Leinenkugel's Big Eddy series began back in 2007. Named after the springs where the brewery in Chippewa Falls was built, the series boasts beers that are big and boozy and aimed squarely at the microbrew crowd. First came a Russian imperial stout but I'd swear that there was also an imperial IPA released in 2007 that I sampled down at the Echo. (Holy grapefruit, Batman!) I recall that Big Eddy meandered for the first several years of its existence with some releases being bottled while other were draught-only. I also think that the styles were pretty random and randomly released. About two or three years ago the series settled down and a more or less stable line-up and release schedule were set. (Though I gather Leines reserves the right to tinker as they wish.)
Today I present what I believe to be my first ever vertical tasting blog post. I'd love to say that I used my tremendous foresight last year and planned this all ahead of time but, alas, I just realized a week ago that I still had a couple bottles of Leine's vintage 2014 Über-Oktoberfest in addition to a fresh four pack. "And so," I thought, "why not see how last year's batch fared?"
Because my photography skills are about as good as Neville Chamberlain's diplomatic skills, you can't tell from looking that the photos (2014 above, 2015 below) but the 2014 brew was slightly darker. The elder beer was a deeper shade of amber, though only just. Both were clear. The 2014 iteration had a tan head which dissipated fairly quickly and was quite effervescent with many a bubble heading upwards from the bottom of the glass. Its younger sibling had a one-inch head that was a bit lighter – I wrote "off white" in my notes – and was nice and frothy. There was a fair number of bubbles going up from the bottom of the glass but not as many as the 2014.
Visually the beers are very similar. As I moved onto the nose, I could sense a Cain Complex developing. The older beer smelled syrupy sweet with caramel and honey all over the place. On the other hand, the fresh beer's aroma had more to offer. My olfactory receptors caught some delectable toffee sweetness but there was a nice savory bready aroma and some earthy hops too.
The sibling rivalry continued on the tongue. 2014 was smooth but syrupy and heavy while 2015 was lighter. The older beer tasted very sweet with caramel and honey from the nose being joined by stonefruit like peach. There was a hint of grain here but this was a Maginot Line of bread that was overpowered by a blitzkrieg of malty sweetness. I caught a hint of grassy hops plus some carbonation but they could offer only token resistance.
In addition to a lighter body (not light, mind you) the new 2015 brew provided a variety of flavors in addition to big malty sweetness. There were definite toffee/honey flavors here with more than a modicum of sweetness but there were also grainy flavors like were like bread plus roasted ones that brought some great melanoidiny/toast flavors to the fore. I could also taste the alcohol (it's 8.5% A.B.V.) just a bit and the carbonation offered just a bit of dryness. There was some subtle herbal/grassy hop flavor but it was firmly underneath all the malt.
Unsurprisingly, the older beer finished with the cloying sweetness slowly fading while a hint of spicy hops tries its best to balance things out. Also unsurprisingly, it fails. The newer brew finishes dry with a more earthy/grassy hop bitterness that lingered. Neither beer bestowed much Schaumhaftvermoegen on my glass although the 2015 beer left a few decent patches.
The lesson here is that Leine's Über-Oktoberfest does not age well. Not in my basement, at least. Drink it while it's fresh. The year-old beer had a heavy body which was reflected in a flavor that was cloyingly sweet – think Hallmark levels - and not much else. The 2015 brew was lighter and much less sweet. I enjoyed the toasty malt flavors quite a bit. Leines says the beer has 35 I.B.U.s from a combination of Mt. Hood and Spalt Select hops. The hops were very subdued until the finish when all that pesky malt was finally out of the way. Considering the premise here, an Oktoberfest with more intense malt flavor than normal, more booze, and more robust hops, Über-Oktoberfest goes down rather easily. This is not a beer to quaff during an Oktoberfest party but it was very tasty and held back the cold on a chilly autumn evening.
Junk food pairing: I had my road to Damascus moment a few weeks ago and will again preach the word of the curd: eat deep fried cheese curds with your Oktoberfest brew. A double order is required with Über-Oktoberfest.
Labels: Beer, Leinenkugel, Oktoberfest