New in Bottles: Great Divide Hibernation

Today started out with a dream in which I became a detective trying to solve the murder of a woman. After singling out her friends and relatives and always coming up with a solid alibi, I discovered a secret room behind a large staircase in the barn-like garage of her lesbian lover’s house. Something in this room revealed that it was in fact the lover, who had been escorting me around throughout the dream, who had murdered the woman. I managed to secret a glass knife from a nearby table in case of an attack which I soon experienced, overcame, and then woke up. It’s not often I remember completing a dream, much less waking up with a feeling of success, so the day started out alright.

Work at the Stein went smoothly, helping some of the folks coming in for the game (UO/Stanford) find something to oil their vocal cords for the big match (i.e. Ducks fans shouting “tim-BERRRR” as the Cardinals (with their tree mascot) succumb to Phil Knight’s mighty stadium). I love to drink before events like that, but one woman chose, after rejecting Adriaan, a Dutch gruit beer that contains a blend of herbs instead of hops, the Dogfish Head Raison d’Extra, the proportionately doubled uncle of Raison d’Etre. At 18% and $9 per bottle, I wondered what sort of party she was going to. I decided to walk out with two bottles: Chimay White and the winter release (even though it’s barely autumn) from Great Divide, an Old Ale called Hibernation.

This is a pretty young beer; bottle date is 9/2/10. I think the fad of checking the “skunk date” only applies to lighter beer, but this could be a reverse situation: a beer that’s too fresh! Old Ales are, by the books, aged for a while, so perhaps I’m not giving this beer a fair shake by drinking it before winter… but then why don’t they release it when it’s actually winter? Seems Hallmark has set the bar for advance holiday cheer, what with Jubelale and Winterfish already on shelves as well. Anyhow, my impressions:

Aroma: Malty with a red/green apple note (acetaldehyde?) hit right away. After that, there are some light sugary aromas and a pineappley sort of hop aroma that lends a twang. Very little alcohol aroma, no diacetyl or other specific off-flavors.

Appearance: Clear, brownish-red. Eggnog colored fluffy head settles down rather quickly.

Flavor: A fruity, malty mouthful balanced by moderate bitterness. Again, the apple flavor rides along. Very little alcohol heat. Does not have the desserty flavors I want from an Old Ale.

Mouthfeel: Medium body; seems well attenuated for style. Slight cloying on the back of my cheeks, but the bitterness balances the sweetness well. Moderately carbonated.

When judging flights, the first beer is the most aggravating because it’s either good or bad, and that can (but shouldn’t) set the tenor for the rest of the beers. In this case, I’d be excited to try the rest in hopes that my face would turn bright red after tasting one with bunches of dark, caramelized fruit and Portly boozy notes. The Hibernation seems too young; its apples haven’t wilted and dried on the branch in an Indian summer. Interesting: this beer is listed as a commercial example of an Old Ale in the BJCP guidelines, and lies at the upper end of the alcohol content spectrum for the style. The description says it’s aged for three months before bottling. It does go very well with the ginger/rosemary cookies my neighbors gave me in exchange for eggs.

So what now? My personal rating gave it a pretty mediocre score. We have to take into account that I’m not extremely familiar with the Old Ale style, though I’m a fan of what I have had, both commercial and homebrewed varieties. I think I was expecting more of a barleywine. It could also be that there’s dust in the air since I just vacuumed my house, and my nose isn’t “on.” It did go remarkably well with those cookies, and the bottle suggests a pairing with Dutch cow cheese, tenderloin, or (aha!) apple crisp with ginger ice cream. Obviously they know what they’re getting into with this beer, and I’m just being a hater, right?

So try a bottle, have some beef or dessert with it, and see if it’s your thing. Old Ales don’t come around very often, and, as with many British styles that aren’t hoppy-mc-hop-bombs, are overlooked by the general public (again, not a hater, just an observer).

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