Beer O’ the Moment: Middle Ages XIII Anniversary

Around these parts, we are enormous fans of Middle Ages Brewing, an absolute local treasure located at 120 Wilkinson Street in Syracuse, NY. For thirteen years, the brewery has been English-style ales (and no lagers) to the region. Most of their beers having a very distinct ringwood yeast flavor.

Since their tenth year, they have been releasing “Anniversary” ales around this time. Their first of this series, the Tenth Anniversary — now known as “Middle Ages Double India Pale Ale,” but known as “The X” to my friends and me — is a triumph of intense bitter hops and thick English malts. The Eleventh Anniversary, a double wheat, was not quite as successful commercially, but a fine, thick beverage nonetheless.

The Twelfth Anniversary is an outstanding, roasted porter with mocha and caramel notes that goes down almost in an almost unfairly smooth manner. And this year, they unveiled the Thirteenth Anniversary, which they bill as an Imperial Wheat. At 9.5%, it’s certainly got some pop.

I have mixed feelings on this particular offering. First of all, what is it? It’s not that I need every beer I drink to be precisely defined, but I do like to know what I’m getting into. The Beer’s creators call it an imperial wheat. Beeradvocate calls it a “Herbed / Spiced beer.” To me, it feels like an incredibly thick hefeweizen.

First let’s discuss both the look and the beer’s thickness. It’s very very thick looking. Cloudy as all get-out, and dark orange, like a thick apple cider. Any head that was there disappears almost immediately, and it leaves no trace of its existence on the glass.

The feel of the beer is no small matter. I had this out of a half-growler. (Having had the sample at the Middle Ages tasting room, I wasn’t so sure I could finish a full jug.) The beer is very thick and milky like a hefeweizen, but it also has some fizzy and bubbly qualities, like a typical Belgian ale. The issue here, however, is the beer’s staying power. Hefeweizens are a dicey lot to begin with, since they can range from fresh and banana-y to overly thick and swampy.

I had good luck with this one. Since it is relatively fresh and not much-traveled, I was able to finish the entire 32 ounces with little incident or change to the viscosity of the beer itself. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that a friend of mine who bought the beer at the same time at me reported a bad turn of the beer into a syrupy, sap-like texture, which doesn’t lend itself well to the beer. Take that for whatever it’s worth.

As for the aroma, the banana/clove smell that we all associated with hefeweizens are all there. There is, however, a citrusy fragrance as well and the wheat comes out in a later sniff. The scent would tend to indicate a half-hef, half-wit concoction. (By that I mean half-witbier, not half-witted attempt at beermaking; the Middle Ages folks are as good as it gets.) But there is also a certain pungence to the smell. It’s not bad, but it’s tenuous.

The taste is where we get down to brass tacks: it vascillates between a strong hefeweizen and an extra thick witbier. The girl pouring at Middle Ages found it curious that I would say it was “sour,” but I sense a certain Belgian ale sourness. There is, as the website says, plenty of orange and coriander, and the spices that come along with them. But I also detect a certain amount of cinnamon flavor. It’s strength alone is impressive, if not thirst-obliterating.

From top to bottom, it’s a solid beer, but not necessarily one I crave, nor one I would necessarily purchase again. This is certainly not an indictment of Middle Ages itself, as that particular company has taken thousands of dollars of my money, and I wouldn’t take a penny back. (I’ve got a full growler of their Old Marcus sitting in the fridge right now.) But it’s only fair to say that this beer isn’t for everyone, especially those who are iffy on hefeweizen-style beers.

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~ by William H on September 11, 2008.

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