Not to be made into a liar, my journey through Wisconsin continues with an extended stay in New Glarus. This review for their Chocolate Abbey may have been inspired as much by my wife as myself. I am always excited to get my hands on a few flavor of New Glarus, but when my wife saw the word “chocolate” on the label I knew that this review would be written sooner than later. Besides, let’s be honest, how amazing does a Chocolate Abbey beer sound? I know. I thought so too. Let’s pour!
Aroma 12/12: There is not a lot here to balance out all the sweetness, but with an aroma this good you might not want it. It starts out with an amazing cocoa powder and banana blend, almost like a bananas Foster without the alcohol. Amazing! As the beer settles, a bubble gun aroma overtakes the nose and does not let go until a cream and chocolate pair dance into the scene and steal your attention. As the beer warms a cherry aroma develops and its origins are a mystery.
Appearance 3/3: What initially appears as a matte brown ale, actually turns out to be a wonderful dark copper when it catches the light. Ruby highlights abound and are capped by a pale tan head. The head’s retention is excellent but slides down the glass easily and leaves no lacing.
Flavor 18/20: This is a much more subtle beer than the aroma would imply. First in the mouth is a brief cherry like tartness before mellowing into a backbone more true to the Dubbel style. It is uncertain how cherries came out in the flavor (and aroma) as no cherries are mentioned anywhere on the bottle, but their presence is unmistakable. The backbone is a muffled, dark cocoa, a balancing amount of earthiness, those mysterious dark cherries, a hop bitter on the back on the tongue, a taste of alcohol (but not the true “warmth”), and Belgian yeasts struggling to be heard in the background. The finish returns us a bit more to the aroma with a moderately dark chocolate, a slightly sour bite perhaps from our hop friends, and a bitter that combines with the chocolate note to make a lovely coffee bitter several seconds after the beer has left your mouth. Just let that flavor develop and pay attention to it! It’s very tasty. You may also catch the revival of the Belgian “bubble gum” aroma on the occasional exhale. Not much to speak of in the finish, just more of the cocoa and a light hop bitter which leaves the mouth neither dry nor watering. A slurp reveals the warmth that has remained all but hidden.
Mouthfeel 4/5: The carbonation in this beer is perfect right down to the very end. It is never out of character and its smooth nature only enhances the drinking experience. Full bodied and thick, it is never syrupy, but fairly filling for just on 12 oz bottle. It does remain a bit slick in the mouth.
Overall Impression 9/10: So much of this beer is excellent without being over the top – most notably the chocolate. It provides an amazing aroma, but truly allows other ingredients to shine throughout the rest of the beer. In fact, the chocolate was quite modest; it could have stood to stand out a little more. However, this mature use of ingredients that are often heavily leaned upon by lesser beers is another fine example of the brewers’ skills at New Glarus. Excellently crafted while reigning in some traditional large flavors, this beer is an exercise in discipline.
Total 46/50: This score just goes to show that not just big beers can earn high marks. Sure, this beer could be bigger! They could blast us with chocolate and mocha flavors while making the Belgian aroma strong enough to think our noses are septum-deep in a freshly picked bunch of bananas. The alcohol could be more apparent and strong in presence. But you know what? Not all music is a rock concert. Not everything needs to be played at ear drum shattering levels. Sometimes some Frank Sinatra is required. This is a beer that has tamed all of these ingredients and whose nuance has apparently even added mysterious “overtones” in the form of cherries. I still have no idea how those got there other than a possible combination of sweet yeast flavors, a slight hop sour, and dark chocolate notes. I swear there are chocolate-covered cherries in this. This is a technically superior beer that happens to be pretty darn tasty too. I’d probably choose some of their other Thumbprint series over this one (Hello, Imperial Weizen!), but this is definitely worth trying.
Joel R. Kolander is the Cheif Blogger for Sud Savant, a beer-savoring blog for the rest of us. We’re not here to get plowed. We’re not here because we are world-famous beer critics. We’re here because we enjoy savoring a great beer with even better friends. Sharing great beer is just as amazing as finding it in the first place. Lets share!