People ask me at least two, three dozen times a month, “What’s your favorite beer?“
I’ve been tasting – as in sip half an ounce, swirl in mouth, linger, and spit. NOBODY can do this job and drink a full beer each tasting. You’d have a liver the size of a Kia Sportage within months – somewhere around 1,500 beers a year for almost fifteen years, now. That’s in addition to the several thousand I drank back before I got full-time serious about doing a beverage blog. How in God’s Name can I possibly choose ONE beer, out of something over 25K, as my “favorite”?
But if I was forced to choose – as if maybe God parted the clouds and said, “Hey, you, Cranky Pants! I’ll give you anything you wish for but you have to pick one all-time favorite beer. And don’t even try to lie. I Know All and See All.”…
“Anything?” I ask.
“Well, within reason, okay? If you bring up that Cubs-Mariners World Series again, I’m going to call you a huge putz and say no.“
“Hmmm,” I muse, “How about erasing Donald Trump from all human memory?“
“That’s…doable,” the Lord says, “So…what’s the beer?“
“Ummm…Wow, this is tough,” I mutter.
“Stop stalling, you know what it is!” Yaweh snaps, “I’ve got a monsoon kicking off at 3 o’clock Eastern and I have to set up.”
“Okay,” I sigh, “Uhhh…The Abyss.“
“WRONG!” God rumbles, “That’s second!”
“It is?!?” I sputter, “But…”
“That’s what you think is the best beer, not your favorite to just drink for your own pleasure.“
“Okay, that’s a different question…” I begin.
“Hey! I’m GOD! You’re going to splits hairs with me? I said ‘favorite beer’. You want to get rid of Trump or not?“
“Ummm...” I stammer, “Well…Jubelale?“
“Ding-ding-ding-ding, Winner!” God beams, “Here’s a six pack. Comes in cans now! Who knew?“
“So…” I smile, “Trump’s gone, then?“
“Nope,” God shrugs.
“Why the hel…I mean, why not, Oh Lord?“
“Because that wasn’t your first answer,” He explains.
“What is this, Jeopardy?” I growl.
“No, it’s not,” God chuckles, “Alex, tell him why.“
Alex Trebeck walks out from behind a cloud and offers his own shrug.
“I’m sorry but we can only accept your first answer,” Trebeck leans over and whispers, “Thanks a lot, Dumb Ass. We could have been done with Trump!”
God is right. Deschutes Jubelale is my all-time favorite beer to just sip and enjoy. I first tasted it in 1991 and have never missed a vintage yet. It is, to me, rivaled only by Sierra Nevada “Celebration” as America’s Best Winter Ale and it is the only winter seasonal that I know of that the brewery deliberately tinkers with, nearly every year, because Deschutes tinkers with just about everything they make, as is their (weird, quirky) way.
But the 2021 edition of Jubelale shows the greatest single one-year change of any version of this American classic that I have ever tasted and it damned well is deliberate and it flat-damned does change the paradigm for this beer and, I suspect, will kick-start similar evolution in what, by now, are many dozens of imitators, coast to coast.
The thumbnail sketch of the history of Jubelale, for all the tinkering, has remained basically the same. In fact, that thumbnail is right there for anyone to see, on Deschutes’s own website: “a strong malt character and notes of rich spice, toffee and cocoa.”
Winter seasonals are frequently called “warmers” because they are traditionally higher in alcohol and more full-bodied than the rest of the year’s offerings. For what is the largest-selling seasonal beers in America – a marked indicator that, for all our near-rabid, totally habitual IPA Mania, we still like to get us some malts, when the weather suggests – there has traditionally been little of the forward hops bitterness that marks most of our yearly consumption. But, starting with Sierra Nevada’s rebranding of “Celebration Fresh Hop Ale” to “Celebration Fresh Hop IPA”, back in the early 20Teens, our hops fetish began to go year-round. No more leaving our obsession with bitterness and florals and citrus and spices and pine sap there in the doorway to October. Celebration lost nothing at all in the way of its gorgeous copper color, mellow malts, or warming character. It just added that addictive gilding of Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops and their pleasant bitterness and, voila!, still a classic.
This year, Deschutes has tweaked that needle even farther into the future, using an artful combination of Bravo, Cascade, Delta, Us Tettnang, and East Kent Goldings hops to create a complex, firmly bitter, citrusy, peppery knife-edge of IPA-ish edginess – a whopping 65 IBUs! – atop an even darker, more malty wash of Pale, Crystal, Extra Special, Carapils, and Roasted Barley malts that take the beer about two, three shades darker in the glass, almost opaque for the first time ever, and a balance of the elements that is somehow even MORE bewitching and drinkable than what came before. It is not quite as overtly sweet as it has been in certain years but still retains just a touch of sweetness on the finish and lays on a crispness, a food-friendly character that will make it even more of a holiday dinner pairing than in past years. The flavors are still crammed in like a Japanese bullet train’s passengers, shoving the profile nearly past capacity: black cherry, cola, cocoa, cafe au lait, a totally irrational hint of smoke(?), rhubarb, teaberry, peppercorns, and the whole hops continuum draped across the entirety.
This may be the best vintage yet of what has become one of the two or three most decorated, universally loved, and wickedly drinkable ales ever made in the United States and it signals a new direction not just in Jubelale but in US Warmers in general; a recognition that our communal Hops love affair is not just some passing fad but an integral part of what our national beer character is evolving into. Euro-weenies and purists will bark and gnash their teeth at that but we drink all those supposedly “wrong” IPAs because we like hops, not just because, as with young drinkers a decade ago, we were on some Test of Manhood trip, like frat boys chugging Tabasco or eating scorpions. The Extreme IPAs have sloughed off, complexity and other hops traits besides that pine/grapefruit/herbs character have replaced bitterness as Job One, and beers are once again finding a new balance. And Jubelale’s immense popularity sets a tone that lets other brewers experiment with making winter seasonals that go beyond the high ABV warmers of our past and into styles that hold their interest year-round.
I’m headed out today to buy some Jubelale. If you’re an adventurous beer fan, you will, too. 100 Points