Sud Savant: Shmaltz Reunion Ale ’11 It is Imperial?

All the convincing I needed to buy this bottle was to see the the names Schmaltz & Terrapin on the label. I had no idea that they had done a collaboration, but let’s just say that the idea did not disappoint me. Those two breweries have put out some truly tasty craft beers and collaboration between the two has lots of potential. This beer also has the potential to be something greater than just a great collaboration. The label indicates that this is “A beer for hope” that will help raise funds and awareness for “the Institute for Myeloma & Bone Cancer Research.” Having a sister who contracted leukemia when she was 3 years old (she’s now 28 thank-you-very-much), bone cancer research is a cause near and dear to my heart (and bones). I love seeing breweries give back to their community in such a huge way.

Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, I’ll let Shmaltz tell you the story behind this beer via their label:

“Teaming up with Terrapin Beer Co. for the first time, Shmaltz Brewing joins the tribe as a production partner for the Reunion ’11. We brew Reunion each year in memory of our dear friend and partner in this venture Virginia MacLean. Virginia lost her battle with Multiple Myeloma in 2007. It was her wish that we continue on behalf of The Institute for Myeloma & Bone Cancer Research (”

Aroma 10/12: The detected aromas read like a checklist off of the front of the bottle. First comes plenty of the cocoa nibs, but they’re being sweetened by a brazen vanilla scent. The vanilla, thanks to its surroundings, comes off as being a dark vanilla and not an “ice cream” like sugary sweetness. The roasted chiles are not far behind and their contribution is the expected heat and a more subtle roast flavor than most beers in the same genre. I could see how the combination of sweet and spicy could lead some people to detect a cinnamon aroma in this brew, but it is only an illusion. This is another beer that truly needs time to warm in the glass. After only a few minutes all those separate aromas really come together in a cohesive blend that showcases the cocoa, but still features a boozy vanilla and faint smokey roast. This gives me high hopes.

Appearance 3/3: This beer pours like a brown, but the label describes it as a “dark imperial ale.” The color would also have us believe that this is a brown (maaaybe even an imperial one), by showing a general coffee color, almost complete opacity, and dim ruby highlights when held to a light. The head is lasting and tan and its texture quickly takes up a creamy appearance.

Flavor 17/20: Immediately, I am again given the impression of a sharp, cinnamon spiciness in this brew. I wonder what combination of ingredients is providing that sensation (I’m guessing a combination of roasted notes from the peppers and some perky carbonation). Any sensory experts out there care to comment? In any case, it is quickly washed away by a smooth, dark cocoa. Vanilla is present, but doesn’t really come out until the brown malts begin to sing their tune. The brown malts are rich, quite sweet, and seem to be paired up with a honey of sorts. Yet another flavor not mentioned in their ingredients, but whose sweetness is undeniable. If you let the beer sit long enough and heat from the chili begins to smolder through, but for the most part it politely waits its turn until the finish. Speaking of the finish, it’s rather subdued as a whole. Right after swallowing it seems to only have a grainy malted note, but soon the heat trickles in until it is noticeable, but stops well short of being even a moderate heat. The bitter of the cocoa nibs follows slowly, but is not intended to be balancing. However, the contrast from the sweet malts is a another layer of complexity and flavor in this beer.

Mouthfeel 4/5: I’m torn when rating this mouthfeel. Part of me thinks that an “imperial ale” needs to feel much bigger in the mouth. Another part thinks that any beer with chiles needs to maintain some carbonation and a bit of a lighter mouthfeel to be somewhat drinkable and not a hot, syrupy mess. This beer is far from syrupy (or a mess), but I also feel that it’s far from “imperial.” The carbonation actually keeps this beer quite refreshing even far into the 22 oz bomber bottle. Also, while the beer is far from “imperial,” that may be more due to the not-insanely-intense level of flavor than it is the mouthfeel. The mouthfeel is actually quite sturdy, thanks to the abundance of brown malts, and adequately carries all the flavors presented.

Overall Impression 8/10: This is a chile beer that actually provides some noticeable heat and thus, deflates my main complaint with chile beers in general. It also has a nice sweetness thanks to loads of body-giving brown malts, vanilla, and cocoa nibs. It is imperial? No. Is it a chile ale and NOT marketed as such? Yes. The carbonation amounts are fantastic and really make this beer refreshing despite the fact that it contains chiles.

Total 42/50: Overall, this is a collaboration which which I’m pleased. It’s got great flavors, even if they’re not necessarily unique to this style of brew, and I enjoy the ample carbonation and body. However, if they’re going to call it imperial, then I wish those flavors were more intense and give the impression of a “big beer,” but it’s still an above average chile beer as it stands. I do give them kudos for a very complex malt profile and also the aforementioned heat level. There’s a lot working for this beer and seemingly only a label classification that works against it. I’d definitely buy it again. It’s right up there with Stone’s 11.11.11, only I had never heard of this brew until I found it on a shelf. I’m glad I did. L’chaim!

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!