers at one sitting.  Wow!  At that point these beers were amazing, but still young.  I haven't tried once since...until now!

I received this bottle in a mass trade from a local guy looking to weed his cellar a bit.  He had stored this in a cool basement out of the light, so it looks like the beer has been treated well over the past few years.  On Beer Advocate it is currently ranked a 94, and RateBeer gives it a solid 100.

For today's tasting we gathered a panel of experts...Ok, people who like beer.  Included were:  Me--Homebrewer, BJCP judge.  My wife Sj--Fan of Imperial stouts.  Dave Manley--JAB member, homebrewer, cellared beer expert.  Jim Stroner--Beer enthusiast and photographer.  Rick Spaulding--Also beer enthusiast, biker, and photographer.  With this varied dream team assembled we got to work!  Twenty minutes later, after I had hacked my way through the incredibly thick and tenacious layer of blue wax on the bottle, we finally got to try the beer...

Eric: Notable bourbon and wood character of vanilla and even toasted coconut.  Roasted malts.  Chocolate milk.  Honey?  No hop aroma.
Dave: Molasses, sweet bourbon, sticky toffee, black licorice.
Jim: Dark Fruit, faint booze
Rick: Dark fruit, molasses, bourbon, vanilla.

Very dark brown, but not as black as expected for Russian Imperial stout.  Not opaque--can see through at edge of glass with ruby highlights.  Fine, wispy, tan head that fades quickly.

Eric: Very sweet.  Strong flavors of vanilla, molasses.  Light toasted coconut.  Milk chocolate.  Body is medium, but I expected more fullness.  Not creamy. Slightly astringent finish but not too distracting.  Not as much dark fruit as I expected but hints present.  No hop flavor, but certainly some bittering going on.  Slight sherry from oxidation, but not much for the age of the beer.  Fair amount of alcohol to it but not overly "hot".  Carbonation is slightly low.
Dave: Molasses.  Reminds me of my grandma's gingersnap cookies.  Not hot.  Fig newtons.
Jim: Light booze.  Sweet.  Molasses, dates, faint tobacco.  Soft mouthfeel, not much carbonation.
Rick: Dates, figs, rootbeer barrel candy, brown sugar, toffee.  Decent amount of heat.  Soft, medium body.

Discussing this as a group, we all got plenty of complexity and interesting flavors.  For a Russian Imperial, the body is a little low and the color is a bit light--more like an Imperial porter.  A very tasty beer overall.

Grades: On a 0-5 scale
Eric: 5 "Really great!"
Dave: 4 "Very nice."
Jim: 4.5 "Yummy!"
Rick: 4
Sj: 4

Has anyone else tried this beer?  What do you think?  And more importantly, has anyone tried the beer from 2014?  Is it still up to par?

I have some more bottles of the other versions and may open them up as the year goes by for a future A Whale A Week so stay tuned!

Below check out the 13 minute Limited Release show about the trip out to Tuckee for the Eclipse release party in 2013!

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