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Trader Joe’s 2010 Vintage Ale
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★★★✩✩

2010 Vintage Ale

Trader Joe’s

Québec, Canada

25.4 fl. oz., 9% ABV

$4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

There’s an old tradition that workers at a brewery are freely-able to consume beer when they are thirsty at work: the Sternewirth Privilege. Today, I bring to you a new Sternewirth Privelege — a Tech column which will review beers that should be brought to the attention of the beer-lovers of the MIT community. I also hope to inspire new beer lovers, and expose the world of good beer to those that are sick of the traditional party fare. If you’ve never had a beer before that you’ve enjoyed, it might just be because you’ve never had the right brew for you.

There are many fantastic beers made around the world that are leaps-and-bounds better than mass-market domestic suds. The beers I recommend will also be available within a modest walk or bus ride from campus.

Trader Joe’s, with locations in Cambridge (748 Memorial Dr.) and Boston (899 Boylston St.), is known for having a small selection of high-quality products for low prices, frequently re-labeling brand-name products under their own name. They’ve applied this business practice to their 2010 Vintage Ale, which is actually produced by Unibroue in Canada. The beer is characteristically high-quality and fairly-priced. The large, brown bottle with gold lettering looks unassuming on the shelf next to the more colorful brand-name beers, with cases of Three Buck Chuck visible in the next aisle.

This Belgian-style ale is of the quadrupel variety, having the strong flavor and high-ish alcohol content of the style. It has a great malty aroma, and is thus enjoyed under conditions that emphasize smell: served slightly chilled (50°F) in a brandy snifter.

I must fault Trader Joe’s for ruining the anticipatory theater of opening the bottle. This is the third bottle of this beer I’ve opened, and each bottle has required the combination of Channellock pliers and a corkscrew to open. The bottle is sealed similar to champagne, using a cork with a large knob that should be able to be removed by hand. I’m not sure why, but the cork removal is routinely difficult.

Pouring the beer results in a ton of head; even a slow, careful pour down the side of my snifter resulted in over an inch of frothy foam. This may be by design, but waiting five minutes for the foam to recede allows the beer to warm up slightly from refrigerator temperatures, making the flavors and aroma more volatile. The foam retreats down the side of the glass, leaving a lacy residue. The nectar itself is quite dark, which hints at the flavors ahead.

The nutty roasted malt is very evident, with some notes of dark chocolate. Hop flavor is mostly absent, which makes this a beer with low bitterness. Despite the modest alcohol content, there isn’t much of a throat burning effect, and the alcohol is well hidden by the malty flavor.

While the taste is good, I enjoy the aftertaste the most. After swallowing, you notice that the beer is a bit sweet, and loaded with autumn and winter spices. It is easy to finish the entire bottle yourself, although you’re warned to pace yourself, as the entire bottle has about 3.8 times more alcohol than your normal 5 percent ABV 12 fl. oz. beer.

The standout feature of this beer is its accessibility: it provides most of the flavor and alcohol of the Trappist beers imported from Belgium at about one-third the price per unit volume.

Fortunately, Trader Joe’s is a convenient shopping location for most at MIT. Like all quality ales, give this brew a shot at the beginning of your next classy party, while you’re still sober enough to enjoy it.

Send agreements, disagreements, suggestions for future beer reviews, and offers for project management positions in Cambridge to dtemp@mit.edu.