Graphic from enochbolles.blospot.com, a website dedicated to the art of Enoch Bolles
When I popped the top on the bottle of Bell's 25th Anniversary Ale, I had no idea what to expect. It had been only a week since I made a phone call to Gomer's North to secure my 6-pack, after reading about it's release on KC Beer Blog. Then, I purposely avoided doing any research on the beer. I wanted my first impression to be untainted by any hype or prejudice.
Of course, untainted by prejudice is a tall order for me when it comes to Bell's Brewery Inc. My experience is one of a long unbroken streak of excellent tasting beers from Bell's, so I will always give them the benefit of the doubt. Which is why I had no qualms about plunking down whatever Gomer's wanted to charge me for the six-pack, which ended up being north of $15. So yea, my expectations were very high.
I poured it into the perfect beer glass: the ones Jim Koch reportedly spent $100,000 to design and produce.
(Pardon the aside, but the SA glass is perfect because it makes it so easy to pour the beer slowly down the side to suppress excess foam, but when you bring the glass upright for the final pour, straight into the glass, a healthy head will form and not spill over: because of the brilliant design!) (Pardon a second aside: for those addicted to glassware, here is some porn.)
The perfect pour revealed a healthy, but not overpowering head. The beer had a clear and beautiful amber hue. My first impression of the aroma was traditional American hops, but I have have learned not to trust the initial aroma of a just poured beer. The smell you get while the head is spraying microscopic droplets can be deceiving. As the sprites calmed down, the aroma changed. Was that orange? Orange and, and, was that vanilla? I took a sip and was rewarded with a nice creamy mouthfeel, the sweetness of toffee, followed by a bit of alcohol warmth mixed with subtle floral hops in the finish.
The head quickly settled down to a thin foam on top with very little lacing. The warm, rich malt flavor lingered and mixed with the tingle of the hops. I went in nose first to hoover up more aroma and found the orange/vanilla combination oddly familiar. Apricot? Yes, definitely apricot, which lasted throughout the rest of the session. The flavor of the toffee became more complex with bready malts coming to the fore. Hints of dark fruity plum and dates would rise and fall only to give way to the apricot blossom and piney counterpoint of the hops. This has a strong English ale character. A very complex and subtle interplay of many elements. A symphony of flavors and aroma.
About 3/4 of the way through the glass, I started checking the reviews on Beer Advocate. There were 136 reviews with an overall rating of B+. BA lists the style as American Strong Ale (which puts it in the same class as Sam Adam's Utopia). The ABV is listed at 8.5%.
Some of the comments:
I looked at the top five rated American Strong Ales on Beer Advocate and their ABV:
Double Bastard Ale: 10.5%
Firestone 13 Anniversary Ale: 12%
SA Utopia: 27%
The Angels Share-Bourbon Barrel Aged: 12%
The Angels Share Grand Cru: 12%
Bell's 25th is currently ranked #30. Out of the top 25 beers, all but 6 carried an ABV of over 9%, twelve of them exceeded 10%. The ABV "tale of the tape" is firmly entrenched in the online beer rankings.
Admittedly, I've only tried one of the top 25 beers in this category, which is Lagunitas' Whiskey Tango Foxtrot ranked #21 with 361 reviews. I like WTF, WTF is a good beer, but WTF is no Bell's 25th Anniversary.