Tasting the Ithaca Excelsior Series 12 Anniversary Ale

Well, I am making my way through Ithaca’s Excelsior line of beers; there are five beers in this series plus an anniversary ale each year. So far I reviewed the White Gold, which I did enjoy very much, as well as the Old Habit, which still may be the best rye beer I have ever tasted.

The next stop in this seeming masterpiece of a series is the 12th Anniversary Ale; a Belgian inspired Quadrupel brewed with  several different ale yeasts. This one really excited me – Quadrupels have long been one of my most favorite beer styles for pure enjoyment and appreciation. Quadrupels typically exhibit a massively complex palate with flavors ranging from prunes, dates, raisins, figs, plums, brandy, cherries, chocolate and roast to spice, pepper, hops, funk, herbs, flowers, fields and more.

Quadrupels are plainly distinguishable, but ever so unique and unexplainable. I always find that they treat me well, and the few aged Quads that I have had just melted in my mouth. The Ithica 12 had a lot to live up to, especially after the Old Habit – so I was both extremely excited, and slightly nervous. I wanted this beer to hit a homerun.

The 12 is 12% abv and comes in the Excelsior Series bottle; wine shaped and capped with a thin rubber sleeve. I let the bottle rest out of the fridge until it came to the bottom of the cellar temperature range at 12C (54F). Immediately when I opened the bottle it surprised me – without warning the obviously still active yeasts gave way to a massive rush of excitement pushing an aromatic white foam, fairly constantly, out from the bottle.

Really, the foam would not stop. I had an inkling of what would happen here based on the picture of this beer on Ithica’s website, but even still I could barely believe what was happening. I poured two snifters as gently as I could and was aghast by the results. What I ended up with was less than an inch of beer, and a FULL glass of head. Deep, dense, airy and pillowy head. It was ridiculous; I had never seen anything like it before.

Whats more, is that as I was starring at this beer in astonishment, the bottle continued to erupt with foam at me! I could see that although the fluid line was significantly reduced in the bottle, the head continued to develop and rise in the bottle until it was left with no option but to escape. It took over 5 minutes to properly pour two snifters of the Ithica 12.

I am not sure exactly what yeast strains that Ithica has used, although I would be very interested to find out, but they obviously really enjoyed this beer. And once given a taste of oxygen they burst back to life eating everything and creating CO2 as fast as they could. This was really very extraordinary.

Eventually, I was able to pour two well presented glasses and it did manage to create a very lovely beer – well, some may not describe it as lovely. With the last bit of sediment swirled and laid to rest in our glasses, the 12 formed a murky and cloudy maroon garnet beer with dark shades of golden brown, dark amber, burnt orange, and mahogany. The head, while much more subdued than before, was still a massive, airy pillow of foam resting contently on top this opaque, but very appetizing beer. The head was over two inches and showed dense carbonation towards the bottom, but large airy bubbles near the top. It was an pale egg shell color with an almond creamy off-white glaze. Very dramatic so far.

The nose was massively perfuming blasting complex Belgian yeasts, spice and dark ripe fruit at me. As I was hoping, the scent was a playground of flavor – dry dark chocolate, figs, raisins, caramel, light toffee, dark malts, pepper, a touch of citrus, earth and funk all came together in an ever tangling mixture of aroma. Hops were present bringing fresh fields and a touch of flowers, but mostly deep malt, spicy dried fruit and yeast dominate the air near this beer.

I gently lifted the dark and ominous beer to my mouth and let a deep and soothing wave of Belgian and American flavors rush over my palate. By Belgian and American I mean that its complexity, delicate flavors, and perfect aromas came in with a massive and never ending crush of exuberance. The spice and yeast is noticeable from start to finish, so once you get beyond that prepare for smooth and creamy dark malts bringing caramel, dates, prunes and zest. Apricots seem to meld with cocoa and light roast brining a soft but large earth sweetness to the party.

That was really what surprised and impressed me – there are massive and complex flavors here, but they are all on their own level perfectly crafted; they just run at you with an insane amount of excitement. This, along with the beer’s premature foaming leads me to believe that it is still in its infancy – three, four or even eight years from now this beer could mature into an unrivaled vintage, and a prize in anyone’s cellar.

But now, it still had much To offer. The mouthfeel was surprisingly smooth and gently carbonated – it made the head seem more like a krausen than head (Krausen is a foam that develops on the surface of a wort as the active yeast is fermenting it creating a slew of byproducts and flavors).  After some funk and light tartness hums past the malty fruits and esters, a spicy and crisply dry finish quenches – it has earthy hop notes and floral yeast still raging inside it. The finish here is dry, but with much effort.

I am left with the taste of chocolate and caramel doused with a good amount of spicy and complex yeast. Mellow sweet fruits still fume off my tongue, as does rich malt. This Quad was exceptionally entertaining, slightly confusing, but very delicious. As much as I did enjoy the 12, it is not among my favorite of the style, although I am also left wondering how this will be in five years. The next few bottles that I can get my hands on will find their way into my cellar – thats for sure!

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