AleSmith Grand Cru - One of My Favorite Beers of All Time
I’m a beer guy, that’s all there is to it. There’s not a well-made beer I don’t like and I make a point of trying as many as I can get my hands on (while still staying within rational consumption guidelines). I live in Seattle, ride a bike, and write code so combine that with my affection for fermentation and you have a Seattle cliche through and through.
I’m OK with that.
Seattle produces some great stuff to pour or shovel down your throat and craft beer is one of them. We have a huge beer culture here – homebrew shops, events, tap houses – and part of that is a huge number of craft breweries. I live near Ballard and there are close to 20 within a short bike ride.
That’s just a few of them. There a couple not shown here and, to the SE a bit, many more. It’s unreal.
So, yeah, there’s a lot of beer here and, yeah, it’s excellent. But is it the best in the country? Best on the West Coast? I’d say no to both, mostly because San Diego exists.
I lived in San Diego for 5 years and it’s where my love of excellent beer started (thanks Oscar). Looking back, I wish I was as into it then as I am now because I missed out on some good beer at the time.
But I had my fair share. Lost Abbey, Pizza Port, Stone, Green Flash, Ballast Point, Coronado, Karl Strauss … those were just a few of the ones operating when I lived there. I looked at a list recently and couldn’t believe how many are there now.
But there was one brewery that blew my mind over and over again and still does to this day. That brewery is AleSmith, one of my favorites of all time.
Like I once was (well, I still kind of am) with wine, my initial strategy with buying beer was:
- Decide on a type of beer that sounded good
- Determine the price I was willing to spend
- Find the best-looking packaging taking 1 and 2 into account
- Look for the highest ABV (alcohol by volume)
This, surprisingly, served me very well for a while. As a comparison, now that I know a little more, my current strategy is:
- Decide on a type of beer that sounded good
- Look for something I’ve never had
Using the first set of steps, I developed a taste for heavy, dark, high ABV beers, which eventually lead me to AleSmith. The deal-sealer? Their labels (their average ABV helped a little too). I am a huge fan of their branding; it’s consistent, creative, and not over-the-top. In a sea of wild illustrations and crazy colors, AleSmith bottles stand out in their simplicity. You take the test:
… or …
But, in the end, a beer (or wine) is not judged by its cover, it’s judged by the content of it’s bottle. So let’s do just that.
Grand Cru is a Belgian-style dark, strong ale, typically called a Quadruple. If you’re in Europe, these beers are like fruitcake: given at holidays, rarely enjoyed otherwise. During a short stint in Paris, just a short train ride to beer Mecca, I was surprised by how hard this type of beer was to find. In far corners of a few speciality grocery shops, you could find a handful on the bottom shelf, priced to move. In fact some Belgian breweries create this type of beer only for the US market since it doesn’t do well closer to home. Madness, I say.
This particular beer is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of the style. It’s heavy, it’s sweet, it has a 2-digit ABV, and it drinks like pureed birthday cake (in a good way). It’s meant to be enjoyed slowly, occasionally, and with another person or 2. It’s very rich, likely too much so for most people, but the different layers of flavor and sweetness come together to make every sip cause a low, quiet “mmmmm” to emanate from your mouth. It’s caramel and brown sugar and chocolate and dreams and wonder all wrapped up in a glass.
Here are my tasting notes, as concrete, undeniable evidence:
On the nose … Figs, Apple, chocolate, burnt sugar, alcohol, apricot, tootsie rolls!
Taking a sip … OK, wow. Tart cherries plus caramel immediately, not too much alcohol but it’s there in a great way. Chocolate a nice component with the cherries. Get the apricot as well. Aftertaste is nice caramel, just fades out slowly, doesn’t get funky.
Started drinking this a little cold and it did much better straight out of the fridge than this type of beer usually does. Was strangely refreshing!
Carbonation is medium, just enough.
I’ve tried many, many quadruples and this is truly one of my favorites, regardless of the country of origin. It just represents the style so perfectly across the board.