A Whale A Week is my attempt to share a rare beer with friends every week for the whole year of 2015, often accompanied by funky photo tricks. This helps me get through my dragon's hoard of cellared beers as well as practice with beer photography. This week we move to a barleywine...
East End Brewing's Gratitude 2007 Vintage
This beer honestly came as somewhat of a surprise to me. I got this in a large cellar buy and had no idea what I had received until my friend Andrew Gieseke saw it hiding behind some other barleywines in my cellar. I could hear his audible gasp and consequent evil chuckle, and knew I had found something that sparked his fancy. Andrew is one of the guys who got me into cellaring beer, so when he gets excited about a beer, I pay attention! Being a sour-head, I had expected him to zero in on those guys from my stash, but we ended up with barleywine...
East End Brewing Co. is located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I actually visited the city earlier this year and discovered several fine newer breweries, but this one totally slipped my radar. Open since 2004, these guys were one of the earlier craft breweries in the area, and only in the 2014 have opened a tasting room. I'm pretty sure the area had a recent law change (like the Surly Bill here in Minnesota) to allow for tap rooms. East End is primarily a draft brewery with very few bottles of their beer making it to market, which may account for their mainly local following. Per their website, they put out over 35 different beers during most years.
Gratitude Barleywine was really East End's first "hit" among the serious beer geeks, being made in very small quantities. The bottles are wrapped in paper and wax dipped, along with hand-created bottle art of birds. Each year features a different colored bird, corresponding to the spectrum of light. The very first batch was only 500 bottles and featured a crow on the label. 2006 increased a bit to 1300 bottles and featured an orange chickadee on the label. The bottle I dug out of the depths of my cellar was from the 2007 vintage! Tightly wrapped in brown paper, this bottle is also dipped in yellow wax. Mine is number 628/1500 and hand signed. The bottle art features a monochromatic yellow and black goldfinch feeding her baby by mouth. Honestly, this is some of the best packaging I've seen and one can tell they put a lot of labor into it. Continuing the Gratitude story, it looks like the first 2008 batch had a burnt taste that was less than lovely, so they sold it at a cheaper price and re-brewed a smaller batch of it later that year. They continued to put out yearly versions, but the 2011 and 2012 versions did not carbonate in the bottle and were named "Flatitude" and not officially labeled or released. Interestingly it looks like at each Gratitude release day they would allow people to buy older vintages that they still had on hand. They have now completed the ROY G. BIV color spectrum and in 2014 released a barrel aged version of the beer, without the fancy paper wrapping. I'm unsure if they plan to do a 2015 release or if they are going to leave off brewing Gratitude on that note.
|No arty photo magic this week. I was going to make Sarajo feed the beer to Andrew like in the label but they refused to cooperate...|
Honestly, now knowing the complex history of this beer, I was a lot more interested in trying it! However, I was concerned about its age. This beer is 7.5-8 years old, and most beers don't age that well. With an ABV of 11.5% and wax dipped cap, I had hopes. Always ready for a challenge, I threw this in the fridge and we cracked it open a short time later. We poured these into Steel Toe snifter glasses.
Eric: Strong oxidation, but more pleasant sherry than cardboard. Sweet sugar and malt with a caramel or toffee character. A hint of tartness. No hop aromas. Some light fruit esters. I pick up some mint as it warms in the glass.
Andrew: Maple syrup, sherry, caramel/toffee. The sweet dough from a cinnamon bun (bakery shop) but without the actual cinnamon. Raisin, dried apricot. Some papery notes--a touch of mint--candied pear and almond. A bit of booze. Some brown sugar.
Both: Brilliant clarity and a fine copper to ruby color. Large cream colored head with fine and persistent bubbles.
Eric: Sweet up front, but not cloying. Caramel, toffee, toasted coconut flavors. Strong sherry cask flavors with a lingering papery or woody finish. Warming alcohol present, but not overwhelming. As it warms I get vanilla and brown sugar flavors popping out. No hop flavors noted. Balance is to the sweet side, but bitterness is present. The higher carbonation and oxidation/tannin make this seem dryer that expected and evens out the sweet flavors to some degree. I get some raspberry tannin and tartness the longer I hold this.
Andrew: Sherry. Sticky sweet dried apricot and brown sugar. Some maple syrup, a bit of booze, and even some hop bitterness. Dates. Just a hint of cardboard/paper on the edge. Aged vintage port or sherry. Dry, not overly sweet or cloying. Pitted cherry and that mint from the aroma. Some pear notes as well.
Eric: Very well aged but still a vibrant and lively beer for all that: the Silver Fox of the barleywine world. Strong oxidation, but it really works to add interest to this beer with a crazy sherry character. 4.5
Andrew: Very drinkable due to the dryness. Would be delicious with curried lamb. 4.5
This was a great beer, and even better for having a cool story. This was like finding a buried treasure! Considering I had no preconceived notions or hype to influence my tasting, I think this turned out pretty wonderful. I will also mention here that I am especially sensitive to oxidation as an off flavor, and expected this beer to take a huge hit from that. However, this had the "good oxidation" rather than the bad and tasted entirely pleasing. I'm guessing we would have given this a 5 if we had tried it a few years ago...
Anyone out there that has tried this beer, or any of the other vintages? If so, what did you think? Also does anyone know what they plan to do for 2015?