As you can see from the title, I’m babbling a bit. I have a good reason, too. Well, two reasons: 1) it’s early here, on the Left Coast, and 2) I just tasted a (partially) new seasonal ale from one of America’s best breweries – Deschutes – and it just flat knocked me sideways.
Deschutes Brewery “Cherries Jubelale” Barrel-aged Winter Warmer.
Whoop, there it is...
Maybe once a decade or so – because it’s barrel-aged and that takes time – Deschutes releases a higher ABV, super-concentrated version of America’s iconic winter seasonal, Jubelale. I’ve reviewed Jubelale maybe 14 times, now. You’ve probably had it. One of my two favorite beers ever, by anyone.
But there is a funny and very intriguing legend involving Jubelale and on Deschutes’ website, you can find it laid out in full. For those who are too busy for that, here it is:
“Brewery lore says that Super Jubel was inspired by a keg of frozen Jubelale that was tapped and discovered to be a decadent, concentrated version that our brewers recreated and evolved into this incredible strong version of Jubelale that is aged in wine barrels. “Super Jubel was born as Ice Jubel, through a crime of opportunity,” recounted Gary Fish, founder of the 32 year old brewery. “Someone broke into the pub, stole some t-shirts, had some beers, tried to make burgers (they were still in the pan with the burner on when discovered), and stole the “boom box” and cassette tapes of our original brewmaster (now owner of Ecliptic Brewing) John Harris.” They also took a keg of Jubelale. “They must have realized how heavy it was and decided to stash it, no doubt to come back later and collect it, because we found it two weeks later under an old loading dock near the pub.”
Fish goes on to tell that Bend was in the midst of a cold snap where temperatures dropped below 30 degrees (and stayed there a while). The keg was frozen when they found it and realized the liquid was partially frozen. “Being the resourceful person that he is, John [Harris] decanted the keg and the legend of Ice Jubel was born. It was delicious!”
“The crooks had left the outlet valve facing up, so I knew whatever froze we’d still be able to get to the beer.” added Harris. “I raced and grabbed a hand truck and immediately we tapped it. It must have been over 12%. A couple days later I heard these big bangs coming from the cooler and Brewer Tim Gossack (of Bell’s Brewing) was hauling a keg of Jubel up onto the roof saying, ‘We need more of this!’. Well, it never froze like that original keg.”
In fact, recreating that original ice beer was, by Oregon law, illegal. It was, technically and for legal purposes, considered distillation, which is not a part of Deschutes’ license. So, their brewers came up with a reduced, hyper-concentrated version of Jubelale called “Super Jubel”, which rings up a 10% ABV octane and tight-focuses those classic malty, hoppy Jubelale flavors. This went into a combination of Bourbon, red wine, and new oak barrels, was given an infusion of Oregon cherries and vanilla beans and – Voila!” – “Cherries Jubelale”.
Voluptuous…that is the thumbnail description of Cherries Jubelale. The idea came from Gary Fish saying that his favorite dessert pairing with Jubelale is Cherries Jubilee. As with many Deschutes ales, the brewers select components of the actual beers – Jubelale has a prominent, naturally-occuring cherry character – and amplify them. The Abyss, for a great example, takes flavors native to dark ales using dark-roasted grains and adds those same elements to create a hyper version of the idea of “Imperial Stout”. The Abyss has additions of black licorice, cherry bark, vanilla beans, and chocolate, giving those flavors immense oomph and intensity.
In the background of this fascinating Cherries Jubel lurks that Bourbon, the red wine, the vanilla cast of the new oak and adds to that base the fresh bean scrapings, the fresh cherries, and the powerful punch of Super Jubel.
What comes out of this bottle is rich and palate-painting but where you would normally expect something like this to be impossibly sweet, it really is not. There is a front-of-palate impression of sweetness but that goes remarkably dry on the finish, edged into the background by the sleek, edgy East Kent Goldings, a brilliant British hops varietal. Let me make it clear that, if Deschutes had wanted this to be very sweet – even on the order of Delirium Noel or Southern Tier “Creme Brulee” – it still would be an exceptional beer that powerfully recalls that classic cherry dessert. As it is, it’s a remarkable feat of judgment and restraint and just simply Understanding Beer. The balance of the elements is Perfect. The cherry flavor is front ‘n’ center, emphatic. No searching required. The vanilla doesn’t beg comparison to cream soda but simply softens and gilds the cherries. The Bourbon gives this a flatteringly boozy character without the super-charged alcohol that normally carries that flavor profile.
In the glass, it’s a dark, ruddy brown and nearly opaque. It begs that next sip and the one after that and not just because it’s delicious but also because it’s subtle and alluring and unfolds more flavors, more grace notes, as it warms in the glass.
I don’t expect that any beer will ever unseat the annual Jubelale from its almost 30 year niche as my favorite beer to sit and sip and enjoy, just for the plain ol’ hedonistic pleasure of having a beer. And certainly this Cherries version is just going to sidle into a niche alongside the basic Jubelale as a stunning tangent and occasional treat. But it definitely stands out, in a lifetime that includes tasting of well over 20,000 different beers and actually drinking (as opposed to work-related tastings) nearly 400, as one of the five to ten best and most impactful I’ve ever found. Am I going to give this yet another lavish score, another claim of near perfection? No.
I’m flat-out saying that, as an example of adopting a Concept, thinking it through, and then carrying it out with stunning skills and erudition, it IS Perfect. 100 Points