Terrapin Beer Co. – Athens, GA
Shmaltz Brewing Co. – Saratoga Springs, NY/San Francisco, CA
Reunion Ale ’12 Brown Ale
For the past few years, the folks Terrapin have released their annual Reunion Ale as part memorial, part fundraiser in honor of their friend Virginia MacLean. In 2007, MacLean lost her battle with Multiple Myeloma, a type of bone cancer, and every year the Athens-based brewery releases a different beer to help raise funds for the Institute of Myeloma & Bone Cancer Research.
Each year produces a different batch, with the 2009 batch being a lemon grass witbier and 2010 a Belgian-style scotch ale. In 2011, Terrapin turned Reunion Ale into a collaboration with Shmaltz to create a brown ale brewed with cocoa nibs, vanilla and chili peppers.
The 2011 batch was the perfect blend of sweet, savory and spicy. The cocoa added a dryness to balance the rich sweetness of the vanilla, and the peppers added a great kick on the end. The beer turned out to be so popular that they tweaked the recipe a bit – replacing the chili peppers with cinnamon – and re-released it for the 2012 batch. (Note: Each brewery produces its own batch, and this particular one was from Shmaltz.)
The beer pours a very dark brown verging on a black. There’s a huge foamy brownish head on top, nearly four fingers worth. For an 8 percent beer, it doesn’t leave much lacing or alcohol legs to speak of.
On the nose, the spiciness from the cinnamon is very prevalent. There’s definitely that classic bready brown ale smell but with much more of a noticeable bite. The dryness of the cocoa and the sweetness of the vanilla are also very strong. It’s kind of got a French toast quality to it. Smells pretty delicious.
The mouthfeel is very creamy. On the back of the throat, the dryness of the cocoa really shines at first. Coats the tongue in a sweet but dry taste, like eating a spoonful of cocoa powder. The cinnamon pops as it settles a little more and the finish is a mildly sweet vanilla. The flavors come in waves, with each of the main ingredients getting its own pronounced moment, and it all blends together really well.
The 2012 batch is very similar to the 2011 batch, but with more of a sweetness to it than a spiciness. The flavor profile is a perfect mix: not too dry, not too sweet, not too overpowering in any one field. The brown ale base is a good canvas for the rest of the flavors and doesn’t intrude much on the other ingredients. I can’t comment on how it compares to Terrapin’s batch – I’m assuming not much – but overall, it’s just a balanced, well-made and really enjoyable beer.
Also, it’s for a good cause. That’s reason enough to buy a bottle from each brewery.